Worship is often one of the great highlights of a large faith-based event. It can be a formative experience as participants process and respond to what they have been learning. Multicultural worship music serves to acknowledge and welcome participants who may have a wide array of backgrounds, or who may have traveled a great distance to attend your event. By incorporating multiple worship styles, musical genres or languages into your conference’s worship music, you broaden the scope of the event. Here’s how to begin incorporating multicultural worship at your next gathering:
Build relationships early.
In the early stages of your planning process, identify what cultures you would like to see represented and build a rapport of honesty and trust with worship leaders from those groups. Seek their guidance and insights throughout the planning process. One of the best examples of this can be seen at InterVarsity’s Urbana Missions Conference. From the start, Urbana is direct about its mission to be a global conference and its desire to bring together people from all backgrounds. Attendees come with the expectation that they’ll experience something outside of their own culture.
Guide participants through the encounter.
Explain to the crowd what you are incorporating and why. Acknowledge any discomfort anyone may be feeling, and encourage them to be open to the experience.
Start slow and small.
Introduce a multicultural song that attendees can learn relatively easily. Songs with significant repetition, such as the Spanish tune “No Hay Nadie Como Tu,” can also help ease into new styles or languages. Or try substituting a single word from other languages into a familiar song (e.g., Michael W. Smith’s “Agnus Dei”). Close with a song your attendees know well to break things up.
Repeat after me.
Call-and-response songs are popular in a wide range of cultures, making them easy tools for incorporating multicultural repertoire into worship. They allow participants to hear and repeat words in a guided manner, in short phrases at a time.
It is important the message of multicultural worship also be conveyed visually. Consider incorporating liturgical dance, mime, American Sign Language or live painting into your worship. Be mindful of the images that appear on projected slides, in brochures or on your event’s website. Display multicultural artworks around the venue.
All of this reinforces the mission of being inclusive by engaging different senses during worship.
Katelin Hansen, Ph.D., is minister of music for United Methodist Church for All People, a multiracial church in Columbus, Ohio. She is also the editor of By Their Strange Fruit, an online ministry focusing on bridging racial divides.
Photo credit: Chris Savas