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A "unified" worship service that even a purist (me) can love!

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    A "unified" worship service that even a purist (me) can love!

    I mentioned a few weeks ago that my church was about to re-unify our two morning services -- one fully traditional with hymns and the other a "praise" service with a band and a very loose format. We've had four Sundays now of this unified worship, and I'm happy to say that it seems to be working. I was perhaps the most skeptical of all, but I am won over.

    So many positives! Attendance consistently has run more than the sum of the previous two services, as we have attracted some former members back to church, and we have had visitors most Sundays. There is great excitement over what seems like an influx of "new people" (who are actually the younger families with children coming in from the previous "praise" service, now that we have just one service at a decent hour!), and we are all delighted to have children in the sanctuary again!

    The format we hammered out is basically the same as the previous all-traditional service with a couple of accommodations. Here's a run-down of what happens each Sunday morning, which pretty much explains how we integrated it:

    10:45 -- a small praise team uses a spot just below the chancel on the floor where there was already a studio piano, along with a couple of guitars, a mandolin, and a dulcimer. A vocalist has a microphone, the rest are not amplified. They sing three easy-going "praise songs" as a "warm-up" for the service, then the pastor offers a welcoming prayer. This "warm-up" music takes the place of the prelude, which is fine with me, as we all know that preludes are often barely noticed anyway.

    11:00 -- the choir is in place in the Narthex, where we sing an a capella introit, the enter the sanctuary singing a grand gathering hymn. I will have the hymn pre-recorded on the Allen "Smart Recorder" and only have to hit the remote start button. We walk in singing, an acolyte lights the altar candles, and we take our places on the chancel. I get on the bench in time to play the final stanza "live" and end it with a hearty "Amen."

    The service then continues with a responsive Call to Worship, followed by a "time with children" as the 6 or 8 little ones we now have in the service (what a blessing!) assemble on the chancel steps to be given an object lesson by the pastor. Then the children leave to attend their own session, returning to the sanctuary in time for communion and the closing hymn.

    After the children depart, we sing a "prayer chorus" (where we used to sing another full hymn), then the pastor takes prayer requests and leads a prayer followed by the Lord's Prayer spoken by all. After the prayers, we have either a choir anthem or a special solo, then the OT and NT scriptures are read. The pastor preaches, and she wisely keeps the sermons 15 minutes or less. She uses a very interactive style, sometimes even walking out into the nave and asking for input from individuals. It's quite interesting and engaging.

    Following the sermon, we sing an invitation hymn (a standard hymn or gospel song from our hymnal), and the children return from their session. We then proceed into the regular communion/offertory portion of the service, which takes around 10 minutes. I play the "background music" on the organ, typically improvising on a couple of hymns, possibly using a tune from the contemporary set as well.

    Finally, we conclude the service with a big joyous hymn, pausing before the last stanza for the pastor to offer a benedictory blessing. On the last stanza I often solo out the melody on the Spanish Trumpet (Allen Expander patch) and end the hymn with a Tutti and massive "Amen."

    I am glad to report that the congregational singing is AWESOME! I had no idea that the folks from the "praise" service were going to contribute so much joy and power to the HYMNS! Perhaps it's partly just because the sanctuary now looks much fuller, though still not even half full, but there is just so much more enthusiasm, so much more robust singing, so much more fellowship.

    I was frankly afraid that it might turn into one of those dreaded "blended" services with a "groove" on all the hymns -- you know, a drummer playing along with "All Creatures of Our God and King" so folks will stay in rhythm, that sort of nonsense. But we don't do that, and have no intention. The hymns remain in true classic style. And the praise songs remain in true praise style.

    So it's all good. I believe that our church is at last poised to be a place of worship that might attract new people again. When new people in the community try us out, I think they'll be impressed. Before the change, we had two strikes against us -- the hymn service was at the ridiculously early hour of 9 a.m., when it's barely daylight in the winter time, and the 11 o'clock service was in the gym and obviously not attracting many newcomers, perhaps due to the loose format.

    Just wanted to report and let you all know that all is well.
    John
    ----------
    Church: Allen MDS-45 with Allen MIDI-DIVISION-II expander
    Home: Allen Renaissance R-230 with expanded four-channel audio and MIDI-DIVISION-II
    Shop: Bunch of organs in varying conditions, some good, some not...
    Half of an incredible two-man organ service team -- servicing all the major digitals in Arkansas churches
    https://www.facebook.com/pages/Birds...97551893588434

    #2
    I'm delighted to hear of this success. Perhaps you and the pastor should write up something about this to be published in one of the church-oriented magazines. You might inspire other struggling congregations.
    Larry is my name; Allen is an organ brand name.

    Main: Allen RMWTHEA.3 with Rocky Mount Electra-Piano, Allen 423-C + Gyro cabinet, Britson Opus OEM38, Saville Series IV Opus 209, Steinway AR Duo-Art, Mills Violano Virtuoso with MIDI
    Lower Level: Hammond 9812H with roll player, Gulbransen Rialto, Roland E-200, Vintage Moog
    Shop: Mason&Hamlin AR Ampico piano, Allen ADC-5300-D with 18 speakers and MIDI, 4 Allen theater organ tone cabinets (including 3 Gyros, but don't call me Gyro Gearloose!).

    Comment


    • jbird604
      jbird604 commented
      Editing a comment
      That's something to think about, Larry. I have shared the news on a Facebook group for church musicians, but it would be worth reporting in a worship publication of some kind. I will look into that. My hope is that we may provide a pattern for other small churches that are "shooting themselves in the foot" by trying to be all things to all people, having two "failing" worship services when they could be having one vibrant and exciting service!

    • myorgan
      myorgan commented
      Editing a comment
      John,

      As usual–the truth lies somewhere in-between! Must be nice to have everyone in one place. However, guard against staleness as time goes on. Make occasional changes to keep things interesting (as I know you will!).

      Michael

    • jbird604
      jbird604 commented
      Editing a comment
      Very true, Michael. Some of the initial success and rush of excitement over this new service may be the novelty of it, and we will need to be sure that it doesn't become dull and routine. One good way is to actively and creatively observe the celebrations and festivals of the Christian Year. We are having a big all-church processional on Palm Sunday, for the first time in years. Holy Week will feature nightly opportunities, some of them silent and self-guided, others involving an unusual service or activity. Easter service always includes the flowering of the cross, which is a high point for everyone. Pentecost is usually celebrated here with some kind of special activity as well. And we have self-guided and interactive prayer walks and meditation stations several times a year. So for those who will, there are plenty of fun and engaging things to do. But even with all this, eventually folks may say "we've done all that before." It takes constant vigilance to keep worship fresh, but our worship committee sure does try!

    #3
    Thank you John for sharing this success story. We pray that your efforts will grow from strength to strength and that all will be blessed by the outcome!

    At a church where I served previously we also had two services running concurrently. One was for the "children" and the other for the older folk. Everyone was free to attend whichever suited them best. Unfortunately, as things go, some parents would drop the kids off at the "children's" venue and pick them up again after the service, not attending either service themselves. The children's service also tended to be a little more "loose" and noisier than the formal service for the older folk. The church fathers then decided to "unify" the two services by blending the two into one main service in the sanctuary. This turned out to be a disaster! The organ was quickly mothballed and the front area was cluttered with every kind of noise producing clammering "instrument" imaginable. The hymnbook had to make way for stranger songs with words that made no sense and reflected on an overhead projector screen. Many of the older folk left in disgust and joined other church communities.

    I do believe that this is a pattern that many churches have tried, experienced and perhaps failed in the medium to longer term. I must also haste to add that firstly I do not in any way want to compare what we have experienced to the wonderful success that your church has been blessed with and second, most importantly, our respective churches may differ in many ways and perhaps requiring different approaches: The liturgical order, practice and sequence may differ widely, the manner in which services are generally conducted may also differ substantially.

    We live in a modern world which forever craves change, a departure from the status quo, and the need for sensation has been prominent in the motives of people for change. This phenomenon is unfortunately also evident in the Church. Perhaps in this lies the very core for concern as far as the church is concerned. The topic of dwindling church attendee numbers, changing music worship style and content and many others have been discussed widely on this Forum and from what we have read over these posts we are most excited about your wonderful experience. May God continue to bless your efforts and grow the attendance to praise Him for all that He has made happen!

    Nico
    "Don't make war, make music!" Hammonds, Lowreys, Yamaha's, Gulbransens, Baldwin, Technics, Johannus. Reed organs. Details on request...

    Comment


      #4
      Does this church televise services? I'd sure like to see it. I might be even more purist than you.

      Comment


        #5
        Thanks for the good wishes, all! (And no, we don't televise. Don't even record the service at this point, though we've talked about it.)

        I have reason to believe that this congregation "learned its lesson" with what might be called an "experiment" -- the proposition 12 years ago when this began was that adding a contemporary service would stop the decline in attendance (which it did not) and that it would attract lots of new members (which it also did not). It was not a total bust, to be fair, as we do have two very regular and strong young families with children who had been attending the contemporary service regularly and were becoming part of our core membership. And a handful of others who were pretty regular attendees of that service. All of whom are now faithfully attending the new unified service, I might add.

        But the overall numbers were not good. The contemporary service, after 12 years, was only averaging in the teens, maybe hitting 20 now and then. The traditional service wasn't thriving either, averaging in the mid 30's, perhaps starting to hit 40 after gaining four new faithful members last fall. But the traditional had always stayed larger than the contemporary, usually at least doubling the number, despite the fact that it was held at the disadvantageous hour of 9:00 a.m. (when it is literally barely daylight in the dead of winter, when it is often cold outside and sometimes even dangerous to travel in bad weather). Since the average age of attendees at the traditional was obviously older, it made no sense at all to make that service so early. It's quite a tribute to the steadfastness of that demographic that it didn't collapse entirely.

        The hard reality was that the church was teetering on the brink of financial disaster, with neither group able to pay the bills, and the budget having to be trimmed. The facilities are not what they used to be, major repairs looming with no way to pay for them in sight. A church in steady decline was not going to be able to keep the doors of this nice church campus open for many more years. Something needed to happen to turn things around quite sharply.

        So what little success the contemporary service was having could possibly be chalked up, at least in part, to the more favorable hour of 11 a.m. But it was unlikely to offer prospective members much of an attraction, as there is a bustling Big Box church just up the street that has four services every Sunday morning, each service complete with a professional band playing on a stage with lights and fog machines rivaling any big show venue anywhere, and brimming with young families and kids of all ages. This is the church that rents a big park and has helicopters fly over and drop Easter eggs for their big "hunt" each spring.

        Level heads finally prevailed, somebody finally had the courage to say that the emperor was not wearing any clothes, and the gut-wrenching decision was made to pull the plug on the experiment. Fortunately, the two congregations were not complete strangers to each other. We'd been having joint services several times a year, and we had a monthly fellowship supper that was poorly attended but did give opportunity for folks from both groups to interact and get acquainted. And also fortunately, some of the strongest members of the second service group were not averse to attending a traditional service, and had in fact told some of us that they missed the traditional worship they had grown up with.

        Also in our favor, we have a sanctuary with good acoustics that supports strong congregational singing, a good organ and a passably decent organist who can play hymns competently, and an amazingly good choir, even though it's small, that can sing exciting and joyous 3-part music that almost anyone would find inspiring and uplifting. So I think we have the resources to make this work for the present. Ten years down the road it may start to look different, but things seem to be stable at this point. When the current group of young adults become the "elders" of the church in a decade or two, perhaps they will be faced with having to re-think the worship, but that will be a task for another day.
        John
        ----------
        Church: Allen MDS-45 with Allen MIDI-DIVISION-II expander
        Home: Allen Renaissance R-230 with expanded four-channel audio and MIDI-DIVISION-II
        Shop: Bunch of organs in varying conditions, some good, some not...
        Half of an incredible two-man organ service team -- servicing all the major digitals in Arkansas churches
        https://www.facebook.com/pages/Birds...97551893588434

        Comment


          #6
          Originally posted by KC9UDX View Post
          Does this church televise services? I'd sure like to see it. I might be even more purist than you.
          I know that I am!

          David

          Comment


          • KC9UDX
            KC9UDX commented
            Editing a comment
            Reading back what I wrote, it seems like I was boasting myself self-righteous. But I find my very strict traditionalism to be a snare. I can't even bring myself to watch a "praise band" to give it a fair evaluation.

            I especially wouldn't approve of someone dancing half naked, shouting at the top of his lungs, beating a tambourine, and playing a guitar in a public place. And clearly I am in error about this, siding with Michal daughter of Saul.

          • jbird604
            jbird604 commented
            Editing a comment
            KC, I don't think it's self-righteous to be a purist, even though we have stories like Saul and Michal warning us against arrogance and/or inappropriate judging of others for simply expressing deep feelings. Without purists like you (and if I may count myself one too), we would have no one to counter those who would totally ruin everything traditional. Can you imagine the state of a field like classical opera if there were no purists? "Modernists" might be re-writing all the old works in modern vernacular with jazzy music and avant garde Broadway sets for the most endearing old stories. Corrupting Divine worship with junk music and slang is even creepier and more destructive. The only thing we can do is to exercise constant vigilance in our own churches and be extremely cautious and judicious about every change, indeed about everything we do in worship, even examining those things we do because "we have always done it that way."

          #7
          As you all know, I am a very strong advocate for the use of "traditional" or historic music, standard SATB hymns for congregational singing, and the leadership of the organ in the service music. So don't worry that I'm going weak-kneed on any of this!

          I'd be as shocked as anyone could be if I were to attend a service in one of the great churches or cathedrals, or even in a modest Anglican or Episcopal church, and hear "praise-style" songs (as defined in today's "worship wars") or to hear a band backing up any of the congregational singing. It would be totally out of place and would certainly despoil the experience for me.

          That said, I serve a small church with a worship tradition that isn't purely liturgical, nor even purely traditional. And the Disciples denomination itself doesn't particularly hold to any defined "style" of worship, as we have churches that are as straight-up liturgical as the Anglicans and also churches that are almost as free-form and trendy as the Big Box churches.

          And given the 12-year "experiment" that we just came out of, and given that about a fourth of our people were quite involved in the non-traditional service, and most of our people are quite open to "variety" in music, it only makes sense to continue to explore different musical styles in the service, within the framework of our traditional forms.

          The worship committee strongly agrees that we need to maintain the traditional "core" of our worship -- the use of classic hymns for the functional parts of the service, and the traditional order of the service that has served us so well for a great many years now. None of that is in danger of being taken away.

          So I am joyfully embracing the use of the better selections from the repertoire the praise band had developed for the contemporary service. I have some degree of veto power over the selections, and I play either guitar or keyboard with the little ensemble, so I'm striving to keep this part of the morning on track. It has been very well received by all our people, even some of the older group, whom I know had quite a bit of queasiness over this whole thing when it was first talked about.

          So, at this point, I feel that we're using the gifts that our people bring to the service in a fair and responsible manner. Not that we are required to let everybody "do their thing" just because they have a "talent." But with care and discretion we can and do enjoy and encourage folks to exercise the gifts that they have been given. The only hard part for me is making sure we are all on the same page when it comes to worship philosophy. It's a bit hard for some to understand that we are NOT here to "entertain" anyone other than God Himself, and that just because something is fun or cute doesn't make it necessarily a worthy addition to our worship!
          John
          ----------
          Church: Allen MDS-45 with Allen MIDI-DIVISION-II expander
          Home: Allen Renaissance R-230 with expanded four-channel audio and MIDI-DIVISION-II
          Shop: Bunch of organs in varying conditions, some good, some not...
          Half of an incredible two-man organ service team -- servicing all the major digitals in Arkansas churches
          https://www.facebook.com/pages/Birds...97551893588434

          Comment


            #8
            We made it through Lent and Holy Week and Easter Sunday without much of a hitch, mostly staying the course of our new "unified" worship. Virtually no conflicts or confusion to report as of now.

            The format I laid out when this started a couple months ago has held and proven to be acceptable to us all. An anonymous donor provided the money for new projectors and screens -- a pair of very tasteful retractable screens flanking the baptistry, well above the choir members' heads, each with a built-in projector. (I don't fully comprehend the workings of it, but the projector is mounted directly above each screen, only sticking out a foot or so from the wall, projects almost straight down on the screen, with perfect geometry, focus, and brilliance. Modern-day optical magic, I guess.)

            The new combo units eliminate the need for a table-top projector (which had been sitting right on top of the organ console), and the cabling is all inside the chancel walls, thus out of sight and off the floor. A very sharp and dedicated member operates the computer program that projects hymns and other songs, scriptures, responsive readings, announcements, and such on the screens as needed. This has proven helpful to nearly everyone. Even me -- I don't have to carry a hymnal in my hands for the processional because the words are on the screen!

            The only "note to self" that I've made recently is to remember next Easter not to use the Praise Team to play while the cross is being flowered and communion served. Sounded like a good idea, but the team members were walking up to flower and partake with their families, and it took quite some time to get us all assembled to begin playing. I had sequenced some music on the organ, but not enough, thus a slightly awkward few minutes without music to cover the sounds of the crowd in motion. Not the end of the world, just didn't work as intended. Next year and in future similar services, I'll play the organ for that sort of thing. It only requires one person to get it going, and I have learned to time it just right, and end when I need to, both of which were difficult for the p. team.

            I keep saying, and meaning, that HYMNS are still the basis of our congregational music, and that hymns will always be done in authentic HYMN STYLE -- with organ and/or piano accompaniment, four-part voices as written in the hymnal. No "putting a groove" on the hymns. Not ever! We consistently sing three major hymns each service -- processional, invitation/communion, and closing. And still use organ and/or piano for most incidental music.

            But there are songs from the Praise genre that I have genuinely enjoyed singing, which have a clear usefulness in corporate worship. These are the ones that are truly well-arranged for group singing, not aimed at the soloist or rock star performer, the ones with a clear Biblical message and temper. And to be honest, I've had to re-think my standard hymn repertoire/list as a part of all this. I have cut a number of "old favorites" from the list because I had to realize that they are seriously deficient in spiritual value, even more so than some of the contemporary tunes that I used to decry. No fair being hypocritical on that matter!

            So I'm hanging on and doing well. I actually enjoy having a little "extra help" from the guy who led the praise team when they had their own service, as he is a competent baritone and a good enough keyboard player to take a turn now and then doing an offertory.
            John
            ----------
            Church: Allen MDS-45 with Allen MIDI-DIVISION-II expander
            Home: Allen Renaissance R-230 with expanded four-channel audio and MIDI-DIVISION-II
            Shop: Bunch of organs in varying conditions, some good, some not...
            Half of an incredible two-man organ service team -- servicing all the major digitals in Arkansas churches
            https://www.facebook.com/pages/Birds...97551893588434

            Comment


            • myorgan
              myorgan commented
              Editing a comment
              Uh, oh! A Contemporary convert! John, what are some of your favorite pieces from the praise team you utilize in worship?

              Michael

            • jbird604
              jbird604 commented
              Editing a comment
              Now, I'm not a "convert" -- certainly not to the "contemporary" worship model. I'm still a firm quasi-liturgical fanatic. After all, just over 8 years ago I finally broke free from the formless and pointless "song service + preaching service" style of church that I was raised in, and to me there is very little difference between that and the typical contemporary service, just different songs.

              It's not so much a certain genre of music that draws me to the historic worship model; it's the order and purpose and heritage preserved in liturgical worship, though our little Disciples church isn't actually "liturgical" in the strict sense, just far more so than the Baptist churches I grew up in. And we kept the quasi-liturgy of our traditional service, and most of the musical content. While sometimes I don't quite "get" the new songs, I generally find something to like about that part of the service. And it's a minor part of the hour.

              "Grace Flows Down" and "We Are the Reason" are a couple of titles I've enjoyed recently, and the well-worn "Amazing Grace, My Chains Are Gone." These contemporary songs aren't necessarily going to endure or become part of anybody's musical heritage. So you just enjoy them when you can relate to the thoughts or emotions conveyed. You might or might not ever hear one again, but that is the nature. Sort of disposable and ephemeral, but still can be enjoyed, much like pulp fiction or a TV show.

              In my perfect world, I'd not have any of this, because I'd worship in a service filled with only the best and highest music. But then, we might not all even agree on what that is! I've been enjoying a certain type of contemporary choir anthem for a long time, even though I would feel right at home with a choir singing John Rutter rather than Russell Mauldin and Dennis Allen. But I have to live in the world that is, not the one I'd build. So here I am!

            • myorgan
              myorgan commented
              Editing a comment
              Thank you for the titles, John. A couple we have used lately are, In Christ Alone; Come, Now is the Time to Worship; and The Wonderful Cross, a combination of When I Survey and a contemporary setting (kind of like Amazing Grace...Chains. There's another I can't think of just now, though.

              Your comment about re-evaluating the message of old hymn standbys as well as new music is very appropriate. We have been doing that as well. Of course, the occasional I'll Fly Away sneaks in about once per year, but the music is generally sound, through no small effort.

              Michael
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