We want to move our congregation forward in effective 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 beauty and the spelling of the words. Ready, set … wait … the congregation. Right. The congregation is the other element in the collaboration that is the worship experience—and perhaps the most important one at that. Last week there was little engagement, even though you did everything right. What happened?
They come in from scattered worlds—relationally, economically and spiritually—to that Sunday gathering. You count on the first song this week, hoping the sound is good in the room, and watch for their response. While it’s better than last week, it still feels like an “ouch.” Hours of hard work later, you remember that the congregation’s participation, or lack thereof, has everything to do with the experience.
Here are four steps that I hope can help you bring your congregation forward in effective worship:
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 about you. 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? Every community has a historic way of expressing worship. In other words, people came to that church for a reason. They come in part because something about the worship environment drew them. What has connected them, and inspired them, to date?
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 church, but honor their sweet spot along the way.
In other words, 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. If it’s a sound volume (worship accompaniment versus worship immersion) issue, address it.