Behind the Scenes at TWC: Bobby Gilles Interviews Fred McKinnon & Russ Hutto

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Thanks to Bobby Gilles at MySongInTheNight.com for taking the time to interview Fred McKinnon (founder of TWC) and Russ Hutto (Managing Editor of TWC). Originally published at: http://mysonginthenight.com/2012/03/27/help-for-worship-leaders-who-feel-isolated-my-twc-interview/

In 2007 a new kind of online experience for worship leaders launched, a truly grassroots initiative called The Worship Community (TWC). Founder Fred McKinnon already had a lot of experience as a worship leader and resource-provider for other leaders, through his HighestPraise.com, widely read personal blog, and position as Worship Director at St Simons Community Church.

The Worship Community has since connected many worship pastors, leaders and ministers-of-music across denominational, geographical, generational and cultural lines. City churches, country churches. Contemporary churches, traditional churches. Big churches, small churches. Members of TWC come from all these places, and interact daily on issues ranging from theology to media and tech, songwriting, leadership and everything else that comes with being a worship leader.

Many of these leaders have never met in person. Many others have eventually met after first being connected in The Worship Community. Just last year at RefugeSSI, a retreat promoted by TWC, Kristen and I met Fred for the first time. We also met several other internet friends who have participated in TWC over the years, and Russ Hutto, the Managing Editor of TWC.

Join me now for this My Song In The Night interview with Fred and Russ. If you’re a worship leader of any kind, you’ll benefit from this look into the creation and growth of TWC, and the insights into how to connect, serve and equip leaders in God’s Church.

Fred (Center) leads worship at RefugeSSI 2011 with Trent Smith (left) and Shannon Lewis (right).

Fred (Center) leads worship at RefugeSSI 2011 with Trent Smith (left) and Shannon Lewis (right).

Bobby Gilles: Why did you decide to form TWC and launch TheWorshipCommunity.com? What kind of thought processes led to the formation of the various forums and columns you offer?

Fred McKinnon: Before social media really took off I was a member of a few email-based listservers for worship leaders and teams.  I found the community and advice helpful, but overwhelming since you were forced to receive every email sent to the system.  I’d participated on message boards before and thought it would be a great way to network with other worship leaders where you could control what content you wanted.

I wanted to create a space where someone in worship ministry could ask a question and get quick help from other leaders around the world.  I kicked the idea around with some of the guys in our production team (Travis Paulding, Chris Moncus) and a few online friends like Joel Klampert and we all decided it would be a great idea.  So — TheWorshipCommunity.Com was born!

Russ Hutto: I joined TWC as just another member on the forums early on. I helped moderate and eventually became the editor for the site.

Bobby Gilles: How is The Worship Community different than other websites for worship leaders?

Fred McKinnon: Ideally, the main difference is that the content is driven by everyday worship leaders, techs, and volunteers who are in the trenches.   Most of those who are writing are not professional writers, touring artists, labels, or high profile speakers.  Members range from being on staff in well-known mega churches to volunteers in small, rural communities.

Russ Hutto: Personally, I feel like because the emphasis is on “discussing all things worship” in a forum format we have really created a good community. We are not just a “news” or “review” site. There are other great sites out there that are doing things that we’re not doing and we feel like there’s a place for all of us in this big space. Even though our name is The Worship Community we believe that our site itself is actually just one of many great voices in the worship community at large.

Bobby Gilles: You originally launched with public forums. Then about a year later you relaunched, keeping the forums but featuring a news magazine format with articles, reviews and videos. Was this intentional? Why did you begin with public forums?

Fred McKinnon: For me I wanted a quick start out of the gate.  The forums provided immediate content that is driven by the users, not authors.  I was really motivated to create a community where we could share, learn, vent, and process.

Phase 2 did include the blog/e-zine format which was a logical step after the community began to grow.  Ironically, our research has shown that many of the visitors who consistently read the front page articles don’t engage in the forums and vice versa.  The blog articles do invoke some discussions in the comments but the majority of the discussions is happening in the forums.

Bobby Gilles: Besides the open-nature of the free forum, you’ve also accepted articles from many contributors. What do you look for in a contributor? Do you have any guidelines?

Russ Hutto (second from right) leads worship at RefugeSSI 2011 with Trent Smith (left), Kim Dixon (second from left) and Mandy Thompson (right)

Russ Hutto (second from right) leads worship at RefugeSSI 2011 with Trent Smith (left), Kim Dixon (second from left) and Mandy Thompson (right)

Russ Hutto: As the editor of TWC, I’m always on the lookout for great content from “local” on-the-ground contributors. We really have a heart to focus our content offering on articles and information that will benefit the church at large, so getting contributors and content directly from the “local church” (and not just the megachurch) is really important to us. There’s room for all kinds of content here but we love it when our volunteer contributors are “in the trenches.”

Bobby Gilles: How widely varied is the church background of contributors, in terms of things like denomination/affiliation, size, geography, and ethnic/cultural background?

Russ Hutto: We feature a wide range of contributors in regards to those things. From our panel reviews (which bring together volunteer reviewers to share their insights on music and resources), to our front page contributors (who write and share their content as articles), to our forum moderators – we really do have a wide range of folks coming from different backgrounds. What’s amazing is that in the years that I’ve been a part of TWC there has never been any quarreling or strife, no major divisive issues, and no real weird awkwardness when it comes to denominational differences. We strive to be authentic and present what’s best for the Church at large…not just denominationally and/or sub-culturally.

Bobby Gilles: Do you ever have to “referee” any conversations and debates in the forums? Do you ever try to encourage more conversation in threads and categories that aren’t as populated as others?

Russ Hutto: We’ve only had 1-2 instances in the existence of TWC where one rogue individual comes in and stirs the pot. The regular members of TWC are very protective of our community and gently address the “outsider” in a very loving manner. Of course, in any forums there is the potential to get off topic and so we have a good team of volunteer moderators who keep things on track.

We let nature kind of take it’s course on the forums as far as popular and non-popular threads and forums go. I like to let it be kind of an organic ebb and flow. Some months you’ll see a thread get hundreds of replies and then other times you’ll see a similar topic that nobody seems interested in discussing. It’s really community driven.

Bobby Gilles: Another popular aspect of The Worship Community is the Sunday Setlists feature, a link-a-thon of church set lists from across the U.S. and world. Fred, you began hosting this on your own blog but migrated it to TheWorshipCommunity.com. What was the intent of this?

Fred McKinnon: I thought the Sunday Setlists would be a great way to collaborate and share creative ideas with other worship leaders.   The concept came from the Worship Confessional videos that were popular for a while.   My idea of the Sunday Setlists was to be more than just a recap of songs, but a true recap of the creative elements used and what did (or didn’t) seem to work.   I’d also really hoped to get participation from congregants to get their views and perspectives as worshipers but that really never took off.   I moved the event to TheWorshipCommunity.Com simply because I felt it would have much more exposure and participation there.

Bobby Gilles: How much time does it take you to run this site?

Fred McKinnon: I’m blessed to have Russ, an incredible Managing Editor, to handle the content.  We also are blessed to have a number of volunteers who help moderate the forums.  As a result, I’ve not had to spend a lot of time on the site but Russ does spend quite a bit of time with the articles and contributors.

Russ Hutto: Each week I spend about 5-10 hours gathering content, scheduling reviews, checking in on the forums, writing articles, etc.

Bobby Gilles: Has the vision or mission of TWC changed over the years?

Fred McKinnon: No, it’s been steady and consistent.  The mission is still there, to provide a community of leaders who are serving every week in the trenches, where they can get ideas, encouragement, resources, and support.

Russ Hutto: For me being the one behind the scenes who runs TWC, I think that the general mission and vision has remained the same, and that’s really to provide a comfortable space where people can discuss all things worship. It’s really as simple as that. To make that happen our community is driven by three main things and that’s really where we live:

  • Forums – as an older model of “social networking” the forums still remain our most popular feature. This is where the majority of our discussion happens.
  • Front page articles – this is our “blog” so to speak. We feature (with exclusive content and republished content) our members’ articles and experiences. This also includes encouraging stories and our popular Sunday Setlists feature.
  • Reviews – we are NOT a review site, but we do like to feature relevant worship projects. In fact, our priority is to give a voice to the less well-known worship projects. Again, our heart at TWC really beats for the guy with a guitar down the street wondering how to get from point A to point B as a worship leader in a smaller church.

Our forums, articles, and reviews give voice to those who faithfully serve week to week in their local churches. This is why one week you’ll see an article by a worship leader from a large well-known megachurch and the next week you’ll see one from the guy struggling to put a band together at a little-known country church. They all have something to add to the discussion and we love to feature the different perspectives.



is the Associate Director of Worship & Media at St. Simons Community Church, where he mentors, oversees and helps lead Family and Student worship environments. He is also the content curator and editor here at The Worship Community and at HighestPraise.com.

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