In 2014, Church on the Move took a pretty big departure from their usual Christmas services. Normally, their services are a big Christmas concert spectacle, filled with loads of entertainment. They typically go for fun, edgy, and high production. They do this to reach new people in their community. But because of the season the church was in that year, they decided they would do something a bit more worshipful.
Of course, they still invited everyone in their community to join them. But the focus was more on the Church on the Move family. Specifically, the music had a much more personal vibe last year.
In years past, they always took traditional Christmas songs and found a modern way to do them. But they also added spectacle to them by doing things like the Santa launch, Michael Jackson-esque arrangements, people flying through the air, huge set pieces? some fun gimmicks.
But last year, the focus was different.
They had a couple of different goals in planning the music for the Christmas Eve services. Andy Chrisman, in particular, didn?t want to sing about Santa, Rudolph, snow, or anything secular. He didn?t just want a Christmas-themed service. He wanted it to be a worshipful experience. Everything they did musically told the story of Christ.
For Andy, ?Drummer Boy? is one of the greatest songs that tells the story of Christ and our response to his coming to earth for us. (They?ve already done it four different ways in past years.) ?Joy to the World? was also an important song for the Christmas service?telling the story of Jesus.
The team deconstructed a lot of the songs and rebuilt them with their own arrangements. That?s how they approach most any song they do. Their goal is to make it their own unique sound. It also forces them to try harder.
The way they tackle developing their own sound is by finding songs and feels of songs they like. They have their list of bands that influence them. They also watch live performances and find ways to integrate that sort of vibe into what they?re doing. Their goal is to craft a musical story, not so much a topical one.
This means that they go through many different iterations of their songs and the lineup of their music. For instance, their first rough draft of ?Drummer Boy? was 12 minutes long. They had originally intended to use a song from Kim Walker Smith?s Christmas album as the opener for the service. But after listening to the song fifteen times, they bumped it to before the Christmas story.
Generally they pursue all their ideas, link them together, then start pairing them down. It?s like what Michelangelo said about sculpting: ?Every block of stone has a statue inside it and it is the task of the sculptor to discover it.? They do the same thing with music. They just cut stuff out.
Each year, also, they have some segments and songs that just don?t make the cut. This is either because they don?t have the time to develop the songs the way they?d like or because they don?t fit the vibe of the service they?re planning. So they often have scraps of songs or story ideas that they can start with for the next year. That?s what happened in 2014. Plus, each team member also was putting together playlists of Christmas songs that had the vibe they were looking for.
Because of that, each team member has a half a dozen ideas in their back pocket to start with in meetings. Then they hone that all down to 20 ideas, then further refine those ideas until they find the ones that have the most traction.
One musical part, though, that they didn?t have to start from scratch with was the musical arrangement behind Pastor Willie George as he read the Christmas story. They started that tradition ten years ago. A man named John Mitchell wrote the arrangement. Of course, they update the arrangement each year. They go back and tighten the reading and the music, as well as update the sounds. But because they?ve been doing that arrangement for so long, both their pastor and their team have no problem putting it together each year.
They play the whole thing live, and Pastor George knows exactly when all the musical pauses and crescendos are located. Thus, they don?t have to do much rehearsal to get it all put together. He typically just comes in during dress rehearsal and practices it once before the live services.
Here?s the take home for you and your church this Christmas season: Focus on a feel this Christmas. You can try to topically link all your songs together, but most people won’t get what you’re doing. Why not instead offer an emotional arc for those who attend your Christmas services?