January 31, 2018
Fellow worship leaders and pastors often call on one another for outside perspective, and one of the things we’re asked to do routinely by colleagues is drop in as a “secret shopper” at their church, to make observations and tell them what I see and hear about the corporate gathering, which they might not.
Often the reason we ask others to do such an evaluation is due to a lack of response in the context of the musical portion of their worship service. “Why aren’t people engaging?” is the standard question they’re trying to answer, and more often than not, there are some very common threads linking the lack of noticeable engagement.
1) The leadership is not engaged.
This one goes beyond the musical worship leader’s ability to address directly, but it is still our responsibility to respectfully broach the subject with our fellow pastors, leaders and partners in ministry. However the church leadership approaches worship, that’s they way the rest of the church will follow. If your leadership is fully engaged and able to be focused, physically expressive, leading by example, there’s a good chance others will feel free to do so as well. If your leadership is off talking to someone in the foyer instead of in the sanctuary, or is in the back of the room poring over sermon notes instead of worshiping God, or worse – isn’t even in the room when corporate worship is going on, then it doesn’t matter what you do on stage, because the people are being told by example of their leaders that worship doesn’t matter. It’s a rookie mistake that many folks in leadership make (pastors, elders, deacons, small group leaders), thinking that no one is watching them on Sunday morning, but the reality is that they are paying attention. If you’re in leadership and you’re not engaged in worship and you’re wondering why the people of your church aren’t engaged, stop setting up your worship ministry team for failure and setting up your whole church with bad doxology. Make the better choice to get in there and get into the presence of the Lord. You can start this Sunday.
2) You’re singing songs nobody knows.
As a person who writes for several worship publications, listens constantly to worship music, and makes it a discipline to constantly seek out new songs for corporate worship, I consider myself a person fairly well versed in songs beyond just the CCLI Top 20. So when I visit a church and have never heard 7 out of their 8 songs before, it’s probably safe to say that most of the other people there have never heard them either. People don’t sing along with songs they don’t know. It’s that simple.
Your job as worship leader is not to sing only the songs that personally resound with your heart, but to lead the songs that will resound with others, helping them do spiritual business with God. Stop making excuses as to why each set list is comprised of your personal favorites and start using songs that serve the majority of people in your church. You can start this Sunday.
3) You’re not repeating songs often enough for people to get to know them.
You need to sing new songs. It’s Biblical. And there’s a way to do it to make sure the new songs become part of the church’s sung vocabulary, that they become familiar and people are then able to sing them with confidence and enthusiasm and passion. It’s called repetition. It’s called repetition. It’s called repetition. It’s called... wait for it... I bet you were able to predict what I was going to say there. Yes, you learned and were able to respond with confidence, because repetition teaches, breeds familiarity and produces confidence. It’s how God wired us to learn. Yes, as an artist you’re going to have to suffer through playing that song a bunch of weekends in a row, even though you’ve already played it ad nauseum in practice and rehearsal and you’re tired of it, because it takes awhile for the average person to learn the song and really start to get it. About the time that we musicians are sick of it is when the church is growing in embracing it. The fix is to adjust your own attitude. Get over it and serve. Repeatedly. Repeatedly. Repeatedly. You can start this Sunday.
4) You’re treating worship as your own personal promotion platform rather than as the opportunity to serve others.
I recently attended what was advertised to be a night of worship, but turned out to be instead a showcase for a new band that was trying to get more followers. They only played one song that was not one of their originals. Guess what? That one song (Great Are You Lord) was the one song that had everybody standing to their feet and singing their hearts out to God. The rest of the show (yes, I’ll call it what it was, because it certainly wasn’t a night of worship) had people sitting down, feeling left out and kind of bored. We desired to be led in worship and you let us down, worship team, because you were focused on making us watch you, instead of ushering us in to the presence of God through song.
Taking advantage of a worship service to be an opportunity to show and tell lots of songs that nobody has ever heard before instead of actually leading others intentionally for the goal and purpose of helping them worship – that is a rookie mistake of epic proportions.
Don’t: use a night of worship or a worship service as an opportunity to market your band, grow your brand, and spotlight your own songs.
Do: play songs that the majority of people will know if your goal is to lead them in worship. Serve others by helping them worship God with songs they can sing with confidence and familiarity, teaching new songs when appropriate, repeating them often. You can start this Sunday.
Brendan Prout is a husband, dad, pastor and worship leader. He loves training and equipping others to do the work of ministry they are called to, all things geeky, good food, cars, coffee, and not driving off cliffs anymore.