A few weeks ago I stirred the evangelical worship pot with my post “Are We Headed For A Crash? Reflections On The Current State of Evangelical Worship”. One of the lines that got me the most flack was this one (when explaining my experience at a worship service/concert):
“…Even I didn’t know most of the songs that we were supposed to be singing along to at the conference. I tuned out. I sat down. I Tweeted. I texted my wife. I gave up.”
Some people very sweetly encouraged me to try a bit harder next time, while others offered to pray for the state of my soul.
I wanted to say two things about this whole “tuning out” thing:
First, it’s good for worship leaders to sit back from time to time and analyze a worship service. Analyzing isn’t a bad thing when it’s not the only thing. If all you’re doing is analyzing, then you’re missing the forest for the trees. But if you never do any analyzing, you’re missing the trees that need pruning.
I’m grateful for the opportunity I had at the worship conference to enjoy some sweet times of congregational worship, and to enjoy some enlightening times of observing. I was in a section where I could sit and not be a distraction or discouragement to anyone, and I learned a lot. Worship leaders have to be able to analyze and observe. It will make them and the services they lead more effective.
Second, it’s hard for people to stay engaged when the songs are all unfamiliar (and this should not be a controversial statement). This is true on Sunday mornings, and it’s true at your favorite performer’s concert. New songs are great, but familiar songs are an anchor.
When we don’t sing any familiar songs, we take away any sense of there being an “anchor” for the congregation, causing them to get defensive and pull back. Will there always be those who aren’t engaged no matter what you do? Yes. And will there always be those who say things were great no matter what you do? Yes.
But most people, including worship leader bloggers, will eventually succumb to fatigue in a service where there are no familiar songs. We should be aware of this when we lead worship, and not wear our people out.
I eventually succumbed to that fatigue, and “gave up” singing along, and decided to check in with my wife (putting three girls to bed), check in on the outside world, and observe. I would have preferred to sing along.
Your congregation probably prefers to sing along too. But when they can’t sing along, they usually won’t sing along, and that was my experience several weeks ago, as a normal person in the pews. Or, nicely padded theater seats.
So worship leaders: when you’re leading, try not to give people excuses to tune out. And when you’re in the congregation, try to be as engaged as you can be. But from time to time, it might be a good idea to sit down, observe, and analyze. (But be careful blogging about it unless you’re prepared to explain yourself!)