Does Your Worship Music Fit Your Space?
Updated: Nov 30, 2020
I have never been a Worship Pastor at a brick and mortar church.
For the last 15 years I have led worship for my college prayer group-turned home church. Most times at our church our worship team is me on a guitar, my dad on a small hand drum, and my good friend Tom on an upside-down trash can. Our church gathers in a circle in my parents' living room and we pray and sing together. I have learned so much from doing church this way, but I'll just share one thought today.
We can't sing a lot of modern worship songs. They're too big.
If you go to a website like worshiptogether.com and listen to the newest albums, I'll bet you 5 dollars I can describe the sound:
Big lead vocals with a massive group of background vocals
Pianos holding down block chords
Sparse guitar lines with long reverbs and delays
The recording sounds like it happened in a stadium
The sound of modern worship music is atmosphere.
Modern worship music envelopes you in reverb and delay, and invites you to sit and reflect in the space. But as with everything in life there are trade-offs. Verses have become shorter and simpler to leave room for the air. Harmony can't be thick or complex, partly due to style, but also because it would sound muddy. Melody, like harmony, has simplified. How many times have you heard a melody sung in a low, grumbly octave, only to hear it again in a higher register with more voices later in the song? And this brings me back to my problem:
It doesn't work in a living room.
I can't sing many of the big songs I hear from large churches because they weren't written for my house of worship. They were written for their house. They have a big house and they need to fill the space with sound and sustain. I write for a small house, and if I stop playing to get a drink of water the music stops.
The upside to my dilemma is that my space helped guide my sound.
I can't sound bigger with sustain, but I can use imagery and strong verbs in my lyrics to make a world in the listener's imagination. I can't envelope people in reverb or delay, but I can play a groove that will get people moving. Those rhythms synchronize people and allow them to agree with the song on a physical level, not just with their souls. And because I'm so close to everyone else, I can hear if a lyric isn't landing or if a melody needs work.
Over my years of leading worship in a small setting, I have gotten jealous of other venues. I have resented writing and leading in obscurity. Now I cherish that space. God knew what I needed. I needed to be faithful with what I was given. Instead of changing the space, it changed me.
Does God have you in a small space? Don't fight it. Look around for resources.
If you are a musician playing for a home church, how can you improve every area of your playing? Playing solo, learning to read music, improvising, learn it all.
If you are a songwriter, how can you better know the heart of your church? Write for them, and don't worry about sounding like the heavy hitters.
If you are a worship leader, how can you train the musicians in your church to play as one? You may not have all the bells and whistles, but if you learn to groove, the people will join you without the extras.
Maybe you're not sure how to improve in those areas. What questions, frustrations, or problems do you have? Let me know what the roadblocks are, and we can start working on them.