It’s OK If Your Church Never Sings That New Song

NEWER is BETTER + POPULAR is GOOD
That is what our consumer culture tells us.
As those entrusted with choosing songs for our church, we must look beyond the YouTube hymnal and social virality of a song. We must be able to see and hear beyond the slick productions.
A nutritionist for a pro football team does not feed the same meal to a kicker and a linebacker. What’s good for a 10K church in the burbs might not make sense for a recovery group in the city. Are there songs better made for your small church that a large church would never consider?
Some new, famous worship songs should be avoided in your context. Some should be sung immediately. Some should wait a bit. Some will be sung forever in your church. Many will be quickly forgotten.
Here are considerations for selecting NEW SONGS for your local church:
1️⃣ Choose songs that could live in your active setlist for 3, 5, 10 years, or more.
The increasingly short shelf life of trendy worship songs really concerns me. I love that there are some songs in our repertoire that have been with us for decades and continue to feed us. We keep them from being worn out by using different arrangements and allowing them to rest for seasons. For instance, the song “Jesus Messiah” is no longer marketable, but for our church the lyrics do incredible work.
2️⃣Avoid becoming a radio DJ that capitulates to every song request (yes, including your pastor).
Over time, if you are doing your job well, people will learn to trust to eat what is in front of them vs. constantly asking for chicken fingers and cake. If you are constantly trying to please people by entertaining requests, it will never end. When people (my pastor) ask for a song I always ask them “what about the song speaks to you?”, “What in this song, gives voice to what our church needs to say to God?” Often times it’s a deeply felt, short-lived emotion that is completely personal and not corporate.
3️⃣  Dive deeper to find songs that fit your context.
There are hundreds and thousands of beautiful songs and hymns that are not in the top CCLI 1000. This might include your original songs. I recently found a song by Daniel Bashta “Praise the Lord” which has absolutely blessed our gatherings. Listen to more indie worship artists and hunt for songs that will feed your church. Don’t just wait for the big churches to feed you your next moment.

 

Helping your worship leaders and teams tell the story of God in worship. My name is Mike O’Brien and I am passionate about teaching and mentoring worship leaders and teams. My calling is to use my experience as a producer, worship leader, songwriter, and multi-instrumentalist to come alongside musicians, helping them more fully worship God with their instrument and lives. Find out more about how I can help your worship leaders and teams HERE.

Encouragement Is Free Using Words to Build Your Team

Recently a friend asked me what I would do with a blank check for the church. I love that question. I rattled off a list of wonderful band gear, design projects, and potential hires for needed areas. Reflecting the following day, the Lord revealed some areas of my heart that were needlessly operating under a burden of scarcity. He led me once again to the Psalmist’s proclamation:

For every beast of the forest is mine,

the cattle on a thousand hills.

I know all the birds of the hills,

and all that moves in the field is mine.

If I were hungry, I would not tell you,

for the world and its fullness are mine.

Psalm 50:10-12

Money is usually the grid by which I’ve seen this text, but when it comes to resources, the reality is that there is so much more to consider. At that moment the clearest resource the Lord was pointing to was my words.

Here are a few ways that we, as worship leaders, can use our words as resources to edify our teams:

15 Gift Ideas for Worship Leaders Unique ideas to bless the musician in your life

It’s that time of year again where you want to get the perfect gift for the church musician in your life. Buying something thoughtful or useful for a musician can be hard; they know what they like and they know what actually works. Because finding the perfect something can be a tall task, I’ve put together a list of creative gifts that any worship leader or church musician would enjoy. I’ve already vetted all the options, read the reviews and chose the perfect product.

Buying presents for a creative person means that your gift will not just be consumed, but be used to multiply goodness into the world. Happy shopping and giving!

1. Books on Worship/Creativity 

Here are some great titles that would bless the worship leader in your life. These are “easy” reads, but still intellectually rich and lasting. Even if they already have one of these titles, these are all classics and will be a welcome duplicate to share on the bookshelf of any worship leader.

For All God’s Worth – N.T. Wright

You Are What You Love – James K.A. Smith

A Brief History of Christian Worship – Jame F. White

The War of Art – Steven Pressfield

Creativity, Inc.: Overcoming the Unseen Forces That Stand in the Way of True Inspiration – Ed Catmull 

 

My Number One Congregational Participation Tip Start with strength and give it away

 

My name is Mike O’Brien and I am passionate about teaching and mentoring worship leaders and teams. My calling is to use my experience as a producer, worship leader, songwriter, and multi-instrumentalist to come alongside musicians, helping them more fully worship God with their instrument and lives. Find out more about how I can help your worship leaders and teams HERE.

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Singing Though Your Mic Stepping up and into your microphone

Encouraging musicians in the church to STEP UP and INTO the microphone is a constant point in my training. There is a ton of apprehension with church singers “bringing it” for fear of being perceived as rock stars. Using the microphone with confidence is the beginning of great on stage leadership.

My name is Mike O’Brien and I am passionate about teaching and mentoring worship leaders and teams. My calling is to use my experience as a producer, worship leader, songwriter, and multi-instrumentalist to come alongside musicians, helping them more fully worship God with their instrument and lives. Find out more about how I can help your worship leaders and teams HERE.

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Shepherding the Band The value of people over production

#1 Hardest Lesson learned in worship ministry: PEOPLE are more valuable than a great worship set.

If I lead a worship set that is 🔥🔥🔥 and verbally destroy sound techs, drummers and singers in the process it is a NET LOSS in the KINGDOM of God.

Pastors, if you have a high capacity/high output “get it done” kind of leader they will aim to please YOU above the commission to love and care for the people they lead.

 

My name is Mike O’Brien and I am passionate about teaching and mentoring worship leaders and teams. My calling is to use my experience as a producer, worship leader, songwriter, and multi-instrumentalist to come alongside musicians, helping them more fully worship God with their instrument and lives. Find out more about how I can help your worship leaders and teams HERE.

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How To Talk To Your Sound Tech

A guide for worship leaders

In many churches, communication with the sound tech is a touchy subject. Most worship leaders can rattle off a list of offenses occurred from interactions from techs they have worked alongside. Likewise, most sound techs have countless horror stories of aggressive, diva musicians committing relational and technical fouls on stage before, during and after church services.

We must own, confess and repent for our part in relational damage with church techs; going forward, worship pastors and leaders must create a culture of honor, care and respect for those serving our sound. Click To Tweet

The solutions are more relational than technical (although gear runs a close second). Below are a few ways to engage your tech and make your church culture one that honors these valuable servants:

1.  Become Their Chief Encourager  

 Most technical people in church only get attention when something is wrong. Many have been shamed and ridiculed from the stage when things have gone wrong. Insecure musicians and communicators will often place blame on sound and media people from the stage.  Stop…. Right….. Now…. and ask God to reveal any techs from your past that you might have offended. Message, text, call and make it right.

After each and every rehearsal and service I strive to pinpoint a specific expression of kudos for the sound techs.

“Thanks for always being on time, it really makes a difference for us.”

“That kick drum sounded massive today!”

“The vocals were spot on tonight – I loved how easy you made it.”

“When you took time to help Sue with her bass amp, it really helped make the rehearsal go easy.”

Brand this phrase on your leadership heart: “what is rewarded is repeated.” This one concept has guided my leadership style more than any other in creating positive and healthy relationships in worship ministry.

How to Talk to Your Drummer

A Guide for Worship Leaders

For many worship leaders communicating with your fellow musicians is a huge challenge. It can be very intimidating to give an opinion about an instrument you don’t play.

Since the drummer and the drumset play such a critical role in the overall sound of our bands, here are here are several ideas of how you can talk to your drummer.

1.  Learn the Names of Drums and Cymbals 

Throne – The stool the drummer sits on is called a “throne” – and no that’s not a joke! Most drum thrones are adjustable and you might suggest raising or lowering the throne if you have a new drummer or someone unfamiliar with your church kit.

Kick Drum (aka Bass Drum) – This is usually the biggest drum on the drumset. It is hit with a pedal that has a beater attached. This drum has the lowest frequency of the drumset. It is a very important part of the overall sound. The bass guitar should interplay with this drum.

“Let’s really lay into that kick drum on this song.”  

“Don’t play the kick at all during the first verse.” 

Snare – Equally as important as the kick, the snare drum is commonly what plays the backbeat (where you want to clap). Snare drums can be tuned high or low. Snare drums can be struck in the center and on the edge of the head for different tones. You can turn the snares (the metal strings that line the bottom snare head) on or off and they can be adjusted to rattle more or less. You can hit just the rim of this drum for a muted click sound that can be pleasing (this is technically called a “cross-stick” although some mistakenly call it a “rimshot” which is something else).

“Play the snare really loose on this section.”  

“Maybe try a cross stick rim thing on this part?”  

Hi-Hats – These two cymbals join together on a specialized stand that is hit with a stick or “chicked” by simply depressing the pedal with your foot. If your foot is pressed down hard these will have a quick, tight sound when struck,  the more you lift your foot the louder and more wild they become when struck. How “open” the hi-hats are when hit will DRASTICALLY alter the volume and perceived volume of the drumset.

“Can you close the hi-hats a bit more?” 

“What would it sound like if we just keep the hi-hat going during the chorus instead of ride?” 

Tom(s) – These drums are powerful for creating transitions between song parts. They are the most melodic elements of the drumset and can create pleasing (or irritating) rhythmic patterns.

“Let’s do a tom fill going into that outro.” 

“Lay off on the toms to open up space under that guitar solo.” 

Floor Tom(s) – This is the larger of the toms and can be used to create low-end power and energy. If you have subwoofers in your sound system then should be rocking when this drum is hit.

“Can you play eighth notes on the floor tom instead of the hi-hat?” 

Crash Cymbal(s) – These typically have shorter sustain and add an accent to song sections or transitions.

“I like that bigger crash on that intro.” 

Ride Cymbal – This is a complex cymbal that can have a “ping” sound or “washy” sound. The sound changes depending on where you hit it.

“Maybe a little more wash on this part and less ping?” 

Splash Cymbal – These cymbals are super small and provide a very high pitched and short sustaining accent.

“Can you take the splash cymbal home and never bring it back?” 

Chime Tree, Tambourine, and Shaker – Random percussion can add pleasing elements to the song selections. It’s common for a drummer to use a shaker for a verse section or for the whole song. You could use a tambourine laying on a floor tom for accents.

“You can only rake the chime tree only two times in this song… thank you.” 

“Let’s do a tambo hit on 2 and 4 instead of the snare for this section.” 

2. Learn and Speak the LANGUAGE OF RHYTHM for Drummers 

Kick, hi-hat, and ride cymbal rhythms are vital to the feel of the song sections. You might simply ask the drummer to “play busier” or “play simpler”, but if you know a more specific language, it would be helpful.

A Worship Leader’s Guide to Cleaning Toilets

From worship star to janitor in one day

“Learn the lesson that, if you are to do the work of a prophet,
what you need is not a scepter but a hoe.”
Bernard of Clairvaux

There is a deep transformation that happens when cleaning up the waste of those you are leading in worship. This is my story of going from worship star to janitor in one day.

My story of going from worship star to janitor in one day. Click To Tweet

A couple of years ago, when I was about to finish up my prestigious Master’s degree in Worship Studies, I got word that our church was making some cuts and had to let the cleaning company go and they put me in charge of all church janitor duties. 15,000 square feet of carpet to vacuum, tile to mop, walls to dust, 20 trash cans to empty, and yes, 11 toilets to clean. I thought for sure I would have written a hit worship song by now or maybe have an assistant after all these years, but nope… I’m a 40-year-old janitor/worship leader for a resource-strapped church. Sweet. Dream come true.

5 Big Ideas for Every Small Group Worship Leader

As a small group worship leader, your role is no less important than the main stage worship leader. You are creating space for God and you are helping to form people as they worship. After 25 years of leading worship, many of my favorite memories are leading songs to groups of 3-10 people in a living room.

There is so much to say about this critical role in the Church, but here are some unique points I stress to every new small group worship leader I train. Five practical ideas for every small group worship leader:

1. Set a Mood  

Worship leadership has more than just songs and singing to consider. Think about the physical space. Working with your host and group leader, get the couches, chairs, and lighting best for the group (this might be different than the normal layout). Try to face as much seating as possible pointed away from the entry point(s) and face chairs towards one another. Dim, or turn off the overhead lights, turn on some lamps and light some candles.

BIG IDEA: A small group worship leader helps create a physically inviting and worshipful environment. 

2. Stand Opposite the Main Entry Point of the Room 

In order to minimize distraction for the group, consider standing facing the main entry point to the room.  People facing you will not be as distracted when people arrive or step out. Since it’s a small group just one person making a move will cause focus to turn to them. Do the best you can to help folks avoid distraction.

BIG IDEA: A small group worship leader strategically places themselves in the room to help remove distractions. 

3. Sing With Clarity and Boldness 

Leading songs without amplification has unique challenges. There can be crying babies, coffee grinding, and kitchen chatting competing with the focus. Try to articulate and be clear with every word and phrase.

Be clear and direct at the beginning of each phrase; sometimes I put a little rush on the first syllable. This is a subtle but important factor to small group singing that can help people engage the lyric more fully because everybody will better anticipate the first word of the next line. Use your body and facial countenance to lead into each section. Consider cueing the ensuing lines, especially in the beginning of the songs.

BIG IDEA: Sing lyrics with conviction and confidence, often times in front of the beat. 

4. Plan Songs With Simplicity and Repetition in Mind 

Some worship songs are more lyrically dense than others. Assuming you are not projecting or handing out lyrics*, consider choosing songs that have less overall words. Here are some approaches:

  • Use songs that have melodic and lyrical anchors “Great are You Lord, Great are you Lord”
  • Start with the chorus and repeat it.
  • Repeat verse sections. Repeat chorus sections.
  • Consider dropping whole sections of the song if they are too wordy or complicated.
  • Leave intentional space in the songs. Breathe.

*I would discourage the temptation to set up screens, powerpoint on TVs or handing out song sheets for small groups. What did the church do for centuries before printed sheets and electricity? Can you connect with those historic roots and turn off visual media?

BIG IDEA: Choose and arrange songs for your small group that are simple and memorable. 

5. Sing Really Soft and Really Loud

One of my favorite parts about small group worship is the invitation explore volume dynamics in worship. You can simply strum a chord once and start to sing without constantly strumming. You can and should lead “fast” songs, don’t be afraid to be loud together! Within songs, you can make verses whisper while choruses explode. As long as you are INTENTIONAL and CLEAR, people will follow.

BIG IDEA: In a small group, allow your musical worship to be both loud and soft; use your instrument and voices explore every dynamic possibility. 

 

My name is Mike O’Brien and I am passionate about teaching and mentoring through music. My calling is to use my experience as a producer, worship leader, songwriter, and multi-instrumentalist to come alongside musicians, helping them more fully worship God with their instrument and lives. Find out more how I can help your worship leaders and teams HERE.

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