Getting Your Church To Sing: Knowing the Song


Ready, set, go … predictably everyone stares at each other in confusion as I re-ask my volunteers if they are willing and ready to participate.  With hesitant conviction they reiterate that they are.  I ask, “Why aren’t you doing it then?”  Then comes the light bulb, change your approach to leadership, moment I was looking for as they always respond with “we don’t know what to do.”  (lightbulbs dinging all over the place)  In the previous edition of this series I discussed how a lack of desire in your people to participate can work against you, however, in this case, I’ve established multiple times that they are indeed ready and willing.   What held them back is what your people may need as well – direction and instruction (what I would call leadership).

In being the worship leader at your church, it’s more than likely that you are the resident leading authority on worship.  That might seem a little scary but just remember it stands to reason that everyone you are leading knows less than you about worship.  If you lead from the perspective that people know what to do, it will only set everyone up for frustration.  Here are few things to keep in mind that make all the difference.

#1 They don’t know what to do – at all
People don’t know why we are singing.  They don’t know to focus on the Lord.  They don’t know that when you sing fancier and louder it means they are supposed to participate more.  You have to tell them what to do – but with two major stipulations: nicely and quickly.  The sum of most people’s leadership skills amounts to yelling and the next best attempt yields talking too much.  Nothing will make a pastor more upset faster than these.  What you must do is give quick and simple instruction as you go.  “Come on sing this with me” or “Raise your hands to the Lord and focus on Him”.  You need to consistently interpret what the song means and what they are supposed to be doing or you will leave the lovely but ignorant people behind.  This is often challenging to do because we can be too busy singing or playing the music, however if our doing prevents our leading then it can be easy to see why people may not be able to follow.

#2 They don’t know the songs
I always ask my classes and general sessions, “are you willing to sing with me right now?”  I make sure that every person is in agreement that they will.  I say, “Come on sing this with me” so they know they are to sing.  I then begin to sing track number 8 of our last CD.  I sing it well but yet they all just stare. “What’s the problem?” I ask as if I don’t know the answer.  It’s another light bulb moment as everyone says, “we don’t know the song.”

This concept can be hard to believe because, after all, you’ve done the song for weeks now.  How could they not know them?  Time for a change of perspective by the simple and overwhelming facts of … wait for it … attendance.  (ok that’s not as dramatic as any of us would hope)  You attend church weekly, in fact, you are probably at every service every time the doors are open.  The people you are leading, however, are not.  Most people do not attend every week and seem to follow some mysterious rotation in order to keep your numbers consistent.  You can be assured, however, that when you lead a song three weeks in a row, there is still a large portion of your church that has not even heard it once. 

As painful as it may seem to you if you want people to participate you must reduce the number of songs in your rotation.  I suggest that you take the number of songs you do a week (for example 4) then double it (quick math says 8) and that’s how many different songs you do a month.  You can almost hear the groans from the creatives; however instead of satisfying your need for creativity in breadth (a lot of different songs) focus that creative energy on depth (doing the same song differently).  The change in results is staggering.

#3 It’s too much too soon
In addition to being the leading expert on worship you are also probably the most musically adept person at your church.  The people you lead are simply not as good as you at remembering music and lyrics.  We have the advantage of cd’s, rehearsals, lead sheets, and confidence screens and still we often struggle.  What chance do the people who don’t attend every service and don’t listen to worship songs during the week have at success?  It’s just too much – you have to break songs into smaller pieces they can handle.  Only do the best part of a song more often rather than repeating sections that are just so-so.

I know a lot of this is not what you would do, but that’ just it – you need to lead your people not yourself.  What cannot be understated is how every one of these sacrifices in personal preferences become well worth it for the thrill of successfully leading people to a corporate understanding of the presence of God. 

…till the next time…


Steve and his wife, Shawn, travel full time to serve the body of Christ in the area of worship.  They lead worship, compose and record, provide personalized on-site training for teams and churches, and teach on the subject of worship in English and Spanish.  – English  – Español

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