The song list for the 2015 Easter services at Champions Centre was:
- Glory in the Highest – Fellowship Creative
- This is Living – Hillsong Young and Free
- The Same Power – Worship Central
- Alive – Hillsong Young and Free
The worship team puts a large emphasis on how they build their worship sets. Instead of just choosing three songs they like and putting them together, they focus a lot of time and energy on thinking through transitions and the whole experience it will create for the person worshiping.
Because of this, they’ve made a unique decision to limit how many new songs they introduce each year. They’d rather their people be able to engage with the song instead of having to keep their eyes glued on the screen to read all the words. Thus, they really only introduce about five new songs each year, deciding that they’ll focus on teaching these songs to the congregation well.
Obviously, that’s not necessarily what the band would prefer. Rehearsing and playing the same songs multiple times for each weekend can feel boring for a musician. But Paul Burton, the worship director at Champions Centre, has made the decision to do what he feels is best for the church, and not necessarily what he would prefer.
One thing that helps this whole five-new-songs-per-year not become too much of a problem is that they only do three songs during a typical weekend service. Three or four years ago they switched the model of the music portion of their service to be a 15-minute worship time. That usually means one fast song, a full slow song, and then a tag (chorus and bridge) of another song. The philosophy of this approach is to leave people wanting more.
At the same time, they believe they can be intentional with their transitions and get the most out of that 15-minute window. This means they go from one song to another. No talking. No switching guitars or putting on a capo. They try to pack as much power into those 15-minutes as possible so they don’t leave their congregation feeling short-changed from the music portion of the service.
How Champions Centre Chooses Worship Songs
Again, the team at Champions Centre focuses on what they feel is right for the congregation and not necessarily what the team would prefer for themselves. “Oceans”, for instance, is a song the team loves. But after trying that song once on a Sunday, they realized it might not be right for their congregation. It fell flat. And while that could be attributed to a number of different reasons, the team decided to ditch the song and their personal preferences.
Choosing songs to sing is often more about what’s going on in the sermon series’ and the lives of the congregation members. For instance, Pastor Kevin Gerald is doing a sermon series called “Gaining Ground” right now. The Elevation song, “Do it Again”, really seems to support the content of the sermon series. So they’ve incorporated it into the front of their sets and even end the service with a tag of the song (chorus/bridge) when it makes sense.
Sometimes, too, their pastor throws a song at them that he’d like them to do. That usually happens once or twice a year. Otherwise, they choose songs that support the season they’re currently in. It seems like, currently, there have been a lot of people going through serious stuff in their congregation: unexpected death, job loss, etc. So Bethel songs like “Have it All”, “No Longer Slaves”, and “Jesus We Love You” have been in heavy rotation for the team since those songs can become declarations for people – opportunities to cry out and even angrily sing to get their angst out.
They also choose songs that are undeniable and easy to sing. For instance, Chris Tomlin’s “At the Cross” is one of those songs that’s simple, easy to sing, and doesn’t necessarily try to paint a massive picture. While Tomlin’s not at the top of the team’s sounds-to-emulate list, this song is one they consider undeniable, so they’ve included it in their worship sets.
One strong part of their culture over the last few years has been something the team calls First Five. Essentially, for each service, they plan a creative song that they can perform. Their goal is to start the service from a creative place and also to reward those who arrive on time. For Easter, that song was “Glory in the Highest”. They shot it as a music video in an old warehouse. Then they performed live along with the music video. Another creative element, especially for Easter, was when they made the cross come alive between “The Same Power” and “Alive” through projection mapping.
Recently, they changed the name of the First Five. Now, they simply call it a creative element. This subtle change, for them, has taken a lot of the pressure off and has also made it more flexible. Instead of just being the introduction of the service, they could do it before their pastor’s message, as an element in worship, or even as something at the end. It has opened the opportunity for them to think outside the box a bit more.
They also consider more traditional elements a satisfaction of their creative element requirement. So things like communion, baby dedications, or baptisms, would be considered a creative element. They figure out a way to make those things unique, and not just something they have to do.
The Goal of Their Worship
The goal for the Champions Centre team, through this section of musical worship, is to provide an opportunity for their people to worship God. They’re aware of unsaved people when they plan the worship sets, but ultimately they focus on the saved people in their congregation. They trust that their energy level and the quality of the music will be enough to at least entertain unsaved people so it’s not boring (along with things like lighting and stage design). But they always want their congregation to leave their service with an opportunity to have worshipped and celebrated God through music.
That’s the focus each weekend, and that was the focus of Easter. Other parts of the service could be more seeker sensitive, but the worship portion was just for that: worship.