Let me start by saying that authentic worship is not always visible. For sure, someone can be sitting and staring in the congregation and be engaged in pouring their heart praise out to the Lord. We should not and cannot measure worship only by what we see during the congregational response.
That said, worship is often visible. You could even go so far as to say that worship is usually visible. Psalm 40:3 tells us that the song God puts in our mouths is to be seen. Most worship leaders I know would say that they desire for their congregation to grow in their visible worship expression.
There is a healthy and Biblical way to do that. I call it, “the mirror effect.”
So, do you want to see your congregation feel more freedom to express visibly? It could be with clapping or lifting of hands, coming to the altar to pray during the response times, standing without a prompt, or just by robust participation.
You won’t get there by asking the congregation to just do it. They need to see it – in the scripture you teach (tons of scripture apply here) and in the ways you and your leaders lead and model worship.
Start with your own worship expression. The congregation will not usually exceed you as far as visible expression. Soon, your singers and choir will reflect you. Teach your instrumentalists to be completely engaged when they are not playing.
Then, you, your leaders, your choir, and your instrumentalists will become a mirror that the congregation can see themselves in. Your energy will give them permission to express themselves in worship. You will be a mirror to them and they will be a mirror to you. And, together you will inspire each other and see the outward worship expression grow.
Now, I’m not talking about manipulation. But, corporate worship is emphasized in scripture because of how we can influence and inspire each other. It is not in question whether or not your people influence each other in worship – the only question is how? Do they influence each other to be passive or active?
If you will model it and teach it to your leaders, you will see it in your congregation. In other words, nothing will happen in your pews that isn’t happening in the choir loft or platform.
Give the congregation a mirror to see themselves in worship. And, in an atmosphere of response, watch what God will do in His people.
“Many will see and fear and they will trust in the Lord.” (Psalm 40:3b)
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.