I have been leading worship for about four years now, and before that had the privilege of being on stages across the country with my touring band, playing for sold out crowds of thousands. Whether you are in a church or an amphitheater, there are a few rules of engagement that will always apply to you as a frontman(woman). For the sake of this article though, I will be speaking directly to leading worship in a church service.
I polled a sampling of churchgoers and asked what they would say to their worship leaders/teams about their presentation. I realize there can be a lot of politics that surround this topic, but the responses I received were very encouraging and consistent across the board. These four responses came up most often, and as a performer and worship leader myself, I totally agree that you will engage a larger percentage of people if these simple tips are implemented.
DISCLAIMER: None of what I am about to suggest are unbendable rules. As you read these, just know these are areas in your worship presentation to review and see how well you are engaging with your congregation.
1. A Smile Is Worth a Thousand Songs: We all know that music has the power to change atmospheres, but before you play a note, during every song, and as you crescendo out of your set, there should be a smile on your face. You are setting the example, and if you don’t look like you are happy to be there, then why should the congregation have to act like it? If you present celebrating God as a serious matter, then your people will follow suit. Don’t force it, and don’t be cheesy. I realize there are times in a session that a deep, holy, pensiveness is appropriate, but keep a genuine smile and a welcoming demeanor at the ready and you will put people at ease, making the worship flow. Also turn around and smile at your bandmates from time to time … this goes a loooooong way in loosening up your team and bonding with them.
2. The Eyes Are the Window to the Soul: It is very easy to get lost in worship and have the whole world just disappear as you sing to your Savior. Unfortunately as the worship leader, you are not afforded this luxury. There may be moments where you close your eyes, but people will disengage if you keep them that way. I have witnessed leaders that have literally had their eyes closed for 90 percent of the set. It felt more like I was just there to watch him worship. You are called to multitask up there … keeping your senses tuned to the Spirit, while engaging with your congregation, while also worshiping for yourself. Not an easy thing to do, and it takes a strong and mature musician to master this. Maintaining eye contact with your audience accomplishes two important things: The first is it keeps you aware of how people are engaging (or disengaging) with the song or mood. If your eyes are closed for too long, you will miss the moment when everyone who used to be crying out with their arms raised are now sitting down looking at their smart phones. You have a responsibility to steward the presence of God and lead people there, not just yourself. The second thing is simple: it allows people to know you. The eyes are truly the windows to the soul, and by looking at people it allows for a powerful exchange.
3. Show Me, Don’t Tell Me: I am going to be careful with this one because I am not trying to say that the worship leader has nothing to offer in regards to sharing revelation. It is important for them to have a pastoring heart. There are two aspects of this point I want to address. The first is when there is a break in the song for the worship leader to share some revelation about what the Spirit is doing in that moment. If you are going to do this, be concise and work within the context and flow of the song. A powerful way of accomplishing this is to sing the revelation in a repeatable pattern (short chorus or hook) that allows the people to sing it out without disengaging from the song. You do not need to preach a sermon, you are there to allow people to encounter the presence of God, and they may be having an encounter through the song that you are interrupting. The second aspect is in the direction of actions. Telling people that they should all raise their hands or shout does work in some cases, but don’t overdo it. Lead by example. Raise your hands and see if they follow suit. This may take a few tries, but sooner or later people will feel the freedom and trust following you. Worship leading is about inviting people to God’s presence, not giving them tasks to get there.
4. Less Is More: I have been on some massive stages consisting of 20 band members, the smoke, the lights, the whole shebang. From an audience perspective, though, my favorite moments in a concert were always when they turned off the theatrics for a moment and broke down to an intimate acoustic set. Volume and production tactics will never bring more anointing to your worship. These are things we have put in place to draw in the world and keep them entertained. I am not saying all worship teams should only be an acoustic guitar and piano—what I am saying is that if you can’t usher in the presence that way, then you shouldn’t add instruments and light shows to make up for that. People don’t need to get “hyped” into worship. They need honest and excellent musicians who carry God’s heart to travel with them there. Let the room breathe and leave room for the Holy Spirit to speak. Even in the fast upbeat moments, you can do this without overcompensating on the production values.
In conclusion, if you welcome people with a smile, maintain eye contact, craft your revelation into your songs, and don’t overproduce your presentation, you will begin to experience a much deeper level of engagement from your congregation and you will earn their trust and confidence as you lead them into God’s presence.