Ascension Worship is an international organization with individual networks in more than a dozen U.S. cities. Now it's coming to Grand Rapids and already local worship artists are getting involved.
"We've been holding auditions every Tuesday and Thursday," said local Ascension network manager Ace McKay. "We're trying to get as many completed as we can, so we can start making (the artists) available to churches that need them." Instrumentalists, vocalists – even sound technicians – have all stepped up to be part of the emerging network.
When an adequate stable of candidates is ready, area churches will be asked if they'd like join with Ascension to locate talent they need.
Auditions are being held at Santo Guitars USA, 4830 Wilson Ave SW next to MC Sports in Grandville.
"The great thing about this is that it doesn't replace the current church that someone is serving," said McKay, who is also co-host of the afternoon show on Christian music WJQK-FM (JQ-99). "But it provides an additional place to lend their talents where needed."
His own experience as a church worship player (Jamestown Harbor) led him to investigate Ascension. "When I wasn't playing at my own church, I was getting asked to fill in at other places," said McKay who plays both bass and percussion. "When I would go and meet those musicians, they would ask me if I knew of any other churches that needed players."
McKay started talking with the Ascension organization and learned there was no West Michigan affiliate. "It seemed like a great fit and people are latching onto the concept," he added.
So far McKay is impressed with the talent level in auditions. "But we want the person to have the heart of a worshipper and come ready to serve with a great attitude and skill level," he said.
A key element of Ascension Worship is a commitment to serve the local church. The audition process includes contact with the musician's local church leadership. It's part of the vetting procedure and assures those involved that Ascension respects and honors the musician's place in his/her local church.
There's also a publishing side to Ascension. Worship songwriters can submit songs for consideration. Those which are accepted and signed could be produced as lead sheets or studio recordings for network churches and others across the country.
THE WAY IT WORKS
The list of available, auditioned, and vetted players makes Ascension a prime resource to a church needing to fill a worship team slot or two at short notice. "Once a church sends a request (to Ascension) that they need a keyboardist, for example, it immediately goes out to all the network keyboardists who fit the request parameters," said McKay. "And if someone is available they respond and get the rehearsal pieces and whatever else they need so they can be prepared when they come."
Artists on the Ascension roster are not obligated to play a certain amount of times at requesting churches – they can say no as often as they find necessary. "I think one of the challenges is for players to properly assess their time," McKay said. "It's not meant to make people overcommit or to burn musicians out. It's just an opportunity to expand your chances to play if you have the time."
Audition candidates are still being sought. Would-be hopefuls can sign up via the website
At the national level, Ascension Worship offers consulting for new churches looking to establish a worship ministry (including help with gear rentals and purchase). But it also can assist well-established churches wanting to reinvent, update, or grow their worship departments and experiences, as well as provide training for experienced or emerging worship leaders and team members.
"We hope to eventually have some local opportunities for players and techs to improve their craft," McKay added.
There is no fee for a musician to participate, nor a fee for a church to join the network. For a network church requesting a musician, Ascension handles all the vetting, auditioning, scheduling, and any special church requests or requirements. The musician is paid quickly and directly by Ascension which then invoices the church.
Chris Nunez, who was a worship team member at Grand Rapids First for several years, likes the approach. "Many churches struggle with auditions and turn-over is high so I think there really is a demand for this," he said. "Being able to use a third party to find players is brilliant."