ROCHESTER, N.Y. For many churches and worship leaders in the Western New York region, the challenge of finding practical training nearby with a focus on worship leading, sound engineering, and broadcast video concepts typically require looking well outside the area, often where one has to attend multi-day conferences, if anything at all.
On Jan. 7, that changed with the roll out of a regional worship training academy by People on a hill, Inc., which began with a free Discovery Day workshop. That was the first step to what is to be a one-day a-month program spread over five months. At its kickoff event, 160 were in attendance, representing 45 churches.
The one-day a month commitment through May amounts to about seven hours each month, from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., and attendees "are sent home with a little bit of homework," noted Bethel Christian Fellowship Media Arts Director Gregory Kayne. In between each month's session during a semester, participants are still able connect by way of a private Facebook discussion group, so to interact with their instructors.
Two tracks of training are currently available as part of the academy, related to worship and media arts.
The concept of the academy was founded in part by Bethel's Worship Arts Pastor Ryan Internicola, who began working at the church in Rochester about four years ago, and quickly formed a strong working relationship and friendship with Kayne. "We found a shared passion for discipling others in worship and media ministry, and to find unity between those ministries where there is often miscommunication," noted Kayne.
The two began to recognize the need for such an academy, since "we sensed that there was a lack of training for worship leaders and media ministers, seeking to work in harmony," said Kayne. Internicola, who serves as president of the organization, added, "Through (Bethel), we developed training opportunities for our own people. We then found that a lot of churches don't have those training opportunities. It became apparent that we needed to open up and provide them to other churches, particularly smaller churches that may not have the resources to create such training programs."
In addition, it was noted that while there might be top notch musical and technical training available in other parts of the country, the pair felt there was, according to Kayne, a "lacking in the spiritual connectedness in worship," and that many churches had begun to put too great an emphasis on staging and lighting, "and the show," to where a focus needed to be returned to where worship leaders could unearth more perspectives spiritually.
The idea of an intensive workshop academy was given a "test run" last year, according to the worship arts pastor, amounting to a one-hour a week class for 30 weeks to help develop the curriculum with 32 students participating. Following that experience, they "sensed that God was working in that," and the two expanded their plans for the academy for this year.
Another motivating factor to move forward with the academy, as noted by Kayne, was hearing LifeWay Research Executive Director Ed Stetzer's keynote address at WFX 2015 in Nashville, adding, "His message was something that I took back with me the relationship between pastors and technicians, where we are in the church world. If we aren't understanding each other's role, then you are missing the total ministry experience."
In the lead-up to Discovery Day and since, Kayne noted the response to the new academy has been "overwhelming, with the interest and excitement, that we could launch them with the caliber and excellence in the way that we did." According to Internicola, the feedback from attendees was that, "'I need something like this,' or there has not been anything like this available to me,' to have a training center for worship and media ministry. With this, they don't have to take a two-week vacation to travel; they can come here and spend a weekend."
As part of the academy, there are currently two "tracks" that participants can choose from, either the worship or media arts track. Kayne noted that in some instances, a few worship leaders have wanted to learn the technical side as well, whereby they are encouraged to attend a second semester's worth of sessions as part of the other track. During the Jan. 7 session, about a quarter committed to the media arts track, while the remaining participants were either on "the worship side or floaters,'" explained Kayne.
Even with the benefit of having the variety across the two tracks, Kayne cited feedback after the first event, where some attendees cited a desire to have the academy expand its focus, adding, "People want the same type of instruction, but with instruments," such as a guitar or piano class. "We have plans for that in the near future, more like the Selah Conference in Chicago."
Beyond just looking to expand the number of tracks, Kayne said, "There will be a version of (the academy) online within the next two to three months, but then it will be more formalized by the fall. We are also looking at a permanent location, having a building, to have a music academy and other things as well."
As noted on the organization's website, the academy is being described as a "fire starter." To Kayne, what that amounted to was that "we are starting more than an academy, more than an educational institution," related to what amounts to "their personal worship experience, their relationship with God." Having already begun working with a number of area churches, Kayne highlighted what's already been accomplished on the songwriting end, where "we are not seeing such denominational lines being drawn. We're putting out new music that is powerful and fresh, and has many people you might see five or six writers on a song where we are doing it from a regional perspective."
Having such a high degree of collaboration on the creation of songs, Kayne noted, has been ideal, because, "it takes more than one brain to put (a song) together. There is nothing neat and clean about songwriting, as a lot of lyrics end up on the floor." With what has been able to be organized thus far, Kayne explained that the creation process for songs has been made into a production process, including the use of discussion panels and opinion polls from worship leaders. With the help of such panels and polls, it asks worship leaders: "'Would you lead this in your church, or Would you sing this song,'" asked Kayne, as a means to learn the reasons behind why one would or would not sing such a song, which has thus far resulted in the crafting of a couple dozen songs.
For those who will take part in this semester's academy workshops, attendees will benefit from "a classroom environment," Kayne noted, but more importantly, to help provide the best opportunities to learn, participants will also be "directing, getting up on stage, working on cameras getting their hands on equipment, or having worship leaders up on stage leading in worship."
Internicola elaborated on that aspect of the academy, stating, "We want our guests and students to experience God's presence, and that they are going to be experiencing leadership of those elements themselves, not just listening to us talk about it."