Mosaic church is the Los Angeles-based church founded by Erwin McManus. Erwin’s daughter Mariah is now following in her father’s footsteps as worship pastor.
[WM] The worship ministry there is called Mosaic MSC. Is the MSC an abbreviation of the Mosaic name?
[Mariah McManus] Yeah and also for “Music”
[WM] You’ve been leading Mosaic Worship for a while. What was it like at the beginning?
[Mariah] I’ve been volunteering for eleven years and I’ve been on staff for five years. At the beginning, we met every Sunday at a nightclub called “The Mayan” in downtown Los Angeles. It’s the #1 salsa nightclub in the country. So, when I started singing at Mosaic, I was 15-years-old in a nightclub! It’s really a fun story, but kinda crazy at the same time!
For our church, we’ve never owned a building, at least we haven’t in 15 years. So we went from nightclub to nightclub and that’s what I grew up doing. We’re now in Hollywood. It’s definitely been a journey, but that’s where I started…a teenager singing in a nightclub.
[WM] Do you play an instrument?
[Mariah] Yeah, so my dad (Erwin McManus), he bought my brother and I every instrument one Christmas just to see if we could learn, and he made it a little competition because my brother and I are really competitive. So I grew up playing the drums and the piano and guitar.
[WM] What instrument would be the one that stuck with you the most?
[Mariah] Probably guitar.
[WM] Do you lead worship with the guitar?
[Mariah] Every once in a while, I do. At the beginning, I was pretty “green.” A lot of how I learned was just kind of having to do it on stage and having to scramble at the last minute. I don’t lead with the guitar as much as I used to anymore.
[WM] Do you use guitar or piano in your songwriting – one over the other?
[Mariah] Um, probably the piano more in songwriting.
[WM] You mentioned that you started volunteering in worship eleven years ago and went on staff five years ago (2013). How had the church changed by 2013?
[Mariah] Well, when we were at The Mayan, we didn’t focus as much on worship because our church, even still to this day… one thing that hasn’t changed is the majority of our people don’t know Jesus. So, what we did was we put this focus on arts in general. There was music, but there was not as much as you would hear today at our church. There were a lot of other elements of worship that we used. It really worked for what we were doing in the environment of being in a nightclub and being “not ordinary” and kind of changing the game a little bit. Over the last few years, we have focused on kind of just stripping that back and what it looks like having a strong worship community and write music. Five years ago, when I stepped into worship, there was like 7-8 people on the team and they played every week. I was a volunteer for most of my time at Mosaic and so I just kind of went with the flow and tried to do whatever I could. But when the worship pastor stepped down and I stepped in, it was a big shift in culture and I wanted to really bring us into a real community of worship and make our church value worship and singing as a whole more than we did before. My dad has a huge heart for that, and that obviously comes from his vision and him wanting that… for us to write our own music – he’s always wanted that.
When he started Mosaic, he was the worship pastor and the preacher. So, he would just put the guitar down and be all sweaty and start to preach! This has always been something that’s been on his heart. So, it was really cool to be able to know that and step into that – kind of take his vision and try to implement it. So, we had under ten people on the team and now we have like 60-70 people on the team. It’s created just like a really cool wave of worship. In Los Angeles, we obviously have a lot of really young people, and a lot of these people are not just young in age… they are also young in their faith. They came to Jesus at Mosaic. So, it’s been really cool to be able to teach them and show them and create a culture in the church of worship and what that means right off the bat. A lot of times, that creates just a really cool energy of people that are just so passionate and on fire because they’ve just found this relationship with Jesus. So, it’s a totally different dynamic than with a “normal” worship team, but it’s really special for us and we’ve seen some amazing growth. In the last three years we’ve started writing songs, and it’s all been just because of the narrative and the life that we all have at Mosaic.
We had not been writing songs before…until about three years ago. Now we have tons of songs and tons of writers. It’s just been really cool over the last few years to see how God has blessed that.
[WM] You talk about a shift in your worship ministry that happened three years ago. Did this happen quickly or was it a slow process?
[Mariah] Yeah, so I went to one of the guys on our worship team who is a producer. I went to his studio just to work on something else, to write a different song… and he was like, “I have this idea for a worship song.”
I had never done that before and I was like, “We should totally try to write this song!” So, we wrote a worship song that day and we were like… “We should do this again tomorrow.” And, we did it again the next day… and we were like, “We should do this again tomorrow…” and it just kept rolling and rolling. We pulled people in and so there was like a group of three or four of us kind of right off the bat that are just really passionate. It had never worked before…we had all tried writing worship songs before, but it was in alignment with all that was happening at Mosaic. I just felt like God was bursting the doors open. So many things were coming out of Mosaic at the time, so it was just natural for us to create something in our lane as well. It just kind of happened supernaturally. We wrote probably 20 songs in just a few weeks. We wanted to record them for our church. We wanted our church to have them and we wanted to move toward only singing Mosaic songs, because we just love the language that Mosaic has. It kind of just snowballed from there.
Now, we’ve opened that (writing process) up to the people on our team when they feel like they want to step into that. We try to develop them as writers. We have so many Sundays, and we want to have so many songs that we don’t get tired of the songs that we sing! But all that to say… we started with two people.
[WM] Describe the writing process for Mosaic. Do you come together with a theme, a verse, or something that your father has been preaching?
[Mariah] I think for the first album, it was mainly just the things that were happening at Mosaic. We really encourage everyone on our team to serve on another team before they come on the worship team. A lot of that motivation is that they would know the people at our church and not feel isolated. If they are really involved and have relationships with people outside of our team and know what’s going on with the church… for us, (writing) was just like a natural progression just knowing what was happening in our church, knowing the people, having relationships. The other side of it was being really aware and taking notes and being really conscious of what my dad was preaching about on Sunday. It was just kind of like all that in one.
Then it progressed to the next record. My dad would come give us a vision as the church and we would try to write music that was matching that and kind of moving that forward. Then, we wrote an EP that came out this past year. That was really specific to a verse and to a theme because it was based on our conference. That was really cool, and I find that to be the best and most productive way because it feels so aligned with everything that is happening.
So, our next record that we’re going to work on here pretty soon is sort of surrounding a theme that he’s given us…verses he has given us. We want to be as clear and connected as possible and move as a unit as a church and as a band.
[WM] How has the writing process changed for you and the team?
[Mariah] Well, I think at the beginning we knew that we have a very specific language, because so many people that come don’t know Jesus. They are on that journey of finding Him. For us, it felt very important that we be able to speak directly to those people, and that we were able to play music that was cool and clear and that did not have a bunch of language that they would not understand if they did not know every verse in the Bible. As we began to write, and after our first record, there were people who approached us that were like, “We want to play these songs and we want these songs in our church…this is a language that we need to adopt.”
That kind of opened our eyes a little bit to maybe releasing these wider and trying to work with people on creating a team. There were labels and people who were really interested in helping us do that. It’s just been a pretty natural thing. I don’t know that at the beginning we thought, “Let’s do this so that we can tour around and play all these opportunities,” but it’s been like a dream we didn’t know we had…to be able to give language to a new wave of the church. It’s been really natural, but we couldn’t have done it if there were not people coming along side us, encouraging us to share the music. That’s really how it became more than just Mosaic.
It’s been a really cool thing to watch my father with his books, and as he would go around the country to conferences and preach. I loved to see how he had impacted people from around the world. I want to be an extension of that legacy that he has had within Mosaic, and I want our worship team to be able to do the same thing. I remember hearing so many people say to him, “I heard you preach at this event and it changed my life…” So, I want that to be Mosaic’s story through-and-through in every capacity. I think it is so special because of the way that he has led us and also for the foundation that he has laid, but he has really encouraged us also to do this. He’s felt like it’s really important for the world to listen to this and for us to continue to write songs for people who don’t know Jesus.
[WM] Reading from your bio, you said, “Writing for our church has changed its culture from not being a community that really connects with worship to a tribe of people who live for it and thrive on it.” Will you expand on that for us?
[Mariah] I think even right now, we are seeing a transition to even being a new tribe of worshippers. I think there’s been lots of moments in our journey in the last five years that have pushed us father into pressing into that. I do think that it’s an extension of the kind of state that Mosaic is continuing to step out into. It seems like we are moving forward, and so people are pressing in.
For me, it was an interesting transition to be able to understand what it means to be a worshipper. So, it was my personal journey as well… to be able to understand what this means in my life. I need to be able to first understand it so that I can call people to it. I understood worship to be more than just one thing, obviously, and that’s what Mosaic was. I felt like we didn’t press in enough…like taking the time to be grateful to Jesus and to pray to Jesus.
The writing has connected us in a new way. It just feels like an amazing moment for us. It’s prepared us to grow and learn together. It’s really hard to explain… Our language at Mosaic is that we are a tribe, and I feel like worship is one of those things that has connected us in a way that we didn’t know we could be connected. We now have this universal language that puts our faith into music and song. It’s been really unifying as a church.
[WM] You mentioned earlier that you had set a goal of using only Mosaic songs in worship. Have you reached that goal, or are you still using other music/songs?
[Mariah] Yeah, we’re mostly there. So, now we just include songs that we feel are really speaking to us. Which, I feel is really cool for us because we don’t have to use other people’s songs, but we get to. So, there are songs that we hear like, “Peace Be Still” from The Belonging Co., that we are really moved by and have they impacted us in our personal lives. We’ll bring those songs to each other and say like, “Hey, I think this song would really be powerful.” We love to be able to use those songs. People write amazing songs!
[WM] You mentioned that you have a lot of people at your church who do not know Jesus. How are you seeing them respond during worship?
[Mariah] For the band, and for myself, it’s really been about finding the sound that makes people a little more open. I find a lot of times it’s more of a sound than like a lyric because…especially in L.A. – such a big city with so many young people, so many artists, entertainers, and pace-makers, and all these things – it’s so important that the sounds that they hear, sounds that they know that are cutting-edge and “edgy” and all of these things – they are like open to the arts. When they appreciate the art, they start to listen to the words a little more. For a lot of us, we’ve done music outside of Mosaic for many years, so our passion is just like listening to music and finding music and kind of being on the fringe of everything that’s happening when we listen to it and when we make it. For us, that’s been a huge part of it…kind of always pushing the limits of what we can do to keep that door open for people that aren’t just within the church community that are saying, “Those are great songs; they’re edgy and different…” That kind of opens them up for the next level, which is listening to the words and engaging and asking questions. It really starts with that sound in the songwriting and producing process.
[WM] You talked about writing your songs with other churches and church communities in mind. Songs like “Never Stop” and “Tremble” have really been received well. What are some other songs that you are hearing about other churches using in worship?
[Mariah] Yeah, there’s a lot! Songs like “Back To You” and one called “Glory and Wonder” … we have a few churches that just kind of play every song. We ask them to send us videos – we just love when they play them. It’s just totally special that they do that on their own and we love it.
[WM] Are you seeing those churches follow your arrangements, or are they rearranging them for their churches?
[Mariah] What we’ve seen is they usually use the same thing. Many of them will use the tracks from the songs, which is really cool. But, one thing that I love is when a church kind of makes one of their own arrangements of the songs. You know, I love when it’s different, when someone will make it work for their church.
[Mariah] So, our main team is like five or six of people, and three of us will mainly produce everything. We have one guy who is truly amazing and a total genius. He’ll kind of create the tracks – he’s amazing with computers and sounds and he’s an amazing piano player. So, he’ll kind of arrange it, and then we have a couple of music directors who have their hand in it. Some are more technological than others and have more computer skills and producing skills, and those people will do more of the hands-on work with the tracks.
[WM] For your average service time, what does the team look like?
[Mariah] At church on Sunday, we have a drummer with an SPD-SX drum pad, a bass player, and an electric bass (like a synth bass)… then two keys players – we’ll have like a main keys player and then a piano; we’ll have an electric guitar and then six vocalists and sometimes one of those will play acoustic guitar.
[WM] How many do you have in church attendance for these services?
[Mariah] Right now, we have nine services and each service holds about 700 people. So, it will range from 500-700 people attending each service. So, in our Hollywood location, we end up having like 3500 people.
[WM] Wow! So for you… at your location, how many services do you lead? And are they all the same?
[Mariah] Five! And yeah, we’re experimenting right now… we just recently went back to five services there and the last service we will add two songs and have an extended worship time. It’s our time to train people and have new worship leaders step in to kind of guide them and help mentor them through that. It’s just kind of a different vibe.
[WM] What’s the timeline on your new project?
[Mariah] We hopefully will have it before the end of the year. Right now, we’re in the early stages. We’re trying to write 40 songs in a couple of weeks. Right now, we probably have 10-11 songs, and we want 40 more to prepare for the new record.
[WM] How long do you test out a song before you select it for the record?
[Mariah] Um, sometimes it will be right away. It’s been like that in a few cases. I remember “Back to You” was one of those, and “Tremble” was another. But, it’s usually a few weeks.
[WM] How are you running your tracks for service?
[Mariah] We use Ableton Live to run the tracks, and we’ve been using the Looptimus pedal from Loop Community.
[WM] Tell me about your other gear… your in-ears?
[Mariah] I’m using 64 Audio and most of the team has both 64 Audio and Alclair for in-ear monitors.
[WM] I know that we have readers of Worship Musician Magazine who are praying about writing songs for their church. Could you just pray over our readers in the area of writing for the church?
[Mariah] Sure! Father, we just thank you that we can express our gratitude and our love for You through the gift of music and songwriting and worship. And, I’m just really grateful for the ability to express You this way…to express my love for You this way. And, I thank You for the words that you have given us as a tribe, and I pray that You would continue to pour out beauty onto every church and every worship leader and every songwriter that is searching for words like grasping into thin air to have them.
I pray that you will continue to give people new ideas that explain the depth of Your love. I just hope for anyone that is struggling right now that You would give them new images and a new voice. I pray that You continue to move so actively, that people who are trying to express and sing to You…that You continue to let them move forward, to take the next step, let them write the next bad song so that they can write the next great song.
I’m so grateful that You’ve given people a gift to be able to write songs. I thank You so much for the people who have written the greatest songs ever and that we just continue to follow in their footsteps and continue to write them. I’m so grateful for all the people who are reading this magazine. I pray that You continue to bless them. Bless their search for greatness in worship and to continue to pursue what it means to worship You fully.