Ryan Arndt’s passion for Christian music is contagious.

So contagious, in fact, that he built a 31-member worship team in one year at Elizabethtown’s West Green Tree Church of the Brethren.

“It’s awesome to see people coming back to church to sing and play their instruments who haven’t been here for a while,” says Arndt, the church’s worship arts coordinator.

Humbly, he gives God credit for the phenomenal growth, just shy of four times the original eight-member team.

Like many churches, the COVID-19 pandemic had an impact on services. With livestream giving people the opportunity to stay home and view a service, many didn’t return to church.

As numbers of worshippers dwindled, Arndt says church leadership spent a lot of prayer and thought into the decision to change to one blended service.

With the combined worship style, both traditional and contemporary music is featured in the service. A small choir occasionally sings some Sundays.

The service change motivated Arndt to seek out a worship team beyond church walls. Most are members; but others come from the outside community.

“People just needed encouragement to use their gifts as disciples of Christ in the music area,” says Arndt.

The 2023 team roster now has 16 instrumentalists and 14 vocalists, plus Arndt, who plays piano and sings. Musical instruments used in worship include acoustic and electric guitar, bass, piano, keyboard, violin, cello, drums, flute and saxophone. A few members both sing and play an instrument.

While many contemporary services tend to have younger worship teams, West Green Tree’s blended service team includes musicians young and old, from ages 11 to 77.

David Hawthorne, 77, who sang in the choir for years, confesses joining the team was a challenge and outside his comfort zone.

“I like to sing the old hymns, but Ryan encouraged me to try some contemporary Christian music. He planted the seed,” says Hawthorne, who is learning to appreciate contemporary music.

As a junior at Lower Dauphin School District, Brooke Coble likes the opportunity to play her cello at church with a kindred group. Her sister, Haylee, Lower Dauphin seventh grader, is also on the team and plays the violin. Both are church members.

Along with playing worship music, Lance Hitz, acoustic guitar player, says the best part of being on the team is how it “feels like being part of a family.”

The team agrees Arndt’s caring, competent gifted leadership contributes to wanting to be a part of the group.

Arndt doesn’t seek professional performers or expect the team to be perfect.

“It’s using your love and musical gift for worship to make a joyful noise unto the Lord, as the Bible states,” he says.

The Rev. Shawn O’Brien, West Green Tree’s pastor, praises Arndt for being committed to engage and work with a worship team regardless of their experience, affording them an opportunity to explore their talents.

By encouraging the team to continue to cultivate their gifts, Arndt has already seen them grow in worship ministry. He stresses the ministry is not about performing, but rather worshipping God through music.

The team rotates on Sundays, with five to 11 musicians participating at a time. Some participate several times a month, and others only one.

Arndt, a Palmyra resident, was hired as choir director in 2014 for the traditional worship service when he was just 16. In 2020, he became the worship arts coordinator and also led the contemporary service worship team.

Today his role includes leading the blended service worship team and choir; a weekly online hymn sing; and livestream producer for worship services.

Arndt holds a bachelor’s degree in English and plans to receive his teacher’s certification in April. He says the worship team’s growth has been an answer to his prayers.

“It’s a great blessing to have a variety of backgrounds, generations, musicians and vocalists to lead worship of our great God,” O’Brien says.

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