Tag Archives: music ministry

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!

Church Music Students Need Local Church Worship Leaders to Model Effective Communication and Conflict Resolution

This semester I’m teaching Introduction to Church Music Ministry at Truett McConnell University. My students are church music majors and this class is a required overview of what to expect in local church ministry. One of the assignments I have the students completing are interviews with worship pastors and/or music leaders already serving in local church ministry. In preparation for these interviews, I had the students bring in 8-10 questions they wanted to ask these leaders so we could share ideas and suggestions on which questions might be the most useful for them to ask. The questions they brought in were really great questions. But, what stood out to me was that every student had one or more questions related to resolving conflict and how to have good working relationships with their pastor and staff.

If my students are any indication of other church music students getting ready to head into local church music ministry, then I think we better equip them with conflict management and relationship skills in the best ways we can. But honestly, these students need to start seeing these skills demonstrated as they are growing up in their own local churches. My point is: our church music graduates entering the local church need to be ready to handle the relational side of ministry on par with the development of their musical skills and their worship leaders growing up need to model it for them early on.

Everyone reading probably agrees with what I’ve said. Yet, our time of investment with young people called to the ministry is largely spent on crafting musical skills and platform presence, not the relational side of ministry. This is a mistake!

I’ve asked several pastors over the years the biggest reasons why worship pastors are terminated and very few of them revolve around lack of musical skill. Among the results are the following:

  1. Lazy and unorganized
  2. Cannot communicate effectively
  3. Cannot get along with volunteers, staff, etc.

Since not every local church worship pastor/leader has the opportunity to teach in an academic setting, we local church worship leaders MUST invest in those emerging worship leaders in our congregations who feel called to vocational ministry. As a musical leader, you will naturally pour yourself into helping with them understand the musical and technical aspects of worship ministry, but don’t stop there. Spend time talking with your budding leaders about how to develop good working relationships with your pastor, other staff members, and volunteers. Show them how resolving conflict is done in a Christ-like manner. Below are some ideas.

Conflict resolution is important; solid communication is important. These things are taught, yes, but they are more likely caught as your emerging worship leaders are in your music ministry. Model excellence in effective communication and conflict resolution while investing in them one on one to help shape our younger worship leaders into pastoral musicians.

a few ideas (not exhaustive) to consider when confronting someone with the goal of resolving conflicts:

  1. Effective Communication is the key to resolution
  2. Search for the central issue to the conflict. This is key to understanding and resolving
  3. Search for win/wins. Compromise if needed
  4. Conflict resolution happens better face to face and not electronically
  5. Seek to understand before being understood
  6. Don’t meet alone to discuss issues if possible
  7. Don’t interrupt the other when meeting with someone
  8. Ask yourself- Am I truly the reason for the conflict? Am I difficult to work with or selfish? Unyielding or uncaring?
  9. Be gracious/try to love/apologize where YOU might be wrong
  10. Don’t reason with irrationality-sometimes the conflict can’t be resolved
  11. Don’t take everything personally
  12. Ask for outside counsel before you meet
  13. Choose your battles carefully
  14. And always PRAY for a soft heart, wisdom, and encouraging speech

Resuming Choir Rehearsals During a Pandemic- How we’ve done it.

Being a firm believer that all ages should be engaged in serving the Lord in music ministry, finding ways during a pandemic has been challenging. Since March, our church like virtually all others, has had to adapt to the ever changing challenges of providing music leadership in the safest way possible. As I’ve talked with many of my fellow worship leaders, I’ve realized there is not a one-size fits all approach. Context, location of church, demographics of the church, number of people in the fellowship affected by the virus and so on, will influence decisions related to how best to utilize your musical teams. In my next blog post I’ll explain our process of reincorporating our orchestra into worship, but I wanted to share with you about our first choir rehearsal in six months on August 26th.

The church choir is about music for sure, but more importantly, it’s about setting aside our personal preferences and working in unity to serve and proclaim the message of the Gospel. Paul, in his letter to the Ephesian church urges [us] to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. (Ephesians 4:1-3 ESV).  The first song I chose for us to sing in our rehearsal was “By Our Love,” a song of unity for the church. It was quite emotional for everyone in the room. This was the first time most of our people had sung outside their home or car in 6 months.

I’m a list guy; I love them. Anyone who knows me well knows that lists keep me focused. I see information better in a list than in written prose. When I email my college students at Truett McConnell reminders about what’s due and what we’ve worked on, I tell them a Whittaker list is coming! In fact most of my blog posts include a list of something. So, I started a list of things related to this first rehearsal so I would remember what happened and wanted to share my observations with you. Behold! a Whittaker list:

  1. 95 active singers on roll, 69 returned for first rehearsal. 73% rate of initial return.
  2. When I look at the 16 singers who didn’t come, I noticed health concerns (them or a family member who is immunocompromised) as the number one factor for not attending.
  3. Singers of all ages–YES, intergenerational!
  4. All wore masks when entering and exiting.
  5. Soprano/Bass had one entrance to the foyer and Tenor/Alto had another entrance. The middle of the foyer was blocked off by rope and hand sanitizing machines. The folders were laid out for retrieving. Each entering should wait on the 6ft markers on the floor to enter.
  6. Each person was given a temperature check before entering.
  7. 75 (actually 80) minute rehearsal. One 10 minute “quiet” break after 30 minutes of singing where I did some encouragement (devotion) and announcements to let the air clean.
  8. Use entire floor of sanctuary spread out 6-10 feet apart all around each singer unless next to family member.
  9. Told we would mask entire rehearsal, but sang one tune without masks (which we recorded to use next Sunday morning for worship). All but one sang this song unmasked. In fact I got the impression from the affirmation that the singers there would’ve been fine to remain unmasked through the entire rehearsal.
  10. I asked those who were most uncomfortable singing without a mask to go to the back of the room, since the back of the choir seems to be the “safest” place to sing right now.
  11. We had HVAC going strong. One benefit in our room is that we have a large surplus of AC tonnage because of our stained glassed windows that emit much heat. You can literally feel the air moving in the room when you’re in it.
  12. The distance all around, the HVAC, and the large room with very high ceilings, basically mimicked an outdoor singing space.
  13. When we did sing with masks (90 percent of time), the sound was greatly affected. Maybe 40% of the sound gets out of the masks. Little dynamic shading or articulation of text possible, which is already hard with a room as “live” as ours is. Not a fan of the masked singing, neither were my people.
  14. The live room and the masks muffling sound made it hard to hear each other, which also contributed to dragging tempi on lyrical tunes.
  15. Normal types of masks caused glasses to fog up when singing for long periods of time. The alternative for a very few was to just use the mask to cover the mouth, and some did that.
  16. I think no one would’ve come to our rehearsal had they been truly “scared” to get COVID. The risks of singing are very well-documented so the choice to come was in spite of that risk. Therefore, I tried to mitigate the true risks with HVAC and distancing; the use of masks is a added barrier of protection.
  17. General consensus was rehearsal was a WIN! I want to skip a week before we meet again, primarily to make sure no one gets COVID.
  18. At our next rehearsal (two weeks from this rehearsal) we will also record one or two songs for use in worship. Tentatively, I would like to start separating my group into 2-3 teams and use them on Sundays beginning second weekend in October if things continue to trend downward. Not sure about mask use for that service or how we’ll mic them properly with our orchestra, but I’ll cross that bridge soon.

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Here is a snapshot of (most of) us recording our song for worship. Four generations present, worshiping and encouraging each other–what a blessing!