3 Guidelines For Developing A Musical Sound For Your Worship Team

by Bobby Gilles

in Worship Leading

Worship leaders Brooks Ritter and Kristen Gilles of Sojourn Community Church, Midtown CampusGospel, country, rock, bluegrass … modern churches have a big palette of musical styles from which to choose. Which one is right for your church? Should you restrict yourself to one? How do you decide?

A one-size-fits-all approach won’t work because churches are all different, with different histories, locales, congregants and musicians.

Your Musicians

What can your team play well? What do they like? What is their background? If you try to make a group of country boys from Birmingham play Seattle grunge, it will come off as inauthentic and perhaps awful. Note that it isn’t just about your location — I’m sure there are good grunge musicians in Birmingham.

Many of us at Sojourn love bluegrass music. It is Kentucky, after all. We’re a four-campus church with five different worship teams on any given Sunday. While it isn’t too uncommon for one of those teams, at one of those campuses, to play a bluegrass set, it’s still a rarer occasion than it might be if we had more bluegrass musicians (for instance, we’ve never had a mandolin player). Here is one of the few bluegrass songs we’ve recorded: Blest Be the Lamb by Jamie Barnes and Rebecca Dennison, adapted from Hymn 29 by Isaac Watts:

Your People

By “people” I mean church members and attendees as well as the music culture of your region. While it’s too simplistic to say that everyone in the south loves country and gospel, or that everyone in Detroit loves Motown and rock, cities and regions do carry certain musical imprints, based on the history, experiences and proclivities of the people who make up that region’s culture. Know about the musical heritage and the current music scene in your town. This is easy for some of you but may take extra work for those of you who move to a different region to take a position as worship pastor. What worked in your old city may not be the best fit for your new one.

This is true even within genres. Delta blues isn’t exactly the same as Chicago blues. Texas country isn’t the same as Tennessee country. New York folk isn’t the same as North Carolina folk. Heartland rock isn’t the same as West Coast rock.


Work to create an authentic sound, given the team members and congregants you have. But remember it’s still a good idea to stretch yourself and your people. Don’t become a slave to anyone’s musical preferences, including your own. In this age of music on the internet and increased travel, it’s more and more likely that your players and your congregants will have a larger variety of musical experiences and favorites than people used to have.

 Photo above courtesy Chuck Heeke: Kristen Gilles & Brooks Ritter leading worship at Sojourn Church, Midtown campus

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