Communion solo by cellist Samuel Cho

Samuel Cho

Last weekend Topeka Bible Church’s resident cellist, Samuel Cho, played his arrangement of “Near the Cross with Jesus Love Me” — a thought provoking arrangement that represents Jesus’ death on the cross.  He also played it at the Overflow worship event held Fellowship Bible Church later that evening (another great Topeka worship event).

The foot stomps Sam did represent the nails being driven through Christ’s hands.  You can hear the rope being twisted — not a fun experience musically, which is the point.  It was a tense moment.  Have a listen here.

Your children would rather go to T-Rex than church

Last weekend, my family and I visited another semi-local church since I had off from our own church. It was about an hour away — so my local other church ministry friends who are reading this don’t have to worry.  Here were some of our take aways.


  1. Their website really helped us in advance.  We were able to figure out where the church was and even look at where to drop off our kids.  It explained in detail what a walk through would be like.  Several places the church said to arrive 15 minutes in advance…and I’m glad they did.  It made me (the husband) look pretty good in the morning and lowered the stress level.
  2. It was easy to find the church.  The church was off a main road with a large sign to identify where to pull in and park.
  3. Parking and access to where we needed to go was inviting and easy.  The walk to the building wasn’t too long, which I was thankful for since it was cold and windy.  It’s amazing how much this makes a difference when you have kids in tow.
  4. We didn’t appear like newbies — and I liked that fact.  Because the website told us where to drop off our kids, we knew exactly where to go once we entered the building.  This was great because I really dislike going to someone I don’t know (or worse a volunteer staff) and saying, “Um, we are new — so you can you just run us through your embarrassing process.”
  5. Their children’s pastor made an effort to connect with our kids.  When we arrived at the check-in station, they alerted their children’s paster that we were new.  He came over, gave a quick introduction to us as parents (10 seconds), and then began to interact with our two oldest kids.  They both seemed to connect with him.  That was a plus.

Improvements Needed

  1. The sermon had great points — but was too long.  While I loved the points the sermon had, the communicator keep attention.  I found myself and others around me looking at their watches.  The one speaking that morning wasn’t their lead pastor, although their lead pastor was there that morning and spoke briefly at the end (which I was thankful for because it gave us a chance to hear him).  Again, great point, not great execution.
  2. The kid check-in process was OK, but not stellar.  They didn’t ask for our mobile phone # or let us know how they might alert us if there was a problem with our youngest.  Not good.  I need trust right away — that people would have thought it through and tell me who they’d contact me if my child was choking and an ambulance had been called.
  3. The music was fairly decent — but sound didn’t rock my world.  The music was good…well done, thought out — yet the audio didn’t feel dialed in to me.  It sound got better as the morning went on — but it almost sounded as if they were sound-checking (dialing in the mix) as it was happening.  I appreciated it was getting better — but I went in hoping it was dialed in right away and nailed on the first song (so I could turn off that part of my brain).
  4. They didn’t have a class for kids on this particular weekend due to New Year’s weekend.  This made listening to the sermon a challenge — as the people behind us were receiving a lesson from us in how (not) to rear your children during a church gathering.  I’m glad they didn’t select “How parents can and should train their children in the Lord” for the morning’s message.


The Most Frightening Aspect

Then there was something that was alarming more than anything. Following the morning at this church, we decided to surprise our kids with a visit to T-Rex Cafe at Legends. If you’ve never been there before, it’s a place kids love.  The food price is high, it’s out of your way — but they love the experience.  Not only do they love the experience, but they WANT and ASK to return.  The sad part is — we are willing to pay the prices and go our of our way.

Frankly, our kids would rather go back to the restaurant we went to than the church. What’s frightening is that our kids drive our decisions (not every, but a lot of them right now).  This means what clicks and connects with them…works for us as parents too.  If my kids end up leaving a church and the experience they had has them WANTING more and ASKING for a return…we’d most likely do it — especially if our kids were learning spiritually while they had a good experience.

Hit a home run with the Nelson kids in the experience department + show mom and dad they learned something spiritual that will influence their lives = return visit from the Nelson family.  That’s the sad reality.

Unfortunately, our kids will ask for us to return to T-Rex Cafe instead of the church. It’s going to cost us financially and time-wise to make that happen again.  It’s not easy to get to and the prices aren’t fair.  Yet, I wonder if our kids would have had a similar experience at church — maybe, just maybe, they would be asking for a return there.  Heck, I might even give them what I would have given T-Rex as a visitor in their church in the offering plate.

So lies the debate…

  • Where do parents draw the line at kids influencing their decisions (gifts, restaurants, church, etc.)?  You can’t argue that kids do not influence decision — because they do.  But there’s a line there.  And it’s different for every family.  The trick is figuring out what God’s Word says the line of influence should be.
  • Should churches attempt to compete with other kid experiences like T-Rex Cafe?  Think about it — T-Rex is in it to make money, a church is in it to win souls — so which which experience ought to win?
  • Are parents overly concerned over experience in other ways at churches (similar to children)?  If so, in what ways?  Things such as — the music has to be ‘such and such,’ the preaching needs to be ‘fill in the blank,’ the people that attend this church ought be ‘fill in preference,’ my first 2-3 experiences should include ‘this and that,’ and the list might continue.

How about you or your kids?  Where would you rather be than church?  Why?  And what should the church do about it?

Number crunching the unchurched matters – Light Show Report 2010

We count people because people count to God. If you spend $1 a person to gain an opportunity to present the gospel — that’s great IF the people you present to don’t already believe the gospel.  So the question becomes, how much do you spend on what in order to reach what kind of people.

Effective Outreach

Spend the most efficient amount + reaching the right people = WIN

Topeka Bible Church does an annual 15-minute drive-in light show synchronized to live music in a 3-story building. We’ve done the light show for 4 years. Each year we poll those who come to find out whether or not the light show is reaching people it’s designed to reach. So keep the following in mind…

The light show is designed to present the gospel through the Christmas story to those who do not yet have a relationship with Jesus Christ. There are lots of side-missions and bi-products that the light show creates, this this foundational mission of the gospel is central and crucial to it continuing.

With that mission in mind, it’s important we evaluate whether or not it’s accomplishing it’s mission. The minute is doesn’t achieve this mission…we need to reinvent it or kill it. So here are the quick evaluation points.

  1. 34.7% of those polled said this was their first year to the light show.  This means new people are still coming to the light show – allowing us to connect with first time light show attenders.
  2. The number of people we are reached is about the same number as we did last year. Last year we had an additional night…and we drew in 219 more people last year. This year, we did one less evening — and the numbers kept up with last year.
  3. Percentage-wise, fewer people from TBC are attending the light show. This is a good thing in our book.
  4. No one knew about the automated light shows. This means we lost an opportunity for people to return and invite others between 12/14 and 1/1. For 2011 we will make a big push to make this clear.
  5. The percentage of those without a church home (compared to church attenders) is increasing.  Those who attend church (either TBC or another church) are decreasing.  This is what we want to happen over time.  This could be due to the 2,500 parade flyers we handed out and emailing an invite to past light show attenders.
  6. We budget $6,000 for the light show.  This means this year we spent about $1 for every person who came to the light show.  But if you look at what it cost to reach just the un-churched…the ratio was about $5.41 per un-churched person.  That’s the number that makes the difference whether or not we are being effective or not.

Here are some of the charts that spell out the numbers.


The ultimate question is — is it worth $5.41 for each of the 1110 un-churched people who come? What better method could we use?


Drummer shows off his light show suit [video]

It looks awesome under black lights.


Kerry Livgren’s FREE gift to you – a new Christmas song featured in this weekend’s Topeka light show

Kerry Livgren of the progressive rock band KANSAS

We are privileged to have Kerry Livgren (prog rock band KANSAS) attend and involved at Topeka Bible Church.

This year he composed and recorded a new Christmas song entitled “A Kansas Christmas” which will be featured at tonight’s 15-minute 3-story drive-in light show Topeka Bible Church (11th and Mulvane) — all synchronized to live musicians in the windows.  Kerry will be mixing the shows this weekend Dec 10, 11, 12 at 6:00, 6:45, 7:15, 8:15, and 9:00pm with musicians playing his composition live.

Kerry has also graciously made his new song a free download at his site (under news). Enjoy.  And Merry Christmas from Kerry.

Light show music rehearsal

Here’s a little sneak peak into the music for this year’s light show.  This is the end of “God Rest” by Gary Hoey.

Light Show behind the scenes pictures

Here are some pics from the light show at Topeka Bible Church.  Automated shows are running nightly from 6-10pm now until January 1, 2011.  The awesome live musician shows are Fri, Sat, Sun (Dec 10, 11, 12) from 6-9pm, 15 minute shows every 45 minutes.

Kerry Livgren (of the progressive rock band KANSAS) at the audio production mix position

Bible study works on the MEGA STAR

Setting up lights under the MOON

Lift next to one of the rooftop angels

Working on this year's script

Getting closer to being finished, no MEGA STAR and no MEGA TREE yet, not too nice looking during the day

The work goes as fast as the lift does, sloooooow

Up close look at the center of the MEGA STAR (AKA Death Star), 10,000+ lights, 96 cords

How to transition when using click tracks and loops #sundaysetlist #sundaysetlists #WorshipSet

There’s a problem in lots of churches when it comes to worship participation — there’s lots of standing around waiting to be led in worship. You know what I’m talking about.  There’s that 16 measure rippin’ electric guitar solo, the 12 measure outro that’s the same as the intro, the 2 second pause between songs, and then the 8 measure needed intro to establish tempo/key/feel.  That’s a lot of ‘waiting around’ for worshippers who are used to more of the ‘sing only when directed to’ type of format.  More charismatic influences use these times to allow the song and worshipper to breath.  But it’s a problem in my churches who do not follow that more charismatic/free worship structure.

The solution is to turn these non-participatory moments into participatory ones can greatly increase the tracking of worshippers.

Here’s what I mean…

The most difficult part (and crucial part) of any musical worship environment are the transitions from song to song. Once you establish a key, maintain tempo, get a groove, and begin singing — a song can virtually run itself.  However, once the song is over, getting to the next song can be a challenge.  There may be a tempo difference, difference in key, a mood/texture shift, or even needing room for something else to happen (pray, scripture reading, video, etc.).

Using click tracks to create “transition click tracks” can create a smooth flow from song to song.  This means there are clicks/loops for the songs, but also click tracks and loops that guide through the in-between times.  These loops can create a smooth live feel that link songs into a more seamless set.

Worship Set from

For example, this past week we had these three songs in a row.

Sweetly Broken (B)
New Doxology (E)
You Shine (E)

Began Sweetly Broken with the full intro (to establish key/tempo/feel). When we got to the end of Sweetly Broken, we simply played an Eno3 chord on the final word — leaving a deceptive/unsettled feel.  It’s typically OK to leave a song hanging at the end on a dominant (V chord) or subdominant (IV chord) if it sets up the next song’s key.  For example, if a song is in the key of B…the the deceptive chords to end on would be either an E or F# (subdominant and dominant respectively).  The *Eno3 chord played at the end of Sweetly Broken sets up the beginning of New Doxology (Key of E).

*no3 simply means the chord doesn’t have the third played in it, so you’d play an E and B…or sometimes called open fifth

The more tricky transition is going from the New Doxology into You Shine. Yes, they are the same key — but they are drastically different in both tempo and style.  The solution here is to sing a SLOW version of You Shine’s ‘pre-chorus’ in order to denote that we are transitioning to a new song.  This means after the last note of New Doxology, while still stirring the last Eno3 chord — a NEW click track would count off into You Shine’s pre-chorus at a slow tempo.  Once the pre-chorus is completely sung at that slower tempo, another click track triggers for the actually You Shine song.  Also, the proverbial 8 bar intro into You Shine is stripped down to simply two measures of Eno3 vamp to launch into the first verse.

It sounds complicated, but all these transition loops are automatically built into the click tracks & loops available at — so all the work is done.  Figuring out transitions can be daunting at first.  It takes time and fore-thought.  And if you are using click tracks, the live timing and feel are critical for the end result for worshippers who are following.  Minimizing timing distractions and working out flow in advance can increase the opportunity for worshippers to be in an environment that guides them smoothly.

And as for those electric guitar solos or extended piano intros, try displaying Bible verses that keep the worshipper engaged.  It will point their eyes to God, and maybe take them off the stage for that moment.

Here was our line up…

  2. Test – click LEFT and loop RIGHT
  3. Sound Check – Full Band
  4. Sound Check – Vocals
  6. Set 1 – Beautiful One, Jesus Messiah
  7. ___ PAUSE click here (cue)
  8. Set 2 – September 14, 2010
  9. ___ PAUSE click here (cue)
  10. ___ END click here (cue)
  12. Beautiful One – loop and click 126 BPM
  13. Jesus Messiah – loop and click 86 BPM
  14. ___ PAUSE click here (cue)
  15. Sweetly Broken – loop and click 93 BPM [Bb]
  16. > Invite to Stand
  17. New Doxology – loop and click 86 BPM
  18. You Shine – loop and click 128 BPM
  19. > Greet & Move Table Cue
  20. ___ END click here (cue)
  22. Beautiful One (A)
  23. Jesus Messiah (A)
  24. Sweetly Broken (Bb)
  25. New Doxology (E)
  26. You Shine (E)

Incorporating a Chicago-style horn section #sundaysetlist #sundaysetlists #WorshipSet

Chicago horn section

This morning was another “not normal” morning for our worship environment. Yes, we used our normal two synchronized bands, click tracks and loops library, singers, and the like — but we added one different element that gave the style a spin.  It was a simply Chicago-style horn section (Trumpet, Sax, Trombone).  Chicago-style, meaning like the popular band Chicago back in the 70’s and 80’s.  Who knew that Chicago would be “second only to the Beach Boys in terms of singles and albums, Chicago is one of the longest running and most successful U.S. pop/rock and roll groups.” [1]

Here is one email received today, immediately following the morning.

On Sun, Sep 12, 2010 at 2:18 PM:

Great job with worship today!  I’m an old brass player, and although I am usually not too fond of brass in worship, apparently it’s because no one has shown me how to do it right until now.  You were perfectly balanced and really complemented the vocalists.  I’m guessing you wrote the brass parts?  It reminded me of why I loved the group Chicago back in high school.

Keep it up!

[name withheld]

Here was my response…

Thanks for the encouragement (name withheld).  I’ll certainly pass it on to the musicians.

I’m with you — I’m usually not a fan of how brass is incorporated into worship bands (from past experience), but some of my favorite groups from my younger years are Chicago, Tower of Power, and Earth, Wind, and Fire.  However, if the brass parts are written in true “horn section” style — it can work.

Wish I could claim I wrote the brass arrangements, but they were all purchased from  They were the horn parts taken straight from the full orchestrations, but they work as stand alone horn section parts.

The balancing act was kudos to the sound operator — they can make us sound worse than we really are, just like we are, or better than we really are.  The sound board is the most important instrument in the entire house, in my opinion.

By the way, let me know if you ever want to break out your instrument — would love to have another like-minded brass player in our ranks.


Yes, it takes extra work to put together elements. A volunteer had to assemble the sheet music for the horn section.  We edited down the music to fit the roadmap to the loops and click tracks. We had to pipe down the horn section with the synchronized band in the Lower Auditorium from the Main Auditorium.  The horn section had to be available for the rehearsal and weekend.  Extra mics and platforms had to be setup.  The stage needed to be reconfigured.  Certain songs had to be picked — and then cross your fingers that the arrangements work with Hillsong, Baloche, modern hymn arrangements, and Redman songs.

Are these extra elements really worth it in the end? As long as you can keep a balence (don’t burn out from it or overuse the elements as to diminish its value) — yes, it is worth it.  It creates variety from week to week, uses the talents God has assembled, and provides an added challenge to both musicians and techs.

And here is the full setlist…

Setlist from September 12, 2010

An orchestra’s role in #worship

One of the most difficult things to plan for are orchestras in a worship gathering.

The music library takes a lot of work to pull off. If you have a 20 piece orchestra, at 5 songs for that week, and 2 pages of music per song — that’s 200 separate sheets of paper to get distributed and collected correctly.  That’s a huge task.  Fortunately, at our church we have an awesome volunteer orchestra librarian (Linda Gifford).

Finding tasteful orchestrations is difficult. I’ve heard lots of cheesy orchestral arrangements.  I’ve even written some of them.  But when it comes to orchestrations for worship environments, has it covered.

Determining availability of musicians is a challenge. We have a roster of 46 orchestral instrumentalists.  For the upcoming weekend, we have 20 confirmed, 13 unconfirmed, and 13 declines.  We use an awesome web app called Planning Center Online. This web app is a HUGE help to us in this regard.  Now, to get the musicians to simply accept or decline instead of remaining unconfirmed : )

Stage space can be a premium. Frankly, if all 46 orchestral instruments confirmed for a weekend — we’d have a problem.  So we can comfortably fit 20-25 instrumentalists on stage (30 uncomfortably).  Orchestra musicians take up a lot of room to move bows, slides — not to mention the flute position or tuba girth.

However, there are lots of pros to having an orchestra in a worship gathering.

Increased use of talent within the church. I joke sometimes (but serious) that I am God’s “talent broker” at the church.  My role is to figure out the best placement of talent in the church in order to make the value of the whole much larger than its individual parts.  An orchestra is a great way to accomplish this.

An orchestra can a particular weekend a completely different sound/feel, bringing variety. Some people have said they don’t enjoy the sound of an orchestra in worship.  That’s because they’ve experienced some bad orchestras in worship settings.  Out of tune orchestras can sound like cats in heat.  However, excellent orchestras (in tune, on time, musical) can really enhance the rhythm section.  Think Trans-Siberrian Orchestra, film score, or a Cold Play string quartet.

It’s a way to connect with musicians we wouldn’t connect with otherwise. Remember, relationships will always trump music.  Who cares about great music on their death bed?  The relationships we have with each other mean everything.  Without the orchestra, there’s no way I could connect with some of the following people.

Alto Sax
Kristen Jordan
Joyce Harris
Matthew Osborne
Ruth Osborne
Austin Abernathy
Sam Cho
Barb Blue
Amy Simpson
Anthony Roth
Arin Evans
Bekah Wolgast
Debbie Wolgast
Geri Turvey
Heather Mullins
Liz Dodds
Shawna Link
Chrissy Bolze
Linda Marling
Sarah Mellen
Anna Lischke
Tenor Sax
Bob Meissner
Don Petersen
Patrick Hill
Dylan Phillips
Angie Shelton
Dustin Fluke
Justin Shields
Kellie DeMill
Nat Diliberto
Connor Brantingham
Caitlin Givens
Alex Foster
Carrie Davidson
Christa Packard
Heidi Nelson
Jessica Elliott
Krista Wolgast
Megan Poppe
Melody Buford
Parker Robb
Roy Tanner
Carrie Osborne
Daniel Osborne
Kelly Crandall
Piper Robb
REMEMBER: Music is not the reason an orchestra exists in a worship setting, people are the reason.