Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Creating a Blended Service Out Of a Historically Traditional Church

When I became a Christian in the late 90s, just about every church I knew was trying somehow to implement a contemporary worship service. If it was a historically traditional church, most of them (like the one I grew up in) simply added a contemporary service during the Sunday school hour while continuing to have a traditional service beforehand. You could also show up to a youth group meeting in the middle of the week to find that youth pastors and musicians had already made the more dramatic shift from "Kum-ba-ya" to "Chris Tomlin."

On the flip side, there were church plants popping up left and right whose main goal was to be "contemporary" from the get-go. That meant no hymnals, no organs, and no pews. The youth group was jammin' on Wednesday nights and the adult worship team was jammin' on Sunday mornings (much like the church I attended from 2000 - 2002). The liturgy was simple - Opening prayer, opening song, 'nother prayer, 3 songs, sermon, closing song, see ya. Nothing wrong with that...just an observation.

Enter 3rd category: The blended service. These are churches who decided they wanted to maintain some of the tradition while implementing some modern creativity. On a given Sunday, you could hear "Be Thou My Vision," "Arise, My Soul, Arise" (RUF), and "How Great Is Our God." This service probably still includes an Apostle's Creed and other corporate confessions, but the pastor may not be wearing a robe. You get a little of both worlds.

At this point in my life, I have served in all 3 of these categories. I've sung in the choir with heavy robes and stolls, I've worn jeans and a t-shirt on stage and played with a band, and currently, I wear black pants, black shirt, black blazer and play a baby grand. Of all the categories I've listed, I've found that creating a peaceful, blended worship service that meets in the same sanctuary is the biggest challenge. That being said, here are some things I've discovered that have worked when seeking to create a blended service out of a historically traditional church:

1. Take it slow: My first Sunday at St. Andrews, there was only piano. Our set list included all hymns with a contemporary offertory. I didn't attempt to change the church overnight; I simply gave a little something here and a little something there. Fast-forward a year from there, we've added guitar, bass, and rhythm and use a mix of hymns, re-written hymns, and contemporary Christian songs.

2. Establish consistent instrumentation: We still use the organ at St. Andrews - on the Doxology and the Amen following the Benediction. However, we have an introit and a 3-song set right at the beginning without a break. During this time, the instrumentation stays the same - piano, guitar, rhythm. In my opinion, this seems to help keep the congregation on the path you're wanting to go, and it establishes a flow of mood. Using the organ seems to work well after the congregation has spent some time in prayer or recited a creed. It also works well on special concerts. Not everyone may agree with me on this, but I've found it to work (see Michael W. Smith's worship albums, Passion's hymns album).

3. Find Creative Ways to Sing a Hymn - this may be as simple as Chris Tomlin's "The Wonderful Cross," or it may be Fernando Ortega's arrangement of "How Firm a Foundation." Whatever it is, find ways to enjoy these timeless texts by writing new melodies or using the arrangements other artists have written (see RUF hymnbook, Red Mountain Church, Indellible Grace music, etc.)

4. Write very specific choral music for your choir: One of the early mistakes I made was xeroxing the hymns out of the hymnal, handing them to my choir, and then expecting them to navigate their way through all the turnarounds and instrumental breaks I was taking. Now, I make sure that the choir has music that depicts every turn and angle, whether that be the intro or an instrumental break. This frees them up to worship without worrying about where their next entrance is.

5. Pray for the Holy Spirit to Move: this is always a given, but when implementing change, I've found it's easy to feel like it's up to you make your congregation like the music and want to worship God as a result. While the worship team can certainly help that by rehearsing and thinking through the transitions, the Holy Spirit is the One who changes hearts and leads us to the throne. And frankly, if it's evident that the Holy Spirit is moving in the worship team, it'll get contagious after a while and the congregation will find Him working in their midst as well.

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