Bringing the Church Back Together-Part 3-Practical Application

In my last two blog posts (Bringing the Church Back Together- Part 2- First Steps and Bringing the Church Back Together- Part 1- Biblical Foundations) I discussed the biblical foundations of intergenerational worship and the importance of buy-in from the staff and the key leaders of your church. In this post I will speak specifically to the music/worship leader who will have to deal with the musical conundrum of bringing multiple music types together in a unified approach. It will be a challenge to some degree, but it can be done. I hope you’ll find these practical applications helpful. As always, I’m sure there are many more I could add to the list.

  1. Pray! Again, I cannot emphasize this enough. Music and style is often a passionate subject for many in the church. Often, it’s the non-musician who is the most hesitant to any change in the church. Be assured there will be push-back, but pray the the Holy Spirit would cause you to response in gentleness and love as you explain thoughtfully of the plan to integrate the services.
  2. Find a common “set-list.” Many churches with multiple services have at least some common tunes that are sung in each service. Begin by using these songs when the services come together whenever possible. Obviously there will be modifications to the instrumentation or “style” of the song depending on who is leading, but at least find some common ground.
  3. Aim to use players and singers from all teams together. This may be pretty difficult practically and relationally, but remind those how important each person is to the integration of the services. If you have redundancy on instruments, set up a schedule for all to play. If you’re going to integrate the choir into the new service (and if you have one, you should) they will need appropriate time to learn newer songs to help teach the congregation. If you used orchestra in one and only a praise band in another, you must find “charts” that allow all to play together. This process will stretch your players on both ends. Those used to “rocking it out” may feel stunted by the charts they now have to play. On the other hand, the less contemporary service might feel things are “louder” and too “rocky!” Be prepared to alter and make changes as you get started. Remember to keep your personal feelings in check. Listen carefully to the suggestions you hear. Some will be worth altering, while others will just be complaining. Be careful to make all feel valued and use grace as you respond to each comment.
  4. Introduce/Re-Introduce songs carefully and slowly. There are fantastic new songs and timeless hymns that probably have been ignored in the services when they were apart. Pick “new” songs to introduce that are lyrically sound, melodically and harmonically interesting, and memorable. When I’m confronted from time to time about new songs that “no one knows,” I simply say, “I understand we don’t know it well right now, but I believe this song is strong textually and will endure the test of time.” I’m careful to say this because I also know there will be something in just about EVERY service I plan that has something most people are familiar with. In short, FAMILIARITY is more important than labeling something traditional or contemporary. What people want, truly, is something familiar…find that common ground first and work from there.
  5. Remember your church is NOT like the one down the street. I cannot emphasize this enough. Do not try to emulate everything you see working for the church that you perceive to be “doing it right!” You must contextualize carefully. Know your church–be careful to study her history, the demographics, the musical worship expressions over time, and the talent level of the musicians. Also, know your community. Things work differently in a county seat town in rural GA than they do in the white collar suburbs of Metro Atlanta. Study your people. Push them out of their comfort zones when appropriate, but don’t completely eradicate Southern gospel from a church that’s had that embedded in their history for 100s of years just because you don’t like it. The church I am serving is vastly different from most of the churches in our area. We know who we are and what we do well and we capitalize on that. It’s create a niche for us that has allowed us to be who God has called us to be without trying to emulate other churches in our area—who, by the way, do the things they do VASTLY better than we ever could.
  6. Give up your personal agenda and work as a team. You are not the star of the show, worship leader…God is. He likes it all. He LOVES to hear his children worship in spirit and truth. He is not stylistically pulled one way or the other. He just wants authentic praise, offered with all the excellence we have to offer. That said, remember that part of being an intergenerational family means we ALL serve…not just the uber-talented. We are a team; we work together for the goal. This concept will be harder for some than others. You control freaks out there will struggle given up control to others, but it’s necessary. Remember the goal of being intergenerational is that we try to value all and give them a role of importance. This means being very intentional about including “budding” singers and players. It might cost you some in the “excellence” you may be striving for, but if we only use our A-list players and singers, we will lose on on developing new ones. Someone one invested in us when we weren’t so great—we must do the same. Basically, create a culture that aims to nurture rather than simply “perform.”

 

 

Bringing the Church Back Together- Part 2- First Steps

In my last post, I discussed some of the biblical foundations that support intergenerational worship and why multiple services driven by musical style may be a detriment to the unity of the local church. If you missed that post, click here to read it: Bringing the Church Back Together- Part 1- Biblical Foundations.

In this post, I will begin the journey of how any local church, who has divided for musical reasons, may begin the process of coming back together into a unified worship plan. While I spoke with several worship leaders who have led local churches through a transition such as this in order to prepare to write this, I am especially indebted to the experiences of two men: Slater Murphy (MS Baptist Convention) and David Hasker (FBC Melbourne, FL). Thank you!

Because there is much to cover in this process, I’m only going to cover the first steps to getting the transition started. In my next post, I will get into more detail on the practical ways worship leaders (and all church leaders) should utilize to ensure a unified transition, especially as it relates to synthesizing multiple music/worship teams.

FIRST STEPS

PRAY. This is the most important thing to do. Without the guidance of the Holy Spirit, nothing will be accomplished. You, as the leader who is convinced intergenerational worship is the key to longevity of the local church, must be educated in what the biblical, philosophical, and practical implications are in order to inspire others to catch the vision. Your passion is necessary to cast the vision of what a healthy intergenerational church should be.

The common theme of all I spoke with about this transition is that it MUST BE SENIOR PASTOR LED. As the chief shepherd of the local church, if your senior pastor isn’t 100 percent on board, then the transition will ultimately fail. This doesn’t mean that a Senior Pastor cannot be confronted (IN LOVE) with the philosophical argument that multi-styled worship services are more divisive than unifying. Perhaps you, as worship pastor, should speak truth from the scripture in order to encourage your senior pastor to consider unifying worship services at your church. Continue to have candid, respectful conversations in order to “educate” of the merits of unified worship.

BE PATIENT. Convincing a senior pastor to make a paradigm shift is not easy. If the current pastor initiated multiple services years ago based on the Church Growth Model, your suggestion to return to a unified worship approach will likely mean the senior pastor has to admit they were wrong. Further, if the senior pastor only created multiple types of service to appease certain groups of people, those same people will likely share their disdain with you. It may take months or years even. Keep praying and keep educating.

Once the Senior Pastor is on board, the next step is to have conversations with the rest of the staff, key leadership, and deacon/elders. While it’s always best to have everyone totally on board with the idea of bringing the worship services back together, it might not happen easily. As with most decisions involving a wide range of personalities and experiences, there will always be late adopters. David Hasker says that a few on their staff did not agree initially on the return to a unified worship style, but in the end the decision was made by the majority and they supported it. Anticipate possible questions and do your homework before the meetings to make sure you are able to explain what the transition might look like.

After the key leadership, other key groups in the church must be “educated” in the next steps of what will happen. Some key groups  include: the music ministry team (especially since this involves them a GREAT deal), Bible study leaders, etc. Make sure communication is frequent and clear and all involve persons have a chance to voice concerns and have questions answered. It’s essential that the key leadership be unified before the church body itself is presented with the plan. Additionally, remember to always be respectful and kind when dealing with folks who are passionately against returning to a unified worship style. Love them and ask them to support you as you try to live out the vision God has given the church. Remind them that a unified worship style is NOT anti-evangelistic or anti-contemporary worship.

Once the decision to bring the unified plan to the congregation is made, allow multiple opportunities for the church to hear the vision and ask questions. The pastor and worship leader should share the biblical and philosophical merits of a unified worship approach. Once these meetings are finished, then your church should vote (or whatever process you use to implement change).

One more thing…

Any change comes at a cost. You may have to “cash in” quite a bit of “people collateral” in order to make this happen. For the worship leader just 6 months to a year into their tenure somewhere is going to have a much harder time convincing the pastor/congregation of this paradigm shift. Many will only believe you are there to stir things up without any regard for the actual people you serve. It takes time (no matter how talented you are) for people to trust you as a leader. Even if you have decades of experience, people simply need to know you not only have Kingdom work on your heart, but you understand and value them as people and the church culture and context of the local body.

In my next post, I’ll deal with the practical side of how the musical styles and teams can work together in a new context. You’ll need to have a detailed plan of how to integrate your teams before the vision is shared because people are going to want to know exactly how the change will affect the overall ministry of the local body. Let me be clear: You MUST find a way to integrate the instrumentalists, vocalists (choir, praise team), teach teams, actual venues-if different, from ALL worship services/styles into one. Remember, one of the key parts of what intergenerational worship is—-everyone must feel valued and important. More soon!

 

Choosing Choir Literature Based on the Size of the Choir

Based on my research, no more than 25 percent of church choirs in America have more than fifty participants. Even the major evangelical publishers are attuned to this fact because many offer choral music options for the smaller choir. I don’t see this trend in school choral groups, however, but the disconnect between school choral programs and church choral programs is REAL. I’ll write more on how we can bridge these relations soon.

Regardless of the size of the choir, there are non-negotiable traits of good, healthy singing. Tone, intonation, pitch, rhythm, tempo, articulation, expression, interpretation, etc. are some of the hallmarks of any good choral group. Having worked with both large and small choirs, I have noticed there are definitely some distinctions worth noting between the two sizes. Taking into account these difference can help the leader choose more appropriate literature for the size choir he or she leads. Here’s a selected list of some observations based on my own experiences:

Large Choir
1. Able to produce a large sound-especially if singing with orchestra
2. Less confident singers can find confidence in stronger singers/readers
3. Larger possible pool of soloists
4. Able to sing most songs with lots of divisi
5. Sing songs with more extreme ranges
6. Able to sing longer phrases (stagger-breathing becomes easier)
7. Easier to blend parts because no one has to “carry the section”
8. More difficult to sing especially rhythmic (syncopated) tunes (can be more difficult to get the train moving fast- so to speak)
9. Can have more strong sightreaders, which expedites learning

Small(er) Choir
1. Most have to pull their own weight, confident or not. (My first choir had excellent singer/sightreaders because the fewer singers had to step up and be confident)
2. Members feel more obligated to attend due to numbers–Greater chance of huge holes in sound if certain ones aren’t there
3. Can be more difficult to blend
4. Can be easier to sing more rhythmic tunes due to the weight of the larger number of singers
5. Literature choices can be limited by range, phrasing, etc.
6. Often part singing is limited based on availability. (We see this in the ever-present doubling of soprano and bass lines of popular church choral music geared for smaller choirs)

This is definitely just a start. What would you add to these lists? If 75 percent of evangelical churches with choirs have fewer than fifty participants, then how do we overcome obstacles the smaller choir has?  Let me hear from you.