The Best of Both Worlds: Blending Choir & Worship Team


by Luke Woodard


Over the last two decades, many churches have migrated from the traditional choir to the worship team. Some made the transition and never looked back–they even sold the robes and folders. Others have resisted the trend, determined to keep the choir no matter the changing times. Many have adopted a hybrid approach with the choir still in the loft and the worship team down front. If you’re wrestling with the choir/worship team question, wondering what might be best for your church, let’s talk about the main issue. Not nationwide trends or what the “cool” churches are doing. Let’s talk about the music!The choir and the worship team each have their own strengths and weaknesses. Overall, you could say each sings a certain kind of music better. In general, the choir will sing hymns and anthems well, while the worship team will sing modern praise songs well. If your church sings a mix of traditional hymns and new worship songs, then you may have a place for both the choir and a worship team. Let’s break down the musical issues.

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The reason to add a worship team is because you’ve already made another decision: to include contemporary worship songs. The trend toward the worship team is due to the increased use of modern praise music. Hymns were composed with strong melodies and 4-part harmony as the supporting structure. They’re built with all the necessary musical motion and momentum engineered within the vocal parts. That’s why they typically work well a cappella (for example - Come Thou Fount).

Modern worship songs, for the most part, are composed with the sensibilities of pop music. Like hymns, they feature strong melodies. But instead of 4-part harmony providing the underlying structure, the melody is supported by an instrumental “groove.” The feel provided by rhythm players–even if it’s just a piano–is crucial to delivering the song. That’s why contemporary tunes often do not work a cappella (with some notable exceptions, of course).

Because hymns were written for singing in 4-part harmony, they have some distinct features. The rhythm of the melody lands mostly on the beat. This helps the choir and congregation stay together as they sing. Another pronounced characteristic of hymns is compelling harmonic progression. Each chord leans into the next, carrying the melody forward while providing clear voice leading in the harmony parts. And a choir singing those parts is the primary engine that drives the hymn (Crown Him With Many Crowns).

Because modern worship songs are constructed as a melody driven by a groove, they too have distinct characteristics. The rhythm of the melody is less likely to land on the beat, favoring a syncopated “solo-istic” singing style. When the pulse of the melody emphasizes the offbeats, it’s difficult for a choir and congregation to sing together. Enter the worship team: with vocalists who have a pop sensibility, each singing on individual microphones, the congregation can better follow along with these syncopated melodies. For most churches, it may be the only way to help the congregation successfully sing those songs. The choir sound is too broad to convey the rhythms of these melodies with clear distinction (Let Everything).

Compared to hymns, contemporary songs lack harmonic progression. Many modern worship songs use only three or four chords. It’s the hooky melody and groove that drive these songs forward. Chords are a lesser component. The harmony parts a choir might sing are less crucial. A worship team adding just one or two harmony lines is all these songs require (You Are Stronger). The bass part–often the most interesting line in those old hymns–can become a repetitive drone that muddies the sound.

This is not to say the choir can’t effectively sing praise songs, or that worship teams can’t lead hymns. But the general nature of contemporary music is geared for a small group of soloist-type voices on close microphones. Choirs will have to work harder on modern praise songs. Likewise, hymns are designed with 4-part singing providing the momentum. The worship team can work to match the natural, expansive sound of a choir, but they have sing differently: less like a soloist, maybe pulling away from the microphone.

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If you’re using a mix of contemporary songs and traditional hymns, these musical factors may lead you to consider using both choir and worship team. But there’s no reason to make drastic changes. Try giving a few of your choir members–those “solo-istic” voices–a handheld microphone. No need to move them out of the choir loft. That “close-mic” sound will naturally cut through the mix. Your sound technician may not even need to push their level much. Their sound will sit nicely on top of the more full-scale sound of the choir and still give you that focused vocal that works for modern worship songs. When you move to a hymn, those singers can simply lower their microphones and let the choir take over.

Many churches have put their toe in the water this way and found it was the best of both worlds. The choir continues its function as the fuller component while those few vocalists bring definition that helps the congregation on contemporary praise songs.

If you’re including both hymns and modern worship in your services, consider using both a choir and worship team!

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Posted in: Blended Worship, Music Trends, Service Planning, Optimizing Your Choir, Worship Teams, Video Interviews

Luke Woodard

Luke Woodard

Luke Woodard is the engraver and editor of all the music on Discover Worship. With an experienced ear for transcription and arranging, he creates charts for many publishers, artists and churches. If you're interested in custom arrangements or engraving, feel free to e-mail him via

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