We’ve all been there. That moment during a worship service where you – the worship leader – are caught up in the moment. The band is on point. Ableton cues? Perfectly timed. And lights? Flawless. You can practically see the audience standing up, hands raised and face gleaming with joy, so in anticipation you open your eyes to see…
…nothing. Empty stares, mute expressions, & maybe a handful of people singing the song you’re leading.
Why aren’t they singing?
I love the Church, so rather than offer up criticism for how the Church is failing, I’d like to offer up a positive solution.
Let’s start with the “Don’ts.”
1. Don’t shame them
Instead of reminding our churches of what they’re not doing, let’s try to think of ways to call them to something. Jesus invited the disciples to “Come follow me.” He knew where He was going and also knew that in following Him the disciples’ lives would never be the same.
2. Don’t expect to lead them to a place you haven’t been yourself
I’m sure you’ve heard of this kind of statement before. But man, have I realized the truth of this statement. In the passionate seasons of my life I have noticed the church benefit from my zeal for the Lord. You want them to sing? Then sing with your life.
3. Don’t think it is up to you
Honestly, the term worship leader is a misnomer. It implies that we “lead” the church into worship, when instead what we do is draw attention to what Christ has already accomplished for us while we trust the Holy Spirit to lead them and us. We can enter God’s presence with confidence because of what Jesus has accomplished on our behalf (Hebrews 9:6-7). Simply reminding God’s people of this truth is a huge relief to the worship leader.
Now on to the “Dos.”
1. Teach them the songs
So often we are so excited as worship leaders about a that awesome new worship song we’ve been listening to for weeks that skip a few steps in presenting this “brand new-to-them” song on Sunday. We wonder why they aren’t moved or even singing with us. Well, could it be that we’ve been sitting with the song for weeks and they haven’t?
Share a video on social media so that they can become familiar with it. Take a minute to teach the chorus. Let them listen to the chorus for a run-through, then invite them to sing it together once or twice until they get it.
2. Pastor them
If you’re going to take the role of worship pastor seriously then take the title “pastor” seriously. You can’t just be the “music guy” who stands up on the stage and confidently plays out every song but does nothing to exhort or encourage the church. I have met many worship leaders who are confident behind the mic when singing, but ask them to say something between songs and they completely freeze.
As worship leaders we need to help the church connect their hearts to the songs they are singing. Sometimes the song alone doesn’t do the job. We need to be bridge builders, connecting the significance of what is said in the song to the hearts of the church.
3. Keep exhorting them
Let’s pretend that you shared an opening thought prior to the next song you’re about to sing. This doesn’t guarantee that the church will persist in singing. Continue ecouraging them throughout. Doing so reminds the church that this is not a spectator sport; the time to engage is now.
4. Write your own songs
This is something that I have only discovered in the past two years or so but has been instrumental in elevating the singing voice of our church. Give them their own songs to sing.
Since I began writing songs for the church a few years ago I have noticed that they sing even louder some of the songs that are originals from our community. Why? I think it’s because there is a sense of identity associated with that song. When they sing it, they know that it was written specifically for them to sing.
We could get lost in conversations that could quickly turn into a criticism of the modern worship movement about singing and participation. Instead of criticizing the church. I choose to build her up. This is not an exhaustive list but I hope it helps you to think differently how to lead your people.
Aaron Hoskins is the Worship Pastor at Hulen Street Church in Fort Worth, TX: a Christ-follower, husband, father, worship pastor, songwriter, Mac-lover, runner, & lover of all things cheese.