When they walk into our congregations on Sunday mornings, many will size us up. Not on a musical scale, but on a relational scale. Their stares may not be because the coffee hasn’t kicked in yet. It may be because they’re trying to figure us out. See what we’re about.
It takes more than impressive musicianship to earn the trust of a congregation. Believe me: they can see right through us. They can see if we genuinely care about them–if we’re interested in who they are, not just if they sing with their eyes closed–if we have their best interest at heart–if church music is primarily about making good music, or if it’s about engaging our hearts with God.
So, why not beat them to the punch? (Wow, bad choice of phrasing.) Why not go ahead and let them know that we do care about them and their problems and what’s going on in their worlds; and as we ask them to stand and sing, ask them to take what’s already in their hearts–the good and the bad–and offer it up to God resting on the words we’ve selected for that moment in the service. Get on life level with them, showing that we know where they’re coming from. We could share a thought (keep it brief, or the pastor might shut this down) on something we read that week. Or a concern that’s on our heart. Or something that inspired revelation in our own mind. (Let me encourage you again: keep it brief. We’re not the preachers. But, that’s a whole other article.) And, when we’re saying it, look some of them directly in the eyes as if we’re talking specifically to them (because we are, aren’t we?). And maybe, if we’re feeling particularly bold, actually say their name as we’re looking in their eyes. If we really do care about them, then we will know them. We will know their names and know whether or not they’re filling their seat on any given Sunday. And they will know that we know.
This process of building rapport takes time and patience on our part, but within a few months we can turn the relational tide of a congregation. But we must be willing to do the things it takes to show them that we are there to serve them. Granted, if we’re not interested in their worlds and their hearts and their problems, that will show through as well. It will show through in avoidance of eye-contact, and in vague generalizations of “encouragement” to participate, and in a palpable disconnect between us and them. In as much as we “hide” from them while up there leading, they will feel a sense that we do not want to connect with them. And when that happens, we can’t expect them to follow us.
When they come in and look at us for direction throughout the order of worship, lets guide them with the hand of gentleness, patience, and understanding. Let’s do so in an encouraging way–in a way that reaches out and connects our hearts with theirs. If they are going to take the risk of walking in and singing with a room full of people, they want to make sure their safe. If we’ve earned their trust, they will feel safe. And they will engage.