"For Those Who Are Passionate About Reaching The Younger Generation"

Youth Ministry Topics Developing Student Praise and Worship

Worshiping Our Audience of One (Part 4)

Cynthia Cullen


From the very beginning at NorthStar, the Pastors, Ike and Mike, were very definite that our mission was not to make lifetime church goers comfortable. As a worship community we were going to actively seek out people that had no relationship with God or people that had a prior church experience that had fallen out of the habit. We're a church for people who don't relate to traditional church culture. We exist for those who aren't here yet.

When people enter a service, we want them to experience something new in worship. The worship should not always be familiar. It should be different, unique. We want somebody who just walked in off the street that maybe had a bad experience in a traditional church to walk in and say "I’ve never been in a church like this." We want to remove old experiences and barriers and help them to experience Jesus.

Regardless of whatever style we do, however, we will always incorporate hymnody. Sometimes there’s a specific hymn that’s better than a worship chorus at the end of a message. In this case, we may update the hymn with some new lyrics, like adding a chorus that makes it more memorable and singable to this generation. It creates the feeling that it's a praise and worship chorus. (Note: many traditional hymns morphed through time, adding choruses and changing tunes as times changed.) In the NorthStar culture, most people don’t know the difference between a hymn and a worship chorus. So we don’t often hear the comments from people saying "we want hymns."

Leonard Sweet, one of the foremost Christian thinkers on post-modernism, says that in churches we need to swing back. Although we move forward stylistically, we also swing back to our roots. That means that we used a lot of symbols to communicate through our creative arts.

We try to use the cross a lot. We also incorporate a lot of readings from places like "The Book of Common Prayer." We may do a responsive reading with our audience. Some people may not consider that very "seeker" but we’re bringing something from the old into the new. Some leaders tend to think that seekers can't relate to religious tradition. But we're finding that some rituals and older traditions really speak to their hearts.

The generations have dramatically changed since the ‘90’s. Back then they wanted to turn away from anything spiritual. Since September 11, there has been a new seeking after an experience with God. If the church is too much like the world they say "Why did I even bother to come?"

As a worship leader, my musical style matches the audience of NorthStar. I’m in my upper 20’s, right between the 20 year olds and the 40 year olds that make up the majority of the NorthStar audience.

I think the majority of people at NorthStar enjoy the upbeat music because it’s similar to the style that they’re listening to in their cars. That’s the culture of our community.

I think style of worship has to reflect where you are. When I was in South Florida as a music director, that style is very celebratory and very Latin. Things that I do at NorthStar would never work in South Florida because of the cultural differences.

Worship leaders need to know their community and know their culture. Missionaries are great with this. They learn the spoken language of their target culture. They also learn the musical language of the people their target culture. They discover what music the natives listen to in their most relaxed moments. Then, they try to couch their worship music in that most natural musical language.

I try to think like a missionary to our culture at NorthStar. Rather than trusting my own musical instincts, I have talked to people adnausem at NorthStar. "What do you like about our music? What do you not like?" The great thing about e-mail is I have people email and tell me what they liked and didn’t like. Some generations tend to be more critical than others of the music at NorthStar. Our goal is to offer something for everyone as best we can, but not to lose sight of who are target audience is at NorthStar. I also get a tremendous amount of input from our band and vocalists as to what they’re listening to that speaks to their hearts. I’m constantly listening to various kinds of music, even types that I wouldn’t normally chose as my stylistic choices, just to broaden my own decisions for music at NorthStar. It’s the nature of being a worship director. You’ll always have a bent one way or the other in terms of what you listen to, so I try to break out of that as much as I can.

I will go to the local Christian bookstore and purchase CD’s from groups that I’ll never use at NorthStar, but I want to hear what they’re doing. I’ll incorporate flutes or string instruments and try to incorporate different musical styles into our weekend worship services. It’s too easy to get locked into one particular style in worship, which is one of my biggest weaknesses because I get comfortable. If everyone likes it, we’ll do a lot of it, but I may not be reaching everyone in my audience. Research is a huge part of my job.

Our fear is that ten years from now we’ll be locked into a certain preference and the culture outside of church will have moved on, while we’ve stayed the same. That’s why change and innovation is such a core value to the worship team. We have a mandate from our pastor to minister to the body of NorthStar while at the same time being a missionary to our culture.

One of our dangers we watch for as we choose songs for worship is to be balanced in area of gender. We have two female worship leaders and two male worship leaders that switch off every other weekend. There is a difference in the songs a male worship leader will choose, versus a female worship leader. We try to watch out for effeminate descriptions of God because that makes guys uncomfortable. I think the male female worship-leading thing has been one of the most unique things that we’ve done at NorthStar. It's a tag team thing, not one man or one woman out front doing it. It’s back and forth, not like a choir director.

We have specific criteria for new songs that we use at NorthStar.

I’m always listening for people to say, "Hey, have you heard this new worship song?" People are the greatest resource you can have, because they’ll just tell you what speaks to their hearts. But at NorthStar the number one criteria for any worship song is that it’s got to be Scriptural.

I love the sound of a lot of popular worship songs, but many are not that Scriptural. Again, that goes back to the responsibility that I feel for whatever we sing. If a song doesn’t declare who God is and what He’s done, highlighting the true attributes of who He is, we’re not teaching our people. Then we’re just singing a bunch of songs.

I feel such a tremendous responsibility to "NorthStar Joe" who might have walked into the door that morning that has no church experience. If he does it’s very minimal, so I feel a great responsibility to teach him Scripture. If a song says it’s from Psalm whatever, I’ll look it up to make sure that the song came from that passage of Scripture and they’ve not moved words around that take away from the meaning.

The second criterion is that the song has got to be singable. If I choose something that’s going to be a congregational song it has to feel doable. I’m especially looking for songs that people leave the building singing. I try not to introduce new worship songs all the time, but I try to introduce at least two or three new songs a month, just to keep things unique and different. Often the biggest complaint I receive is that we do too much new stuff, but that’s OK. That tells me it’s fresh and I expect people to fight change. They'd rather be comfortable and know everything when they walk in there.

If a song sounds like something you’d do in church, we probably don’t do it because it doesn’t relate to the people coming to NorthStar. If a song has a unique sound to it and it’s got a great lyric that really defines who God is and who Christ is, we’re going to do it. If it’s a new way to look at Christ that you maybe have never seen before, then we’re definitely we’re going to do it.

We also take some input from the congregational response during the worship services. In church, there are a couple philosophies about congregation response. Recently, I talked with the team because they would walk off the stage so discouraged about lack of response in worship. I told them if you feel like you’re going to walk out one week at NorthStar and everybody is going to have their hands raised and everybody is going to be singing, you’re in the wrong church because NorthStar is NEVER going to be a church like that. Half of our people sitting in the pews on any weekend aren’t even believers. If that ever happens, we’ve missed our target audience. Our people are seeking God with most of them not even understanding how to walk with the Lord yet. They have no understanding that their experience at a weekend service should be the culmination of their worship from the week. For most of our people that’s their only worship because they haven’t grown to the point of knowing that Sunday morning isn’t all there is to worshiping God. We are here to "model" worship, not just on the stage, but in our lifestyle. We must show it repeatedly in order for people to learn it. We have to help them and teach them what worship really is.

To continue reading with Part Five, click HERE.