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Wednesday, November 14, 2012

The ‘Six-Phase’ Pattern To Worship Song Set Design

Are your songs sets a little like a malfunctioning GPS? Do you feel like some days you’re wandering in circles, turning around unfamiliar landmarks and wondering where in the world you’re headed and if you’ll ever arrive at your destination? This might not be so bad if it was only you, but when you’re leading a ‘congregational convoy’ down a serpentine trail it might be time to consider switching out your GPS. 
Hopefully these next series of posts can help you do just that.
Many years ago, Eddie Espinosa (writer of Change My Heart, Oh God), and John Wimber, founding pastor of the Vineyard churches developed a five-phase pattern for worship set design. This has since become one of the most commonly referenced patterns for worship song set development around the world.  I want to personally express my gratitude for the development of the five-phase approach. It’s usually my initial foundation for developing a worship set.
Although this has been called the five-phase approach, there is a common sixth phase that is sometimes ignored so I’ve chosen to call it the Six-Phase Pattern.
So what is the Six-Phase Pattern? These six phases are:
1.     Invitation
2.     Engagement
3.     Exaltation
4.     Adoration
5.     Intimacy
6.     Celebration (Optional)

I’ll break these down phase by phase. In my next post I’ll be placing practical applications to the six-phase pattern but let’s just begin with an overview of the six phases right now:

1. Invitation:
More traditional churches may label this a “call to worship.” Just like the “Funnel Approach” to worship set design we described before, the song or songs you place here help to focus people, attract their attention towards worship and draw people into a sense of God’s presence.
The Invitational Song(s) are usually celebratory. (I will be covering “centering songs” in a future post which also serve this role in particular settings)
These songs of invitation don’t demand attention like a drill sergeant. Instead, they gracefully encourage people into changing their focus from the multiple distractions of their lives and onto a time of meaningful worship.

2. Engagement:
In the Invitation Phase, you did your best to move people from external distractions to a time of worship. Now that you have people’s mental attention (and hopefully their heart’s attention as well), it’s time to enter the next phase with a song or songs of engagement.
Arlen and Elsa at the 'homesteader' house Elsa grew up in.
Songs of engagement begin to move people from grabbing their attention through a call to worship (Invitation) into beginning to focus on worshipping God and celebrating His astounding beauty, love and majesty. 
As an “earthy” parallel, this is similar to when I first was attracted to my beautiful wife, Elsa. She initially grabbed my attention by her very presence (yes, it was very close to a call to worship) and I was drawn in to getting to know her at a deeper level as I saw her character and inner beauty.

3. Exaltation:
In the third phase, people begin to be lost in the wonder of God’s majesty, greatness and power.

This is a dynamic phase that often naturally gravitates to song choices with a vibrantly anthemic feel to them. Exultant expression is often heightened in your people at this time.

4. Adoration:
In the fourth phase, the enthusiastic energy begins to be relaxed. This begins the “release” step in the “tension-release” of any great drama.

There is a greater draw into a personal expression of people’s love for God. This is often very subjective. Often melodies are far simpler in this phase and limit vocal and dynamic range.

There is an importance in handling the transition from adoration to intimacy with a sense of great delicacy. Abrupt changes; whether musical, spoken, visual or technical can bring your entire church to a screeching halt at this point.

5. Intimacy:
In the fifth phase, you are moving into a sense of Christ-centered meditation and greater intimacy. This is the most intimate phase of your worship song set.

Although congregational worship is communal, it is also individual. God speaks His truth with a common truth but He also speaks personally into our hearts, our desires, our frailties and our fears. As He whispers personally to us and assures of His deep and abiding love for us, we express our love for Him.

Every healthy human relationship includes times of intimacy where we can express our thoughts without fear of condemnation and rejection. If you have built a strong sense of God’s love into your worship set, assured them of God’s favour and built a foundation of grace into the very fibre of your church you will have a stronger possibility of helping your people enter fully into times of intimacy.  However, if you have simply pictured God as aloof and judgmental, having your people enter into this phase will be extremely difficult. 

6. Closeout:
This is the sixth phase, which is sometimes left out of the worship song set. Clearly, if you have just moved into an extended time of prayer ministry, placing a bombastic song of celebration at this point would not only be jarring, it would be extremely insensitive.

Still, most churches will tend to end on a song of celebration. This bookends your service in the following ways:
  • ·       You began with a song of celebration and you end the same way you entered.
  • ·       You become more intentional on supporting the theme of the sermon and the scriptural texts for the day.
  • ·       For those uncomfortable with the times of intimacy that took place in the worship service, this provides them with a release form the tension they’ve experienced.
  • ·       People’s last memory of the service is that it was an inviting time of celebration. They want to return.
  • ·       This closing song encourages your church to have a more balanced approach to musical dynamics so you engage a wider range of people’s personalities in your song choices. I’ll write more on this in a future post as I address the “Jesus is my boyfriend” concerns of many churches.
  • ·       Perhaps this point is going to be misunderstood – but I’ve lived in controversy for years so I’m going to write it anyway. The closeout song often gives your worship team a chance to potentially “play their faces off” and express the musical, technical and creative chops that God has blessed them with and they have worked on for years. When an excellent finishing carpenter builds top-quality cabinets for the church we celebrate this as a church body. Can we also not celebrate the great worship arts gifts of our praise team?

In my next post I want to start applying some practical applications to the Six-Phase Pattern To Worship Song Set Design. We’ll look at possible worship songs for each phase and talk about transitions.

In the meantime, if you are an artist, look at entering our Break Forth Artist Competition. This is not some flash in the pan contest that gives you an acrylic trophy and a handshake. Winners not only receive prizes but also artist development to help them express their creativity for the sake of the Gospel.  Click the banner below for more information:

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