Breaking Out

By Stephen M. Newman
Founder, ExperiencingWorship.com & Author of Experiencing Worship
August 18, 2009

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Are You Willing?

Are you now or have you ever been in the position where you felt the desire and need to help move your church in a more contemporary style of worship? Have you ever come up against resistance while attempting to make a move that way? Are you frustrated in your attempts to do what God has called you to do? If you answered yes to any of these questions then I encourage you to look through this site for helpful hints and suggestions on how to help lead your church in the direction that God has given you. Our staff has over 30 years of experience in churches from traditional to contemporary. We have gone through the changes and have some helpful tools to help you in your ministries. We also have a questions and answer forum in our Message Board for you to discuss your frustrations with and share ideas with other worship leaders and ministers of music. Begin your free course titled Breaking Out!

Before we can look at the subject and tools to help your church move in the direction of becoming more relevant to today's Christian, you have to make a decision:

Are you willing to go the long haul to get your church headed and eventually become a more contemporary church? If not then I would suggest you find a place that is already doing what you were called to do. If you answer yes, then we can help you in your moving forward.

Traditional Church Background

Let's look a bit at the background of the traditional church. Most churches in America come from what has been labeled as a traditional approach to worship and music. Most of the music is from the late nineteenth century to the mid twentieth. Mostly comprised of hymns and southern gospel music. I grew up in a Southern Baptist Church that sang the hymns. Why? Because that was what was comfortable to the age group that founded the church. My parents are classic examples. It was what they grew up listening to. This is a good thing! Or it was for them during their lifetime and met their worship needs in the area of style of music.

Today's Church

What does the church of today look like? For the most part the one's mentioned above have not changed very much. There are several churches all over the country that are popping up who have decided to make the change from the start. They have chosen not to go the route of change from within. They began their churches with the style that is reaching people of their generation and younger. It is by far the easiest way to make change. However there are many worship leaders and music ministers who do not have the luxury of starting new churches. So what to do for those who are in older churches still doing what they did 40 years ago? Let's look at the questions below to navigate where you are and what info may be helpful to your situation.

Where are you coming from:

Hymn only.

Hymns with older choruses blended into the service.

A true blended service.

Where do you want to go?

Traditional/Contemporary Blended 40/60

Pure Contemporary

Most worship leaders that I know want to go totally contemporary. I don't mean that they want to abandon hymns and do only Vineyard music. It's in the instrumentation that they desire the contemporary sound. Let's define contemporary music before we move ahead. It is in the instrumentation that we are speaking. There are some new choruses that are not helpful tools in worship as there are hymns that are not. I grew up listening to bands comprised of guitars, drums, bass, and keyboards. It was rare that I listened to an organ unless it was a B-3. Why would I listen to that type of music throughout the week and then want to worship with a pipe organ? I know I am stepping on toes here but the fact is that churches need to be relevant to their people. It is no wonder that churches don't' grow when nothing has changed in years.
I didn't like it then and I don't like it now. Nothings changed. If you agree that the church must make changes in order to reach people then let's move on.

What are some helpful suggestions?

1. Use contemporary instruments
When starting the change, use the contemporary instruments and arrangements to sing hymns. The tunes are familiar and it's only the instrumentation that's different. I suggest that you ease in the amount of instruments you wish to use. It's not wise to have a total band set up on the first Sunday. Ease into it by adding a bass guitar or acoustic guitar first. Do it for several months before adding anything else. Set drums up and don't play them for months. Let the people get use to seeing them in the auditorium before you have someone play them. Remember that moving slow is the key! Worship leaders and music ministers shoot themselves in the foot by moving too fast. Change is tough and the key to change is slow moving.

2. Get support
Make sure you have the support of your Senior pastor and other staff. There is nothing more frustrating than doing it alone. If you don't have support from the leadership of the church you will go nowhere with it. The leadership extends to those who you work closely within the music ministry as well. A big question to ask yourself is "Is there a need for it here?". Remember that these people have been here longer than you and will be here when you are gone. Get support before you move on.

3. Get people committed
Do you have the committed people to pull off what you are wanting to do? When you finally move into the setting you desire, remember that it takes more than an organist and pianist to effectively reproduce contemporary music. Band experience is necessary and having those experienced in a band setting is essential. The more instruments you add the more difficult it is to play together. How proficient are they and can they play together?

4. Think long term
Have a long term plan in mind before you begin. If your experience in contemporary music is limited, it will take time for you to get your skills in order. When you begin working with a band and group of trained vocalist it can be intimidating at times if you are not comfortable in that setting. Set goals of where you want to go and get training to help you as a leader. There are some great conferences out there that can help you in this area.

5. Choose carefully
Choose your people carefully. As you know, music draws in all sorts of personalities. When beginning a team make sure that their hearts are in the right places. The larger the group the more problems that can arise from the different personalities. I recommend that you have a list of guidelines and qualifications for your people. This will help them know what you expect from them.

6. Aim for worship leaders
Help your people from the start to become worship leaders. In the contemporary setting the role of the vocalist and entire group moves from a song leading support to a worship support. They are there for the purpose of helping produce quality music for worship but are also there to help lead it. A worship team can help you or hurt you in leading worship. Train your people on what Biblical worship is and what their role is as a leader on the platform. They are no longer a music and vocal support but leaders of worship who need to model it before the people.

7. Share reasons
Begin early sharing your reasons for wanting to move to a contemporary setting. Along with getting support to help you move into a new style, begin sharing with as many people as you can about your vision and the reasons you feel it is needed. Communicate with the people. Put it in publications, bring in others outside the church to support your position (a Worship Leader from another church that is already doing it). Share statistics of growth that has occurred in other churches who have gone that route. Use examples of churches within your denomination that have moved to a more contemporary style and how they have been successful. Get the information into your peoples hands that supports your position.

8. Start early
Start a service earlier than the main service or on a Saturday night to start. If you feel that your church is not ready for the blended service on Sunday mornings during the prime service, work on an alternative time. Start a new service for the "younger" people on a Saturday night or Sunday before the 11:00 a.m. service. Should you choose this route I caution you to be careful that you don't go hog wild with it. People will be watching you. How you approach this service may affect your chances to move the rest of the church in that direction in the future. Eye's will be on you even though it is not during the main service. Make this service contemporary yet tolerable to the older person. This method of approach has been the most effective in our experience. What you will find is that the people who desire that style of music in worship will be drawn to it. In many cases that service will become the "main" service in your church. Remember that it won't happen overnight. Be patient and if it is God's will it will happen.

9. What do they think?
How does your congregation view you. What do they think of you as a person and minister? One of the most important factors you need to be aware of is your reputation as a leader in the church. Do the people have confidence in you? Have you proven yourself at that church in that setting? Do they trust you? Do they know you heart for ministry and is your life reflective of it? If the people don't have total confidence in you this type of change will never occur. We as staff are outsiders to the local church.( I am speaking of the smaller churches in rural settings.) How the congregation views you as a leader and minister will have everything to how much they will allow you to do in the area of change. Get the trust and develop relationships with key people. Prove yourself and your motives, and people will allow you to move in the areas that you feel called.



Breaking Out
  • Are You Willing (Chapter 1)
  • Tools To Help Change (Chapter 2)








  • Stephen M. Newman
    Founder, ExperiencingWorship.com & Author of Experiencing Worship
    Read more from Stephen M. Newman


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