What should a blended worship service look like?
Hey, I just came across an article in Creator Magazine that challenges a lot of our thinking on what we mean by the word “blended.” Leave us a comment and tell us whether you agree.
By Roger O’Neel:
Most evangelical churches today have a service they would describe as “blended”. This type of service allows for a broad appeal to many types and ages of people. Musical style is often the single defining element. The general usage of this word implies that older hymns and choruses will be used together, thus the “blending” of the older and newer styles.
While many churches would describe themselves as “blended”, however, there is a dissimilarity in the content and composition of their services. One church might use hymns exclusively except for a “welcome” chorus and call themselves blended. Another will use almost exclusively choruses but call themselves blended because they use an occasional hymn. The term “blended” has been used by people to mean different things, and consequently has lost much of its effectiveness in describing a worship style. It has become a term that is used when different types of music are placed in a single service, no matter the proportion.
More is at stake here than how many songs are hymns and how many songs are choruses. While the nature of blending itself suggests multiple elements, the elements themselves are not the final product. In blended services, the elements are not the focus. The goal of blended worship is enabling worshipers to focus on God rather that stylistic differences.
In order to minimize these differences, blending well is necessary. This is an often overlooked aspect when worship leaders plan and evaluate their blended worship services. If you are one who aspires to be blended, you need to ask yourself the question: “Am I well-blended”?
No one wants to take a bite of cake and find a chunk of egg or a lump of baking powder. We want to eat cake that has been well blended. Each element contributes its part to the whole, while sacrificing at least some of its individuality to make something new. Why then do we as worship leaders serve up blended services that seem like chunky cake? Can we create something new out of the songs that we have at our disposal? How can these songs contribute to the whole and not lose their individuality?
The creation of a product can be seen in the following formula:
The material includes the elements of the service (music, drama, scripture, prayer, etc.) The process involves creatively combining the elements. The product is a service in which the elements have been creatively combined.
Some who define the style of a service focus on the material being used. The elements of the service are obviously important. However, while the service is comprised of and shaped by its component parts, the use of different types of material is not the goal—it is only the means to achieving the goal of blended worship. Other definers of style are product-oriented. Their focus is on the service that results from combining different types of material. At a recent music conference “blended worship” was defined as “old” and “new”. With this definition, the product of blended worship is simply the sum of its parts, some being relatively old and some being relatively new. This is a very narrow definition, omitting the very essence of blended worship.
The often-neglected variable in the formula above is “process”. The material and product of blended worship have become more important than the process of blending. The desired result of including different styles has received more attention than skillfully blending them together.
The word “blended” according to Webster’s 21st Century Dictionary means “mixed” or “shaded into each other”. As it applies to worship music, the meaning transfers well. It is our job to mix different types of music, and then shade the songs into each other as an artist would shade different colors, resulting in new hues that weren’t possible before. The result of the blending should be a homogenous effect, creating a seamless flow from one song to the next.
Consider the following order of worship borrowed from a worship service recently broadcast on television.
Lord, I Lift Your Name on High
Sweet, Sweet Spirit
‘Tis So Sweet to Trust in Jesus
Victory in Jesus
What do these songs all have in common? Only that they are usually done in the key of G! They are not thematically unified, have very different tempos, and are very different stylistically. Yet if you ask the worship leader his style of worship, he would most likely say blended. He is correct in that several different styles of music are being used together.
The problem with the medley above is that it is poorly blended. The blending process has been neglected. The elements of the medley do not contribute to the whole, combining to make something new. The selection and order only highlight the differences between each song. This results in a disjointed flow that seems like our badly blended cake, a chunk of hymn here, a piece of chorus there, a southern gospel song here. They are combined, but they are not shaded into each other. The result could, in no way, be considered seamless.
So how does this examination of the word “blended” refine our definition of blended worship? As discussed above, stylistic balance is important in the materials used. The process of blending is of utmost importance. Thus, blended worship (as it relates to music) is creatively combining traditional and contemporary music in a balanced and seamless manner.
Balance does not mean equal. The proportions between different styles of music may vary from service to service. Additionally, a church may have a blended service that tends to be more traditional than contemporary or conversely more contemporary than traditional. This tendency does not negate the fact that the service is blended, as long as there is some degree of balance.
Here are some suggestions for creating well-blended services:
Pick music that is similar in nature
When making a cake from scratch, materials that are similar are generally added together before mixing with other ingredients. Generally dry ingredients are mixed with each other to ensure proper blending after which other materials that are different in nature are added together with the dry mixture. The other ingredients serve to moisten the cake and hold it together, completing what is needed for the cake.
Likewise, the elements selected for a medley of songs need to be similar. When blending songs together, similar types of songs will be easier to “shade into each other”. However, if all of the songs are too similar, monotony may result. Dissimilar songs can be used to provide contrast, but should be used deliberately and with attention given to making transitions between songs.
There several considerations when selecting compatible songs. Some of these are listed below:
Mood – Is the prevalent mood reverent, celebrative, somber, etc. Does the order of the songs reflect a logical order concerning mood? If the mood changes, is there a transition to make the mood change smooth?
Style – Is the nature of the music the same? If not, is there a stylistic transition?
Theme – Do the texts have a similar theme? If not, do they have a logical connection?
Tempos – Are the tempos of adjacent songs similar, or are there transitions between dissimilar tempos?
Textual direction – Are the songs to God or about God? If there is a change, typically effective worship progresses from songs about God, to songs sung to God.
The worship planner must give careful attention to choose songs that are similar, and be cognizant that transitions between dissimilar music may be necessary for an effective flow.
Each song, while having its own characteristics, can yield its nature to the songs around them. This creates the desired homogenous effect, and is a part of shading the elements into each other. Each element will still retain its individuality, but will contribute to the whole. Doing this can create something new, adding a freshness to the worship experience.
Minimize the individual characteristics of the music
In observing suggestion one above, selecting similar material will help continuity and flow within a medley. Selecting material that is different will add contrast. Transitions between these songs will help connect these together. A further way to add continuity to the blend is to minimize their differences.
There are several ways to de-emphasize the predominant characteristics in order to create smooth transitions. Changing the tempo or style of a song is one way to do this. Hymns that are often done in an upbeat mood can be done in a slower tempo with a more reflective praise chorus style. Examples of this would be the hymn “I Stand Amazed” or “Down at the Cross.” Both of these songs are typically done with a relatively fast tempo with a march-like style. When examining the texts, using a slower tempo can enhance the meaning of the words.
Another way to minimize stylistic contrasts is to change meters. Most contemporary songs are done in 4/4 time, so changing hymns like “O Worship the King” to 4/4 time, can make them sound more contemporary. The rhythm must obviously be changed to accommodate the extra beat. Syncopation can also gives a hymn a contemporary feel.
A third technique is to use different chord progressions to add variety and stylistic contrasts. This technique has long been used in alternate harmonization of hymns to make them majestic and to add interest. An example might be providing “I Surrender All” with a few new chords that make it sound more contemporary, which could allow it to blend more easily with a song like “Change My Heart, O God.”
By changing the chord progressions, an “old” song has been given newer harmonies that could help it have a similar nature to adjacent contemporary songs.You may have noticed that the examples given above move from traditional or familiar sounds and style to newer or more contemporary sounds and styles. This stylistic trend seems to be very common, and should be considered in creating a blended service.Mix the different types of music by placing them in close proximityI once had a pastor who was concerned about the personal relationships between members of the church where we were serving. His concern was that the church thought their fellowship was strong and vibrant, but many of the members didn’t associate with others on a personal level and many participated in only a small portion of the ministries of the church. One of my favorite sayings about his assessment of this situation was “any claim to unity without proximity is hypocrisy.” His point was that if we are never together in social situations or in worship we could not claim to be close as a church family.
It is important to guard against this same situation when creating a blended service. It is possible to claim to be “blended” in regards to worship style when differing elements are not used in close proximity.
Consider the following “blended” service:
Hymn “Standing on the Promises”
Hymn “The Solid Rock”
Chorus “Mighty is Our God”
Chorus “Glorify Thy Name”
It does contain both hymns and choruses, but they are hardly blended together. Instead, the differences between the styles are only emphasized by their separation into hymn medley and chorus medley.
In order to minimize stylistic differences, place different genres in close proximity. Try pairing traditional and contemporary songs that have a similar message. Some examples would include “Draw Me Close” and “Draw Me Nearer,” “I Love You, Lord” and “My Jesus, I Love Thee,” “The Solid Rock” and “Rock of Ages” (Baloche). This juxtaposition leads to well-blended services.
Use blended instrumentation
Often, blended services similar to the above service use piano and organ to accompany the hymns and then a praise team and guitar to lead the choruses. This practice only serves to emphasize stylistic differences. While acknowledging that piano and organ tend to be associated with traditional music and the praise team and guitars tend to be associated with contemporary music, this duality of style only hinders the blending process.
Use a variety of instruments to accompany your services. Be cognizant of instrumental stereotypes for hymns and choruses, but blur the lines where possible. Feature your organ on a majestic praise chorus. Do an introduction to a hymn on guitar. Have the drums play for both where appropriate. This instrumental blending will contribute in a significant way to the overall blending effect. Your instrumentalists may also thank you for using them more often and in unique ways.
Use non-musical elements
Music has been the primary concern of this article. However, it is only one component of a blended service. Prayer, preaching, and scripture reading are all important parts in the worship of God. Not only are they vital to the service, but these elements can contribute to making a more seamless flow within the music portion of the service.
Public prayer and scripture reading are two elements that are often neglected. Effort can and must be made to incorporate them into the service. Using prayer or scripture to unify the theme for the service or to help the transition between two songs is an effective tool. While these elements are an end in and of themselves, they not only help with the flow of the service, but also can help the congregation understand the blending and selection of songs within the service. This facilitates continuity and is very helpful when a service is intended to be thematic in nature.
Blended worship has many benefits: meeting the needs and musical preferences of heterogeneous congregations, utilizing historic and contemporary elements, and using different types of musical instruments. It is much more than the inclusion of music of varying styles. It is the process of blending the styles that makes blended worship effective. The process should receive at least as much attention as the content, and should result in the creative combination of diverse elements. In doing so, we can reflect the image of our creative God.
However, for the conscientious worship leader, blending and creativity is not the final goal. Facilitating corporate worship is. Services planned using the process of blending contribute to worship by eliminating the distractions between different types of music within the service. This is why we must be concerned with more than content. The ultimate product is not a blended service, it is the worship of God.
Dr. Roger O’Neel serves as Director of Church Music Ministries at Cedarville University, Ohio.