I know how to sing and play my instrument. But how do I lead others to sing when I’m leading a congregation?
I love the question. So, check out my answer:
- Set the right target.
It is important in any endeavor to determine early on what the goal is… in congregational worship, the ultimate goal should always be engagement. If the goal becomes execution – a great performance – then you could hit that mark and miss the point of why the church has gathered. Evaluate what you are doing by how engaged the church is in worship. Your plan and execution will flow from that pursuit; not the other way around.
- Make eye contact.
I’ve heard performance coaches say, “Don’t look people in the eyes – look above their head so you won’t be distracted.” I say, “WRONG”! Worship is the body gathered together. Can you imagine a family gathering where no one made eye contact? It sure wouldn’t feel much like family. You need to see your congregation – to know if they are engaged – and they need to see you seeing them so they know that something is expected of them too.
- Cheer them on!
WARNING: Don’t over-do this! But, be enthusiastic as you lead. I’m not talking about becoming a game show host. Lead with energy… like you really want to be there, and you intend to bring your best. Add phrases into the singing that invite and implore the church to sing. Things like, “Every voice – sing!” Or, “Lift up your voice and worship!” Every once in a while add an affirmative like, “Oh church, your singing sounds awesome!” Or, “Thank you for singing with me today!”
If you will invite and affirm, more people will participate. If you just stand and sing with a disposition that suggests, “Sing along if you want to” then many will not. But if you exhort and expect, more will get involved and it will build week to week. Your people need to know you expect them to sing and that you appreciate it when they do.
- Build success into the plan.
Don’t plan songs because you enjoy singing them or even because they match the Pastor’s message perfectly. Select songs the church can sing and sing well! Put songs in their key – not yours. Carefully introduce new titles and do so with intentionality, showing enough respect to the church that you will take time to teach and not just perform new songs. When you put the final keystroke on a worship plan, make sure you have confidence that what you have planned will be a great “win” for the congregation.
Also, give forethought to when the church will stand or sit. Standing a congregation for a long time to sing songs that they either don’t know or can’t sing only leads to frustration and will shut down their engagement.
- Don’t allow distractions.
This is where attention to detail comes in. Every word of every lyric file is checked and re-checked. The sound is set appropriately and the operators are aware of every moment planned in the service. The lights have been thought through and prepared to avoid unnecessary disruptions. The temperature of the room is right. The musicians are prepared and ready to execute each chart. The singers are ready. And, you control your vocal gymnastics so that your voice enhances and encourages and doesn’t shut down the congregation.
You – the worship leader – think through every possible enemy of the moment and fight to remove every conceivable potential distraction with everything you have. As you do, pray for God’s power to move. Have confidence that He wants to pour out His presence on His people and you have torn off the roof to put them at His feet.
So, how did I do? What would be your best advice for a future worship leader?
Mike Harland is the Director of LifeWay Worship. When he’s not directing 30+ employees, you’ll find him leading worship at various churches around the country, writing/arranging worship songs and/or, writing his next book. In his spare time, he loves playing basketball and spending time with his family. Mike can be found on Twitter @MikeHarlandLW and on facebook.com/Mike.Harland.37.