Each person has their preference when it comes to the style of music they like in their church service, but the two overarching opinions usually fall into two categories: traditional and contemporary. A common challenge for worship leaders and volunteers is being able to blend both styles in one worship set to satisfy both parties. Many churches even go to the length of having separate traditional and contemporary services. But many don’t have the time or resources to make this a reality, so they’re faced with the challenge of blending two very different styles.
But don’t worry! We’re here to help. We’re going to define “traditional” and “contemporary” music, give you examples of songs that fit into each category, and then give you a few tips and tricks you can use to integrate both styles into your church.
What Classifies as “Traditional?”
Traditional Christian music usually entails hymns and songs with very Biblical text and technical harmony or chord progressions. These songs are more structured than contemporary songs, and they hold a lot of value to those who grew up singing them. Some examples of traditional Christian songs would be:
- “Because He Lives” by Bill and Gloria Gaither
- “How Great Thou Art” (Traditional Hymn)
- “In Christ Alone” by Keith Getty
- “The Old Rugged Cross” by Rev. George Bennard
- “How Majestic is Your Name” by Sandi Patty
- “Amazing Grace” (Traditional Hymn)
- “There Is Power In The Blood” by Alan Jackson
- “It Is Well With My Soul” by Phillip P. Bliss
- “I’ll Fly Away” by Albert E. Brumley
- “Holy Holy Holy! Lord God Almighty” by John Bacchus Dykes
- Browse more traditional Christian music here.
What Classifies as “Contemporary?”
Contemporary Christian music is a much broader category than traditional music because it changes over time. Just like secular music is constantly evolving, so is Christian music, and contemporary Christian music is typically just the popular music in the present time. Contemporary songs usually have a much looser structure and explore different harmonies and creative chord progressions. And while most contemporary Christian songs still use text from The Bible, many use more personal lyrics with vernacular language. A good example is the song “Oceans (Where Feet May Fail)” by Hillsong United. The lyrics in the chorus of this famous song are:
And I will call upon Your name
And keep my eyes above the waves
When oceans rise, my soul will rest in Your embrace
For I am Yours and You are mine
These lyrics are much different than the kind of text you would see in a traditional Christian song, for example, “It Is Well With My Soul“:
When peace like a river, attendeth my way,
When sorrows like sea billows roll
Whatever my lot, thou hast taught me to say
It is well, it is well, with my soul
Some further examples of contemporary Christian songs are:
- “Reckless Love” by Cory Asbury
- “What a Beautiful Name” by Hillsong Worship
- “Living Hope” by Phil Wickham
- “Do It Again” by Elevation Worship
- “Ever Be” by Bethel Music
- “Good Good Father” by Housefires
- “You Make Me Brave” by Bethel Music
- “Come As You Are” by Crowder
- “O Come To The Altar” by Elevation Worship
- “The Lion and The Lamb” by Big Daddy Weave
- Browse more contemporary Christian music here.
How To Blend Traditional and Contemporary Music
If you can be successful at blending traditional and contemporary music, you may open the eyes of your congregation to see that maybe they aren’t privy to only one style after all. There are a couple of ways you can go about finding the middle ground.
1. Choose Songs That Fit Into BOTH Styles
The key to choosing songs that fit into both traditional and contemporary music styles is to remember the aspects of each style that are the most important to each crowd.
- For the traditional music fans, make sure the lyrics are rich in Biblical language.
- For the contemporary music fans, make sure there is some creativity in the musical arrangement (interesting chord progressions, new synth pads, etc.)
“10,000 Reasons (Bless the Lord)” by Matt Redman is a great example of a song that fits into both categories. The lyrics from the chorus are found in Psalm 103:1: “Bless the Lord, O my soul: and all that is within me, bless his holy name.” However the verses in the lyrics create more imagery, creating a beautiful story, and the musical arrangement complements it all with a very contemporary style. These characteristics have made this song well-loved from both traditional and contemporary music fans.
More examples of songs that fit into both traditional and contemporary music styles:
- “Lord I Need You” by Matt Maher
- “God I Look to You” by Bethel Music
- “Holy Spirit” by Kari Jobe
- “O Praise the Name” by Hillsong
- “Revelation Song” by Kari Jobe
- “Christ is Risen” by Matt Maher
- “Cornerstone” by Hillsong
- “Blessed Be The Name” by Matt Redman
- “Your Presence is Heaven” by Israel & New Breed
- “Lead Me to the Cross” by Hillsong
2. Change the Chord Progression or add a Chorus to a Traditional Hymn
Many modern worship bands have taken traditional hymns and created newer, more contemporary arrangements. Some have even added a new chorus or bridge! While this is a great way to bridge the gap between traditional and contemporary music, you want to make sure you aren’t deviating too much from the original song.
If you start singing a hymn, many people are going to expect the traditional version. You don’t want to throw them off too far with funky rhythms or harmonies. You should be able to sing the traditional arrangement along with the new chord progression or instrumentation with ease. A great example of this is “Blessed Assurance” by Elevation Worship. You will notice that while the traditional hymn’s melody doesn’t divert from its original state, the new instrumentation and chord progressions create a very creative, modern arrangement of “Blessed Assurance.” Elevation Worship also takes it one step further by adding a new, but simple tag at the end.
Oh what a Savior, wonderful Jesus
Death could not hold you; you are victorious
Praise to the risen King
“Amazing Grace (My Chains Are Gone)” by Chris Tomlin is a great example of adding a new chorus to a traditional hymn. The verses are the same verses of the hymn “Amazing Grace,” but Chris Tomlin adds a new Chorus:
My chains are gone
I’ve been set free
My God, my Savior has ransomed me
And like a flood His mercy rains
Unending love, Amazing grace
The great thing about this method is that you can create your own arrangements of traditional hymns and songs! Experiment with different chord progressions and try your hand at writing new choruses or bridges.
3. Make it a Medley!
Probably the easiest way to incorporate traditional music and contemporary music into your service is simple: just play both... Don’t worry about fussing with any arrangements or new versions of old songs.
What we recommend is tagging a traditional song to the end of a contemporary song, or vice versa. Try to keep both songs in the same key to ensure a smooth transition from one song to the next. For example, you could sing “What a Beautiful Name” by Hillsong Worship and tag “Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus” to the end of it. Or you could sing “It Is Well” by Kristine DiMarco and tag the famous hymn “It Is Well With My Soul” to the end of that! You may even want to start your worship set with a hymn and then transition into a contemporary tune. The possibilities are endless.
We hope these tips and tricks have been helpful to you, and that your congregation can enjoy all of the great things about both traditional and contemporary music. And don’t forget to check out our article: 5 Tips for Creating a Worship Set List for more help on your worship leading journey!