“Grab a hymnal from the seatback in front of you and turn to #134 – Victory in Jesus.”
Those were familiar words to me growing up in church. I was raised on hymns, which to this day still play an important role in my family and our church.
But, even back then, some hymns didn’t connect well with me. For example, I remember as a kid getting my words mixed up in the song I mentioned above. When we sang, “He socked me and bopped me,” I wondered if these were good ways for God to show His love to us. Turns out He, “sought me and bought me,” but I didn’t know it at the time.
Sometimes songs don’t connect with a church. Styles may be a reflection of the generations.
But don’t fear change because our message doesn’t change if our method does.
I’ve been through major transitions in two churches that have taught me a lot about transitioning to a new approach to music within the church. Here’s my biggest takeaways from those seasons:
1: Know your audience
In 2003, I was interning at a large church that was getting ready to launch a contemporary service after years of piano, choir, and organ. My music pastor was passionate about speaking the musical language of the next generation. His kids were in youth group at the time and he saw a chasm between the ways students were connecting with God and the way things were expected in the adult services.
So he spent time on youth group mission trips, spoke with students, sang with them, and learned the songs that were shaping them. He set down his choir director skills and learned to play guitar. He focused on knowing his audience, rather than teaching them.
When it came time to start a new service in a new style, they trusted him. They knew how much he cared about their connection to God. He knew they liked it loud. He knew they needed to know it was ok to raise their hands in “big church.”
Same age group, new audience
When it came time for me to take on a leadership role at another church, it was a totally new scenario for me. We weren’t starting a contemporary service, and we were transitioning from leader to leader. The praise band was singing songs from the 21st century. Their playlist was different from what I would’ve chosen for my previous church, but I had to remember that it WASN’T that church. It wasn’t those people. It wasn’t that band.
The one word of advice I would have for anyone who is starting to change things at their church – SLOW. Don’t forget that people can potentially connect to God as well singing Shout to the Lord as they can with Oceans! Let people share their heart with you and be sure to share yours with them. Get into a small group, hang out with the youth group, spend time with the families of your deacons or elders. Trusting you as a leader is more important than the style of the band or song playlist.
2: Know your strengths
I’ve spent a lot of time online and around town watching teams lead worship, and it’s pretty obvious when the leader is out of his or her comfort zone.
The Lord looks at the heart, but if man looks at the outward appearance and the outward appearance looks really uncomfortable to those you’re leading, it’s not going to be very effective.
In short, be yourself. There’s no point in shifting to a “current” worship style if your team isn’t up for the challenge. An acoustic guitar can be more authentic than synths and four on the floor. Most of all, don’t sing about dancing if you’re uncomfortable dancing in worship!
People will respond to your leadership best when you and your team are able to lead in your strengths.
3: Know your leaders
Last, but not least – be sure you know the hearts of your senior pastor and church leadership. If you’ve decided it’s important to transition the worship style at your church, but if don’t have the support of your pastor and staff, you will be fighting a losing battle.
Relational investment goes a long way. If your pastor doesn’t know your heart in this issue, you’re due for a coffee meeting. In fact, make it a weekly thing. Having the support of your pastor(s) will make or break any shift within a church.