What Issues Do You Face in Modernizing Your Worship?

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Okay, so let's get this ball rolling. There are those of us who have done "worship transition" (modernizing worship through music, technology, etc.) and have actually lived to tell the tale. Some of us have battle scars from doing it more than once (no names :)). If you find yourself in that situation, what words of encouragement or advice can we give you? Ask away.

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We've hit some stagnation here, so I'll throw a hot topic out there: paying team members.

You may or may not realize that many large churches keep their worship musicians (both instrument & vocalists) on staff, or at least pay them a per-gig fee. The larger the church and the higher the commitment to quality, the more prevalent this is (although church plants are often pinned into this situation, as well). For those of us in large cities, it is an even bigger issue because church musicians are at a such a high premium with multiple mega-churches competing for the best guitar players, drummers, etc. in the Christian world.

Then there's this: when I tell people back home that I pay a couple of my musicians, they get up in arms about how church is "not supposed to be a concert". BUT, they've been paying their organists for years. When I first got into worship leading, the organist would make $75 for playing 2 songs and we got a pat on the back for leading the other 5 with a full band that required coordinated rehearsals.

So what do you think.....pay musicians or no? And in what situations/how much?

Musicians who are professionals should be paid. At the least they should be offered to be paid. If a musician wants his or her time and talent offered as a gift that is their decision. 1 Tim 5:18 comes to mind on this topic, although I don't think many musicians want to be compared to an ox!

Hey, 48 years later, mr. organist has played for two services, for a while three on a Sunday, no pay, an occasional pat on the back, appreciated, but you know what, I enjoy giving back from what God has given me, besides, even if the pay is lousy (it's a hobby for me, but still requires countless ours of practice, sometimes months on end, only to be told at the service you had it planned for, we are playing a video today, so you don't have to play for the offertory), the pension plan is out of this world!

I have mixed feelings. On the one hand, I think of being on the worship team as a service to the church. But it doesn't take much of a stretch to say that if that implies musicians shouldn't be paid, why doesn't it imply that no-one should be paid?

Motivation is certainly an important consideration. I'd be deeply uncomfortable with an attitude that, "We can't worship without (insert hard-to-find-instrument), so we better pay one."

It seems to me that in transitioning we often end up treating the "transition" as changing the attitudes of those who are more comfortable with traditional worship instead. Here are some examples that I've seen in our own congregation that hurt the efforts to modernize worship, but more important - they diminish the worship experience:
1. Songs are only on a projected screen, thus leaving behind those who prefer to use a songbook
2. Songs in a songbook that are also projected on a screen have mismatched words on the screen (sometimes on purpose to discourage use of the songbook)
3. Technology that is not used seamlessly - changing stanzas at the right time
4. Not recognizing that contemporary music which is heard on Christian radio is often not good for congregational singing

I'm on the worship committee for my church and I can't seem to get these things through to church leadership. I don't understand why those who want to "transition" worship won't recognize how important these things are to making it a process which unites the congregation instead of dividing it.

Hi Ernie.....welcome to the conversation!

First of all, I want to say that I'm encouraged by your willingness to stay involved in your church's worship committee, even though you may not all be in agreement. Like all things in Christian life - this an a real iron-sharpens-iron subject and I'd like to welcome you as someone who really has a different perspective on the subject.

I think you bring up some really interesting questions that we may not agree on, but I'll try to give an honest answer as someone who's led worship in traditional-blended churches moving toward modern worship....

1. In regards to songbooks, its really a tough issue. Since most modern worship music is created and sung in environments that use projection exclusively, I don't know of ANY church that actually keeps an up-to-date modern worship songbook. If you can pull it off, more power to you - but I can imagine it is a hefty challenge. Modern worship comes out of the pop/rock music genre, which often lends itself towards free harmonizing rather than printed 4-part harmonies - often in thirds or descants. The only source I know of for 4-part harmonies in modern worship music is CCLI's hymn sheet database, which varies in cost depending on your church size. See my comment on your other post about printed music.

2. In regards to projection not matching printed words, etc.: In my experience, it is rarely a malicious attitude that causes such confusion. Projection is a touchy business and mistakes are far too common, even in megachurches. One way that we try to avoid mismatching is to have the projectionist prepare the projection ahead of time and do a "dress rehearsal" with the worship team. This requires more time on behalf of the projectionist, but often results in a smoother service, thus enabling people to worship more easily. In addition, often bands play from chordsheets, which do not necessarily match printed music - or simply add additional choruses or verses as a creative method.........that's part of what makes reading the music hard. But again, you have to remember that hymns and modern worship are different genres and thus, are written out and played differently. It doesn't make one or the other bad - just different.

3. Regarding changing stanzas at the wrong time, I can tell you that we as musicians and projectionists screw up, even on our best days, about 10% of the time. Aggressive practicing can help this, but that's often not very realistic in a small church atmosphere.

4. Re: Music on the radio. I will grant that there are some songs that are played on the radio that are not good for congregational singing, but we'd probably disagree on a few. For instance, we sang "If We Are the Body" by Casting Crowns on Sunday and it was executed flawlessly by the band and the congregation, even though its not a particularly "congregational" song. I think the bigger issue is often that churches try to play modern worship songs without a modern worship band. Chris Tomlin, Hillsong United, etc., who write most of what we sing as "modern" songs today play with no less than an rhythm guitar, a lead guitar, a bass guitar, a drummer, a keyboardist and a CLEAR worship leader. Trying to play worship songs and expecting them to sound like they do on CD's without a worship BAND is foolish. Many churches make this mistake and end up ruining their chance for modernization. The #1 rule of worship transition - if you're going to do anything, do it WELL. If you can't do it well, don't do it - you'll just face controversy. And you're right - worship can cause divisiveness if its not changed well. I encourage you to keep encouraging your musicians and your worship ministry to press on in faith, hope and [the greatest of these] love.

I'd love to talk more about it! [[email protected]]

Hi everyone, I thought I'd join in the conversation here to add another voice from a different (though for some, maybe more familiar?) CRC-subset.

First, I would like to suggest here that there is no good formula for "modernizing" worship that can work in every congregation across the board. I'm sure you all can agree with that. Here is our story:

The church I serve was established in the mid-1930s in central California. It is said that the churches in our classis are more conservative than most in the whole denomination. My congregation's overall voice still includes a strong Dutch accent as a vast majority of our body is descendants of immigrants. Needless to say, change happens slowly. Over the last 10 years our congregation has checked some things off the modern worship list- projectors, quality sound system, and the addition of the "praise team" – including drum kit, guitars, and bass. However, 25 years ago, our church also purchased a pipe organ which to this day is one of the finest instruments from Fresno to Sacramento.

There were a few issues in place when I was hired 4 years ago at Modesto.
1. There wasn't much buy-in from the congregation from the beginning of the movement toward "contemporary" music. Though the equipment was purchased, it was still met with resistance. There is still some residual groaning to this day.
2. The "praise teams" were assigned 4 songs to sing at the beginning of the service only (the real worship began when they were finished), and the songs were chosen months in advance, therefore having little to do with the rest of the service.
3. The "praise songs" used (some, not all) were of what I like to call the "hoke" variety. Let me know if you need a further explanation of “hoke” or “hokeyness”.
4. The worship after the "praise songs" was disjointed, often taking on the flavor of "liturgical tossed-salad".

When I started the job, the first thing we tackled was flow. Musical and verbal transitions became much more important, and more actual worship leadership was given to the "praise teams". Secondly, we began connecting each song to its particular function in the service (praise, confession, illumination, etc). This added substance to the "praise songs" which they lacked when placed as token pieces of the service. I should also note that intentionality toward the placement of hymns aided in strengthening the flow. We also beefed up our diet of "praise songs". I saw the Top 25 CCLI list was mentioned in previous posts, so I reference it here for mine. Of the songs listed there, 15 are regularly sung in our worship, though I don't believe the CCLI list should be the end-all be-all to what we sing in church. Not suggesting any of you believes that either. The truth is, better songs are being written now than they were in the last couple decades (better hymns too!).

My congregation is a body that loves to sing, especially hymns. I believe they always will be. If you visit our church on a Sunday when we sing "It Is Well" you will know exactly what I am talking about. We also have a 30-voice choir that sings almost every Sunday. Our current pastor, who has served over a dozen churches in 40 years of ministry, has said that one way of gauging the health of a congregation is by how loud they sing. Our congregation is in a place now where they even belt out "Blessed Be Your Name" and "How Great Is Our God". We have provided them with the tools to grow by projecting music on the screens whenever possible and with 2 or 3-part harmony (4 if it's a hymn; all done in-house); we've taught the choir new songs in rehearsal so they can support the congregation when they're seated among them in the sanctuary; and they've learned by example that there is value in all kinds of music when they see praise team members wearing choir robes, teenagers in the choir and handbell choir, and the music director leading them in worship as he moves from organ to directing the praise team from the piano to directing the choir. Little practical things like the “hymn sandwich” (e.g. segueing to a stanza of “Holy, Holy, Holy” from the middle of “God of Wonders” and back), worship leaders who invite the congregation to join in singing a new song as they feel comfortable, and working toward finding a good balance between the “familiar and fresh” (thank you, Ron Rienstra) has also encouraged the buy-in we needed from the beginning.

Are we a “modern” church? No, probably not in the sense the original post had in mind. That’s not part of our DNA. But we are a living and growing body, in the here and now; a church unified (not blended, but unified) in our style of worship. I echo Marva Dawn’s words here when talking about traditional vs. contemporary styles of worship: “God is our ‘both/and’ to our ‘either/or’.” We didn’t just invent Him and we can’t put limits on Him. That’s how we see it. Like I said at the beginning, I don’t see a formula for modernizing worship that can be applied to every congregation. Other churches may take greater steps in that direction, especially newly established churches. But for us, this is how God is blessing our congregation. To Him be the glory!

If you made it this far, thanks for reading :)

Thanks, Chad. I agree that the health of a congregation's worship is directly reflected in the strength of it's singing - and based upon that we're doing pretty poorly. I think I'm going to send your post along to the members of our worship committee.

A belated thank you Chad, love the way you put things, although we belong to the CRC denomination, our fabric differs from place to place, this what you have written is, although I am with our director, I think becoming my ideal situation. Too bad we are so far apart, I would love to come and experience a service at your church.