February 01, 2016

By Ryan McLouth

Last month we talked about how to create an uplifting worship experience. We focused on teaching our worship team members how to be independent musicians, striving for quality sounds from the team, and incorporating elements of different musical styles into our performances. This month, let’s focus on style.
As I mentioned before, the default for most worship teams is to turn every worship song into an acoustic guitar or keyboard ballad, and not a very good one at that. I have witnessed and even participated in many worship services where every song sounds exactly the same. Same key, same tempo, same chords, same form, the list goes on. This causes a major problem. First, I don’t think we are giving God our best when we do that. I believe that we are all capable of much more. 
Secondly, this musical repetitiveness makes it very difficult for one to keep their attention on the music and participate actively as a congregation member. Thirdly, you’re giving worship music a bad name, and we know that some people think it isn’t that great to begin with. Now that we know the problems, let’s search for some solutions.
My first thought as a musician is to find ways of incorporating different styles into our music. Let’s take the classic song “Open the Eyes of My Heart” by Paul Baloche as an example. We all do this song the exact same way every time we lead worship with it. Acoustic guitar driven, medium tempo, the bass plays quarter notes on the root of the chord, and the drums just play a basic 4/4 rock pattern. Try something different. What if we teach the band to play the same sort of chords to support the vocal part, but we adapt a light funk feel? This gives our congregation something new and grabs their attention. Now this next questions is key: will this distract from their ability to sing along and worship in a “corporate” manner? My answer (from experience) is no, not if we don’t change the vocal melody and text. I have personally experienced success in implementing this stylistic strategy in worship. I encourage you to do the same.
Of course, music isn’t the only aspect of worship that we need to be aware of in order to create an uplifting experience for everyone involved. I consider participation another one of the most important components as well. When everyone is singing along, hands raised, and shouting amen, there’s no doubt that God is present. How can we encourage congregation members to do this and create an environment where everyone feels comfortable with it? The key word there is environment. We have to create an environment where this is the unspoken expectation. Again, this is an instance where I think of the worship leader as a teacher. We must think of ways to instruct our congregation on how to participate.

After all, sometimes they just don’t know what to do. Think about it, how many times have you seen a really talented worship team play and sing their hearts out to a congregation that just stands there and watches? I have participated in worship where this is the case.

Nothing feels more unnatural than those instances. Take the time in a service to teach people what to do. Explain to them that it is okay to sing along and move to the music. Perhaps take a moment to teach them how to sing the chorus of the song before you even play the song. Explain to them that “worship team” is not limited to the people on the stage or behind the pulpit. “Worship team” can, and should include everyone in the room.
Thanks again for reading. If I can be of service to you please contact me. My phone number is (660)651-9964, and my email is rmclouth@centralmethodist.edu. Keep playing and singing!