When Shorter is Sweeter

I was talking with a friend recently who had attended a fund-raiser dinner banquet at a local hotel for a Christian non-profit ministry. After dinner was finished, the program began with a local church’s worship team leading some songs. And when I say “some songs” I mean six or seven songs. Half an hour worth of songs. In addition, most of the songs were unfamiliar to anyone who didn’t attend this worship team’s church.

My friend described an awkward scene: a worship leader who kept going on and on, the back half of the room getting tired and sitting down, and the front half of the room unaware of this development and continuing to stand. When the worship leader finished, there was a subtle sigh of relief.

I wasn’t there, I don’t know the worship leader, and I don’t know who asked him to lead songs and how long they asked him to go. I can imagine a scenario in which someone asks a worship leader to “lead a few songs for 20 minutes or so”, not knowing that that can actually feel quite long at a fund-raising dinner and that the words “or so” are hardly ever taken to mean “less”.

And I’ve had my share of worship leading experiences when I look around the room and can tell that there are some people who are just not enjoying themselves at all. Maybe it’s because I’m going too long or doing songs they don’t know, but maybe the problem is with them. Who knows.

But even though there’s a lot I don’t know about this particular situation (i.e. any real details), it still reminds me of an important worship leading principle: sometimes shorter is sweeter.

If given the choice to go too long or too short, I’ll choose too short every time. I’d much rather leave people wanting more, as opposed to leaving them wanting me to be quiet.

Every church, every service, every fund-raising dinner, and every event is different. If and when you’re asked to lead worship for any one of those – it’s your responsibility to find out from whomever is in charge exactly what your parameters are.

But just because you’re given 30 minutes doesn’t mean you should take all of them. Maybe sometimes you should. Maybe sometimes you’ll go longer if that’s what works. But sometimes, even though you’re given 30 minutes, it’s actually better to go 15.

I’ll tend to take up all the minutes I’m allotted on a Sunday morning, or when I’m leading a service or event for a group of people who I know and who know me. But if I’m leading an unfamiliar group, or leading music at a dinner banquet, I’ll usually plan on erring on the side of brevity and familiarity. It’s hard to go wrong with either.

The average song is 3 – 4 minutes long. Add in repeats, transitions, prayers, etc., an average song during a time of corporate worship might take 5 minutes or more. When you’re planning a set of songs, plan on each song taking 5 minutes. This way you’re building in a buffer for yourself.

It’s always awkward when a guest overstays their welcome. It’s not that you don’t enjoy their presence, but it’s time for them to move on so that you can also move on. The same rule applies to worship leaders. Don’t overstay your welcome. Shorter is sweeter.

4 thoughts on “When Shorter is Sweeter

  1. Dan August 25, 2015 / 8:55 am

    You are spot on, Jamie. A primary goal of the worship team (aside from the main one, which is to give our best in presenting the music as a praise offering to the Lord) is to keep the worship set free from anything that would distract the congregation from worshipping. There is a whole list of possible distractions, but one of them is the length of the set. Leave them wanting more rather than saying “I thought that would never end.” That’s a distraction to worship.

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