Less is More (Take 2)

One of my early blog posts was titled “Less = More”. In that post, I gave some of my basic ideas on how this principle is important for us as worship leaders. In the subsequent post, “‘Less is More’ in Practice” I gave some more concrete ideas on how to apply this principle.

Recently, I have seen several really good examples of this in action that I thought I would share with you.

1. This past summer at the National Worship Leader’s Conference in Kansas City we had two really good examples of ‘less is more’. I was excited to hear Jesus Culture from Bethel Church. Expecting them to rock the flock with a full band, I was rather surprised to see only two acoustic players play and sing. No full band. Just simple acoustic worship. After their worship set, Darlene Zschech was interviewed by several individuals. At the end of the interview, she was asked to sing “Shout to the Lord”. The acoustic players from Jesus Culture came back out and the auditorium was filled with worship, as we were led in an impromptu acoustic worship experience.

2. We recently had a campfire at a retreat with Jubilate, the ministry choir that I direct at Cedarville University. After an evening of fun and games, we spent time around the campfire with just a guitar and cajon worshiping together. No pretense, orders of worship, or production: just spontaneous praise and prayer. It was beautiful.

3. At a recent chapel service, we had a worship band do “Great I Am” with 8 singers, piano, cajon and acoustic guitar only. Our normal instrumentation is full band: multiple keyboards, guitars, bass and drums. It is a statement to minimize the full band down to just acoustic instruments, especially on a “big” song like “Great I Am”. While you really can’t hear it well on the video, the congregational participation was impressive. People were singing at the top of their lungs.

I hope that this is a great encouragement that sometimes intimate or impromptu acts of worship can be very meaningful. It should also be an encouragement to people in smaller churches that you don’t need a full band to be able to help people worship.

18 comments to Less is More (Take 2)

  • […] Roger O’Neel shares three anecdotes that reinforce the “less is more” aspect of worship music: I hope that this is a great encouragement that sometimes intimate or impromptu acts of worship can be very meaningful. It should also be an encouragement to people in smaller churches that you don’t need a full band to be able to help people worship. […]

  • Robert Rhodes

    This post really hits home to something I have been working through recently when it comes to planning my sets. I have always been a big proponent of creativity in worship but sometimes simplicity is what those we are leading need.

    It’s also interesting to think that in local ministry you will not have all of the resources that you have here at Cedarville and may only have access to an acoustic or piano. I guess it makes you ask yourself whether that is enough for you even though you may not be getting a “bigger” sound that you wanted.

    Being in Haiti this summer also really challenged how I consider all of these amenities that we’ve always been afforded. More than often, these Haitians had no instruments to speak of, but I tell you that I have never seen people sing with so much passion and belief and for such great lengths.

  • Mitchell McIntyre

    I totally agree! So many times we are playing when we don’t need to. It may be because we feel like we need to contribute more or just because we want to play but ultimately this can produce a jumbled mess. Even if it is not messy, copious amounts of instrumentation can detract from the lyrics. It is easy for a congregation to just push play in their minds and sing along while listening to the instrumentation but stripping away the dense layer of noise can help to reveal the truth that is being sung.Acoustic and a Capella sets are some of my favorite sets because they place a huge emphasis on the truth that is being proclaimed buy emphasizing the lyrics. This can be done with a full band very well but too much can provide a distraction. We need to be discerning in when and how we play.

  • Jason Smith

    I completely agree. I think this can be attributed to the fact that with repetition things become can become less meaningful. A good example of this would be why many people don’t like just a piano and organ accompany slow hymns. Though this is very beautiful, the American church was craving something new, which led way to worship bands. I think in a similar way, the repetition of always using a full band can lead to similar results. We don’t normally hear simple sets in chapel or in our culture, anything out of the norm we pay attention to. Which is why, we need to mix things up. Repetition breeds vain tradition.

  • Josiah Kenniv

    While there is value in a big band as well to proclaim the gospel of Christ the principle of less is more is well applied in this music context. Taking it out of the music context I think it also applies to the Christian walk. When we do less on our own and more with Christ, our decreased individual effort transfers to a much greater result in Christ.

  • Rachel E Williams

    I love the idea of “less is more”. I think it can be necessary to strip away the decorative sounds and show of multiple instruments so the focus can be more toward the words being sung. Great I Am for example, is a song well known by the school; so much so that I think a lot of us sing it with out thinking about the words we’re singing. Sometimes its something as simple as simplifying the band to draw the congregation’s attention to the words they are singing. Music and instruments and effects can definitely enhance a worship experience, but there are times when the best enhancement is simply raising voices to God without the distraction that instruments may bring.

  • Alex Holcomb

    While we always want to give God our best, there is nothing wrong with simplicity. I find it refreshing when worship is more simplistic because it allows me to focus more upon God as opposed to the music or the set. One of the questions I always ask while planning is, “Does this element help or distract from my message?” I don’t want to add “cool stuff” just because I can. I want to be intentional in how I present the Gospel and God’s character through how I lead.

  • Hayden Bradley

    I really like the comments that you make on this subject Dr. O. We live in a world that has been filled with the word BIG, BIG lights, BIG words, BIG productions and BIG bands. I am not saying that there is anything wrong with having a worship team “rock out”, I am often the first to want to do this, I am saying that there is something so genuine about a stripped down acoustic set. You let the voices fill the auditorium, instead of the instruments. As worship leaders we should think and be inspired of different ways for our congregation to sing and this is one great option.

  • Steve Murphy

    Normally when I think of “Shout to the Lord”, I’m thinking a full band with big drum fills. Envisioning that song performed with only two guitars requires more focus on my part. The words declare huge ideas about God’s glory and power and I expect “big” sound. But, perhaps that full sound is exactly what we get when we apply the “less is more” principle. People know that it is a powerful song and they sing it with gusto. How wonderful it is to hear voices exalting God, people “singing at the top of their lungs.”

  • Wren June

    I really liked how you mentioned the simplicity of worship. In Psalm 100, we are called to worship the Lord and sing praises to His name. Not once did it say that we had to include special key changes and complex melodies. Just a call to simple, humble, and pure worship.

  • Melissa Martin

    I have also recently noticed the emphasis on stripped-down worship sets. They make a statement by eliminating clutter and distraction from music. Additionally, they allow us to worship with a new depth. In Psalm 150:3-5, David commands us to praise the Lord with nine different instruments. However, he also develops a solemn tone in Psalm 51 when he repents from his sin of adultery. This demonstrates that there is a time and place for everything. I think that certain times call for a full band with upbeat music and an uplifting message. In the same way, sometimes a smaller group of musicians is necessary to create a more reflective atmosphere and challenge the hearts of worshipers.

  • Brooke Griffith

    I really agree with you when you say “let is more.” I think sometimes us musicians and worship leaders think in order to have a great worship service there needs to be a full band. From what I have been experienced, sometimes it is in the quiet, sincere moments of worship when our hearts can respond most personally with the Lord. Sometimes the best worship sets are impromptu. When the production is stripped away and God’s people come together to genuinely worship there is nothing more beautiful. I believe many times we overthink the order of service or how well a set went, when we come to the throne of God, lifting up our praise to Him with just a guitar and congregation of voices it is personal and sometimes the most memorable.

  • Macy McClain

    Thanks so much for this post, Dr. O! This is really encouraging to me as I’ve been working on refining my worship skills. This has been something I’ve struggled with and thought about a lot, particularly in my home church. I think I’ll mention this in my next conversation with my worship pastor back home.

  • Brittney Mitchell

    Often times I feel inadequate as a musician. I am guilty of leading worship and only thinking about the technicalities and instrumentation. While I understand that this is not a bad thing, I find myself so worried about the band sounding good that I overlook the importance of the text.

    I think, as worship leaders, we must be sensitive to this mindset. There could very well be a barrier in our congregations that is being caused by the ‘full band’ sound. Simplicity invites people to be exposed.

  • Stuart Leach

    I have found myself praying before worship that I would be able to be small enough so that God can shine through me. I’ve found that often enough those moments come in the quiet, still times of worship. I think there is really something to be said for backing off of everything for a time. Variety can equal emphasis in my opinion and bringing it down can have just as much emphasis as blasting everything.

    We don’t stay still and quiet often enough, so when we take the time to stop and think, we are blessed to find God’s presence which has beeen eternally there and we are just becoming more aware of it.

  • Hayden Bradley

    I can definitely see both sides of this argument. On one side you have the full band worship style that often has an emphasis on emotion and making an atmosphere for worship. On the other side you have an acoustic “quiet” set for worship that caters more to a time of personal worship and reflection. As a worship leader we are never called to worship for the people in the congregation, instead we are called to lead them in a time of their own personal worship. The argument of a full band, or an acoustic set is one for the worship leader to dwell on and to struggle with. At the end of the day it comes down to this. For that week, or for what God is trying to say through your service, how will you lead you congregation to worship the most effectively.

  • Melissa Martin

    Building off of what Hayden Bradley said, I can see that implementing the principle of “less is more” allows us to strip worship of too many entangling emotions and turn our eyes toward Christ. When a worship service contains lots of technology and instrumentation, it is easy to get distracted by it. In addition, it is even easier to be emotionally distracted and mistake something that was orchestrated by man for something that was truly the Holy Spirit. Coming before God’s throne in simplicity allows us to analyze ourselves and our own motives for worship.

  • Seth Brummer

    On a more technical level, “less is more” is less of a headache, too. Too many times I’ve tried to do something big and complicated for a service (or even in general), and had it blow up in my face because I ran out of time or had to finish it last-minute. I think simplicity can be overlooked, especially in a “more is more is more” culture, but it’s something that can also be so helpful to us in our Christian walk. I mean, God even commands us “be still, and know that I am God!”