Many churches are led faithfully in worship every Sunday by a single leader or dedicated duo. For those of us leading with a standard 4 or 5-piece or those attempting to best Hillsong United's stage population of 27, stripping things down to a simpler configuration can be really helpful. Below you'll find both the advantages to doing so, as well as some tips to make it work. Let's start with the perks:
1. An opportunity for rest.
This is true especially in contexts when a few musicians carry the lion's share of responsibility for musical worship in your church. Give them a break. Send them to another church in town to observe and learn. Kick them out of town with their spouse. Break up their routine of rising early, doing a sound check, and running a marathon with you every Sunday.
2. An opportunity for teaching.
An acoustic set is a great time to teach that worship is not about style, instrumentation or volume. Lovingly remind your people that remembering and adoring Christ and celebrating His work through active participation is the win for Sundays (as opposed to hearing their favorite song, or just enjoying the band).
3. An opportunity for variety.
Changing things up a bit can be life giving for you if you're feeling excited about Jesus but bored with your presentation. The instrumentation and size of band has nothing to do with whether worship happens or not, but mixing things up can still be a good thing for you, your team, and the congregation.
"Remind your people that remembering and adoring Christ and celebrating His work through active participation is the win for Sundays."
TIPS FOR YOUR ACOUSTIC SET
Now that we've touched on some perks, here's a short list of things to help make the stripped down set work. I would note that if the skill level of your players are through the roof, you have some more flexibility in these things...but I'm guessing that's probably not your scenario.
1. Ditch the instrumentals and the mega-chorus.
Often the instrumentals, bridge or a repeated chorus on a studio recording make full use of all the instruments and dynamics afforded a 4 or 5 piece band. Think through which parts of the arrangement all but require a full band, and then simply remove those parts or simplify your arrangement. If you opt to simplify, listen for the melody lines (vocal or instrumental) and try to keep those intact. Additionally, long instrumentals sound empty/uninteresting when it's just an acoustic guitar and piano, so use this as a time to really highlight the voices of the congregation and the singing parts.
Ex: If there is an 8-bar instrumental after the chorus, skip it and go right into the next verse.
2. Knock it down a step.
Worship leaders should always be listening for whether a song is in a "congregationally friendly" key, but this is vitally important when simplifying the band. I suspect it's because generally people will meet you half-way when a full band is playing over them, but since they can hear themselves 100% of the time during an acoustic set, key selection becomes even more important. I've moved a song in an acoustic set down two full steps when the full-band version is near the top of what we're comfortable playing in a worship setting.
Ex: We play "Sweetness of Freedom" in C with the band (the recorded key) but in Ab when it's just an acoustic trio.
3. Tie a rock on top of your keyboardist's left hand.
Everyone needs to think through what musical space is occupied by the others usually on stage, and play their instruments accordingly. Without a bass player, it's a good idea to have the piano player (if you are using one) play more heavy handed on the lower end of things. This gives some guts to your simplified arrangements.
Hope these tips help you out the next time you cut things back and step on stage. Till next time.