Going “unplugged” isn’t a new thing. Lots of churches – for lots of reasons – regularly plan services that are scaled back in some way.

A few weeks ago, I tweeted that we were doing that at Bethel and I got a response from a friend also doing a similar thing on that particular weekend. He asked, “Why is unplugged worship always so good?”

It’s a great question and I think there’s a lot to learn from this particular “style” of worship. And personally, I think there are some specific qualities of unplugged worship that make it stand out.

If you lead in a more band-centric, model, you’re creating a lot of sound on any given Sunday. There are benefits to a well-balanced, ear-catching mix, but sometimes we aren’t able to make room for the congregation. Unplugged sets are successful because the crowd can hear themselves. By minimizing your instrumentation or having a different dynamic approach, you create quiet space that gets filled up with robust congregational singing! It’s not something that a crowd may even recognize, but they definitely feel the effect of hearing themselves sing.

Many, if not most, worship songs are based on very specific riffs. These constitute “hooks” that give the song an identity apart from just some chords being played. Try to imagine that big epic anthem you play without the guitar intro or the drum roll into the last chorus…weird, right?

But that’s why unplugged worship is so good – because in a lot of cases, those riffs go away. They either don’t work with the instrumentation or they just don’t fit within the song and it reveals immediately whether or not a song can stand on it’s own without all the hooks. Unplugged worship is a great test for songs because people can focus on what they’re actually saying and don’t have to worry about all the noise coming from the band.

This is my favorite part of unplugged worship. In a normal band setting, the groove and dynamic variance of the song is controlled by the drums. Fast songs, slow songs, it doesn’t matter. Once the drums get in there, they run the show.

But in an unplugged set, that all goes out the window. Because this type of worship is usually quieter or with fewer instruments, there often isn’t enough “drum” to drive the whole energy of the song. In this type of setup, maybe the acoustic guitar drives the energy or maybe it’s the mandolin; maybe percussion does it. This “swapping” of the grooves multiple times in a set makes it unique and memorable. Other times, the groove is invisible – there’s enough space where nobody even has to play the accents because the groove is implied or “felt” by the congregation. It’s strange, but in pulling the instruments back, we actually make all those specific song grooves more pronounced.


  1. What did I miss? What are some other things that make unplugged worship so good?
  2.  How often do you do worship in a scaled-back setup? And what does it look like?


  1. johnnydrummer

    1. Harmonies stand out more. There aren’t many other instruments in that space.

    2. Weekly. Regular worship at Holy Trinity is guitars, percussion, piano, four vox.

  2. Pingback: WORSHIP:UNPLUGGED (PART II) « toddwright

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