Last fall I had the opportunity to head out to Lebanon, TN to LifeWay’s distribution center. They have weekly chapel services there for the employees. Leading worship is one the things I enjoy the most about my position and the chapel services in Lebanon offer a really unique experience. I’m learning how important it is to understand your “congregation” and here are a few things I’ve come to understand about this group. I hope it helps you think about the different groups you may find yourself leading.
First, these folks are at work. For the most part, they’re happy to be there, because it’s a break from their routine, but they are still there because they have to be. This alone creates a vastly different dynamic than a typical church service.
Second, there are some technical challenges. The service is in the break room with hard tile floors, concrete walls, and humming Coke machines. There is a limited sound system (and a volunteer that runs it), but no projection screen.
Third, there are more folks than I usually encounter in a church service for whom English is not their first language. The second most spoken language is Spanish, of course, but also Korean.
So, what does this mean for me, the worship leader? The first thing is that I can’t assume anything. I can’t assume that they know the songs I want to sing. I can’t assume that they’ll sing the song, even if they do know it (part of the work dynamic and language barrier). And without a projector, I can’t assume that they’ll learn a song that I may try to teach. I also can’t assume that they are all believers (a safe bet for almost any gathering).
The second thing is that I need to allow them to interact according to their environment. It occurred to me that these folks stand all day long in the warehouse. To ask them to “stand with me and sing” is not the best way for me to serve them. The opportunity to sit is their deserved respite. I don’t fight this, but instead attempt to provide music that is restful and contemplative.
I invite them to sing, but don’t really expect them to do so. Of course, I don’t say that I don’t expect them to sing, it’s just internally I’ve determined that I don’t need them to sing for this to be a successful worship leading experience. This is important, because if a worship leader is expecting something from the group that he / she is not getting, it tends to manifest itself in aggressive body language (or spoken chiding) and a defeating of confidence, which can lead to other types of “train wrecks” throughout the set.
Having said that, I do try to include songs that are easy to sing, should they choose to do so. Popular songs are good for this (although, admittedly, it’s somewhat of a crap-shoot). Songs that they can echo tend to be my choice (e.g. “Spring Up, O Well,” “You’re Worthy of My Praise”).
Once I set these expectations, we could all relax and have a great time worshiping the Lord. Indeed we did. Here’s the set with links to those that you can find on LifeWayWorship.com.
- 5-minutes of prelude music coupled with scripture reading / spontaneous psalming
- Enter In (C. McGinty)
- Yes, You Have (L. Moorland, J. Moorland, B. Bronleewe)
- Spring Up, O Well (J. Riggs)
- You’re Worthy of My Praise (D. Ruis)
- Come Thou Fountain (traditional hymn, arr. J. Riggs)
- How He Loves (J.M. McMillan)
- Be The Centre (M. Frye). (This was our “can you do one more?” closing song).
Questions: The next time I go, I would really like to have some Spanish material. Do you have experience with this? Do you have a song recommendation? What other songs from this list would you like to see on our site? Let me know by leaving a comment below.