Monday, November 17, 2008

Singing Success

Take a look at Brett Manning's Singing Success vocal training course. I used this at my last church and really enjoyed the program. I'm no singer but I added a full note to my limited range, and I only half-heartedly did the exercises. Brookwood worship leader Steve Smith says he added 5 notes to his range. When UK worship leader Tim Light was visiting over here one time we went up to Nashville and had a lesson with Brett - I'm very impressed.

Contemporary Vocals

Last Friday night famed vocal coach Brett Manning (he coaches people like Taylor Swift and Keith Urban) came to Brookwood Church to do a seminar. He doesn't do many but he's an old friend of worship leader Steve Smith. You might have seen him on CMT's "Can You Duet" show - it was kind of like a Country American Idol. Brett was a judge along with Naomi Judd and songwriter Aimee Mayo.

At the end of the seminar we had a question and answer time. I asked "Church music has changed so much in the past 20 years, could you talk about the difference between "legit," traditional/operatic singing and contemporary vocal style?"

Brett said the main difference is... personality! Think of how much personality is injected into contemporary vocals... compare how distinctly different Randy Travis, Madonna, Scott Stapp and Billie Joe Armstrong of Greenday sound.  He hilariously mimicked Celine Dion perfectly, demonstrating all the vocal tones and effects she can produce.

Contrast this with "legit" singing. The vocals are vowel to vowel, all produced in the same, even sounding way and all notes are held for their full duration.

This reminds me of something American Idol top ten finalist Chris Sligh recently told me. He was doing a concert at a church, and the music director said something like "my vocalists are good but something doesn't seem quite right." At the praise team rehearsal Chris heard the problem: the vocalists were singing "properly" and holding out notes for their full duration. Kind of sounds like the problem I talked about a few weeks ago at WorshipIdeas - the pressing problem in worship music today is not transitioning to contemporary from traditional, it's in learning to do contemporary music in a contemporary way.

Depending on the song, a contemporary vocalist won't hold out a full quarter note, even if it's written as a quarter. Chris mimicked the vocalists he heard singing the popular praise song "Mighty to Save." Instead of singing the song conversationally and casually as it was originally recorded, the vocalists were singing "mighty to saaaaaaaaaave"  and stretching out that note with full vibrato.

How can you help your vocalists? It's no different than trying to get a stubborn, dated guitarist to use a capo, only in this case you're trying to convince a vocalist that they can lay off the vibrato. As I said in my article, it's a pride issue. If your team has teachable, humble heart attitudes you just might have a chance.

Check out Brett Manning's Singing Success vocal training course. I've used it myself and really enjoyed it.

Monday, July 28, 2008


I heard a cool term the other day: GigaChurch. It's a word for a church of 10,000 people or more. This guy claims to have coined the term in a Washington Post article.

As the article mentions, I too heard a few years ago that MegaChurches were on the decline, and would soon be replaced by smaller, more intimate churches from the emerging church movement.

But as everything seems to be fragmenting these days, so too has the church world fragmented. I don't intend a negative connotation with "fragmentation" but a good one - fragmentation means we have a multitude of choices today. Read my article on fragmentation at WorshipIdeas. MegaChurches and GigaChurches are springing up all over, far from dead, but you can also attend a small group, a house church, a video venue or watch a service on the Internet.

Another thing I've noticed that the article mentions is that when a MegaChurch reaches 5,000, growth begins to speed up and it often morphs into a GigaChurch. I've seen this happen in two local MegaChurches. One of them had been hovering around 4,000-5,000 last year this time and shot up over 10,000 during the holidays. And Newspring has been on a steady growth curve for years and will soon be at the weekly 10,000 mark.

The author sees smaller, thriving, mission-minded churches under 600 people co-existing with the Mega and Gigachurches.

However, if your church just doesn't care anymore or is wrapped up in political church drama it may not around much longer.

This so parallels the Wal-Mart effect in business that it isn't funny. Dumb little stores that do dumb little things will get clobbered by Wal-Mart who will do most things smarter, cheaper and better.

You can't compete with Wal-Mart if you're cheap and boring. Why go to your local, boring grocery store when Super Wal-Mart has everything they do, only cheaper? But Whole Foods thrives because they offer what Wal-Mart's grocery doesn't: class, ambiance, wireless and yummy, gourmet food items. Have you ever taken home a meal from their hotbar? Wow!

Little churches can't even begin to compete with the talent and programs of a MegaChurch, nor should they try. So what can they offer that the MegaChurch can't?

Loud Music

On Sunday, Newspring worship leader Tom Pellerin read us an email from the old man I mentioned in the previous post, the guy who approached the stage and wanted the music turned down seconds before the service started.

He was indeed a visitor from another (presumably traditional) church in town, and the email wasn't too bad. He enjoyed the service but was just worried that the music was at a level that could damage hearing. I wrote an article about this at WorshipIdeas.

However, I think the problem here is that the typical non-musician can't always comprehend what they're hearing, especially a visitor with traditional tastes. The drums and bass are very well mixed and punchy at Newspring and this probably alarms a traditionalists, causing them to think the music is louder than it actually is simply because they can feel the low end.

In the aforementioned article I have a link to a gadget you can get at your local Radio Shack for around $50 that lets you measure the decibels in your room. It's good protection against pesky deacons and elders who are constantly harping on the sound levels.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Instant Church 2

1470 people attended the second Sunday of NewSpring Greenville (last week the total was 1710) and I'll guess that's where attendance will hover for awhile.

A funny anecdote: as the countdown video reached zero, an old man approached the edge of the stage. Meghan, a vocalist, knelt down to see what he wanted, thinking he was a tech volunteer. Turns out he was just a random old man who thought the music was too loud and wanted it lowered.

I find that hilarious. Some old man goes berserk over the volume (as old people tend to do - you would think old people, who typically lose their hearing with age, would appreciate louder music) and targets a background singer mere seconds before the service starts. Those tactics might work at 1st Baptist but not at NewSpring.

Before you accuse me of making fun of old people, I'm not. I'm just making fun of cranky, controlling old people. My mid 70s parents sit in the audience and think the music's fine. My dad can't get over how well the sound is mixed.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Instant Church

Can you imagine arriving in a town, renovating an old grocery store into a church, opening the front doors and hoping people show up? Then, what if 1700 did show up? (and several got saved on top of it!) That's exactly what happened to NewSpring Greenville last Sunday in Greenville, SC - the largest satellite church launch in the country to date.

I had the opportunity to play in the band on this historic Sunday. What a pleasure to see a church that wants to be excellent (if you read this blog you'll find this isn't the norm!) and receive God's blessing.

NewSpring Greenville is doing the video satellite thing - a live simulcast of pastor Perry Noble's sermon is beamed through the Internet from Anderson to Greenville (and also to future plants in other cities.) NewSpring Greenville has a campus pastor, youth pastor, children's director and other staff as well as a live worship band led by worship leader Tom Pellerin (of the band Overflow.)

When the technology is in place in a few weeks, the sermon broadcast will go a step further. A huge screen the length of the stage will drop after the music and an almost holographic, high definition image of Perry will be projected from Anderson. In other words, there won't be different camera angles - there will be a single, fixed camera filming Perry and this wide angle image will be projected on the wide screen in Greenville. Perry will walk across the stage in Anderson and also appear to be walking across the stage in Greenville!

I was so excited about the launch I had trouble sleeping Saturday night - it was like Christmas morning. What I was eager to see was just how many people would attend. The whole thing is a no-brainer - at least 1,000 people drive from Greenville each week to Anderson, and most pledged to attend the Greenville campus (amazingly, the Anderson campus did NOT lose 1,000 people, but were actually UP 800 from the previous week.) It's an instant church. Now people will start coming to Greenville from nearby Spartanburg and Gaffney. I don't know NewSpring's plans, but it certainly would make sense to leapfrog church plants - plant another church in Spartanburg in a year or two, and on and on.

What I'm finding perplexing and sad is how snippy some of my friends who go to other local churches are reacting. One friend blew up and told me how "stupid" NewSpring is and wondered why people go there. I pointed out there sure are a lot of stupid people at the church - 8,948 at both campuses. I took another on a tour of the new building and he criticized everything he saw. Another friend, a pastor of a tiny church in Anderson, so ranted and raved over lunch about what a terrible place NewSpring is that I lost my appetite.

It looks like my blog post from 2006 is coming true. In that post, I wrote "The multi-site revolution will be a call for churches to get their act together. If you insist on operating like it's 1963, you might not be too long for this world. If you're just now considering using contemporary music in your worship, you're 20 years behind. If your church is full of politics that strangle your ministry, you just might be put "out of business" by churches who are more concerned with seeing people reached for Christ."

It's high time churches stop being so petty and start moving. No, you don't have to be like NewSpring, but mixing excellence with Godliness might be a good place to start.

Watch a video about NewSpring Greenville on a local news channel.

Greenville Newspring blog.

Monday, June 30, 2008

Church & Movies

A while back I wrote the article at called "Music=Growth?" I used to think that good music grows a church. While it doesn't hurt, I don't believe that anymore. Here's another example.

When was the last time you went to a movie or watched a TV show because of the music? Probably never.

Sure, some movies/TV shows are notable for their music. John Williams is famous for his lush orchestral scores, but did you rush to see the latest Indiana Jones flick because he scored the film?

The Matrix was not only renowned for special effects (bullet time) but also for Don Davis's unique score, but that's not why the film was so popular.

You go to a movie or watch your favorite show because of the message, the storyline. Maybe you like the actor and watch all his movies.

People go to church because of the message, the storyline. They probably like the preacher.

A stirring movie score sure helps set the mood of the film, doesn't it? You might even leave the theater humming the theme. Great music helps set the mood of your worship service, and people will leave with a catchy praise song or hymn on their lips.

When a movie is hitting on all cylinders - great actors, great storyline, great director, great music - what a blockbuster, and what a viewing pleasure. Only a handful of the many movies made each year hits this stride.

And when a church hits on all cylinders with a great preacher, great staff and great music, you hear about it, too.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Praise Band Paradox

I know of a megachurch with 10,000 people that has state-of-the-art everything... projection, speakers, music equipment and the same $ound board as the local arena. Their drummer is your typical middle aged guy who works a regular job, and probably hasn't played drums since his high school garage band days. In fact, he doesn't even own a drum set. Tempo fluctuations are so wild in the praise set that the singers sometimes can't spit out their words.

How does a megachurch with 10,000 people end up with a lousy drummer who doesn't even own a drum set? That's like having a pastor who doesn't own a Bible!

The answer is simple, my dear readers. It's a syndrome I've identified and have named The Praise Band Paradox: The bigger the church, the lousier the music.

Here's how it happens: small churches don't have a large talent pool from which to choose, so they often pay for musicians. One small church I'm thinking of has the best music in town, and the best musicians. They're not paid much, but they are paid.

When a church grows to a larger size, a non-musician in power can't understand why the church is paying musicians when there are so many people in the congregation willing to use their "gifts."

This explains why a good number of megachurches I've visited (not all) have music that isn't so hot. Not that the music was horrible, it's just that I remember thinking "wow, my little praise band (of paid players) in my 250 member church sure sounds a whole lot better than these guys."

A famous worship leader I know who works at a megachurch of 6,000 told me they stopped paying musicians and now only use people from the congregation. The pro players were invited to continue playing for free, but instead moved on to other paying ministries in the area.

Before you judge, remember that a pro player is a professional, which means that playing is his/her profession. That's how their living is made.

Also keep in mind that there's quite a big difference between a person volunteering to wash windows and a person volunteering to play an instrument in church. How many years of lessons and practice does it take to wash windows?

And if a church has multiple services, the musician's time commitment can sometimes be as much as a part time job (a friend of mine who plays at a megachurch that still pays musicians spends at least 15 hours a week in rehearsals and services.)

Should you pay your musicians or not? For that matter, just who should be paid in the ministry? Should the pastor? Should janitors? Or architects, landscapers, brick masons? Should you pay for electricity, water or air conditioning?

Should a church pay six figures for a state-of-the-art sound system to amplify... a drummer who doesn't own a set of drums?

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Death of a Church

This week the 2 year old Andy Stanley Catalyst video church plant here in Greenville sadly announced that April is their last month of existence. Here's the blog of one of the pastors, Casey Ross. Financial problems were cited as the primary concern.

I visited the church several months ago. Nice people, cutting edge contemporary music and a good video sermon by Andy Stanley. What went wrong? Here's my two cents:

1. Location, location, location. Catalyst met downtown in a theater. Churches that meet in downtown Greenville have a history of flopping. Seacoast Greenville met in the same location for a time and nearly folded - they didn't grow until they moved to a more accessible location in the suburbs (two short turns off a major highway.)

2. Transplants. From what I've heard, Catalyst didn't use local musicians, but shipped in bands and worship leaders from Atlanta. I know of two good local musicians who played and were not asked back. One of the pastors mentions in his blog that he's preparing to move back to Atlanta. The whole thing smacks a tad bit like the "pros" are coming to Greenville to show us poor local yokels how it's done.

3. Market share. The Greenville church "market" is saturated. There's literally a church on every corner (see my previous post about yet another new church in Greenville.) If I wanted to plant a church, Greenville would be the last place I'd pick: there's simply too much "competition."

I know, I'm using business terminology, but it's this simple: go where the need is. I remember reading when Rick Warren decided to plant Saddleback years ago he carefully and prayerfully chose a spot that needed churches. Look what happened. Similarly, Seacoast in Charleston has boomed because there weren't many contemporary churches in Charleston. The local Willowesque megachurch here in Greenville boomed 15 years ago when contemporary worship was unheard of in these here parts.

Church planters, what parts of the USA need churches? May I suggest some blue states?

NewSpring Church in nearby Anderson is busily at work preparing their Greenville location. Yes, another new church in Greenville, but this one makes a bit more sense. There are over 1,000 people from Greenville driving to Anderson each week. I'd just as soon drive 5 minutes literally around the corner from my house than drive the 30 minutes to Anderson. This is a church plant with support from the get-go.

3. Catalyst appealed mainly to the youth culture. It's cool when a church has the latest, cutting edge songs and meets in a dark, vibey building, but this extreme programming generally attracts young people, and young people are notorious for not giving. I enjoyed the service, but I saw lots of Furman University students.

Therein lies the conundrum for the church planter: cool churches that attract young people with no money vs. traditional churches that attract old people with money. Hmmm, maybe there's a way to somehow meet somewhere in the middle?

Sunday, April 13, 2008


I'm sitting here at Panera Bread Company working on a redesign of the WorshipIdeas website, and this guy comes up and offers me a free cookie. Not one to resist free food, I eagerly accept. He then hands me a business card and says "I'm starting a new church in the area, check out our website."