What U2 can teach Worship Leaders

I’ve just finished watching U2’s 360 Tour DVD, recorded at the Rose Bowl in California. It’s an incredible show, well worth watching. I love U2, and think that they might possibly be the world’s largest Christian band that isn’t a Christian band. Many of their songs draw from Christian spirituality, but do so in a way that it doesn’t sound cheap or fluffy. As I was watching it, I started thinking about what Worship Leaders could learn from U2. There’s a lot that could be learnt, but I’ve decided to narrow it down to four things that I think Worship Leaders and musicians need to hear.

Know your equipment

Part of the reason that I wanted to get this DVD was to watch The Edge at work. I’m wanting to improve in my guitar playing, and the best way of improving is by observing, listening to and working out what they do that makes them so great. Now, The Edge is legendary for his set up. I’m sure that he alone has more gear than many great bands have for their whole band. In the concert, he plays a different guitar for pretty much every song, and his pedal board is custom made to utilise every setting and effect that he has in his box. He knows every piece of equipment intimately, and knows how to use it.

Now, I’m not saying that every person needs as much gear as The Edge – none of us have the money for that. What I am saying is that you need to know what you have, know how to use it, and know how to use it to create the sound that is in your head. Guitarists are notorious for getting GAS – Guitar Acquisition Syndrome. We want to get the next guitar, the next effect, the next amp, that will help define our tone and make us sound better. Instead of looking for the next thing, utilise what you have, make sure you know what it can do. Try different things, don’t just set it and leave it. Singers – why not try singing while crouching, with arms open – opening up your chest – head up, head down, mic pressed to your lips, or far away in your hands. Work out what your equipment can do.

Tell a story through your songs

One of the things that impressed me most about the concert was how the band was able to take you through a story, to portray a message, with barely any talking between songs. The reason that U2 is able to do that is because their songs are so full of meaning. They are able to send a message. If you need to explain to the congregation why you chose this song, chances are either the lyrics aren’t strong enough, or you’re using the song in a way that it wasn’t intended.

That doesn’t mean that you can’t use a song in a different context. One of the goosebumps moments for me was when they were showing images of the Syrian conflict, before launching into their classic song, Sunday Bloody Sunday, which is about the conflict in Ireland. It worked a treat, getting me to rethink a classic song in that it’s not just about a single conflict, but it’s about conflict wherever it happens. Utilising a song in a different context can work wonders, but you need to make sure that the connection works without any explanation.

Utilise multimedia

I think you would be hard pressed to find a church that doesn’t have projection software of some kind. Churches are finding that this is a far better solution as people aren’t as distracted by finding a song in the song book, getting lost, and having to hold things. It also opens churches up to using a wider range of music – so long as you’ve got permission to show the words, you can use the song, no matter where it comes from. However, a projector isn’t just a super expensive song book. You can utilise videos and images to help bring people into a state of worship.

Now, you may not have the same production budget as U2, and be able to make custom graphics for every concert, and record dignitaries such as Archbishop Desmond Tutu, but there are multiple websites out there that have videos available for purchase (please purchase them, don’t use keepvid or other youtube downloaders). I love Worship House Media, as well as Sermon Spice, but there are many others. Take the time to find items that will enhance your worship.

(And don’t be afraid to use humour. Many churches shy away from humour, however, utilised effectively humour can break through a barrier which can then help the message break through. Take a look at some of the Skit Guys videos to see how well they utilise humour to make the message hit home).

Utilise dynamics and instrumentation

There’s no doubt that a band as large as U2 can produce a massive sound. But, for a sound to be massive, you need to contrast it with softer sounds as well. This can be done effectively through two methods, dynamics, and instrumentation.

The first, dynamics, relates to the song itself, and you’ll find it generally follows the pattern – softer in the verses, (building in the pre-chorus if there is one), louder in the chorus. But feel free to change it up. Using dynamics, you can highlight certain passages of songs without having to explain it with a mini sermon beforehand.

The second item is instrumentation. Sure, you can have a 4 piece rock band, with a brass section, strings section, and a 200 voice choir, but sometimes reducing it to just an acoustic guitar and a voice can cut through more powerfully than all of that other stuff. Bono and The Edge did “Stuck in a moment…” with just the Acoustic and the voice, and it cut through like nothing else. Sure, they could’ve done it with the whole band, and it would’ve been great, but by breaking it down to it’s simplicity, it brought so much more power.

So there you go, four things that I learned from watching U2. What have you learned from watching other bands?

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Author: Ben Clapton

I'm an Officer in The Salvation Army, currently appointed with my wife as Corps Officers at the Rochester Corps in country Victoria (20 minutes out of Echuca). I play violin and guitar, amongst many others, and love golf and running.

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