By Greg Johnson
There have been many Sundays I have been in the middle of leading a worship set and looked out into a sea of blank stares. If you’re like me, there is a mixture of frustration, insecurity and panic that can easily overtake me. Here is the running dialogue that goes through my mind:
“What’s wrong with them?”
“What’s wrong with me?”
“Seriously…what’s wrong with them?”
“They obviously can’t hear what I’m hearing in my ear mix, or they would be feeling this face-melting worship!”
“I don’t understand… ‘God’s Great Dance Floor’ killed on that YouTube video of Passion 2013! 60,000 in the Georgia Dome can’t be wrong!”
“Jesus, I know no man knows the hour you’re returning, but…”
Let’s be honest – we all envision the throngs joining in the chorus full-throated in our weekend services, with hands raised, going for it with all their might. And why not? That’s what all of the live worship videos out there show us is supposed to happen. So, it begs the questions, “Why there and not here?” and “What are they doing that I’m not?” It’s easy to beat up worship leaders for being prima donnas (sometimes with good reason). However, I have not encountered many worship leaders that don’t have a heart for Jesus. In fact, most guys I know in the worship world want to serve well and come from a good place. In the same breath, I see many worship leaders discouraged because their congregation doesn’t “get them,” or seem disengaged on Sunday mornings. So, there seems to be a disconnect between the good-hearted worship leader and the congregation he is trying to lead. If our role as worship leader is to help the people we are leading connect and engage with God, then we need to get them singing!
Here are 3 key things that inspire engagement:
- SONG SELECTION: selecting good corporate songs is important. Think about it – It’s easy to get familiar with songs on top 40 radio, because they play the same songs every couple of hours. This is not the case in the church, because people are meeting once a week, and you have 30-40 minutes with them. And the average church-goer is not listening to the latest worship music like you are, so while they may hear a top 40 song 52 times in a week, they may only hear the song you’ve selected 15-20 times in a year. This is what makes your song selection is so important. Look at it this way – if you average 5 songs a Sunday, you have 260 slots in the year. That may seem like a lot, but when you factor in repetition (see below), that number feels considerably smaller. There are no “throw away” songs on Sunday mornings. Every song is a “silver bullet.” This is where personal preference has to be taken into account. A good question to ask is, “Will the largest cross-section of the congregation connect with this song?” Remember, it’s not about you, but the people you are leading. For some of you, this topic is a big issue for a couple of reasons. Maybe it’s because you get bored with a song really quickly. Remember, you may listen to a song ad nauseam to learn it, so by the time you actually lead it, you’re already bored with it (see our blog entitled “Worship Fatigue”). Don’t punish the congregation because you’re weary of a song. Second, sometimes as worship leaders we get caught up in valuing artistry over ministry. Songs that are wordy, have rangy melodies, odd chord changes or strange time signatures may speak to artistic expression, but fall flat on the congregation because they’re too hard to follow. Keep in mind the average person in your church has a low music IQ.
- REPETITION: Not only is the song selection important, but the repetition in which those songs are sung. Back to top 40 radio. The reason songs are in the top 40 is because they are played ALOT. And the reason they are played a lot is because people love them. Think about it – when your favorite song comes on, you turn it up and sing along. Why? Because you know the song! Familiarity breeds engagement. Songs need to be in a rotation that allows your people to get familiar. This means less new songs and more repetition. Remember, you have limited slots, so use them wisely. Here is a good practice – once you have selected a song, use it 3 times the first month, then about once a month after. That’s 14 times that song will be played in a year, which may seem like a lot to you, but not to the average church-goer. On the contrary, it allows them to close their eyes, raise their hands and connect with God, which is the goal.
- SET SELECTION: Now that you are being selective about the songs you choose and the frequency by which you use them, the set selection process gets a little easier. Remember, worship music didn’t start yesterday. It has a rich history. One of the tragedies in the church today is the worship leader who is so set on being “cutting edge” that he neglects anything not recorded in the last 18 months. So, in selecting your set, prayerfully consider ALL that’s available to you. Hymns, worship songs that you wore out 5 years ago…remember, just because you were tired of it doesn’t mean you your congregation doesn’t miss it. When planning, you might ask the question, “Is there a song the church has connected with in the past?” While “Shout To The Lord” might not be hip today, it may be the very thing your set needs on a particular week. Don’t be afraid to go “old school” every once in a while. In those moments, engagement will go up as people connect with a song God has and still wants to use. I’m pretty sure He NEVER gets tired of songs. Again, keep in mind that the goal of every set should be full-on engagement, so envision the set from start to finish. Imagine every transition, key relationship, how the lyrics interact with each other, tempo, time signature – take a pre-trip excursion before taking your congregation on the journey. And two more quick tips on set selection: First, open with something familiar. Communication 101 says grab your listener in the first 30 seconds. If you don’t engage the congregation in the beginning, you will be fighting an uphill battle all morning. Second, don’t do more than one new song in your set. Surround a new song with familiar songs. Otherwise, you are creating “exit” points in the service in terms of engagement, and once they’ve checked out, it’s hard to get them back.
If your people are staring at you, take heart! Begin implementing these 3 things and see if it activates your congregation to sing. Beyond that, ask God to give you wisdom in your quest to get your people engaged.
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