This is part two of the article “The Worship Swing-vote Principle.” Go here to read part one.

Leaving Them Hungry
The 3 groups (60/20/20) also have different attention spans. The Bottom 20 have none. The Top 20 can worship seemingly forever! This is the dynamic you see in YouTube videos of worship at large conferences. Almost all in attendance are paying Top 20 customers, ready to engage and stay engaged. Someone sends us a video link, we watch it, are mesmerized and inspired and through tears say, “We’ve got to do that in our church!” You practice it the way they do it on the video. It’s just awesome. Then, at church… it tanks.

The reasons for this are many. This is church, not a conference. Doh! It is composed of 60/20/20 folks… not all Top 20. There may not be 10,000 people singing. Our musicians are not pros. The video song lasted 8 minutes. Most of the Middle 60 took the exit ramp after 4! Yikes!

The Middle 60 have a finite amount of time we can engage them. I want to figure out what that time is (approximately) and stop just short of it each time. Why? I want to leave them hungry for just a bit more. If I take them beyond their worship-time-ability they will not be as hungry next time.

Let’s just say that each musical worship time is on a bell-curve with a beginning, ramp-up, apex, ramp-down, and an end. The Top 20 can stay engaged from beginning to end, and since the leaders are Top 20, they will as well… I hope! However, the majority of the Middle 60 usually will take the off-ramp at about the 30-minute mark. If most of the people exit there, I want to end just short of there… at 29 minutes or so!

If I do, they will not experience “worship fatigue” from going too long, and being on the sidelines too long while the Top 20 finish!

Please Note: The times are just for illustration purposes. It is not a magic number to end on. The point is, know when they jump off and end just before that! Leave them hungry.

If you end early, you risk the ire of the Top 20. They will always want to go longer. How I would work with this is by enlisting them to be part of your team moving more people into full-hearted, fully engaged, fully expressed worship. I would also have other more intentional worship times other than Sunday morning when your Top 20 can blow all the dust out of the pipes!

Since we are leading people, we must be attentive to what’s going on in those people. If the majority have taken the exit ramp, and we keep going, the leadership mistake is on us.

The Feedback Loop
If we want to lead effectively in anything, we need to get feedback and interpret that feedback well. When you solicit feedback, which you should, I would suggest you aim for the Middle 60. If you ask for input from a Bottom 20 person, they may comment that the artificial plants need dusting or just walk away. Really, it’s happened. If you ask the Top 20, whether it went well overall or tanked, they will most likely give you a soaring report of how well the team did and how good God is.

If you ask a Middle 60 person how things went, what seemed to help them, was it too loud or long, were the songs easier to get into, were there any distractions, did they like the new song, etc… their input will likely be helpful for future worship leading ventures. When a Middle 60 person approaches me and offers unsolicited input good or bad, it is gold! Pay attention to their input, implement what you can, and you will see a difference in your ability to engage them.

All groups are dynamic
The question arises, “Aren’t we trying to move everyone into the Top group? And, once we do, don’t the principles become irrelevant?” The answer is yes, and no. Every time a group gathers there are a set of dynamic variables… things that impact the individuals within that group experience. Is everyone on the same page with what we’re doing? Did they have a tough day, or are in a rough season? Is everything well with their spouse or kids? Is the place too hot or cold? Is the music too loud or soft? Were they late, early or on-time? Could they find a parking place? How many distractions are impacting them? There are any number of factors that impact how-you-are once you show up, which in turn affect how well you engage. Several factors are significant.

One dynamic factor is the number of newcomers present… people you don’t know. When there are a lot of new people, the regulars tend to hang back. This dynamic frequents major holidays like Christmas and Mother’s Day. The place is full, but the regulars don’t engage. Why? Because people become more conscious of themselves around people they don’t know. Interestingly, fully engaging in worship involves trust. When trust runs low, engagement normally follows it.

When we first started doing small group gatherings for our newcomers, we would start each gathering with a 3-song worship time. They were some of the most awkward times ever! Even our leaders hung back. We decided to skip it for session one, and in session two had each person share a meaningful worship story from their journey. Afterward, the worship times were rich and intimate! We learned that when people know and trust the people they are worshipping with, they will engage more fully.

Another factor that has an oddly infectious effect is if people have an unresolved relational problem with someone present. Unforgiveness puts the brakes on engagement quickly and spreads! Smaller gatherings are more susceptible to this. The worship team cannot likely change this, but it must be regularly addressed by those who teach.

In much larger gatherings some of these dynamics are overcome by sheer numbers and momentum. There is a concert effect where people relax and go along for the ride. However, this in not necessarily worship engagement and must be evaluated for what it is. A concert is about spectating. A worship service is about engaging God in worship.

My point is that every gathering has dynamic, changing factors that will impact the time. Even when everyone is on the “same page”, there are more factors that impact the gathering. So, we are moving people overall into a more mature worship commitment and expression. We are also dealing with an ever-changing set of variables each time we gather a group of people.

Isn’t Worship All About Anointing?
Over the years many have mentioned that “the anointing” was there and that a particular worship leader was “anointed”… and that’s why worship happened. If what we are saying is that the Spirit showed up, I certainly hope this is the case every time! But I have heard worship leaders say things like, “the anointing was on me, but people didn’t join in” or “I just went with the Spirit, but the people didn’t.” This line of reasoning has always troubled me. One experience years ago made these misconceptions clear to me.

We assembled 8 churches together to have a great night of worship and celebration. We enlisted the talents of an internationally famous worship leader to lead a crowd of about 800. The room was electric with anticipation. It looked promising.

The worship leader began by playing a new song of his own. He didn’t take the time to teach it to us, and after a few minutes, I realized he was making it up as he went. Eyes closed. Lost in worship. Repeatedly singing the same phrase over and over. The excited crowd were good sports. They tried to jump in but the melody was too unpredictable.

The next song was on the same track, only it lasted about 10 minutes! Still, the primarily Top 20 group gave it the college try. A few hands up here and there. Then he threw in a familiar chorus and the place erupted. Alright! Now we’re in! But, then… he went back into the spontaneous song he was making up. The person projecting the words looked at me in utter bewilderment. I could give no direction, because there was none!

In a loaded car on the way home, I asked how they thought worship went. One guy expressed frustration that he wanted to worship but never had the chance. Another piped in, “That’s not the leader’s fault. He had the anointing. People just didn’t jump aboard.”

To this I snapped. “No. It was the leader’s responsibility to lead us. Instead, he just played his music and worshipped in front of us. But, he never led us into worship. He never even gave us a chance!” This experience is part of why I started to muse on and formulate the Swing Vote principle. Somehow, “anointing” didn’t translate into leadership.

I believe anointing and leadership must work together. God will not do our part, and we cannot do His! We must have the supernatural empowering of God to do anything related to His kingdom. But we must also know how to lead people… the people He’s entrusted to us.

Is It Him or Us?
As I write this, there is a sense of uneasiness that bubbles up within me. It’s possible to take the principles I’ve outlined and use them… without God! We could carefully craft a set of songs, pay attention to people dynamics, get everything right, and it just be a man-made marketing strategy. Worse, it could create an unhealthy trust in our ability to manipulate the dynamics and the people! Still worse, by leaning on these principles we could actually be stealing glory and attention from God Himself! (e.g. “look at what we did!”). This scares me.

In our church, if a worship time goes well, we’d typically say it’s all because God blessed it. If it goes badly, it’s because we bombed. I believe we need some new verbiage (and/or categories) that help us recognize a job well done on our part, while taking no glory for ourselves… that fully recognizes that God’s discernable presence was in our midst, and His blessing was what made it all work together.

There’s a tension in all this I cannot resolve. Perhaps the tension must remain or we will default to “it’s all God” or “it’s all us.” The reality is, it is God working through us, equipping and empowering us to lead people to Him in worship (John 5:17-20; 1 Cor. 15:10). Please hold these principles with an open hand and ask God to help you notice what He wants you to work on. It is leadership-in-partnership with God.

The God Particle
All bets are off if God is not the true center and focus. Not the music (no matter how hip and cool), nor the people, nor the volume, nor the style, nor the length of the songs or time, nor how well we’ve done in leading people. This is all about bringing a sacrifice to Him. A response of love, praise, adoration, thanks, and awe. The Swing Vote principle is only about helping the church focus, not on themselves, but on the One who loves them… and moving them into a growing worshipful responsiveness to Him.

We must seek Him for His leadership both in preparation and in delivering the worship leading we prepare. As we ask, it is God’s pleasure to anoint us with His Spirit as we seek to worship with all our hearts.

Bob Branch is pastor of The Springs Community Church in Temecula, CA. He has been leading worship for more than 35 years. He and his wife, Becky, have 4 grown children and are recent empty-nesters. He likes Telecaster, Stratocaster and Avalon guitars, high-tech toys and really good coffee.

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