Every worship leader feels the desire to lead the congregation well, to “bring them forward in worship.” We all know the feeling. On any given week, the worship leader has invested hours of work preparing for that 20 minutes, 30 minutes, or 45 minutes of musical worship expression on Sunday. Themes have been chosen, songs have been selected, arrangements have been decided, and the band has been well-rehearsed.
Then, Sunday morning comes. The musicians are on time, the sound people are ready to roll, and the visuals – they are pristine in both aesthetic beauty and the spelling of the words.
Ready, set . . . congregation. Right. The congregation. They have come in from scattered worlds – relationally, economically, and spiritually – to that Sunday gathering. You count in the first song, hope the sound is good in the room, and watch for their response.
Ouch. Hours of hard work later, you remember that the congregation’s participation, or lack thereof, has everything to do with the experience. We must find ways to bring them forward in worship.
What Is Worship That Brings Your Congregation Forward?
1. Take your time.
First of all, we must define what “bringing our congregation forward in worship” means to us. If our goal is simply to see more visible, outward expression in gathered worship – we may find ourselves on the wrong side of God.
If, however, our goal is help the congregation experience a higher level of engagement in worship, then we have a worthy goal before us.
Change takes time. Like an ocean liner, needing to alter its direction, the best changes occur incrementally, over a long distance, and long period of time. Little by little, unfamiliar ideas become familiar. Over time, many little changes can yield big results. Be in this for the long haul, and for the good of your community. If you are in a rush – get off the stage.
This may be more about you than it is about your community. God’s dream is for you to carry His heart as you patiently lead your group forward in worship. Don’t push too fast.
2. Find the sweet spot.
Who is your congregation? Why did these people choose to come to your church in the first place? Knowing the answers to these questions can help you understand what small changes you can make to increase your congregation’s engagement in worship.
For example, a church familiar with hymns will resist a quick change to a contemporary sound. A church familiar with a contemporary sound will resist the interjection of too many hymns, too fast. Change their worship experience, but honor their sweet spot along the way.
Know the sweet spot, and work with it. Do hymns with a contemporary style and chorus to lead that first congregation forward just a step. In the second case, use hymns sparingly in your contemporary set for a time, until they grow on people and become a part of their worship language set.
3. Model, gather, teach.
There is a three-step process that can help you inspire your congregation to greater engagement along your shared worship journey.
1. Model the approach, attitude and engagement level you want to see replicated in your worshiping community.
2. Choose people, even coach people, who will likewise represent that level of engagement in front of your church during worship.
3. Gather people to unique worship settings where you can experiment with fresh ideas and approaches to their worship experience.
Manage their expectations, and physically say “We’re going to try something new. Here is what we’ll do.” Teach about engagement with God through songs. Instruct people how to approach the worship time, the songs that have been chosen, and the heart behind why we worship together.
4. Listen to their journey.
Put your ear to the ground, and listen to the emotional noise that goes on before, during, and after each incremental change.
Ask people how they responded to that “new moment” that was unfamiliar to them in that worship set. When people come to you with complaints, listen closely to what they are saying.
You will often hear, behind their pain, a love for the familiar, and a longing for their sweet spot to get some air time. You are there to pastorally serve your church in worship.
Serve their discipleship, rather than pushing them toward the style of another church.
As you listen, and make incremental changes, your congregation will move forward in their engagement during worship.
What Is Worship? Follow These Action Steps
Bring them forward in worship: Try at least one idea for the next time you meet.
- The goal here is connection and communion with God. People are growing and changing, and this takes time.
- People are gathered for a specific purpose in your church, so find that sweet spot that brings your congregation into passionate engagement with God.
- Use a cycle of model, gather, and teach over an extended period of time to encourage your community to worship freely as well.
- Finally, listen to your community’s journey. The congregation will reflect back to you how they’re handling the shifts in worship. Listen well to their experiences, and adjust accordingly.
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