This post is a follow up to the IN DEFENSE OF OLD (AND YOUNG) PLAYERS article. It's the first of two spin-offs from that original piece. If you'd like more articles on leadership, click the archive button and find dozens of worship-leading posts!
Ageism is a very real, very dangerous threat to worship ministry these days. Do a quick Google search you'll find countless stories of gifted, sincere musicians who have been pushed out of worship ministry because of the grey in their hair.
To be fair, these horror-stories seem to happen at larger churches where "image" is a core value. Small-to-mid-size churches typically don't struggle with this as it's extremely difficult to recruit and maintain a solid volunteer base of musicians. Even if you wanted all young players (which you shouldn't) you probably don't have access to many!
But the worship music industry doesn't make it easy either. The breakneck-speed at which musical trends and styles change is overwhelming to even the most skilled singers and players and if you're trying to keep up, you may find your older team members may struggle with leaving their preferred styles behind. You may not have ever uttered 'how do I get my people to play younger?' out loud, but you've probably thought it. Here are some tips.
HAVE A GOOD REASON
If you're asking players to take some musical risks and step outside their comfort zones, have a motive for doing so. If older players are, in fact, more cynical than younger players, they may not feel that excited about trying something just because it's cool or current.
Maybe you need that drum rhythm to make space for the congregation to sing out or a scripture to be read. Maybe you want the electric to play that riff with a cleaner, more jangly patch to make room for the crescendo at the end of the song...remember that musicians don't always know the set like you do. Invite them in to what you're trying to build.
HAVE DIVERSE REFERENCES
This will kill musical boldness quicker than anything. If you want your keyboard player to play something like Taylor Swift but you're worried because he's an older guy and probably doesn't know Taylor Swift music that well, don't say "I want it to have a real Taylor Swift vibe." You're shooting yourself in the foot.
The beautiful thing about music is that it's been genius from the beginning. Believe it or not, something like that Taylor Swift piano line is probably found all through music. For example, if you've got players who like classic rock, find similar riffs and parts in that genre. Your players will identify much more clearly with what you're asking for if they've heard it (and appreciate it.) The challenge here is on you, though. You've got to do the hard work to find those references. But, let's be honest...what could be more important than spending a few hours to build a healthier relationship with your team?
Church band isn't an easy gig. The set changes week-to-week, musicians have to rotate and it requires quite a few hours this week. As you think about "stretching" your band, make sure you know what's most important. Strive for excellence, but if you're team is struggling, maybe aim for three "modern" touches instead of 15. Eliminating needless style-choices will help your band succeed in what you're asking. Remember that in local church, slow and steady is usually the most effective means of growth.