Music in smaller churches

Music for Smaller Churches

It’s good to sing together as a church, but how do you do that with limited musical resources?

Someone asked me what advice I would give to a church if their music team was very small, for example – just a piano? So, here are a few tips to get you thinking.

1. Use your congregation

Irrespective of the size of your music team the golden principle to apply is this: Always remember that the congregation is your biggest and most important instrument of all! In fact, as I write these very words a dozen people from a mission organisation are holding a day of prayer next door to my office. As I walked past their room, I could hear them worshiping God in song – without an instrument in sight – just their voices. It sounded wonderful, and I wanted to join in!

If you can utilise that instrument – the congregation – to its full potential, then your times of praise will be a great blessing. Besides, God is not blessed by the size of your band, congregation, or PA, he is blessed by the size of his people’s grateful hearts. So even if you had to go a-cappella, God will be glorified and visitors will sense authenticity in the singing.

2. Don’t compare yourself to the church down the road

The moment you start to compare your music team or congregation size to the church down the road, you allow a floodgate of discouragement and envy to well up in your heart. All this will do is to make you jealous for what others have, bitter because you don’t have it, and ungrateful for what you do have. None of these attitudes are conducive to worship.

3. Play to your strengths

That means, consider what instrumentation you do have, not what you don’t have.

If you have a piano on a Sunday then you already have two instruments in the room: the congregation’s voice, and your pianist – that’s more than enough! If you don’t believe me then listen to Bob Kauflin leading sung worship at The Gospel Coalition. It’s just Bob on the piano and 10,000 people singing. It is so worshipful and uplifting.

4. Play simply and well

The rise of YouTube videos can mean that we see incredible musicians playing complex arrangements of worship songs, with long introductions, or links between verses. We think to ourselves: ‘we could never do that.’ Well then, don’t! Remember that the fancy twiddly bits may be nice to the human ear, but to God’s ear the most important thing is his people singing his praise.

I would rather have an instrument that played the first line of the song well, than have a complicated introduction played badly. A simple yet clear introduction provides clarity for the congregation and gives them confidence to come in at the right point in the song. It’s far better to keep the music simple until the skill of your musicians reaches a level that they can gradually attempt more complex arrangements.

Stick to playing songs that are realistic and achievable for the musicians you do have, not the musicians on YouTube that you don’t have.

5. You don’t need a big band to sing modern songs

I suspect that this myth is reinforced by watching videos of stadiums full of young people, where the band have more musicians on the stage than some churches have in the whole congregation! Try searching for videos which have a stripped back band arrangement for example Come Behold the Wondrous Mystery.

Watch more videos that resemble the size and type of instruments you have in your church and you will feel far more inspired than if you just watched videos from stadiums.

6. Be creative with the few instruments at your disposal

If you have more instruments than just a piano, then think carefully about how you could best utilise them. Don’t have everyone playing all at the same time in every song. Put in a bit of musical interest by starting with just the piano or guitar for the first verse. Then draw in a cello, or flute for verse two. And then add all the instruments for the final verse.

Or consider if there is a verse or a chorus of a song where the musicians could drop out, leaving just the congregation’s voices. That can be so effective.

7. Learn from others

There are some great YouTube videos from churches like the Village Church, Sovereign Grace, Shane and Shane, Matt Pappa, Matt Boswell and Matt Merker, where very few instruments are used and yet they are playing some big songs.

Phil Moore and I have a few videos on our YouTube channel where it’s just us and two singers.

8. Be authentic

Play and sing from the heart, with as much skill as you can, because authentic worship is always heart-driven not performance-driven. God looks more on the size of the heart of the worshipper, than the size of the band.

I hope this helps you to consider how to structure sung worship if you are serving God in a smaller church.

“Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Eph 5:19b-20

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