Rev. Kevin L Bengtson
Traditional, blended, contemporary. These words have inspired decades of authentic worship as well as decades of disagreement. They are the three most commonly used words to describe styles of worship for most churches. If we like or even use those terms for ourselves, the reality is that those who worship with us as a congregation will use one of these three words when describing their worship service to another person.
Through the past 20 years in churches across America blended worship has gradually become the most predominant style choice for worship. There are still many churches that incorporate two types of worship in two completely different services, generally traditional and contemporary. And others use only traditional or only contemporary. If you’ve found a successful way to worship in terms of music style, then congratulations. But chances are that in the next five years, you may be faced with making a change.
This article talks primarily about how best to make a change from traditional to a blended style of worship. As we continue our look at incorporating a blended worship style, let me explain what my definition of a blended worship service is. Blended worship is simply using elements of both traditional and contemporary worship. Relating to music, it would be using traditional hymns of the past along with worship choruses as part of your Sunday morning worship.
How does one go about incorporating some of the newer worship choruses into a traditional service? For starters, your choir can be a great benefit in making that change. You can teach your choir these songs and have them help to introduce them to the congregation. Brentwood Benson has several collections that can be of help in this. Two of my favorites are from the Ready to Sing series and are entitled Blended Worship, volume 2 and 3. These books combine a worship song and a more traditional song into a medley. These are especially helpful since there are full accompaniment tracks available to use. You may not have a group of musicians able to provide a live accompaniment and even if you do (I’m talking about guitars, keyboard and drums here), I suggest having them play along with the track.
There are a couple more books, these from our Simple Series, entitled Praise and Worship, volume 1 and 2. These books have some single worship songs along with a few of the medleys, similar to those above. These four books will provide you with enough music for the next several months as you lead your congregation into a blended worship style.
Now it’s time to begin the process and the three key steps below will help you in making a change. What will be the difference for a successful transition? My hope for those reading this is that you may discover the way to introduce a new way of worship for your church congregation. Of course, the most important part of each step is prayer so ask your pastor, church leaders and choir to pray during the entire process.
The first step is to get your decision-makers on board. You know who they are, or you need to find out if you’re new. Generally, it’s the pastor and the governing board of your church. The Deacons, Elders or Advisory Council are examples. But there are decision makers that sometimes aren’t on any board, the patriarch or matriarch in the church.
How do you convince them that a move to blended music would be helpful? Ask them to look around the church. Where are the young men and women that will eventually led the church? What about the youth? Another question is to ask what it might take for their children or grandchildren to attend. Is this something they and the church are concerned with? I’m sure the answer is yes, so let them know how it might help to start using some of the music they are more interested in for worship. Be creative but make sure you have a group of people on board to make a change.
The second step is to plan. Take time to find songs that your congregation either knows or can learn easily. This is the key. Don’t start out with a song that is hard to sing or too repetitive. For instance, while the song Lift Your Name on High seems rather dated to most of us, many of the 20 and 30-year-olds in your church grew up singing this in their youth group. And believe it or not, it’s still in the top 100 songs in the CCLI database.
Pull together a list of about 10-15 songs that you believe will work with your congregation. Look at the songs used in the choir books I mentioned above as a good place to start. A couple of songs that I like are 10,000 Reasons (from Ready to Sing Blended Worship, volume 2) and This is Amazing Grace (from Ready to Sing Blended Worship, volume 3). Both of these songs are easier to sing and have more of a hymn sound to them.
When it comes time to introduce these songs to your congregation, allow the choir to sing them through a time or two before even communicating your plan to the church. This way they will already be familiar. Also, don’t introduce too many songs at once. Allow the congregation to learn them by using them 2-3 weeks in a row. Then move on to another.
Third implement your plan. This includes education and communication. I have found through years of experience that a congregation reacts best to change when it is explained and there is a good reason for it. Take about a month before you begin to share with the congregation each week a bit about your plans. Use some of the leaders in the church to share as well, along with the pastor (of course!). Your pastor’s leadership and investment in this is crucial.
There may be a few bumps along the way, but for those wishing to begin the use of worship choruses this is a good way to get things started.