5 Myths That Frustrate Small Church Worship Leaders

(This article was originally published in Worship Leader’s July/August 2015 issue. To get more articles like this one, subscribe today.)

“Small churches are small because they’re doing something wrong.” That’s what a pastor told one of my Bible college classmates during his ministry internship. As my classmate repeated this to the other students, I secretly thought, “That sounds about right.”

Two years later I was serving in a church of 60 people and discovering that big and small don’t necessarily translate to right and wrong.

Over the next few years, I would move from that church to other vocational ministry positions in churches of 90, 120, and eventually on to larger congregations.

Looking back at my time spent in small churches, I recognize several lies that I believed about corporate worship. And as I coach with smaller church worship leaders, I see many of them being frustrated by these same myths.

Myth #1: We need a band if we’re going to have “good worship.”
Sure, a band would be nice. But one or two musicians creating solid musical accompaniment will do more for your worship than a cobbled-together band.

And what if you don’t have any instrumentalists? You still have voices. God likes a cappella as much as any style.

Myth #2: We need to use contemporary worship music.
Instead of thinking contemporary music, think contextual music. That is, what works in your context? Think both about the people that are there and the ones you are trying to reach. Those might be two different groups. But there might be a common ground.

If you live in a region where bluegrass music is popular, why not infuse some of that into your worship. You may personally enjoy the sound of Hillsong Young & Free, but is that going to resonate with your congregation and community?

Myth #3: We need music.
Music is a powerful tool for worship. But it’s not the only container in which we bring our worship before the throne of our King. If you don’t have the resources to provide musical worship each week, explore other ways to worship a few Sundays a month.

And even if we do have the means to provide musical worship every Sunday, I believe all worship leaders need to become students of non-musical forms worship. We limit our worship gatherings when we depend solely on music as the vehicle for exalting God.

Myth #4: We need to follow the rules.
Malcolm Gladwell makes a great observation in his book David and Goliath. We perceive David as the underdog because of his size, age, and inexperience in battle. But David changed the rules: he went into a hand-to-hand infantry fight with an artillery weapon. In other words, he took a gun to a knife fight.

Looking back at my time in smaller churches, I cringe at how I blindly followed “the rules”:

  • The band is on stage.
  • The congregation sits in rows.
  • I lead; they follow.

Small churches have the opportunity to worship in ways that big churches can only dream of. What if I had gotten rid of the stage and rows and approached it more like a medium-sized house church gathering? And what if I had invited participation in the spirit of 1 Corinthians 14:26, instead of dictating the content of our worship?

Too often, average-sized churches try to have the feel of a big church’s worship gathering. But the dynamics of a few thousand worshipers is inherently different than the dynamics of a few dozen worshipers. It’s not better—it’s just different. So smaller churches need to embrace that difference and quit trying to be scaled-down versions of Hillsong, Elevation, or North Point.

Myth #5: We need to grow bigger to be better.
Just like David possessed all he needed to defeat Goliath, I believe God gives our churches everything we need right now to accomplish what he is calling us to do right now.

Rather than wasting time wishing for more, we should be investing and growing what we already possess. In the parable of the talents (Mt 25), when did the Master give his servants more? After they took risks and worked hard—after they invested.

So spend time developing your current team members. And intentionally mentor potential musicians and techs, no matter how young or inexperienced. One day that investment will pay big dividends.

As worship leaders, it’s easy to fall for these myths. But if we choose to lead intentionally, we’ll overcome these limiting beliefs and build teams that lead and engage our congregations in life-changing worship.

To give you some practical help tackling these myths, here’s a five-part video training series called “5 Barriers That Block Great Worship.” You can get this resource for free at worshipteamcoach.com/5.

Jon Nicol loves helping worship leaders build strong teams that lead exceptional worship. He’s a fulltime worship pastor and the founder of WorshipTeamCoach.com. Jon lives in Mansfield, Ohio with his wife, Shannon, and their four kids.

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