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Transition in worship styles requires careful planning, loving your people

GLORIETA, N.M. (BP)–How do you like your church music? Traditional, contemporary or blended?
That’s a question music ministers across the Southern Baptist Convention are asking as they struggle to appeal to the musical preferences of their congregations and reach out to the unchurched. According to Lee Hinson, a consultant in the music ministries department at LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention, there are no easy answers.
“Worship style continues to be a ‘hot button’ topic in Southern Baptist churches. This discussion is affecting all sizes of churches in all different kinds of locations. If your church hasn’t dealt with it yet, it will sooner or later and you need to be ready,” Hinson told a group of music ministers and lay leaders attending a seminar on “Transitioning in Worship Styles.” He led several workshops related to music ministry in the smaller church during the 1999 Church Music Leadership Conference July 10-15 at LifeWay Conference Center, Glorieta, N.M.
“The church is in transition,” said Hinson, who will become assistant professor of church music at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Kansas City, Mo., in August. “If you aren’t able to change, you’re dead. The business world knows this, but the church is often the ‘caboose’ when it comes to change. We’re on the tail end of it.
“Music is so important, and most people don’t turn on the radio to listen to piano and organ music,” Hinson said. “That doesn’t mean the traditional music we are doing on Sunday morning isn’t good. It just means we may need to do more to reach our communities.”
For most churches, it comes down to a question of whether to keep the traditional service as is, “blend” in some contemporary music or start a separate contemporary service which is often aimed at younger church members and the unchurched. Sometimes the change can be as simple as “making the old sound new,” Hinson said. Blending hymns and choruses together, for example, or trying up-tempo, orchestrated hymn treatments.
There is no “magic bullet,” no one reason for deciding to make a change in worship style, Hinson said. “You just need to know why you are doing what you’re doing because you are going to hit on some people’s comfort zones, maybe even your own. “How we worship is very personal,” Hinson said. “Nobody wants to hear that their music isn’t reaching people.”
Drawing from the book, “So You’re Thinking About Contemporary Worship?” by Tim and Kathy Carson, Hinson shared several factors which should be considered when making a change in worship style:
— The reason for the change. It needs to be based on more than the personal preference of the music minister or pastor, or even the support of the congregation, Hinson said. “The best reason for making a change, I believe, is outreach. The question should be, ‘How can we bring people into the kingdom.’”
— The current worship culture of the church. That means examining the history of the church, its context in the local community, the age of the congregation and the relationship of the “power base” to the church’s current worship style.
— Available resources (both musical and non-musical). Do you have the necessary accompanists (including a rhythm section), a strong worship leader, a proper sound system, technologically savvy personnel, the necessary budget? Making a change to or adding a contemporary service can be particularly difficult for smaller churches, Hinson said, since they often don’t have the money or skilled musicians to make it happen.
— Who is affected by the change. How many musicians need to prepare for the new worship style? How will the change affect the current music ministry? (Hinson said one danger of adding a second contemporary worship is the quality of the traditional service can decline as more resources are moved to the new service.) Will anyone feel disenfranchised by the change? Will the pastor’s sermon be contemporary?
Hinson also shared “12 steps for leading a church through change,” a list he obtained from Rick White, pastor of First Baptist Church of Franklin, Tenn., a congregation he said is known for its upbeat worship style.
1. Ask the question, “How high is your pain threshold?” There will be difficulties. 2. Relationship, not authority, is the key to leading through change.
3. Decide wisely on which hill you are willing to die.
4. Decide that core values will drive the change in your church and not trends or fads.
5. Guide the changes through your church’s mission statement.
6. Introduce the idea regarding change in small groups.
7. Make sure you give people time to understand and process change.
8. Communicate, communicate, communicate.
9. Follow a season of intensity with a season of stability. People are born to like stability and patterns.
10. Celebrate, congratulate and appreciate.
11. Create a change culture.
12. Teach your way through problems and change.
“It really boils down to three things,” Hinson said. “First, you have to love your people. Second, you have to build relationships of trust. Finally, you have to make sure whatever worship style you choose relates to the mission of your church.”
Church Music Leadership Conference was sponsored by the music ministries department at LifeWay Christian Resources.

    About the Author

  • Chip Alford