In today’s worship culture, there are usually three words that people use to describe worship styles. Traditional, contemporary, and blended. It is difficult, however, to describe a service style using just one of these three terms. Each church has various nuances that affect the distinct flavor within the local congregation. For example, what is called contemporary in one church, might be considered traditional in another. Therefore, it is challenging to define a blended worship service since every person might have a different idea in mind.
WHAT IS A BLENDED WORSHIP SERVICE?
A blended worship service is more than just the songs that are sung. Blended involves vocal presentation, instrumentation, song selection, and participation. Since my church is considered blended – leaning towards contemporary, I will use us as an example.
- Vocal Presentation – We blend both a vocal praise team of two or three singers with hand-held mics and a traditional choir that also assists in the worship.
- Instrumentation – Our usual instrumentation consists of a blend of piano, keyboard, acoustic guitar, electric guitar, electric bass, and drums. We also occasionally employ other instruments as needed.
- Song selection – We usually sing contemporary songs that have been written this decade. We also frequently blend in older hymns that were written in previous centuries.
- Participation – A significant portion of our congregation actively participates in the entirety of the service.
As you can see, an effective blended service will involve more than just the kinds of songs you sing. It involves the whole scope of the worship service, including participation. Therefore, one of the goals of a blended service should be to have a majority of the congregation actively participate in all parts of the service. Unfortunately, not all people participate all the time.
WHY DO CHURCHES HAVE BLENDED SERVICES?
Some people want to blend worship styles at their church to keep everyone happy. Some blend worship styles in an attempt to reach a different demographic or appease an existing one. While these are admirable goals, keep in mind that they are very difficult to pull off. Someone is eventually going to feel frustrated or left out and unfortunately, you simply will not be able to make everybody happy. In fact, the only things that are certain in life are these: Death, taxes, and church members complaining about music.
Another reason people blend worship styles is because they have musicians and singers of different skill sets. For example, a church may have a pianist who is very good at playing traditional hymns. They may also have a pianist who is excellent at playing contemporary songs. However, they both feel anxious about playing the opposite style. With a blended worship service, both talented musicians play.
An additional reason churches incorporate a blended worship style is because it allows them to pick from a greater repertoire of songs that have the optimal effect of leading everyone into the presence of the Lord. Traditional hymns can augment the beautiful contemporary worship songs we enjoy singing and vice-versa. Both styles of music bring about the optimal effect of preparing everyone to enter the Lord’s presence and hear what He has to say.
But seamlessly blending two polarizing worship styles so they sound as if they are one united style can be difficult. However, with proper planning, it can be done.
HOW TO PLAN AN EFFECTIVE BLENDED SERVICE
An effective blended service is a well-planned service. Allow plenty of time to work out a good plan. For example, I usually prepare a week or more out from the Sunday that we are going to sing. In fact, the further out from the specific service, the better. This gives time to plan the music set, listen to feedback, and tweak the set. Regardless of when you plan a blended service, here are four things you can do to make sure it is effective.
PRAY – Above all and before all, we should pray! It only makes sense to talk to the LORD about what He would want us to do in our service to Him. Therefore, before you plan a service, PRAY. And while you plan the service, PRAY! And for good measure, after you plan the service, PRAY!
LIST – List songs that have a common theme and match the pastor’s message. For example, if the sermon is about the holiness of God, we will sing songs that align with that same topic. I don’t focus on how many songs are hymns or contemporary. Look at what will fit the message. Usually, after making a list, I will have 10 or more songs that can be used. I then pair them down to the 4 or 5 songs that will have the optimal effect of bringing us into the Lord’s presence that day and preparing us to hear what God has to say through His messenger.
ARRANGE – Arrange the song selections by key, tempo, and style. This is very important for having an effective blended service. I usually start our services with songs that are up-tempo or powerful and move towards more worshipful, slower songs before the sermon. I also arrange songs by key. This helps make the service flow smoothly. Either the keys will remain the same, or move up a half step or a whole step. Or the key for the next song will flow counterclockwise in the circle of fifths. If there is an abrupt key change, I will insert a prayer, a welcome, or a scripture between the songs. Finally, I try to group traditional songs in one grouping and contemporary songs in another. This makes the service sound less clunky. Using the above template, I might end up with a service that looks like this:
Holy, Holy, Holy (Traditional Powerful Hymn) Key of Db
May the Peoples Praise You (Contemporary Fast Song) Key of D
Holy Is the Lord (Contemporary Fast Song) Key of G
Revelation Song (Contemporary Slow Song) Key of D
We Fall Down (Contemporary Slow Song) Key of Eb
NEED – Listen to your congregation and your community. If they are more contemporary focused, use that style as your base and incorporate traditional hymns in the service. If it is more traditional, start there and start blending in a contemporary sound. Keep one style as your base and plan the instrumentation, vocal presentation, and song selection from that point of view. As for my team, we keep it contemporary sounding with a standard studio set. Even when singing ancient hymns.
This is not a one-size fits all step to planning an effective blended worship service, but rather a guide to get you started on your journey, or improve what is already there. Each church situation is different and so I would encourage you to go back to the most important step in planning a blended service. Above all – PRAY!