The Experts Were Wrong
We Finally figured out how to make it
If you have previously read my article,
Introducing praise music in an established church you will have
seen the down side of messing with a traditional church service. You
may even be depressed and wondering if it is worth it. Yes it is. This
article is much more upbeat. We finally stumbled on to what works!
Sunday mornings around here used to look a lot like this: The first and
third Sundays of the month we had traditional music led by a song
leader accompanied by the piano. On the second and fourth Sundays we
had the praise band leading contemporary music with guitars. The
problem with this arrangement is people started choosing what weeks
they would attend based on the music. Other congregations have told us
the same thing happened to them. Generally, the solution has been to
just give up and go to two services or abandon one form of the music in
favor of the other. We wanted unity not division so we weren’t willing
to go the two services route but enough of our people liked the new
songs that there was no going back. What could we do? We were told
blended services don’t work. Turns out we were told wrong! The problem
is we were going about it wrong.
Many congregations attempt to resolve blended service problems by
having the piano/organ play the hymns preceded or followed each week by
the praise band playing the contemporary songs. This will almost
invariably generate the same response when tried. The congregation will
see it as a competition (or war!) choosing sides to determine who is
going to win. Another common mistake is the praise team that does play
hymns but attempts to turn all of them into contemporary songs. In most
cases, this leads to more division and the frustrated leaders declaring
blended services don’t work. Take heart dear struggling worship leader,
you can survive the transition and maybe even thrive.
We stumbled and fumbled around for years trying these very same
approaches in an attempt to make a blended service work with only
limited success. It was very frustrating. We scoured the internet for
expert advice but we appeared to be in uncharted territory. It turns
out the solution wasn’t that complicated. Following is the approach we
have taken to make a blended service work:
Every week we play half traditional and half contemporary music. It is
important to have consistency from week to week. The instruments – with
the exception of the trumpet - play every week but the praise team
singers only every other week. The trumpet wasn’t a conscious choice it
just happened that way. On weeks without the praise singers, we have a
song leader and a choir. The choir is assembled from whoever volunteers
that day from the congregation. Though the choice of music is
consistent from week to week, this minor presentation difference seemed
to help the traditional people feel a greater sense of inclusion and
even ownership in the service without our having to fear losing the
We do not separate the song time into a hymn time
by praise songs. We mix them together. Separating them can lead to more
division, Unity in worship is always the goal. We switch back and forth
the two styles. You might think this wouldn’t work – that it would be
running a hundred miles an hour into a brick wall. Not true. Not all
praise songs are fast and not all
hymns are to be sung slowly. If you order them wisely they will flow
are not hard and fast set on alternating them. Some weeks it doesn’t
flow to alternate but it will work most weeks. We do try to consider
what is going
into the sermon best each week for our last song.
Another important aspect of our approach is we do not separate
instruments by the style of music being played. We have the guitars,
drums, and bass play right along with the piano on the traditional
hymns and the piano joins us on the praise songs. Generally, we try to
keep the original feel of the hymns. Do not underestimate the
importance of this. The experts tend to disagree with us on this point.
The experts are wrong. By regularly proving we respect the hymn persons
rights to worship in their preferred style, these same people are more
willing to cooperate on the contemporary songs sometimes even if it is
a rocker with lots of distortion. The opposite is true as well. The
contemporary crowd is far more likely to participate on the hymns when
the songs include guitars.
Be aware that not all hymns translate well to guitars unless you are a
classical guitarist – which I am not. Rather than avoiding such songs,
let the piano handle them in as traditional a manner as possible. Its
ok not to play on every song. It works because it adds variety to the
music. Occasionally we do the reverse and the pianist does not to play
on a guitar driven song.
Most hymns can be played on guitar with a little effort. We simplify
the chord structure of the hymns so there are usually only one or two
changes per measure. This makes the song far easier to play. The piano
simply plays the song as everyone remembers it. The style of the hymn
remains traditional but it is more accessible to those who prefer
guitars in worship. It has the added benefit of helping the hymn folks
learn to accept the guitar in worship. Of course the piano helps the
hymn people feel more comfortable with the contemporary tunes as well.
Occasionally we do pump up an oldie. For instance, Just A Closer Walk
works very well as a Chuck Berry style rocker. It is interesting that
when we pull one of these songs out on Sunday the congregation usually
responds very enthusiastically. If we did this with every hymn, it
wouldn’t be long before we had some people revolting. People will join
you if you lead but will resist if you push. Do not try to force anyone
to change. Keep the melody line familiar to them. Use the piano
accompaniment to help them feel comfortable so they are not completely
outside their comfort zone. Don’t go to far too fast. It is ok to
stretch them but also give them something to go along with it that they
consider more accessible.
It is also important to let your congregation lead you in song choices.
You have hymns that always seem to connect with your congregation - use
them! It is a little harder with contemporary songs. While people
seldom tell us we need to learn a certain song, they do respond to
what we offer them. What is considered hot elsewhere, may not work with
your congregation. The band may think a song is way cool but the church
may not get it. Sometimes the church will grab on to a song as if it
were written just for them. Recognize those moments!
Our people love God Is Good (all the time), and Days Of Elijah. They
are on their feet every time we play them. I don’t know why. It isn’t
important to know why, just recognize you have helped the church draw
closer to our Creator when it happens. Amazing Grace (my chains are
gone) is a contemporary song that our congregation joined in on the
very first time they heard it. That makes more sense, as they already
knew the basic song to start with. With your congregation, these songs
may not work at all.
Sometimes a song that really speaks to you will fall to the floor when
you bring it to the body. It may just be the wrong time. Try it again
on another day or two and see if it works a little better. If not save
that one for your private worship time and move on to the next. There
have been instances when we have shelved a song for years before our
congregation could enjoy it. Point is if the song is a powerful worship
song it will eventually find its spot on the rotation.
Then there will be the song that grates on you for no reason you can
explain. You personally don't like it and don't want to play it but
don’t you just know it the congregation loves it! Here is how I attempt
to handle these songs. I try to make them a praise offering to the
Father. I purposely choose to enjoy that the body is enjoying the song.
I admit it is not always easy.
Here is how we introduce new songs: The first time
the song as "special music". For whatever reason that no one seems to
remember, before the sermon someone will perform a special. So we take
advantage of our own tradition to present new music. At a later day we
the same song as offertory. This is what we call the music while the
collecting tithes and offerings. Some
of your people may know the songs from the radio, which will speed
We often project the lyrics on new songs during offertory – but only
occasionally on specials.You might
need to use the song as offertory more than once before people are
enough to sing with you.
Other praise teams say they introduce new music
service officially begins. Normally our pianist plays traditional music
this time. Yet other teams tell me they tell the congregation they are
do something new then run through the song as more of a performance
immediately play it again asking the congregation to join in. If they
cooperative at all they should be able to at least join in on the
most new songs. These are at least some ideas you might try to see what
into your services best. There is no one right way.
Remember to be prayerful and patient as you transition to a blended
service. Acceptance and cooperation do not happen overnight. Both sides
style division have to learn to trust you. The hymn people have to see
that you aren’t trying to change or eliminate their music and that you
aren’t trying to shove them out the door. The contemporary folks have
to see that you take them seriously. You aren’t going to turn their
music into stuffy elevator music. Neither side wants to feel that their
needs have been ignored or that you are only patronizing them. At the
same time they must be made to understand the body of Christ is made up
of a very diverse group. It isn’t possible to always get your way. We
must learn to compromise and each give a little for the sake of unity.
I hope this has helped in some small way. Feel free to write me a note.
I am not an expert but I have been through the battle. One that today I
sure had to happen but we didn't know any better. The LORD grant you
peace and wisdom in your leading.
Copyright © 2008 by Kevin Sluder
All rights reserved
Links to some
of my articles:
Praise Band A little bit about how we got
Our Continuing Journey latest updates.
Introducing praise music in an established church
This has become more of a history lesson of our struggle and our
Blended Services Do Work! The experts
were wrong - We finally figured out how to make it work!
Come Let Us Worship And Bow Down The problem
of Idol worship in the church
I've Got Sunshine On A Cloudy Day
Recognizing the silver lining that we often find on what we think are
bad things in our lives.
Hymns Versus Praise Songs A humorous
A Little Musician Humor Lighten up!
Guitars! Jesus wants me to have a new guitar?
Terrorism In The Church Take a stand
against spiritual abuse.
Cool Links Some helpful resources
Blended Worship - Good for the Body A
wondeful article by Pastor of Music Ron Man