Big Songs in the Small Church
[dropcap]A[/dropcap] truly good worship song will work across a variety of platforms, from big churches to small churches. But adding songs to the small church’s repertoire can seem like a daunting task when the music that you play as a local church worship team sounds nothing like what you hear on that famous worship CD. Small churches often don’t have the monetary or performing forces to replicate the style or complexity of a full band and orchestra, and volunteers certainly don’t have the same rehearsal time as a professional musician. So how can we add new, popular songs to keep our small church repertoire fresh and new without over-taxing the musicians or the music budget?
- Choose wisely. Never add a song just because it’s trending; make sure it fits the needs of the church and the skills of the worship team. Is it biblically accurate? Songs that we sing on Sunday are repeated in the hearts and minds of our congregation all week long, so correct theology is essential for all of our songs. Is it singable? Does the melody mostly lie between middle C and the C above without large jumps, or unusual melodic changes? Will it work with your instrumentation? Is it emotionally moving or poetic? Is there enough inherent value in the song to make it worth the work? Does the song help you and others see God for who He is or respond to Him for what He has done?
- Don’t imitate the CD. A small church may not have all of the performing forces that you hear on a popular worship CD or find at a larger church. That’s ok! A great worship song will work in a big group or a small group. Don’t try to sound like the CD, try to sound like the worship team that God created you to be. Keep in mind that professional worship artists spend months rehearsing, recording, and preparing for tours. You may need to radically simplify the style of a worship song in order to make it usable. If the musicians are working too hard to make the music, they won’t be able to internalize the message and make it real.A good song, in addition to the quality of the lyrics, will have a singable melody, a steady rhythmic feel whether it’s fast or slow, and a solid, logical harmonic structure. While it’s ok to get a feel for the song by listening to the original artist, you don’t want to rely on someone else’s voice to make a song work. Don’t try to imitate a particular artist’s style – instead, cultivate the style of your own worship team. Every worship team is unique and wonderful; don’t settle for being a copy of someone else. The best music happens when you take a great song and make it your own.
- Use what you have. You may have very limited resources at your disposal – or you may have a lot of resources available to you. Your job is to use what you’ve been given to the best of your ability. Imagine that your music ministry is a type of currency. You can’t spend what you don’t have – you’ll just end up bankrupt and burnt out. Instead, use what you have creatively and you’ll be investing in your team and your congregation in a way that multiplies the gifts and resources God has already given you.Help the musicians that you work with grow spiritually and musically so they can do their best and be free to worship through their music. Think creatively about how you can incorporate people who play unusual instruments or create parts for people who are less advanced musically. Help your team internalize the music and the message.
- Play to your strengths. Focus on the areas that you do well. If you don’t have a great drummer, but you do have a solid acoustic guitarist and a conga player, you can still have a great upbeat worship song that gets people excited about singing to God. But don’t try to be something you’re not. If you’re conga player isn’t great at playing set, don’t force it. Allow your group to use their strengths to create great music, even if it doesn’t sound like a typical 5 piece band.
- Quarter note is key. No matter what your instrumentation, keep that steady quarter note pulse going. It will help drive the song, keep the tempo steady, and help the group maintain a tight rhythmic feel. Your team will sound much better musically by playing a simplified beat or pulse than they will if they play a complex rhythm that drags or hiccups.
- Practice. Great music isn’t going to happen all on its own, it takes practice – both individually and as a group. Remember that your worship team will probably get tired of a song long before the congregation does, so don’t be afraid to really work on those songs until they are ready. Make sure that you, as the worship leader, is fully prepared. Can you carry the music if some of your team are on vacation or sick?
- Pray. The best- and most important thing that you and your team can do is pray. Ask God for help. Ask God for inspiration. Ask Him to help you grow musically and spiritually. Ask Him to help the congregation to worship Him. Pray for each other. Ask God to work in and through you and your team. Expect Him to answer!Your team may not be a perfectly polished, perfectly organized, perfectly arranged group of musicians. The whole point of making great music is to create the space and atmosphere for people to connect to and worship the Living God. Without that, our notes are hollow and our songs are shallow. In big churches and small ones, we plan, prepare, and practice, all so that we can praise.
Amanda is a toddler-chasing, coffee drinking, fashion boot-wearing, Fit-bit addicted, Jesus-loving, wife and mom to 5 small children. She spends her free time absorbed in fashion and tattoos, watching Pirates of the Caribbean, Googling, attempting clean eating, all while spreading autism awareness, encouraging adoption and foster care, championing the underdog, and of course, juicing.
Amanda serves the local church as a licensed American Baptist pastor, worship leader, free-lance writer, and church musician. She holds a Master of Divinity from Liberty Baptist Theological Seminary, a Bachelor of Arts in Church Music from Eastern University, and a cosmetology license from Metro Beauty Academy. Her favorite places to be are the local zoo, the church piano bench, Facebook, and anywhere her family is.