For generations Christ United Methodist Church has been a Memphis faith-community staple. It has seen the city through years of major highs and lows, and has always attempted to remain faithful to its calling. Their vision is to glorify God by making, maturing and mobilizing disciples of Jesus Christ by loving Jesus and loving as Jesus loved. This simple, yet profound statement has made major impact ripples throughout the city, and even across Methodism as a whole. Christ United Methodist Church has been pivotal (both behind the scenes and openly) in many of the city’s moves towards combating civil rights issues, addiction recovery, and helping the poor.
Christ Methodist’s worship services have changed over the years, but they have alway managed to create meaningful and relevant experiences. Even though their musical styles and methods evolved, their audio/video equipment was outdated. Churches tend to be reactionary with purchases, and have to think through largest needs first. This often means that other church needs were met before putting the large amount of money it would take to update the technical needs. Speakers were put on the back burner for decades, and it began to show. After a particularly frustrating Sunday dealing with sound issues in the 9:45 Seabrook Hall service, the leadership team decided it was finally time to update the system. The worship team at CUMC visited the Life Church on Highland to hear how the sound system Redwire installed there might sound for them. They decided to purchase an Allen & Heath D-Live soundboard, and brought in the Redwire AV team to install new L’Acoustics speakers.
We sat down with Matt McCleskey, the Associate Director of Worship Arts & Technical Media, to discuss a bit about the worship team. Matt and his wife Amanda (who serves in the nursery at CUMC) moved to Memphis from Pensacola, Florida about 5 years ago. Matt started playing piano at church as a 5 year old, and has remained involved with worship at his local churches in both paid and volunteer roles since then. While touring with a gospel quartet, he was discovered by Bo Parker and Dr. Shane Stanford. Bo is the current Director of Worship Arts & Technical Media, and Shane is the Senior Pastor, but they met Matt while serving at a Methodist church down in Florida. After Shane moved to Memphis to serve as the Senior Pastor, he asked Bo and Matt to move up as well and serve during the 9:45 service at Christ Methodist. It was after moving and joining the team in Memphis that Matt’s musical and technical knowledge began to expand.
“The worship element is changing rapidly. You have to be on the cutting edge. I have had to learn things here in Memphis that I would never dreamed of learning otherwise. Pertaining to keys…most of the stuff you hear on stage is not being produced by a keyboard, but from a laptop. Technology being what is…to a normal congregation member, you are hearing stuff that you think sounds like organ.. that sounds like brass… that sound like violins, banjos, accordions but we are using programs like Mainstage or Ableton. The MIDI side of worship is all encompassing. In Florida I would typically be playing some kind of keys sound. Corporate worship nowadays is more experiential, some people view it more as a concert… we don’t view like that. We want to connect to the individual. You are coming here to commune with the creator. You are wanting to hear something.”
Matt is over all of the workers and volunteers that carry out the technical pieces that happen during the Sunday 9:45 Service. There are eight services each week (including a mid-week service, and a Saturday night service). There is something for everyone. If you want a pipe organ and high church feel, visit the 8:30 and 11:00. If you prefer liturgy and modern choruses/hymns, “The Table” service might be a good fit. If you are looking for a more CCM feel, then 9:45 is more of your place. They also plan and execute services for their satellite campus which is in Germantown, TN. It takes quite a bit of planning, and effort to pull off each one. Having technology that works, and an understanding of how to use the technology, allows for these services to pulled off as seamlessly as possible.
For more information on Christ Methodist Church in Memphis go to: https://www.christchurchmemphis.org/