Blended Services Do Work!

The Experts Were Wrong

We Finally figured out how to make it work!

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 contemporary bunch.

We do not separate the song time into a hymn time followed 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 between the two styles. You might think this wouldn’t work – that it would be like 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 together. We 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 to lead 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 we use 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 will use the same song as offertory. This is what we call the music while the ushers are collecting tithes and offerings. Some of your people may know the songs from the radio, which will speed things up. 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 familiar enough to sing with you.

Other praise teams say they introduce new music before the service officially begins. Normally our pianist plays traditional music during this time. Yet other teams tell me they tell the congregation they are going to do something new then run through the song as more of a performance piece but immediately play it again asking the congregation to join in. If they are cooperative at all they should be able to at least join in on the chorus of most new songs. These are at least some ideas you might try to see what fits 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 in the 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 am not 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 started.

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 mistakes

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 look

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

Guest Article:

Blended Worship - Good for the Body A wondeful article by Pastor of Music Ron Man