Is it possible to successfully “blend” the hymns of the past with modern hymns and worship music in a single service? Many churches are trying—some successfully, some with less success. There are a number of reasons church leaders desire to blend older songs with contemporary worship music, including:
· the desire to allow various segments and age groups in the congregation to meaningfully worship God when they meet together.
· the desire to create an environment in which visitors can encounter the living Lord without feeling like they have entered a foreign country.
· the desire that our children grow up exposed to the older hymns of the faith.
· the recognition that quality worship music exists both among the music of the past and among songs more recently composed.
· the desire to avoid two separate services in a single church, that is, a “traditional” service and a “contemporary” service.
But is it possible to reverently and powerfully bring together the past with the present in a single service……..really? Here are a few suggestions on how to make blended services work in your church.
· Slow down. It is common in a blended service for musicians to hurry through the songs, thinking the speed itself will create a contemporary sound. The truth is that many in the younger generation prefer songs and hymns of worship in which there is some extra musical “space.”
· Use some sort of “strings” or “chorus” sound on an electronic piano rather than a more traditional organ sound when singing older hymns.
· If you’re using drums for contemporary songs, continue doing so when you come to older songs. Drums will fit in fine with many older hymns and will create continuity between older and newer songs. At the same time, resist (and encourage your drummer to resist) any urge to “fix” older songs by employing an edgy beat. In most cases these songs don’t need to be fixed (that’s why we’re still singing them)! In many—though certainly not all—cases this may mean, for example, employing a 2/4 beat (which allows more musical “space”) in place of a tendency to move toward a 4/4 (that is, rock) beat.
· Don’t necessarily change the rhythm of what the congregation is singing when incorporating older hymns. A hymn can still be sung in more-or-less the same way it has normally been sung. But the background music can be very gently contemporized to help older songs fit in with newer songs that are being employed. The goal is to create continuity between older and newer songs so they sound like they belong together.
· Avoid excessive repetition. Whereas longer periods of meditation on fewer words are standard fare in contemporary worship services, blended services are often better received when there is less repetition, particularly at the end of songs.
· Probably the most important issue is song selection. Believe it or not, there are songs of worship that are almost universally appreciated in our churches—both by older and younger worshipers. Every worship leader leading a blended worship service should be scouring the worship literature to find these songs. These songs usually fall into one of two categories. They are either older songs which lead the worshiper into an experience of worship (like “How Great Thou Art,” “Be Thou My Vision,” or “Take My Life and Let it Be”) or more recently composed songs that are at the same time worshipful and yet communicate solid content (like “How Great is our God,” or “In Christ Alone”). Then there are songs like “Before the Throne of God Above” where the words come from the 19th century but the music is of a somewhat recent composition. Such “bridge songs” should be used extensively if you want to lead a successful blended worship service.
· In all cases, the worship leader should exude humility and grace, and the members of the congregation should respond accordingly. Worship is not about us; it is all about God. We should seek with all our hearts to please Him when we worship. And we should seek to include as many people in this experience of worship as we possibly can. God, after all, is truly worthy of our praise.
Are there other things you would want to add to this list that would contribute to successfully planning and executing a blended worship service?