Part 2: How one small church found its ‘worship voice’

This post was contributed by worship leader Mike Hale.

Last time we began exploring the concept of God’s singing in the new life of believers as the ‘sound of the spiritual harvest’ (as described in The Sound of the Harvest, by J. Nathan Corbitt) and the need for a gathered group of such people to find their own ‘worship voice.’
But many observe there seems to be two completely different church ‘worlds’—there’s ‘big church’ and ‘little church’—and when it comes to music resources, they’re worlds apart. Mega churches have choirs, praise teams, bands, worship directors, staff, and celebrity worship leaders. But for small congregations with quite limited resources, it often means singing along to CDs or videos.
So after some years of singing along to CD’s, here’s the story of how one little church prayerfully reevaluated their situation and decided to move in a different direction.
The little flock had come to a crossroads of sorts, and needed to address a number of challenges. In sitting down on several occasions to pray and share their feelings, one thing became clear—the congregational singing portion of the church service just didn’t feel right anymore. Oh, the songs were just fine, but after years of pumping slick recordings of voices and instruments through a sound system, they finally decided it wasn’t really them—wasn’t the sound of God’s spiritual harvest in that setting—wasn’t their own ‘worship voice’ and they yearned for a warmer touch of humanity.

No, they weren’t self-centered and stuck on the sound of their own voices, which were clearly nothing to brag about, but it seemed to them more important to more clearly hear the sound of their voices thanking and praising God than to be drowned out by voices and instruments that weren’t even present, and were merely recorded. Even if it meant singing without accompaniment, they decided it was more about the presence of people, and the actual humanity shared in Spirit with the risen, ascended Jesus, than it was about music.
So they identified someone with a strong voice who agreed to lead worship. Unexpectedly, a relative of that person soon began attending, and that person played an instrument and offered to play along. Soon a member who hadn’t picked up his instrument in decades decided to knock off the rust and join in. Soon each were comparing notes to see what songs would sound best given their particular involvement. Interest and attendance began increasing and the congregation began feeling more engaged.
They discovered it was a relational thing. Instead of pumping the sound of a mega-church worship service into their own small gathering, they found they were perhaps better able to appreciate what the Spirit was doing in and among them as they cherished the actual living presence and interaction of each participant.
Admittedly, every situation is different, but I’m glad my friend shared his story. If your small congregation is looking for ideas that go beyond CDs, here are a few suggestions.
· Contact the music department of a college or high school, or music school, to see if students might be available to help with church music. Offer a small stipend for their honorable work of assisting you with six or seven songs each weekend.
· Such a musician might appreciate the opportunity and welcome the experience. It is likely you have someone in-house who can sing well enough to lead, and only needs an accompanist to round things out.
· Some songs sound great on acoustic guitar. Sure, you’ve heard big arrangements of the Revelation Song, but the author wrote it on guitar, and sang it often in her small congregation and in other small settings before it ever hit the big venues with full bands and praise teams (click here to see an earlier post about song writer Jennie Lee Riddle and the Revelation Song).
· Live accompaniment can bring life to an old hymn. Besides, you can actually fellowship with an accompanist and go out for dinner!
· Small churches are intimate, but if you occasionally yearn for a bigger event, why not arrange to combine with several other small congregations for larger celebrations several times each year.
Your comments and ideas are most welcome! What does the spiritual harvest sound like in your congregation? Has it found its own worship voice?