the shape of leadership

Polished, Produced … and Pentecostal?

How technology can help — and hinder — worship

Kristi Northup on August 28, 2023

Ask any worship leader about his or her biggest struggle, and the answer will likely have something to do with finding the right people for the platform.

These leaders are constantly looking for singers and musicians with the skill, energy, and dependability to make a worship set come alive.

Some churches pay worship leaders and musicians, but most still depend largely on volunteers. Assembling a worship team, training people, and filling vacancies without missing a beat can be challenging.


Filling the Gaps

About 10 years ago, a trend emerged that is changing this dynamic.

Perhaps you’ve attended a worship service and thought, That sounded amazing! How did they pull it off with such a small group of people? Chances are that team was using some form of multitracks.

Musical tracks are nothing new. When I was growing up during the 1980s, it seemed every church service featured an offertory solo, performed to a cassette soundtrack. But worship music has come a long way since that time.

Multitrack technology allows church musicians to purchase the stems — the original recordings of separate instrumentation. Running these through a MacBook or iPad, worship leaders can select the parts they need.

If a band is missing an electric guitar, for example, it can add the guitar track. When there are no singers for the background vocals, bringing those harmonies into the live mix fills the gap. This creates the illusion of a full band, and most congregants will never know the difference.

The use of multitracks has revolutionized worship in churches of all sizes. In smaller settings, the technology makes it possible for worship teams to add layers of sound without finding multiple guitarists or keyboardists.

It has also taken the guesswork out of where to go next, keeping musicians on track. In-ear monitors allow band members to hear the rhythm and the upcoming changes with prompts such as, “One, two, three, four. One, two, three, chorus!”

In larger churches, multitracks have elevated production quality to a whole new level. Musicians can use existing stems or create their own tracks and loops. It takes some technical ability, but the basic skills are easy to learn.

There are a variety of platforms. Among the most popular for church use are Ableton, MultiTracks, and Loop.

The advantages of this technology are obvious. Multitracks solve an immediate problem: the lack of skilled people who are willing to work long hours for free or nearly free. Pastors can breathe a sigh of relief, knowing the drummer who doesn’t always show up on time can no longer derail the entire song service.

These tools can also help musicians improve their skills. There are companion video tutorials and integrated chord charts, as well as click tracks for helping everyone stay on tempo.


Technical Difficulties

Despite these benefits, there are some potential drawbacks. While I appreciate the new world that has opened up to me as a worship leader, I sometimes wonder whether we are becoming too dependent on technology.

The well-worn path of production quality can become a hindrance to worship.

Necessity is the mother of invention. Yet it’s possible to rush into things that only seem necessary.

The most obvious impediment is the cost. Churches have to buy or rent stems and acquire the equipment to run them. And in some settings, finding people who can navigate the technology may be challenging.

There are deeper considerations as well. It can be easier to deal with a computer than a young bassist who isn’t as good as he thinks he is. But if we don’t disciple and invest in people, how will we raise up worshippers and skilled musicians?

Developing a worship team requires leadership and relationships. Although video tutorials are helpful for learning a specific riff, such tools can’t take the place of actual mentoring.

People are messy. Yet there’s nothing I love more than seeing high school and college students playing in the band next to moms and grandpas, or people from diverse racial and ethnic backgrounds harmonizing together.

We can use multitracks and still have dynamic and diverse worship teams. In fact, technology should make it easier to bring people together. As in other areas of society, however, automation can reduce our need for one another.

Technology itself is neither good nor bad. It’s just a matter of finding what works without sacrificing the things that are most important.

Recently, I discovered online training that teaches music fundamentals specific for worship. With short lessons in bass, guitar, keys, vocals and sound, our entire team is learning and improving for less than it costs one student to take traditional lessons.

This technology is meeting a need for our church, but it is not a panacea. I still need to lead and pastor my team.

I want to see singers and musicians growing, learning, and creating for their Creator through technology in ways I never imagined. Most of all, my desire is that they will experience the thrill of glorifying God with their music and lives and inspiring others to do the same.


Pressing Pause

All of this requires training and guidance, as well as sensitivity to the Holy Spirit.

From a spiritual perspective, I have real concerns about the dying art of Pentecostal worship. I know it’s technically possible to modify a track in real time. But the noise in my head sometimes keeps me from entering that spontaneous and responsive space between the presence of God and the people in the room.

Where the whisper of the prophetic once flowed so freely, now it seems easier to stick to the form.

The longer I lead worship, the harder it is to untether from the plan and let God take the lead. I recognize the well-worn path of production quality can become a hindrance to worship. The recording shouting in my ear, telling me where to go next, threatens to drown out the Spirit’s voice.

I find the use of multitracks greatly beneficial on balance. But as I have learned with my smartphone and other electronic devices, boundaries are important. To make the most of technology, I need to harness its potential rather than letting it hamper mine.

The pursuit of honoring God — not adhering to a music track — should drive my church’s worship. There is nothing I love more than making music to the Lord with His people. But for that to happen, sometimes I need to pull out my in-ear monitor and simply be in the moment.

If you haven’t done that in a while, try it. Listen to the congregation singing. Lean into the spontaneous flow of altar time or quiet, contemplative worship. Offer up a simple song of praise with your team around an acoustic guitar.

Step out of production mode. You might be surprised by what you hear.


This article appears in the Summer 2023 issue of Influence magazine.

Don't miss an issue, subscribe today!

Trending Articles

Advertise   Privacy Policy   Terms   About Us   Submission Guidelines  

Influence Magazine & The Healthy Church Network
© 2024 Assemblies of God