Want to split your church this Sunday? Here’s a really easy way to do it: switch worship music styles! Bam! Just like that you’ll have a dugout-clearing, song-book tossing brawl on your hands. Church World War Three.
But please, don’t try that. It’s not necessary. Church splits can be avoided even if you intend to make a major shift in worship styles. This article is an attempt to explain how that happens. Worship styles can change in any number of directions — from traditional to contemporary or from contemporary to traditional. Most of the time, however, churches change style from traditional to contemporary. This article addresses such a change.
Here is how to introduce new worship music styles in your church.
I need to say something before we get into the process of switching to a different worship style. Don’t change just for the sake of changing. Just because all the other neighborhood churches are singing “How Great Is Our God” with blaring electric guitars and huge trap sets doesn’t mean that your home crowd of conservative elderly saints should be compelled to adopt the same style and volume of music.
There are good reasons to change, and there are not-so-good reasons to change. As you consider the change, make sure that your purpose is clear. Not everyone in the congregation needs to agree with you, but you need to have a personal and corporate confidence that the direction you are moving is the right direction for your church.
This first step is the most important step in the whole process. Sit down with a clear head and ask yourself, “Why?” Should you change worship styles? Why? What reasons are there to do so? What negative outcomes may come up? What positive outcome will it produce?
Ask the hard questions, and get ready.
Time it right.
Timing is important. Timing is always important. But there’s no such thing as a “perfect time” to introduce new worship music. It is best if you choose a time when the calendar isn’t full of other major events and changes. Christmas probably isn’t ideal. Easter probably isn’t the best, either.
And if you’re a new pastor who has been at the church for two and a half weeks, that may not be the best time, either.
Talk about it a lot.
Don’t spring the style switcheroo without talking about it with your church. Considering that this is a rather significant move in your church’s approach, it’s important to discuss it well in advance. Your discussion may sound something like this:
“Now, as you know, we’ve been singing a lot of wonderful old songs here in our church for many years. As you’re also aware, God has given talented songwriters to the church in our present age. Just like God used Charles Wesley, Isaac Watts, and Fanny Crosby to write great music, so he has used people today to do the same. Over the next few weeks and months, we’re going to introduce some of this newer music into our services.”
You’re going slow. That’s alright. Next week, you can talk about it some more. Here’s what it may sound like:
“I mentioned last week that we will be adding some fresh songs to our services, and I wanted to mention it again. We’ll keep the piano and organ as part of our accompaniment, but you’ll also see some new instruments as well. We may have a guitar or two accompanying us for these songs.”
It will help to talk about it, and make sure that people know what’s going on. This isn’t supposed to be like a car crash — sudden, unexpected, disturbing, and damaging. It’s supposed to be like stopping at a four-way stop — cautious, slow, safe, and legal.
Prepare for it.
Preparation is crucial for any transition. Here are some specifics on how you can prepare for switching worship styles: Know what songs you’re going to introduce. Have a plan for which songs you’ll introduce first. Spend time yourself understanding the lyrics. Know what instrumentalists will be needed. If you’re going to get a whole band ready, make sure every member is on the same page. Practice well in advance. Know how you’re going to teach the songs. Chances are, the people in your congregation won’t know all the new songs. You’ll need a plan for teaching the songs.
All of this requires sufficient preparation. Yet another reason why timing is so important in this issue.
People need leaders in time of change. As silly as it sounds, changing worship styles is one of the scariest things that a church does. Seriously. This thing tears up churches like you wouldn’t believe. Leadership is necessary — compassionate, gracious, understanding, kind leadership. You’re doing something bold by switching up music styles, but you’re also being kind and understanding in the process. There’s no reason to get all drill sergeant about it. After all, the whole point of changing music is to help edify the church, to grow believers, to proclaim the gospel, and to spread Christ’s kingdom!
You’re not on a my-way-or-the-highway power trip. You’re on a Jesus-exalting-God-focusing effort. Keep your perspective, and be a leader.
One key thing to remember in this whole process is go slow. You aren’t going to be Hillsong in two weeks. An advisable pace is one new song a week. For example, on week one, you plan to sing a new song, like the “Power of the Cross.” It’s kind of hymnlike, but also modern. First, you project the lyrics on the screen. (This, in itself, may be a big move for some churches.) Take some time to read through the lyrics, explaining them, and understanding them. Then, have your instrumentalists play the melody. This way, people will understand the sound of the song and how the melody goes. Next, have a soloist or worship team sing a stanza of the song. More listening. More reinforcing. Finally, have the whole congregation sing the song together.
After that single song, your service may go back to some of the traditional hymnal songs that your people are used to singing. You’re going slow, and that’s okay. Next week, you’ll probably want to sing that song again, and maybe introduce another one.
Gradual is good.
Along with the advice to “go slow,” is the advice to “be gradual.” For example, you don’t want to completely ditch the piano and organ right away. Keep them for a while. Then, add an acoustic guitar. Later on, plug in an amp to the acoustic guitar. Then, you can add a bass guitar to help supplement the organ’s low notes. A few weeks later, you can bring in a triangle. Then maybe a cajon. Later, an electric guitar. (And in 2025, you can get a trap set on stage.)
You get the idea. You may not need to go that slow. It all depends on your congregation. However, if you are in a position where you recognize the need to be cautious, then going slowly and gradually will serve you well.
Adapt and Adjust
Finally, you’ll be in the phase where the “transition” is complete. But it may not feel totally settled. That’s okay, because you’re never going to be fully settled. There’s nothing wrong with this. Music changes, culture changes, people change, churches change, and all these moving parts demand consistent adjustment.
In this journey of gradual change and adaptation, keep your focus consistent. The Bible’s principles don’t change. That’s your guidance.
Daniel Threlfall has been writing church ministry articles for more 10 years. With his background and training (M.A., M.Div.), Daniel is passionate about inspiring pastors and volunteers in their service to the King. Daniel is devoted to his family, nerdy about SEO, and drinks coffee with no cream or sugar. Learn more about Daniel at his blog and twitter.