Monday, August 25, 2014

Do We Still Need a Choir?

For centuries, the choir has been the main form of musical ensemble within the church.  But now that praise teams have moved into the forefront of church music, the question becomes "Do we still need a choir?"

I have been serving in churches for over 15 years now and I've always had a choir.  The main purpose was to sing a "choir special" each Sunday.  A few have also helped lead hymns from the choir loft, but most have not.  They were the church "worshipers".  They sang while the rest of the church sat back and watched.  Well, things have changed over the last 10 years or so, and now we (as worship leaders) are doing our best to encourage the church congregation to participate in worship.  And since that has begun we have seen the rise of praise teams and the decline of choirs.  But is that the right way to go about leading worship?  Should we let choirs die and leave the music to the worship leader and praise team?  I say no.

While there is a certain amount of responsibility on the worship leader and praise team to lead, they shouldn't have to carry that burden alone.  I believe that a worship choir can be a wonderful addition to the worship ministry at any church and here are my reasons why:

1.  A choir can create an energy on the stage that just can't be accomplished by a praise team alone.  There is definitely power in numbers and a worship choir can prove that.  There is nothing quite like hearing and feeling a stage full of voices singing and worshiping Jesus.  When the choir is truly worshiping, you can feel wave after wave of sound that flows from the stage and covers the entire worship center.  It's Awesome!

2.  A choir can clap (hopefully).  So many times the praise team members are too busy holding microphones to clap, but the choir isn't.  At our church, many times the choir leads out in the clapping.  Most of them even clap on the beat  (well, sometimes).

3.  You can see the choir member's faces.  I know this seems like such a small thing, but it is really important.  Part of my face is always covered by a microphone.  The praise team members are in the same boat as me.  But the congregation can always see the choir member's faces.  They can see them smile and they can see their mouths opening to sing.  I believe this encourages the congregation to smile and sing as well.

4.  It is a great way to involve people into the ministry of the church.  Not only does it get them involved, but it also gives them a place where they feel like they belong.  Everyone wants to belong somewhere and the choir is a great place for fellowship, discipleship, and growth.

5.  It teaches teamwork.  It's amazing what a group of singers of differing abilities can do when they work together.

6.  It can show the health of the church.  In most churches, the choir consists of the most faithful members of the church.  When the choir attendance is low, it lets you know that the passion of the church faithful may be waning.

7.  It's rewarding.  There's nothing like being on stage and looking out and seeing how God is moving in the church.  You can't experience that in your pew or seat.

So, I believe there is a place for the choir in modern worship music.  Speaking from experience, I really miss them when our choir doesn't sing with us.  It's just not the same without them.

Worship Big!


Monday, August 18, 2014

The Most Important Members of the Worship Team

So, who are the most important members of the worship team?  Some may say the worship leader or whoever is leading the song at the moment.   Others may claim the guitar players and/or the piano/keyboard players are most integral part of the team, and a few may actually state that drummer and bass player are the most important people on the praise team by supplying the “foundation” for the music on stage.  All of these opinions are correct; every single person on the stage, be it a choir member or fellow musician, is important.

However in my opinion, the most important members of the praise team are rarely noticed by the average congregation member and are rarely praised for their hard work and dedication.  As a matter of fact, their primary job is to NOT be noticed, and the fewer “looks” they get from the congregation, the better they are doing their job.  Who are these people?  From my experience, THE most important members of our worship team are the folks in the sound booth, hands down.  In the words of Ronnie Martin from Joy Electric, “We [the people on stage] are only as good as our sound man is good,” and I firmly believe this. 

Those that are running sound, lighting, and projection get to church before we praise team members do on Sunday mornings.  Praise team members are asked to be ready to play at 7:45am which means getting there around 7:30.  Every time Marci and I arrive, the people running the lighting, sound, and projection are already there.  Every.  Time.  They also arrive in plenty of time on Wednesdays, and they stay as late as needed without complaint (for those that don’t know, practices can run as late as 10:30-11:00pm).  It’s also common for techs to be there on Friday afternoons practicing and coordinating lighting patterns.

I’ve worked with all kinds of sound techs over the years, and I’ll have to say that it’s a joy and an honor to work with team that we currently have.  The next time you have a chance, walk back before or after service and thank them for their hard work.  It takes a certain level of expertise combined with humility to effectively run the production in the Reach Center at the scale in which we do it.  Our production team has a real passion for this ministry, and I have a deep appreciation for what they do.  Believe me when I say it’s much better to have mediocre musicians/performers and a stellar production crew as opposed to mediocre production with stellar musicians.  I think that sometimes they make us sound better than we really are.

Well, I don’t think we’re THAT bad, but I think that you get the point.  If you REALLY want to see what they are capable of, you HAVE to come to one of our concerts!  It’s pretty amazing.

In closing, let me take this opportunity to publicly thank everyone of the production staff for their hard work:

Sound: Jacob Church, Rocky Moore, Greg Wentz

Computer: Jason Smith, Janice Lambey, Albert McGee

Video: Wally Robinson

Camera: Jon Helton, Josh Anderson, Marc Anderson, Banks Church, Greg Ellis, Scott Anderson, Morgan Robinson, Chaselyn Ellis

Lights: Chris Nichols, Eric Dowell

I appreciate the time and energy you put into enhancing our congregation’s worship experience each service. Thank you all for everything that you do!  


Monday, August 11, 2014

What Worshp Style Attracts the Millennials?

Hey everyone! This is a blog post that I read recently. I thought it would be great to share it with you all... I found it really interesting and true especially since I would be considered apart of the Millennial generation. Enjoy! :)


What Worship Style Attracts the Millennials?

My son, Jess Rainer, and I recently spoke in Texas on the topic of the Millennials, America’s largest generation of nearly 79 million persons. Because we co-authored a book entitled The Millennials, we have had the opportunity to speak on the subject on many occasions.

We reminded this audience in Dallas of the birth dates of this generation, 1980 to 2000, and then proceeded to share our research. We had commissioned LifeWay Research to survey 1,200 of the older Millennials; the researchers did an outstanding job. We have thus been able to share incredible amounts of data and insights from these young adults.

The Question about Worship Style

As in most of our speaking settings, we allow a portion of our presentation to be a time of questions and answers. And inevitably someone will ask us about the worship style preferences of the Millennials.

Typically the context of the question emanates from a background of nearly three decades of “worship wars.” In other words, on what “side” are the Millennials? Traditional? Contemporary? Or somewhere on the nebulous spectrum of blended styles?

And though Jess and I did not originally ask those questions in our research, we have sufficient anecdotal evidence to respond. And our response is usually received with some surprise. The direct answer is “none of the above.”

The Three Things That Matter Most

You see, most Millennials don’t think in the old worship war paradigm. In that regard, “style” of worship is not their primary focus. Instead they seek worship services and music that have three major elements.

1. They desire the music to have rich content. They desire to sing those songs that reflect deep biblical and theological truths. It is no accident that the hymnody of Keith and Kristyn Getty has taken the Millennials by storm. Their music reflects those deep and rich theological truths.

2. The Millennials desire authenticity in a worship service. They can sense when congregants and worship leaders are going through the motions. And they will reject such perfunctory attitudes altogether.

3. This large generation does want a quality worship service. But that quality is a reflection of the authenticity noted above, and adequate preparation of the worship leaders both spiritually and in time of preparation. In that sense, quality worship services are possible for churches of all sizes.

The Churches They Are Attending

Millennial Christians, and a good number of seekers among their generation, are gravitating to churches where the teaching and preaching is given a high priority. They are attracted to churches whose focus is not only on the members, but on the community and the world. Inwardly focused congregations will not see many Millennials in their churches.

And you will hear Millennials speak less and less about worship style. Their focus is on theologically rich music, authenticity, and quality that reflects adequate preparation in time and prayer.

But they will walk away from congregations that are still fighting about style of music, hymnals or screen projections, or choirs or praise teams. Those are not essential issues to Millennials, and they don’t desire to waste their time hearing Christians fight about such matters.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

My Equipment

Today I'd like to write a post on my equipment (in case anyone was interested).  :)  I'll list my equipment and why I chose it. On the team, I mostly play electric guitar.  On occasion, when scheduling calls for it, I'll play acoustic guitar.  I have played many different types of electric and acoustic guitars and what I have on this list are my favorite choices thus far for several different reasons.

First up:  1995 Fender Stratocaster

This is one of the most popular electric guitars in production.  The year this guitar was made was in 1954 and hasn't been changed much at all since.  It was created to fix a lot of the complaints that people had with the earlier Fender Telecaster.  For example, people said that the Telecaster was too heavy and that it hurt the players arms and stomach after a while of playing (Hence the contours in the upper left corner and the back of the guitar.  It still has the 3 single coil pickups, same neck radius and same tremolo. This is my top electric guitar choice because of it's versatility.  It's arguably one of the best clean sounding guitars made but can also provide great distortion when needed.  Mine is 1964 seafoam green with an aged amber pickguard and knobs to give it a vintage vibe (just preference).  I also prefer the maple neck over rosewood because it's a much more crisp tone that cuts through a mix well. It's a widely used guitar by many huge names in worship like Vertical Church, Gateway Worship and Hillsong.  Nigel Hendroff, lead guitar player of Hillsong, used a Stratocaster to record "Hosanna" because of it's clean but cutting sounds.  It also saw a lot of use by people and bands that I won't mention much (Journey, Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton, etc)  

Second:  Line 6 POD HD500 Effects Pedal

This is a Line 6 POD HD500 Effects Pedal.  This particular pedal has been in production for a couple of years now.  It also is very versatile in what it can do.  Versatility is the reason I pick my equipment.  Serving a guitar pedal is only scratching the surface of what this what made for.  This pedal comes with software for that allows you to create sounds and effects on your computer, test the sound, then upload it to the pedal to use on stage.  You can add anything from just a clean sound, to delay, wah, phaser, reverb, distortion, fuzz and even special effects like synthesizer sounds and more for extra layers.  With this, if you can imagine a sound, it will create it for you.  When making sounds, you can pick which amp you would like it to replicate, and also which guitar sound you want.  If you're making a sound for acoustic guitar, you can even pick which microphone you want it to sound like.  It's also a great tool for recording.  When not using it on stage, you can turn it in to an audio interface and record with it, using the same sounds you would on stage, which really sold me on this.  Also, it's a Line 6 product so it's built like a tank in my opinion.  Having this really makes a "do-it-yourself" pedal board (like this one) obsolete.  

Third:  Paul Reed Smith Angelus Custom Acoustic Guitar

This guitar is the newest in my collection of instruments.  A year ago, I didn't even know that Paul Reed Smith made acoustic guitars. So, when I found out they did, I wanted one.  Before buying it, I had played one in a shop and loved the feel of it.  The neck is the closest thing I have ever played to a Stratocaster neck, which really attracted me to it.  It's very light and has the perfect size.  This is actually the first acoustic guitar I've had that has not been a Dreadnought size and it took some getting used to.  The auditorium size (this guitar) is not nearly as loud and doesn't have the bottom end of a bigger guitar, but the higher notes cut through so much better.  It also has a great pre-amp which makes the guitar sound great plugged in.  When recording with it, I don't even use a microphone (which to an Audio Engineer is a recording "sin") because it doesn't need it.  With the pre-amp it has, I can just plug it in directly and play it straight into the recording software and it sounds great.  The Angelus Custom has a solid sitka spruce top with solid rosewood back and sides, so this guitar is all solid; no laminate.  Which means the older this gets, the better it will sound.  

Last but not least:  Ibanez 375M 5-string

I don't actually play bass on the Praise Team at my church, but I do play on our new album and just in my free time.  Personally, bass is one of my favorite instruments because it can serve so many purposes based on what you want to do.  Also, any bass player at pretty much any skill level can play a bass in the purpose it was meant for.  It's mostly used as a foundation instrument, giving songs rhythm and depth, leading you into the next passage. The bass plays a vital role in making a song an emotional roller coaster.  Bass players know there's nothing like a low B string...when played right, it will literally make your heart thump.  My particular bass is an Ibanez 375M (the M standing for maple neck).  Again, this is a very versatile instrument because the ability to change the sounds on board the bass rather than having to go through an effects pedal.  I tend to use the more deep, clean sound, but for solo bassists, it can have a fuzzy, almost distorted sound by turning a knob.  This is just a great, all around bass.

I hope you've enjoyed my equipment tour!!