We all know the feeling. You’ve planned, prepared, and are giving it your very best every Sunday morning but there the people are…just starring at you. At least the ones who are actually in the sanctuary at the beginning of worship are. The others are still in the foyer or will predictively arrive by the last song. This perpetual dilemma begs the same question at almost every church in the world “how do I get my congregation to sing?” The answers may surprise you and as I was given the great opportunity to teach this very seminar at Nation Worship Leader Conferences it seemed good to write a series of articles on how small and free changes in our perspective and approach can yield drastically improved immediate results.
While there are many hurdles (small challenges that are easy to overcome with effort) to get a collective group of people to participate in the activity of singing. In order to know the right things to do (approach) we must first have the right perspective (how we see ourselves and the people we are leading). Misconception numero uno is that people like to sing…publicly. Of course you like to sing, you’re a worship leader after all. Most worship leaders lead from the belief, if only subconsciously, that the people they are leading enjoy the activity of singing.
Now there are certainly others like you in the congregation. I would say that somewhere close to 10 – 15% of your people will sing no matter what song you choose. These are the people that love Karaoke, try out for American Idol, and maybe shouldn’t have tried out for American Idol. They love to sing. You could sing the hokey pokey and they would lift their hands and with all their heart say, “Yes Lord and you turn yourself around.” You cannot judge your success at leading worship by whether or not these people are singing – they will always sing.
On the flip side, there are also people who have chosen to never sing. As an act of their will, 10 – 15% of your church will not sing no matter what you do or how anointed the worship is. Maybe they feel they can’t sing or have a terrible voice – they may enjoy the music but they are not about to participate. Even though they stand and stare at your with folded arms, you also cannot judge your success as a worship leader by these people.
The group you are trying to reach is the 70 – 80% of people who sing in the shower or in the car but refrain from participation in public. While the obvious solution here is to simply install shower curtains and steering wheels for every seat in your auditorium, in an attempt at realistic practicality it’s more important to note that this group of people will sing – they just need some help…some leadership…some worship leadership…from a worship leader.
Maybe this is just hard to believe, so let me give you an example outside of music. Imagine if your Pastor decided to illustrate Old Testament worship, complete with animal sacrifices and biblical dances next Sunday. Since you are the worship leader, naturally this falls to you. You must now begin the service by dancing and then after the announcements (which is obviously the best time to do this) you will slay oxen on the alter. Now if you’re not the least bit uncomfortable with the idea of living out this scenario then you’re probably a worship-leading butcher who majored in music theatre in college. But as for the rest of us, that uncomfortable feeling you have now is what a majority of your people experience at the idea of singing in public. Without a clear idea of purpose, fruitful results, and multi-faceted assistance from you – they simply would rather not be a part.
Where perspective meet practicality is that, while it’s all that you need to participate, leading worship by simply playing music will only get the 10- 15%, who are just like you, to join in. What’s a bit shocking to know is that attempts to improve the quality of this approach only works against you. Your people may enjoy it more but will actually participate less. Our centristic perspective attempts to fill in the blank of, “maybe the people would sing if __________” with thoughts like; maybe if I could sing better, maybe if the music was better, what if we had this instrument, or what if had a wider variety of songs? But that’s like offering you the best oxen, you know, the really fat ones with the healthy bone structure, in the hope that you will be more excited about digging in with your knife than if we gave you just plain old regular oxen. Don’t get me wrong, I believe in being excellent in everything we do for God, but our focus is to become excellent at getting people to participate, not necessarily at becoming excellent in performing the action ourselves. In order to be a successful worship leader you will have to change your approach because the people you are leading are just not like you.
As afore mentioned this is a series of articles and this concept is only just a part of what we must keep in mind as we apply our diligence to the call of our Creator. To be continued…
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.