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10 Reasons Why Your People Don't Engage in Worship

Why is it that some churches can have an outstanding band, a gifted and godly worship leader, and still barely register a pulse? There are many things that can work against a congregation fully being engaged in your worship services. Now, I’m going to talk about the musical praise and worship time, not the sermon. I think there are at least 10 common reasons why church people do not engage during that singing time. This is not an exhaustive list, but I think it can open the doors to helping your people better engage in worship.

Cultural Distinctions: Some groups of people do not hug and are quiet at Thanksgiving dinner. Why would their church celebrations be any different? This one should be obvious. However, we often think the Holy Spirit left the building because people are not jumping up and down. Let’s be clear. It’s OK to have differing cultural expressions that come from the ethnic, regional and traditional roots of people.

Theological Disconnect: No, the volume is not the issue. For some reason you are doing Jesus Culture and are more Reformed than R.C. Sproul—and may be unaware that those are two very different streams. Don’t put a saltwater fish in your freshwater tank and expect it to thrive. Choose, write and select songs that match your theology. Whether you are aware of it or not, this impacts engagement.

Generational Values: If one group was raised on liturgy, while the kids in the youth group who are now in charge were raised on David Crowder, there will be tension. The hope is you could marry the two, but this does not satisfy. Multiple services with a traditional and modern service have addressed this for many years. The admission has to be that generations—especially in your own church—have different experiences even though they share the same space.

Leadership Conflict: If the pastor is pushing for modern worship and the board and factions are fighting him, then your church will feel this every Sunday morning. This is not generational, per se. It could be about anything, really. If the worship leadership feels dissatisfied with the pastor’s direction, that will impact things as well. In general, conflict that is not addressed will in some way play itself out in our public services. Count on it. Conflict is always with us. The key is to deal with it.

Strategic Whiplash: This is when needed strategic changes are made, but they are done too quickly without relationally walking people through the impact it may have on them. Adding the smoke machine may cause a firestorm and then real smoke. If you suddenly make a change, your services will feel the imbalance. The principle here is to be sure your strategy is connected to a unified vision. Your implementers (worship team) cannot compensate for leaders who shift too often too fast.

New Building: It will just not ever be the same. It will feel like the Spirit decided to take a few months off. Count on people needing to acclimate to the space. Sound gear will have to be tweaked. Equipment will fail. It is not an attack—simply change. So, if you move into a new room, venue or even a brand new building you design, expect time.

New Leadership: Yes, that amazing worship leader who aced the interview and wowed you all in his audition is now not so exciting after six weeks. He prayed too long twice, making the pastor visibly frustrated. People who did not chime in either way about his coming now complain. It takes a while for a pair of jeans to feel real comfy. So, expect some bumps. It is normal. Trust God’s process and empower him or her to lead you. Time is on everyone’s side.

Creative Rut: Instead of new leadership, the ones who have been around forever have taken all the risks they are going to take in their lifetime and no one new is being developed. The result is the same. Yes, for a couple years it worked well. Now, something has to change. But, what? It could be tired worship leaders need space. What new challenges, learning experiences or mentoring have your worship leaders had recently? It is a new economy, but a rut costs more than you know.

Weak Structure: Systems are important. Planning, evaluation and delivering tools, such as music to musicians and schedules to volunteers, matter. When your systems are being overtaxed or if they are not well developed, your service execution suffers. This means engagement is at risk. People follow who they trust. If structures are weak, they feel that. Button up this area, and it just might help.

Lack of Passion: I have to state the obvious one: If there is not an overarching belief that your services have a a biblical mandate to engage people in praise and worship, then you can have all the above nine things and fail miserably. In fact, spiritual passion just might cover over a lot of the limitation you have. As you work on this list, the key is to always go back to first things—what you believe God wants from your worship services. Are lives being changed? Are people making decisions to follow God?

There’s my list. Do you have any items to add? Please share your thoughts. What item is the biggest challenge for you church?  

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Rich Kirkpatrick is a family man, writer, speaker, and musician. A ministry veteran, he has served in worship and pastoral roles in small and large settings. In 2014 he authored the book, The Six Hats of the Worship Leader. You can find him at RKblog.com where he writes about creativity, faith, and leadership.