I lead worship at a fairly small church that avg around 50 people on a Sunday.  The level of participation varies on a given Sunday from no participation to actively singing.  As I look out on the congregation, I have this strong desire to change the culture of our worship.  I yearn for a freer more expressive worship that is totally sold out for Jesus. 


I realize that I might be venturing into territory that is really up to God (so I’m treading lightly) but here goes….


Have any of you looked at the culture of your worship with the express desire to change it (to become more experiential) and if so, how have you gone about it?

I’m interested in practical nuts and bolts ideas on affecting change within a worship culture.  If anyone has books, blogs, articles or websites they can direct me to that would be great as well.

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I'm afraid that I lack the experience to be an expert on this subject. But what I do know is that a change like that is often less about the music and more about the congregation's personal spiritual lives. True, having music that engages both the intellect and the heart is extremely important in creating the right atmosphere for worship, but that may have little effect if the worshipper's heart is not ready to proclaim their love and adoration for their Savior and God.
A lot of it has to do with teaching. Teaching on worship, prayer, and the congregants need to have an encounter with the Holy Spirit in a worship setting. Also worship has to become a big cultural (in the church) value.
This is what I would've said, too. but teaching can look as simple as intorducing a song by explaining an odd lyric or giving scriptural background for the songs you sing. Those kinds of things make the songs become more than just songs - they become acts of worship.

And as far as cultural value in your church, we began by making rehearsals a priority - it took something really huge to displace us from the sanctuary for our rehearsals. When people saw that we took worship seriously, so did they. I also began an orientation for anyone who wanted to be invovled with the Worship end of the services. In that orientation, we laid out a philospohy full of authenticity, humble service, and excellence as an offering to the Lord.

Hope that gives some insight for you!
Yes, there are all sorts of ways to teach; you've mentioned both intentional lessons and what I'd call "teaching-on-the-fly", bits and pieces of information that enhance our understanding of the design, purpose and background of worship music. Generally, people take away only one or two key ideas from ANY period of teaching -- it's all we can handle consciously (though unknown quantities of ideas may filter in below the surface). But that one idea may ignite something that can change a life.
I go along with Carl here. I might venture the idea that healthy worship makes something like a cycle.
A worship service has something to give to worshipers -
As a body of worshipers, we hear the Word, the music influences us Christward, we leave equipped to give.
During the week we give; but in giving, we receive in our spirit.
During the week we fail, and find forgiveness to report to our friends and give glory to God.
During the week we study, to learn how to think more like citizens of the Kingdom.
We come back to church ready to share this joy with our fellow worshipers.
This joy feeds an indescribable quality to worship, which brings life to other worshipers.
They leave equipped to give.

The worship leaders have a special type of giving (from their store of music they have worked to attain); but they are really no different than the other worshipers -- only more skilled. The same principle applies to all.

Being "sold out for Jesus" may be represented through the passion of worship music, but is by no means a true indicator. The appearance of passion for the Lord is easily duplicated by those who wish to be seen as true and passionate. I was young and now I am (fairly) old, and have been through revival and drought; I still wrestle with the question, does revival the outflow of worship, or is true worship the outflow of revival? I find true worshipers of God who attend church in the stalest of environments; but their faith is hearty as a green tree in summer. Why do they flourish, but others leave the church they perceive as stale for one where "things are happening"?

But even with those doubts -- I have for many years been part of a church that has worked with all its might to change the culture of worship, with a good degree of success. People are now free to dance before the Lord at the altar, to paint 'prophetically' on canvases in the sanctuary, to pray for each other in extended fashion - and this happens in the context of free-flowing music in a lengthy time of worship. A number of people whom I considered apathetic or hard-hearted have become interested in church & in the Word; and it's not hard to get a good offering for the needy, or a team to go pray for someone.

However, I have recently entered a time when my wife and I are free to visit a number of churches of friends and relatives, or just come out of curiosity. We have found LIFE in many ways that went beyond the "worship service proper"; and we have found people throughly engaged in worship music that my contemporaries in my former church would not even listen to. The churches they left for the "worship culture" have a culture of their own, just a different culture. Those who serve there work within that culture to great effect. They change the culture by BEING Christians, by living grace.

I have opened a service numerous times when the people were so ready to praise God it was like dry tinder that could be ignited by saying "hello." Other times, the Body corporately carried spiritual aches and pains and gossip and troubles into the building, and needed a totally different "culture" for worship, sometimes different than what we had planned (being responsive to the entire church is part of being a worship leader).

To change the "worship culture" you don't need to make any astounding change in how you do things on the platform, other than to do your best to find true, honest worship music that 'engages both the intellect and the heart'. True change happens in an instant (the instant it takes for people to make decisions to change), but may be carried out over weeks, months, years, lifetimes. If you are faithful to the calling God has given you -- and you have indeed expressed this calling in your opening discussion -- you will reap the reward in due season. You are right -- it is up to God -- and since it is His territory, tread in it!
I wouldn't call it success, but at my church we've been trying to change the culture too. (Don't know if it's more experiential, probably as a by-product, but that wasn't the original vision). Not too many years ago it was all organ and hymnals (without a whole lot of participation and emotion). Today our team rocks out electric guitar, synths, drums and bass. I am usually the guy whose frustrated we're not changing/evolving fast enough, but I'm constantly reminded how far we've come in a short period of time. Changing the culture doesn't happen overnight. It's like steering a massive ocean liner. Quick fixes usually don't last.

The best piece of advice that I can give is that talking about change or convincing people to change rarely works. At least with our congregation, and especially the eldership they seem to resist change as default position. We had a lot of push-back earlier on. However, we kept at it, and eventually the dissenting voices became less and less. What was *never* allowed, eventually become the norm.

Two things I got out of it was:

#1 - Words are often poor at conveying visions to people. The best way to implement change is to be an example (the whole Ghandi - be the change you want to see). We showed up with an extremely dedicated, well rehearsed, theologically sound worship set in a style that was different. At first their was resistance, but it's hard to argue with conviction, dedication and excellence. Funny thing is that people started to get used to it, and other started to soften their position, until it became the norm. But I'm sure if asked early on, they would have said "That is not how we do things here..."

#2 - Preservation and conviction. You need to be your own champion. If you give up, people will too. It will be hard, but if you feel called to do something, sometimes you have to be stubborn about it (but not rude). When David suggested that he would face Goliath, it wasn't very well received, even though it was David's life on the line. (1 Sam 17: 33) Doing the right thing isn't always popular or easy. Those aren't two biblical supported evaluation tools. In fact many good choices aren't popular and have many dissenters. (Or else wouldn't they be done already? ;p )

Hope that helps. I wouldn't say I was overly successful, but I'm still at it. I was challenged by a mentor of mine to show them what I had envisioned, and I've tried to be true to that challenge. =) God wants Joshua and Calebs. (There seem no shortage of the other 10 spies...)
So many good things well said, Wayne. "It's hard to argue with conviction, dedication and excellence." During our period of change, I heard over and over from older people (in summary), "The music you sing is Scriptural, some of it very powerful. We do have difficulties. The melodies are often too high, or hard to sing, or the whole thing becomes mush in my hearing aid; thank you for occasionally singing songs we are familiar with so each week we can join in with a full voice. The last thing we want to be is cranky or divisive."

Now there are those who just come in with a new approach and say, "This is how church is. We are trying to reach such-and-such a group, and if you care for that group, this is their music, and you can learn to like it, learn to minister with it whether you like it or not, or go elsewhere." Some do this very successfully, at least from the viewpoint of the local church. Actually, God did this on Sinai (well, that seemed like a nice example until I thought about the book of Romans). Or, you can take your cue from Romans 15, and bear the burdens of the weak, and so fulfill the law of Christ. You are free in Christ to take any approach in His love.
110% agree with what Greg has said here. I was working on the assumption that you've tested your calling/conviction through prayer and reflection, seeing if it's really something God is calling you to do.

Even today at our church, during worship we ensure we use at least one traditional hymn, as our vision is encompassing, not exclusionary. (We wanted to "let-in the present", but not forget the "past") We were hoping to add a facet to the worship, not just replace an existing one.

Unfortunately determination often goes hand and hand with stubbornness. It's a fine line we draw. There have been very many dedicated men to poor ideals. I'm hoping you have solidified your vision in your own mind. Someone once told me, in sailing, charting and navigation is key. You could be off by a few degrees and that would would mean an inch or two by the end of the dock, however that could be miles and miles at the end of your journey.

“You've got to be very careful if you don't know where you're going, because you might not get there.” - Yogi Berra

Maybe the first advice would be forming a good solid vision? Know the course you're charting is of God. That probably takes precedence to the execution part.
Sometimes I think I say some fairly clever things in these discussions, but when I come up against a Berra quote I am overwhelmed and humbled.
One thing the church forgets is that God is the one who always creates new things.
Yes, he is the same. But he always does something new, so we should also do something new.
I think we should have something old, something new and something written recently in our worship.

This is not the first book you are looking for. But it explains practically the difference between the generations, and examines the differences between the post-modern and modern way of having church, with a chapter on worship.

I took some time to search for other books from the environment around Soul Survivor and the guy who wrote: "The heart of Worship"

Confidence and whole worship


Experimental and creative communities

Example/Prayer room: Click the little grey images

Trust also the ideas God can give you directly trough prayer.

God bless you richly
I can definitely endorse "Unquenchable Worshiper" book. Small short (half the size of normal book), but full of wisdom. You could probably speed through the whole in 20 mins, but I believe it's best savoured slowly. On sale for 8.99 @ ChristianBooks.com when you buy 10 or more.


I had great opportunity to hear Matt Redman speak live a WorshipTogether conference over 10 years ago. Once in a lifetime event. However even more inspiring was Matt Redman's pastor, Mike Pilivachi speak. I really think he was responsible for pushing Matt and creating Soul Survivor. A lot of what was happening was his vision. I'm sure Matt is more famous than Mike, but without Mike P, there might have been a Matt Redman.

Someone once said to be "Don't aspire to be like great men, but be inspired by what inspired them."

Mike P also wrote another book much like the Matt Redman's and it's just amazing. We bought a copy of everyone in our ministry 2 years ago as a thank-you gift and used it in a ad-hoc book study in small groups. We got ours on a big discount and it was on promotion.

I think it's on sale for $2.99 @ ChristianBooks.com!

Hi Halvard - Thanks so much for this. I've just looked at the Amazon link and read the preview sample of The Great GIveaway. It looks fantastic and I cannot wait to get a copy. From the little bit I can glean, it seems to be a call to reclaim the purpose of the church.

Speaking personally, in my own congregation I am finding that we are discovering 'church' in our small home group - it is where we relate to God most intimately, support and care for one-another, reach out and pray for the world, and worship deeply together.

Funnily enough - and this I guess relates to the original post - we are discovering the seeds of experiential worship are sown within the home group. This leaves us hungry to see God at work in the wider congregation, and to take responsibility for our own spiritual growth. This expectancy and desire often spills over into our Sunday morning worship (we are a mid-sized church with a congregation of around 150 based in Wales, UK)


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