Merging Worship Styles

Over the last several months, I’ve heard of several churches that have had multiples styles of worship prior to Covid making changes to one, more balanced, intergenerational style. Most of the worship pastors I’ve heard from are excited that their churches are embracing a more inclusive worship experience. For those of you in a similar boat, here are some great guidelines (not exhaustive, of course) for you to use when considering a shift from multiple styles back to one, more balanced, style. To be clear, this is not a call against churches with multiple styles, but rather some practical ways those churches seeking to bring greater unity to their churches by merging into one style may do so.

  1. Prayer! Pray for unity in specific ways (1 Cor. 1:10; Phil 2:1-8; Col 3:14; 2 Cor 13:11; Rom 15:6; et al). Remember: the goal is not to make everyone in the church unhappy by telling them their preferred style of music (and let’s be honest, music and time frame are what people care about) will no longer be the same. Pray for soft and receptive hearts, for unity, and for God’s glory.
  2. Must be approved by the Senior/Lead Pastor. While many of the worship pastors didn’t say this directly to me, I got a very strong sense that the move to multiple styles of worship was championed by senior leadership who felt the need to reach more people/please more people in their church. While this is not a hard and fast rule, many worship pastors would not advocate for having to plan and lead (or even oversee other leaders) for multiple worship styles. Therefore, you can bet that the senior/lead pastor must be on board with this change. If you can, remind your pastor of the biblical precedents of intergenerational worship and how unity is the goal.
  3. Must have buy in from key leaders. I don’t think I can stress this enough. Have meetings, have conversations, have prayer with all those major leaders/players in the process of coming together. Share your heart and philosophical reasonings for why intergenerational worship is biblically sound. Be prepared to answer tough questions and anxious people. Think through every aspect of how the changes will affect as many groups inside the church so you’re prepared when confronted with questions.
  4. Consider your church context. Every church is unique. When hearing from each church planning to merge together, each and every one had a specific set of limitations and concerns. Carefully consider how this move might affect your Bible Study/Life Groups/Sunday School, your choir and orchestra, your band, AVL teams, etc. Ask yourself: what challenges present themselves that we need to solve before and during our merging process. The most common questions will likely be, “what will the new service look like? and who will be involved?”
  5. Work hard to bring together a “new” common musical language. One of the biggest tasks you’ll have to navigate is merging the hymnody of your multiple styles of worship. Perhaps there are songs that overlap from each of the separate services—begin with those. Look for ways to integrate familiar songs for “all” groups represented. You may have to unify the charts used and the instrumentation depending on your new intergenerational style, but choose wisely and carefully…especially if drums were not present in one of the services.
  6. Figure out a way to utilize all the musicians from all services. This is also a challenge because when combining forces, you’re going to realize there might be some redundancy in your players. Find creative ways to use them all in an equitable rotation. Just remember…we’re in this together; no one is totally excluded. There are some challenges to face depending on your context. I heard from one colleague that has merged styles and their choices related to merging styles has the choir not singing every week for now. He said it’s hurt rehearsal attendance because there’s not the weekly service to sing in. However, this same choir is now having to sing for multiple services on the weeks they are scheduled! The scenarios are endless. Just realize there will be compromises ahead! Handle them with grace.
  7. Make changes slowly. Unless you have an incredible reason to make a dramatic shift quickly, make slow changes—working in one new song that might be new to everyone–or one new instrument that might change the timbre of the sound. Perhaps the dress of the worship leadership themselves might need to be done slowly. If one service was formal and the other very informal, find a compromise on the dress to help foster unification.

As a church that is pretty textbook intergenerational and our services are identical with one prevailing style, which has both traditional and contemporary elements, I can say our move in 2014 to two completely mirrored services had its own challenges. While we didn’t have a musical style issue to overcome, we did have several practical issues to deal with. Here was our scenario:

*We had an 8:30 and 11:00 service with SS in between (choir and orchestra only at 11-PT and band at 8:30- same music, but without choir feature; we moved to SS at 8:20, 9:45, and 11 and our worship times went to 9:45 and 11.
*Our shift to back to back services allowed us to use the choir and orchestra for both services (although choir was only in loft for first 10-15 minutes of service–major drawback). The plus was each service got the identical worship experience. To date I have less than a 15-20% change in choir size between the services, because the choir sings and then can go to SS, stay for whole service, or leave. The change did require many more volunteers than we had before, but the dividends have been worth it. I built up the excitement of being involved in the worship services while not having to miss SS.
*Biggest drawback has been parking. Between 10:30 and 11 is the time frame we have the most people on campus at any given time. The 11 worship attenders are starting to arrive, 9:45 attenders are still here, and our largest SS time (9:45) is still in session. We regularly max out parking, so many have to park off-campus.

If you and your staff are considering a shift and have questions, either I, or some other trusted friends who’ve been through shift like mine or a musical style shift, would be happy to talk with you about it!

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