For the last two days, I’ve been at Trinity School for Ministry in Ambridge, PA, taking part in teaching at a worship conference hosted by Andy Piercy on the theme of “Restoring the Worship Connection”. I was one of the speakers, along with Andy, Paul Baloche, and Andi Rozier. It was great meeting and talking with so many gifted and faithful worship leaders.
In my session, I was asked to share on maintaining the congregation’s connection in worship. In other words, how do we help them not tune out? How do we remove road blocks to the congregation singing and participating? In an attempt to be succinct, and to cover some basic fundamentals of worship leading, I offered these 15 (!) essentials, and I share them here as well in the event that they’re helpful.
An invitational spirit
Psalm 34:3 is the heart of the worship leader, saying: “Oh, magnify the Lord with me, and let us exalt his name together!” We are like hosts at a feast.
A confident, humble, accessible style
Confidence to lead with clarity, humility to serve with pastoral care, and accessibility, so as many people as possible can follow and join in with you.
Songs worth singing
We have more songs at our disposal than ever, so we don’t have any reason to sing bad songs. Use songs that are musically, lyrically, and theologically rich. They’re out there!
A balanced repertoire
I wrote about the concept of “thinking in thirds” previously. Generally, the idea is that to keep as broad a cross-section of generations in your congregation engaged as possible, sing hymns, sing older/familiar songs, and sing new songs. Think in thirds.
Keys are key
The old adage of singing “from C to shining C” still holds true. Songs can dip lower, but don’t hang out in the doldrums. Songs can pop higher, but don’t hang out in the stratosphere. Keep your songs in singable keys for the average voice.
Building trust – and capital
Build trust with your congregation, and therefore build capital to save for later.
Spending that capital to push your congregation
Every congregation in the world has areas in which they can grow in worship. A worship leader who has built trust with his/her congregation can and should spend that capital to help the congregation grow. They’ll follow you if they trust you.
Worship leaders oftentimes lament the lack of expressiveness in the congregation. Start by modeling it from the platform, and you’ll send the message that it’s safe to be expressive in the congregation.
Using music – effectively and correctly – as a tool
Do whatever kind of style you can do, with the musicians you have, as well as you can. Don’t try to do what you can’t do. Don’t try to be who you aren’t. Don’t try to achieve a sound that isn’t achievable. Do what you can, as well as you can, and your congregation will appreciate it.
Having the right people – and equipment – run sound
Good sound encourages robust singing. It’s worth getting the right equipment and people to run sound in your setting. If you’re in a small church without a budget for this, call a larger church in your area with good sound, and simply ask for their help, and offer them a free lunch in return for a few hours of their time to help train your people and/or EQ your system.
Behind the scenes camaraderie with the pastor and worship leader
Tension or indifference between the pastor and worship leader will result in tension or indifference in the room. When a worship leader is seen as usurping or circumventing a pastor’s authority, that lack of unity is unhealthy for a congregation, and stifles their participation in worship. A pastor and worship leader must have a trusting and transparent relationship.
The worship space itself – acoustics, lighting, etc.
Dead acoustics in a room will deaden the singing, because people feel like they’re singing into a vacuum. Conversely, really bouncy acoustics will make everything unintelligible. Acoustics matter. So does lighting.
Driving the technology – so it doesn’t drive you
There’s nothing wrong with loops, multi-tracks, pads, etc. But when/if you integrate these things, make sure you’re driving them, and not the other way around. When technology drives us, and limits us, we run the risk of making the congregation’s involvement in worship incidental, not integral.
Faithfulness, faithfulness, faithfulness
Serve your congregation with faithfulness. Trust in God’s faithfulness. Over time, God will faithfully use your faithfulness, to accomplish his purposes, and glorify himself in and through the worship of his Church. You might not see the results you want to see, in the time you want to see them, but God is faithful, and your labor in him is not in vain.
The worship leader’s heart and diet
The public ministry of a worship leader starts – and is sustained – in private. Our private passion for God and his Word, will fuel our public ministry of inviting our congregations to feast upon him, and magnify his name with us.