I have been part of Faith Community Church for about three and a half years now. Over its 20-or-so-year history, the church has grown from about 80 people to over a thousand in strength. Our worship team now has nearly 50 members. For a church of that size, I have always wondered why we weren’t singing songs that were written by our own congregation.
When I first joined the leadership of the worship ministry, I thought it would be cool if we could, one day, hold a “New Song Cafe”, an evening where members of the ministry could sit around in a cafe setting, whilst those of us with a songwriting gift would begin to explore and exhibit those gifts by performing their new songs in a non-threatening, safe environment. To my mind, that was one way we could get the ball rolling in writing home-grown songs for our congregation.
This was important for at least two reasons:
- Our congregation consisted primarily of migrants who grew up in another church, often from a different Christian tradition, and almost invariably with their own song vocabulary and worship expression. Having songs birthed out of our own congregation would wipe away the preference divide and give an indigenous voice to our congregation. (One way we have tried to address this challenge was to institute a 30-song repertoire.)
- We have awesome sermons in our church. Like really awesome, biblically-grounded and inspiring preaching. Home grown songs would capture the spirit of these messages and document the vision and journey of our congregation and calcify these in our personal and collective memory.
So, even though I had shared the idea of a songwriting cafe in our team meetings and to specific individuals, it seemed like there was simply no impetus for it. For a while, it seemed like a pipe dream and an impenetrable barrier.
And then, a fault line began to appear. Just before his appointment as worship pastor in July 2015, Dave Wong wrote a song which was featured in a Sony youtube advertisement about long-distance relationships. Dave and his girlfriend Cheryl performed the song and it now has over 550,000 views. I wrote about this in an earlier post.
At that time, I again said quite publicly to our team that our ministry was on the cusp of something significant because our worship-pastor-to-be had broken through the gates so that we too could follow.
Not long after, Dave taught songwriting during a team night and got us all into groups to write songs together, with a view to our performing them to the rest of the ministry.
The day finally came last Tuesday, 27 October 2015.
I mark the date specifically, because I believe that, years from now, we will look back at this moment as a watershed. A moment when that glass ceiling which seemed to hold us back from writing our own songs was broken through. The moment when the Spirit of God began that creative trickle that would ultimately became a deluge of new songs birthed from our congregation, which may perhaps overflow to bless and resource other churches in our region as well.
Here’s what we did.
To attach especial significance to the moment, we decided not to just have the songs performed in our usual team night setting. Instead, we booked out a local hipster cafe, Sprolo, owned by a couple of music directors of a large church down the road. In fact, the idea that their cafe space would be used for worship was something they already saw very early on when they started the cafe.
We made sure that there was plenty of good food.
We then invited four “guest” judges: our Senior Pastor Benny Ho, our youth pastor Jon Quay, our university pastor Amos Ngoi, and our former worship director Lisa Palm.
And then, we told our team that the judges, along with Dave, would listen to each new song that was presented and at the end of the night, decide on one song that would be the “winner”. The winning song would then be worked on by our music directors and worship leaders, including building in arrangements and instrumentation, and then taught to our team during a jam session. After that, the song would be introduced to our congregation and sung during a Sunday service.
The excitement level, when added to the the idea of running the night at a cafe, reached unprecedented heights. People started to invite their friends to come and see, and before we knew it, the whole cafe was packed. And the energy in the room was electrifying.
On the night itself, as teams came up to perform their songs, applause followed, not just as trite encouragement, but as a resonating statement of belief that we could do this. A couple of individuals even performed their own solo compositions.
And at the end of the night, when the winning song was announced, the applause continued for what seemed like an eternity, signifying that we had arrived at a “yes” moment. A convergence. What was prophesied had become reality. And a new journey had begun for our church.
Here are a few photos of the night:
We had some awesome food. Thanks to Ephraim and his team for helping us put up a heap of delicious finger food!
Matt, Mark, Diana and Nat performing their song.
I’ll continue to update our readers on our song-writing journey over the next few months.
The goal is that we would run the New Song Cafe every six months or so and open up it to others within our congregation and other ministries to share their songs. Other people in the congregation would be able to come and enjoy a relaxing evening of coffee and live music. Even our unchurched friends would be able to attend.
And once we’ve got enough of our songs out there, we would then record a live worship album.
We’ve started on an exciting trajectory. I can’t wait to see what God is going to do through us!
I want to quickly thank our amazing and hardworking leadership team for putting the evening together: Dave, Ansen, Addie, Caleb, Ephraim and Sunray. And also to Darren and Gabes of Sprolo and Nations Church for standing with us in the journey.
The best is yet to come!