Category Archives: Worship and Creative Arts

Avoid the trap of a boring church routine

Let’s face it:  sometimes we don’t feel like going to church.

Most don’t like to admit that because it doesn’t sound spiritual.  Or worse, people might call you a heretic or ask you if you’re back-sliding.  But when church gets boring or stale, it can cause people to skip and spend their time in other ways.  Anything we do in life can become stale at times, from work to relationships to our favorite TV shows or weekly restaurant choices.  Sometimes, it’s good to shake things up.  Take on a new project or hobby.  Have a date night on a random weeknight or take a spontaneous trip.  Try a new restaurant or prepare a recipe at home you’ve never tried.  Turn off the TV and do something different.  We encourage individuals to freshen things up now and then.

So why not do the same for church ministries?  Even the most unique churches usually follow a certain format or pattern.  It can feel too programmed, regimented or manufactured. 

Church leaders go to conferences, read books and websites and talk amongst themselves about how to attract people, keep people, grow in number and spirituality.  They say that to reach adults, have a great children’s ministry and provide great programs.  They say that doing a series that lasts 4-6 weeks will make people want to come back to enjoy that series.  (They don’t consider if someone doesn’t like the series, they could choose to skip the next 4-6 weeks).  It’s “different” to have coffee and donuts in the lobby, or call your small groups “life” groups, or “community” groups or some other wording.  I’ve sat in on meetings where pastors discuss calling it a program instead of a bulletin to not be too religious, or have to plan how they’ll walk up the steps.  They think they are doing things “outside the box” when really they’re just slightly rearranging items inside the box.

Pastors these days have to plan and regiment everything.   Services are timed in great detail.  While it’s good to have a plan, and try to accommodate a schedule that includes more than one service on Sunday, the spontaneity and fun (and passion) can often be subdued. I’ve been to many churches that claim to be edgy and different, but really are a carbon copy of every non-denominational styled church these days.

Regimented.  Programmed.  Manufactured.  Cookie cutter.

I took a leadership class in college taught by the President of the University.  The school had a policy to take attendance each class and to write students up for skipping too many times.  He took attendance the first class and told us that he won’t be doing that every class, only the first couple times.  He just wanted to get to know our names.  He acknowledged the policy (again he was the President) but said that the responsibility should be on the professors:  “if your class is interesting enough, students will want to attend.  If students aren’t attending your class, maybe you need to do a better job of keeping them there.

Don’t get me wrong, I know churches mean well.  And some people like repetition and shy away from change.  You don’t want to change just for change’s sake and you do need structure and stability.  But we also could use some variety, to experience something fresh and new.  Mix it up a little. 

In the same way that individuals are encouraged to shake things up to bring some refreshing to their lives, here are some suggestions churches can do to bring variety to their ministry life.

  • Do an acoustic worship set, or even acapella (or a totally different style of music altogether). 
  • Do something creative like more visual demonstrations and modern day parables. 
  • Get more people from your church involved so it’s more about community and less about watching a show on stage.
  • Shake up the order of service: perhaps spend more time on worship and prayer and shorten the sermon
  • Have special services with no sermon but more involvement from people, creative performances or even viewing a Christian short film.
  • Invite guest speakers, artists and performers to bring some fresh perspective (and give your volunteers a break)
  • Plan more community events
  • Team up with other churches in the area for joint service and outreach projects, and have a joint worship gathering after to celebrate what God is doing in your community.

 There really is no limit to the number of ideas you can try.  I encourage you to pray and seek God about what ways you can liven things up to bring some variety and add interest to your ministry.

What are some creative things you’ve tried in your ministries that you’ve found successful?


Christianity in a “sad” state?

I knew a pastor in a church plant that would talk about the order of service like this:

“Happy song, happy song, sad song.  Announcements, offering, sad song.  Message, prayer, sad song, happy song.”

It was his quick way of describing the tempo of the songs from fast and exciting in the beginning to slower and moodier as it progresses (as if you can’t lead into a sermon with an exciting song, that would be CRAZY, right?).  But I digress.

I recall him referring to songs as either happy or sad because when I listen to contemporary songs on Christian radio or in church services, it seems that we are a very depressed and hurting people.  Just about every song these days is sad.  The topic is often about how terrible life is, all the struggles and trials we face, our busy lives and how life is beating us down.  God’s role in these songs is the comforter who will calm your storm and heal your wounds.    

But there’s more to life than suffering and God is more than our nurse and counselor.  I’m not dismissing the problems that people face and the need for music to be uplifting and encouraging.  And it’s expected that during a recession and tough times, songs will kind of reflect that.  But that’s not all there is to life, or to God.  Have you ever woken up feeling pretty good and wanted to listen to something exciting and uplifting on your way to work or school, turn on Christian radio and find songs that make you want to see a counselor?  Or sit in a church service and wonder if you mistakenly came to a funeral service?

What happened to victory?  What happened to “I’ve got the joy…down in my heart?”  What happened to “Our God is an Awesome God?” or “A Mighty Fortress if Our God?”  There have been a couple songs in recent years like “Mighty to Save” and “Revelation Song” which are pretty good anthemic style songs that sing of God’s greatness.  But those songs seem few and far between. 

Song writers today seem to like writing prose with no discernable chorus, no hook to sing along with.  Basically, a sad journal entry set to music.  There’s room for all types of songs.  Songs that reflect, songs that question or wonder, songs that encourage through the storms of life.  But songs of praise, celebration, excitment, victory and exhalting God for all His awesome traits and works seems to be a thing of the past.  (Notwithstanding the retro/vintage movement and drawing on older hymns that take place in some churches, or those that are doing it but not so much retro because they haven’t changed in decades).

I can’t post about this without mentioning The Book of Psalms, a great blueprint for worship.  In the Psalms, you find ranges of emotion and themes.  Some are sad, some wonder where God is during suffering, but others talk about God’s provision and might and are full of celebration and praise.  It’s a balance that is often lacking in Christian songs today.

So come on song writers.  Let’s stop being so sad all the time, and realize that we have been saved and serve an amazing God who is worthy of worship and praise…and creativity and diversity in song writing.


Church announcements don’t have to be boring

Ugh.  ::rolling my eyes::  “Here come the boring announcements.” 

 Where does your church put the announcements?  In between the music and preaching?  At the end while people have half a foot out the door?  How do you give important information and keep people’s attention in a service packed with information? 

 1. Be prepared.

 Make sure the announcer has all the correct and pertinent information.  How many times have you seen someone on stage calling out to the crowd or looking around for the point person who knows the answer to shout it (without a mic) from the back of the room?  If you think it’s easy to lose an audience while preaching, if you miss a beat during announcements people are already tuning you out and thinking about their lunch plans or what time the game starts.

 I helps to use Powerpoint slides that have all the information on them, so people can read along and get the message visually.  Many churches show the announcements as a Powerpoint slide show before and after the service as well.

 2. Don’t assume any details are already known.

 I was new to a church a few years ago and heard the following announcement:  

 “Join us this Friday at 7pm for Stillwaters!  You don’t want to miss it, and you never know if Miss Puddin’ might show up!” 

 What?  If I’m a guest or new to the church, what the heck does that mean?  Later on I found out that Stillwaters is a Motown-style night of singing and comedy and “Miss Puddin'” is a Madea type comedic character that dresses in costume and does jokes.  But that type of announcement alienated anyone who did not already know what it was, and did not create interest for anyone new to check it out.

 3. Be Creative.

More and more churches are using video announcements.  People react to video and perk up and pay attention.  It is a good way to break up the monotony of a service, although anything that you do every week the same way will become monotonous if you’re not careful.  It could be as simple as someone delivering the same type of announcement as they would on stage, but in a different setting (outside, a living room, a popular location around town) can add just enough interest.
 
One of the most creative announcements I’ve seen was during my internship with a College and Young Adults ministry.  One of the worship team members would periodically get up and make up funny/silly songs to play on his guitar and sing the announcements.  He’d turn the key points into a catchy chorus and the crowd would sing along, helping them to remember it.  This is something to be used sparingly as it would get old really quick, plus be difficult to keep coming up with creative songs.
 
Using some type of comedy skit is another way some people might use.  However, the way most churches present skits is usually awful, clichéd and hokey.  I recommend not using this method unless you have a talented and established drama team of some sort that knows what they’re doing.  You’ll do more harm than good if it’s bad.  As with songs, use this method even more sparingly to just shake things up now and then.  Perhaps only use it for major announcements.
 
Some churches go for a big stunt, such as some crazy youth worker sliding up the aisle on a Slip N Slide to announce the youth group water park outing.  Use discretion and caution with these types of stunts!
 
4.  Keep it simple, but effective.
 
Overall, it’s best to keep it simple.  Choose people who are effective communicators and are not boring.  Cover the key points (date, time, location, deadlines) and direct them to the website or bulletin for more information.  You don’t have to treat it like a prescription drug commercial and cover every detail. 
 
A well-made Powerpoint slide or bulletin announcement that is clear, concise and informative is always effective.


Practical Tips for Worship Leaders – part 2

My previous post, found here, discussed some practical tips for worship leaders.  The post was getting too long so I broke it up.  Here is the rest.

Shake it up:

Most churches have a certain style and format.  But now and then, it’s nice to change it up and do something interesting.  Some different things you can try to keep from becoming stale:

Switch lead instrument; swap piano for guitar or vice versa

Do an all acoustic set.  Have the whole band unplug or have just one person and a guitar/piano.

Add a different genre of music.

Use special songs or solos from talent in your congregation or worship team.

Incorporate video, dance or other accompaniments.

Do an occasional song a capella.

Sing an old hymn, or a song from 5+ years ago.   Bonus points for changing up the music to make it current (this has been a trend for several years now).

Talent and “perfection”

I live in Nashville, TN where it’s very difficult for people on worship teams to balance the spiritual and the performance aspect. No matter where you are, you may face similar challenges.  There may be other musicians in the congregation, but us regular folks probably won’t notice a missed chord, a bad note, or if it sounds “pitchy.”  We can’t sing or play and you are infinitely more talented than us.  You want to do everything with excellence, but you can also relax and realize the heart is what matters most.

Some other tips

Vocal runs – please use these sparingly.  You’re not auditioning for American Idol.  When you go away from the melody and lyrics and do your own thing, you lose us.  Remember, we’re following you.  Sometimes it works, especially if the song is familiar and we can sing it on our own.  Still, it can confuse or distract us so try to keep it to a minimum.  That goes for the backup singers, too.  You don’t have to fill every space between lyrics trying to sound like Christina Aguilera.

Stepping back to let the audience sing – do you ever notice, unless it’s a familiar song and the crowd is really into it, that when you stop singing and want to hear the crowd, we get quieter?   Some people who don’t have good singing voices don’t want others around them to hear.  So people keep singing out of obligation but quiet down and the song can lose momentum.  Sometimes it’s powerful to quiet the music and just hear a crowd of voices.  But you know your crowd.  Are they the type that will keep singing passionately?  Or will that make them quiet down?  Think about how you want those types of moments to play out.

Finally, some songs just don’t “stick.”  Some new songs will fall flat and people won’t be into them.  Some weeks, the mood or vibe might not be what you wanted.  Sometimes it might be a good idea to shake things up by stopping to sing a capella, go off script and play an old favorite that wasn’t planned, or simply stop and pray and then start again.  People are forgiving and sometimes a moment like that actually ends up inspiring people to get into it more.

 


Practical Tips for Worship Leaders – part 1

Leading a worship service in any setting is tough.  I can’t sing to save my life, but somehow I got suckered into leading worship one time and it was terrifying.  But I’ve sat in many different types and styles of worship services and want to offer some tips to help worship leaders connect with people in the congregation.  It should go without saying that worship is supposed to be all about God.  So I won’t address the spiritual side since that should be obvious.  Here are some practical tips that might help you, especially if you’re new to leading worship.

Understanding your people

I realize a lot of worship leaders aren’t paid full-time and have to deal with jobs, family and other things throughout the week just like the rest of us.  Even so, the people you’re leading are thinking and feeling a lot different from you throughout the week.  You are probably already aware but we can always use reminders.

You:  eat, sleep and breathe music, are up to date on the latest songs, hear all the covers from different artists and memorize the music and lyrics.

Us: most people like music, too, but not many are as up to date on the latest worship songs as you are.  So be patient if we’re not as familiar or as excited about the songs.  We’ll get there, especially the more the songs become familiar.

You: you’ve been listening to the songs on repeat, have them memorized, rehearsed multiple times, prayed through the lyrics and are touched and inspired by the message and the melody.

Us: we’ve spent our week with the various pressures and stresses of life and are lucky if we’ve had a few worship songs on the car radio or in the background while getting dinner together.  We might need some help to “get into it.”  And we want to, that’s why we look to you!  Be patient with us.

Introducing new songs

Give us time.  The first time you play a new song, you’re very familiar from memorizing, rehearsing and praying through it.  We’re staring at the PowerPoint screen to figure out what the lyrics are, what the song is about, and to get a feel for it.  You might want to take a moment to “teach” the song to us by playing the chorus once and guiding us in how to sing it, and then start.

Also, play it multiple weeks in a row.  After a while, it will become familiar and could end up being our new favorite song.  If you play it one week and don’t come back to it for a while, it may not get a chance to stick.

2 songs that should be included in every service

1. Something familiar – so people can close their eyes or not have to read the lyrics and can sing along a lot easier.  It doesn’t have to be the song that’s popular now, it could be an old favorite from months or even years ago.

2. Something catchy – a lot of songs these days are endless prose;  all verse and no chorus.  The lyrics are beautiful but we stare at the screen reading them like a poem set to music.  If a song like that is powerful and you want to include it, go for it.  But please make sure you also play something we can sing along with.  You may be sick of “How Great Is Our God” or “Blessed Be Your Name” but when you play something with an easy chorus, ever notice that just about everyone chimes in (and gets more passionate)?

More to come in my next post…


The Art of the Spoken Word

The following 2 clips are making their way around the internet and you may have seen at least one of them.  I like to share artistry when I come across it.  Especially when it has both style and substance, a balance that is often elusive in the Church.

Enjoy!

 

You’ll want to watch this full screen and turn up your volume.

 

 


Retooning the Nativity


What happened to Christian rock and rap?

If you turn on your local Christian radio station these days, you won’t hear much rock or rap, which are the most popular formats elsewhere.  What you’ll get are  folksy acoustic songs or worship.

Lots of slow, boring and depressing worship music.

You might hear the one occasional “rock” song (more like soft rock) which they will play over and over again for two months so they can check that off their list.  I like Skillet, but playing their one song over and over again isn’t enough.  You will hardly hear any rap or R&B if it’s not by TobyMac.  Even popular Gospel artists like Israel Houghton won’t be found on most Christian radio.

Why?

Christian radio is programmed for white, suburban Moms.  The slogan for The Fish is “safe for the whole family.”  (I’ve often said I want to start a Christian radio station that is NOT safe for the whole family, ha ha).  It’s good to not have the foul talk and subject matter of many secular stations but they don’t even play Christian rock or rap.  It’s more vanilla and bland than The Osmonds.

I don’t know what happened.  In the lat 90s there seemed to be good Christian rock bands everywhere.  I know you can find bands online through MySpace or their Facebook pages.  And I had a lot of bands recommended by kids in my youth group that I would have otherwise not heard of.  But even radio show hosts that talk about being edgy in their faith will play songs that sound like they should be played at a funeral.  Everything is sappy, moody and slow.  Record labels and radio stations would have listeners’ attention if they produced and played more music that people other than soccer Moms like.

When I listen to older bands on my iPod, I lament those days.  Note:  I became a Christian in 1997 and missed the “good ole days” of early dc Talk, Stryper, Petra, etc.  Feel free to share about your favorite bands from growing up.  My experience was with the late 90s and early 2000s.

Which ones do you miss?  Who do you like now that we will probably only find on their MySpace page?

Here are some of my favorites.


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