Teach Your Congregation to Sing

There are times when sitting in a sanctuary or community center or reissued movie theater on a Sunday morning is nothing less than an affront to the ears. All around us our brothers and sisters mumble and slur their way through the songs, while everyone tries to keep from being distracted. There is a lack of quality singing in churches each week. So do we need to give our congregations singing lessons? That would be hilarious! By quality singing, I don’t mean vocal excellence. What they need is not singing lessons but rather the permission to sing. Just like in “Take Me Out to the Ball Game,” “Happy Birthday,” and “The Star Spangled Banner.” If your church doesn’t sing it’s probably because of one of two things: either they haven’t been invited to sing or the obstacles to their singing have not been removed. I have identified four things that hinder congregational participation.

4 Dysfunctions of Congregational Singing:


1. Not realizing the congregation is present

Great communicators, actors, comedians, professional singers and yes, great pastors are aware that there are actually people in the room. As in any gathering the crowd must feel welcomed and comfortable. So is the case with congregational worship. An intentional, warm welcome is important. I am not saying that a “greeting” has to be the opening of the worship experience but a nice smile goes a long way, then clear direction as to who is singing and who isn’t. Though the trend is not to over direct people, clear direction as to sitting and standing is surprisingly important. Corporate reading of Scripture is also an important activity toward congregational participation.

Note: It’s my opinion that in an intergenerational congregational context, that 12 minutes is a good amount of time for people to stand. Standing longer than that will affect the concentration level for many people. In a crowd filled with younger age demographic this really doesn’t matter.

2. Vanilla song choices
The process of finding great songs is extremely important. Oh it’s easy to follow the normal path to find songs, but to find great songs that are congregational in their appeal is an entirely different story. I have a friend who is a photographer with National Geographic and he told me that to get 30 pictures for a National Geographic article, he took 14,000 pictures. Finding great songs requires a lot of time. The lesson here is, don’t settle on the easiest way to find good songs. Recruit people to help you and take the time to find great songs. As well, do not just depend on your own personal tastes in choosing songs. You will be fooled.

3. Bad key choices
Really? Why does this matter? Well it doesn’t matter at a rock concert or in an auditorium filled with 18 to 35 year olds, but church has wider age span. So the rule of thumb is that men sing higher than women and women sing lower than men. Crazy? Oh but it’s true. Just take note the next time a female is leading worship. The songs will, for the most part be in keys that are more singable for the intergenerational congregation. Most male worship leaders, in order to sing more comfortably put songs a higher range. When this happens, the congregation often is left behind. This rule does not apply for well-known worship artist concerts. In this case everybody in the room knows all the songs and can sing them in any key. Be intentional about key choices for your congregation.

4. Music that is too “busy”
In a contemporary worship band there is a tendency for everyone in the band to play too many notes at the same time. This can be helped by “thinning out” the arrangement. Change the parts that band member plays from verse to verse, chorus to chorus. Add things, take things out. Be creative with this. But most of all avoid the “sameness.” This takes a lot of thought and experimentation, so most of these ideas need to come prior to the rehearsal. But the congregation needs to hear themselves sing. And the congregation needs to be inspired by the music. Just like in the movies, music embellishes the moment. But playing “too busy” causes numbness, and boredom sets in. As the jazz legend said, “It’s not the notes you play; it’s the notes you don’t play.”

Theologian, John Calvin says, “singing subdues the fallen heart and retrains wayward affections. St. Augustine says, “Singing is praying. When one sings one prays twice. While singing in the front of the Lord, we are in touch with the deepest center of our heart.”

Col: 3:16
Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God.

Songs of Common Prayer

My new record, Songs of Common Prayer, was written for my family, the Church; specifically Grace Story Church in Nashville, Tennessee. I really like those people. I love Andrew’s way-too-loud yawns. I love Nathaniel’s uncelebrated yet unwavering service. I love Morgan’s gluten-free breakfast casserole. I love that the nursing mothers shared their milk with an adopted child; quite literally helping to sustain and give her life.

The need to belong is one of our most basic and powerful needs. This belonging is what is offered to each of us in a relationship with God; I knew that when I started attending Grace Story. What I didn’t expect was to experience it so acutely with this diverse group of people.

The first single from the record is called Mystery of Faith. The song emphasizes the Book of Common Prayer’s ancient, liturgical words, “We have died together. We will rise together. We will live together.” It continues, “We are brothers and sisters through our Savior’s blood,” and confidently encapsulates the prayer, “We are the body of Christ.” What a sobering responsibility it is to represent Jesus to one another; and what a privilege. I consider it an honor for my music to be present in the front speakers of a minivan, helping to keep parents sane on a road trip; or to be playing as a child falls asleep; or to offer words of prayer where conversation has stalled.

I write a lot of songs for my congregation. My friend, Mike Crawford, calls it indigenous worship: art that is produced, growing, living, or occurring naturally in a particular environment. That seems about right. I like to think of them as “family songs”: tunes that become distinct in the unique part they play in our collective history. Some mark losses and invoke nostalgia; others move us forward and introduce new practices or prayers; still others encourage awareness and gratitude in the moment. I consider it a joyful burden to know, and be in tune with, my people. As I’m writing songs or organizing a Sunday service, I often ask God and myself: “What do we need?” and “Where does it hurt?” As we address these questions, we are guided to remember, hope and worship; with indigenous “family songs” scoring the soundtrack of our story.

 

I sent the text above to my friend Tommy the night before his child went in for an operation at the hospital. His reply affected me in a surprising way: I believed him. Finally I realized that we weren’t only a family in some metaphysical reality, but right here and right now. Maybe the practice of singing The Mystery of Faith every week at church had done it’s formational work.

I hope Songs of Common Prayer will inspire new family songs for you and yours; that the well-worn words will connect you to a rich family heritage; and that we will all find more places and more profound ways to belong. May the record be a reminder that what unites us is greater than what divides us; that every denominational difference is not an insurmountable division. May we sing together in harmony as we become more truly God’s one, holy, and catholic Church. After all, we are the body of Christ.

Greg LaFollette is a spiritual director and producer in Nashville, TN. He is the resident artist at a local church plant, Grace Story Church, and serves as their director of arts and liturgy. You can follow Greg at his website to hear his full-length album Songs of Common Prayer.

The Challenges of “Authentic” Worship

Teacher: Dr. Craig Gilbert

Topic: Being Honest. The challenges of “authentic” worship.

It is a fairly common comment these days: “We want to have really authentic worship.” or “We are looking for a church where the worship is really authentic.” As a worship leader and planner I have to ask if anyone actually knows what “authentic” worship is, what it looks and sounds like, or really, what does “authentic” even mean? Or is this one of those, “I’ll know when I see it” kind of things? And if we do get to a definition, are ready to completely, honestly, step into leading “authentic worship in our churches? Join me for a one hour deep dive into this desire for authentic worship and maybe even some practical approaches to bringing it to life.

An Interview with David Crowder

During a busy summer, Worship Leader’s Alex MacDougall  was able to catch up with David Crowder. Winding up the “American Prodigal” tour, Crowder has been in studio recording the next project, due for release in November.

Worship Leader (WL): We haven’t seen each other since the National Worship Leader Conference back in May.  Thanks again so much for helping out, and for your willingness to participate on panels and in workshops, and of course, leading worship.

Crowder: We were really glad to be there, and we had a good time. People were great there.

WL:  The Fall issue of Worship Leader focuses on the topic of ”tradition”.  How has tradition shaped your music and how has it shaped you as a person?

Crowder:  That’s a great question.  One of the things when I heard that word immediately I thought, my mom.  I don’t think she quite comprehends what tradition means because every year at Christmas time she says, “We are starting a new tradition this year”.  But then the next year we don’t do it. (laughs). My mom is the sweetest, so I hate to kind of poke at her. Tradition has to be something established and that continues, and that we can remember. What I’m trying to do with my music, even though I’ve borrowed from Southern Gospel or Gospel in chord forms, is to make sure that we’re comfortable enough and we have handles. And we know what we’re getting into but at the same time bringing something that is current and maybe even outside of our Christian music traditions. So that would be my understanding of tradition and how it’s been helpful to my music.

WL:  And that leads into my next question. Has leaving the David Crowder Band connected you to stronger ties within the great traditions of Americana Music? Did you grow up listening to classic bluegrass and country in your home?

WL:  Tell us about the new project.

Crowder:  This is the third installment of my “solo” recordings, and I’ve had three projects to “say” something. I was really trying to tell the story of home, and how our displacement began.  Our story is trying to get back into communing with our maker. And I was using a prodigal story to tell that.  I first talked about it in a very big, “zoom out Google maps” way.  And then a little more kind of personal direct prodigal.  This record is called,

I Know A Ghost. I grew up with a Texarkana Southern Baptist upbringing. However, my parents were always chasing wherever the Holy Spirit was active, and so I had a very eclectic upbringing in the church.

If you say “Holy Spirit” people outside of the church get a little uncomfortable. But when you say,“Holy Ghost”, there’s this historic aspect that’s got a non-threatening dynamic to it. So basically, this is the storyline: Jesus died in front of his friends, and then jumps back out of the ground in front of his friends. And then says, hey, I’m going to jet, but I’m going to leave my ghost for you. I’m going to haunt you. (LAUGH) I’m going to haunt the church. And that’s going to be your comfort. Recorded in Atlanta, I Know A Ghost has a definite urban feel.  It has more hip-hop in its underpinnings, and so I’m very excited. And then, of course, I can’t help it but I’m doing it with a banjo and a fiddle, and a mandolin over the top of the music.

Visit crowdermusic.com

Lights, Camera, Worship: Ministries Turning to a Mix of Cinematic and HDR Technology Options as Production Values Increase

by Craig Harper

The singers are lit and miked, it’s a packed house and the cameras are rolling, when the pastor says, “let’s try that again.”  Pastor? While this might sound like something a director would say while recording a concert or live event, it’s increasingly becoming a more common scenario at many ministries.

Gone are the days when it was good enough to simply record a service with one fixed camera pointed at the pastor. Churches are now producing more live events and special services, and streaming services on the web to reach more people across the country and the world.

At the larger churches, audiences and A/V systems are on the scale of the biggest stadium concert tours, bringing with it a whole new set of production challenges and opportunities, for example, IMAG and multi-camera set-ups.

Churches need to deliver content to more platforms and in higher quality, and the increasing accessibility of more affordable and capable production technology is making it easier to do this than ever before.

When churches buy new technology they need to think about more than its ease of use and durability. They have to consider image quality and how it can help them achieve the right “look” they need.

The keyword for any ministry is options, and a company like Sony has the most comprehensive mix of technology options to fit any size room or application. Churches are implementing any, or a mix of, these options — from full-frame mirrorless alpha cameras or the compact RX0 for specialized POV shots to compact handheld 35mm camcorders like the FS7 or FS5 up to the F55 and new VENICE camera, the same cameras used to shoot big-budget movies and TV shows.

It could be a mix of models like F55s with an HDC series studio camera to combine a beautiful Super35 “film” look with 2/3–inch lenses, as well as fiber connectivity, seamless gen lock and many other features.

Many churches have been using the HDC-4000 series cameras. The reason churches like Lakewood have chosen the HDC-4000 series cameras is the ability to produce 4K HDR and HD SDR simultaneously, and they support both S-log3 and HLG workflows for HDR to provide a unique look.

One ministry, Lake Pointe Church uses Sony’s 4K cameras — from the FS7 and FS5 camcorders to the full-frame 7S and 7S II interchangeable lens cameras — in nearly every aspect of the ministry’s video production to capture services and events and handle the streaming, reaching 3,000 people online.

Chip Acker, Video Director at Lake Pointe Church, noted that since the organization is focused on video production and streaming, it’s important to have high-quality, easy-to-learn equipment that can be used and maintained by the church’s volunteer staff.

Acker continued, “Pairing the right gear with our wide range of production styles gives us the best options for our church. The variety of Sony products that we own allow us to put the right gear into action with any of our production requests and it also helps us save money over the long-term.”

These are just some examples of churches employing a mix of different cameras to spread their messages effectively and wider. And it’s not just limited to cameras.

Sony offers wireless microphone technology and high-res audio systems to keep the audio sounding as good as the video looks. Churches can also satisfy their entire workflow with Sony’s intelligent media services, which offer flexible and cost effective workflow solutions ranging from editing, storage and archive to cloud collaboration, asset management and distribution. In addition, beyond the sanctuary, it’s more common to see laser projectors or the latest “active learning” solutions in classrooms and collaborative worship spaces.

Churches needs will never stop growing. Sony’s family of options will keep pace, ready to meet, and exceed churches needs today, and tomorrow.

God Will Make a Way

An Interview with Don Moen

Worship Leader’s Alex MacDougall caught up with longtime friend and beloved worship leader, Don Moen. He is releasing God Will Make A Way, his personal account detailing his service to the church. This valuable worship book is set to release this Fall and can be purchased at donmoen.com.

Worship Leader (WL): Your new book, God Will Make A Way, chronicles exactly what the Apostle Paul talks about in Romans 12. What can you tell worship leaders about a life lived out as a “reasonable act of worship?”

Don Moen: It’s important that as worship leaders we understand that “music doesn’t equal worship, and worship doesn’t equal music.” While the songs we sing are important, Jesus is more interested in how we live our lives throughout the week rather than how we sing our songs on Sunday morning. Jesus talked extensively about worship but didn’t address the issue of music, which has become such a hot topic in our churches today, where we might join or leave a church because of the music. The only reference to music that I can find in the Gospels is in Matthew 26:30 and Mark 14:26, “And when they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives.”

Paul writes. “Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God – this is your true and proper worship.” Our “true and proper worship” is a life laid down in service to the Lord 24/7, reaching out with love and encouragement to those who cross our path throughout the week, and bringing hope to those who have lost hope. If we lived our lives each day with this awareness, the songs we sing would be more meaningful.  I’m reminded of the lyric that was birthed out of a prayer I prayed many times backstage: “with every beat of my heart, every song that I sing, every prayer that I pray, every offering I bring, with every thought that I have, in every word that I say, be glorified.” Amen. Rom 12:1 (NIV)

WL:  The act of leading worship and sharing in that worship with others can “level the playing field” for all involved. What peace and connection does one find in truly worshiping God with others?

Don: If the act of leading worship and collectively sharing in that worship with others can “level the playing field,” we need to make sure our congregations are participating in worship rather than watching a great stage production. We’ve become very good at producing a great show, but unfortunately, this does not create a “level playing field.” I love great technology and production, but have we forgotten about the guy sitting on the back row of your church who drove a truck 80 hours last week? Can he relate to what he’s seeing on stage? Probably not. We need to ask the question, “what are we doing as leaders to make that guy feel like he’s part of the worship experience?” A few things come to mind. 1. Pick the right songs that connect with our audience. 2. Pick the right key. 3. Allow some breathing room in our worship set where the band doesn’t play, and our congregations can hear themselves sing. If we do these few things, we’ll have a much better chance of creating a level playing field, and we will begin to experience the peace and connection we can find worshiping with others.

WL:  What will a worship leader gain by reading your new book?

Don:  God uses normal people, and God made a way for me, even though I failed my speech class in college because I was afraid to speak in public. If God can use me, He can use anyone! With all the amazing resources we have available on the internet, tv and social media, it’s tempting to try to replicate, or duplicate what we see and hear, and this can be very intimidating to someone who is leading worship for a congregation of 200 people with no band, but only a couple of volunteers on the piano and organ. Learn what you can from others, but most importantly learn to “be yourself.” God will never anoint who you want to be, He anoints who you are. You may not be the most talented, the most handsome or beautiful person, but God has chosen you to lead your congregation into His presence and you cannot do that by trying to be someone else. Be authentic and God will make a way for you.

Evergreen In Bloom

An Interview with Audrey Assad 

Worship Leader’s Alex MacDougall recently reconnected with noted artist, songwriter, and worship leader, Audrey Assad. In addition to her busy ministry schedule, she has also been in-studio, co-writing with, and producing, Sarah Kroger. The project is a full-length LP, entitled, Bloom, and is scheduled for release this Fall.

Worship Leader (WL): Audrey, it’s been a few months since we connected at the National Worship Leader Conference in Nashville.  Thank you again for your valuable contributions there.  Your segments during the “Songwriters in the Round” evening we so well-received and talked about in follow up.  What’s it like to participate in something like this along with such very gifted peers?

Audrey Assad:  I am often honored by the caliber of songwriting and character that surrounds me in this town and that night was no exception! Frankly, I’m just gleeful that I get to do things like that, so thank you for hosting me.

WL: Our current issue examines the theme of “tradition”.  How has tradition played a role in your personal life of worship, as well as your rich history of recordings?

The Heart of Kids Worship

by Yancy

“Is the desire to have dancers or singers?” Those are the words that I wrote down in my notebook recently as I was at a church consulting them on their kids worship. They had a group of kids on stage that honestly were doing a great job. Especially without an adult type leader in the mix. They were smiling and they were giving it their all but the truth is they were so focused on doing the “moves” to the song that they were missing the truth about what worshipping is all about. Too often throughout the song, they weren’t singing.  It’s the words to the song (especially when they are filled with God’s Word, truth, promises, victory, and goodness) that gets down on the inside of your heart.  The songs you sing help the voice of creation declare the greatness of their Creator, shaping a perspective of who God is and what He’s capable of doing for months and years to come.

We don’t do worship in our services and programs to check a box off the to-do list. We don’t do worship to fill up time or even get the wiggles out. We don’t lead kids in songs just because many generations before us have grown up on “Father Abraham.” We choose to make worship be a part of our services because it’s a connecting point with the Father. It’s a way to lean in and take another step in our relationship with the Lord. Through the lyrics we sing, we can cast our cares and we can declare from where our help comes.  Worship is something we were created to do. As we sing we confess “to God be the glory forever and ever, amen.”

There are seasons in life that I’ve been through where the only option I knew I had was to turn to the Lord. I made my hiding place be His presence. I sang about His faithfulness and His power even when I needed a miracle turn of events in my reality. Worship was the place where I could cry out to the Lord and at the same time remind myself of what I believed was true. Worship isn’t something we do just when the feeling is there. It’s a choice we make. The cool part is that often that confession of truth that you choose to sing and lift up rings truer and truer in our hearts as we take that step of faith and honor the One that gave us the breath in our lungs. It is that confession that enables us to pour out our praise.

Think about it like an elevator. What you think about gets into your heart by passing through your mouth. What you speak with your mouth is what gets into your heart. Just like what is in your heart is what comes out of your mouth, I want more than anything for the attitudes and reflections of my heart to be the praises of the One that holds the victory. I’ve seen His faithfulness in the past and I know He won’t change so I’ll keep singing about His faithfulness for as long as I live.

May these words of my mouth and this meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer.

Psalm 19:14, NIV

So back to the recent reminder I had of what is really important. There was more dancing than singing that day. If someone watched your Kidmin take part in worship how would they define what they see? Are you raising up dancers or singers? Are you truly helping kids become the worshippers God created them to be?

Too often of late, due to some traditions that I’m sure started with the best of intentions, we have defined kids worship to be all about the dance moves or motions to the song. I have spoken with leaders who truly think if a song doesn’t have any motions they can’t do it. That is bologna! Motions can be great. They can be a tool. They can enhance parts of the songs you do. But that’s just it, they are a piece of the equation. If it is your main focus and how you define kids worship you sadly are selling your kids short.

The Bible talks about the power of kids’ worship.

God, brilliant Lord, yours is a household name. Nursing infants gurgle choruses about you; toddlers shout the songs that drown out enemy talk, and silence atheist babble.

Psalm 8:1-2, The Message

“Do you hear what these children are saying?” Jesus said, “Yes, I hear them. And haven’t you read in God’s Word, ‘From the mouths of children and babies I’ll furnish a place of praise’?”

Matthew 21:16, The Message

Motions don’t have to be in every song or from the start to the finish. Have you ever considered that some of the pushback you may have within your group is because some of your kids, especially older ones and boys don’t want to participate in your dance number?

We have the book of Psalms in the Bible as a guide to teach us about worship. Dancing is a part of it. Just like clapping and lifting your hands are a part of it. Shouting to God in triumph, playing instruments and singing new songs is all part of worship. How are you teaching kids to do those things? These are the traditions of worship that we don’t want to lose. They are necessary and needed.

For some of you, it’s time to expand your vision for kids worship. What do you want your kids to learn about it? What about God’s presence do you want them to experience? When they graduate to the next age group or class what do you want them to know about how and why we worship? Introduce some new songs. Help craft worship experiences for kids that engage them and let them experience God’s presence. Because once they taste that He is good they will long for more of His presence.

Wouldn’t it be amazing if we helped our kids learn to run TO God with their troubles rather than FROM God? Worship is a safe place. It’s a hiding place that young and old have to say “God, You’re amazing and I need your help. I’m trusting You. I’m relying on Your strength today.” Every week you have an opportunity through the songs that you sing in class to point kids to Jesus and help them express their adoration for the Lord. This is a tradition worthy of being passed on. Be strategic. Let’s raise up a generation that knows how to worship the One all praise is due.

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