Connecting with your Congregation in Worship

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I remember when I first started leading worship… I thought that if I worshiped hard enough, and expressive enough, people would follow my lead. I took “leading worship” literally. I would copy what the original singer of the worship song did, add libs and all, and think, if I just lead the way they do, in this song, the congregation will meet with Jesus. Try as I might, the congregation just didn’t engage the way they did on those live albums I watched and I didn’t know what I was doing wrong.

After 15 years of leading worship, I’ve learned some really practical and basic things that have helped me go into any environment, and connect with a congregation in worship. The first thing you might notice is that my language has changed from ‘leading’ to ‘connecting’. That was the first lesson I learned. When we go into an environment, any environment, posture is key. Not your standing posture…however that is somewhat important. I’m talking about your spiritual posture. I was trying to force a leadership onto people without really understanding what my place was as a worship leader. I am a facilitator of worship, not the way to Jesus. I was giving myself way to much credit, and trying to be everyone else who had led a successful song or ministry.

When it came down to it, I hadn’t done the time to find my voice, style and personal worship time with Jesus. What made these other worship leaders that I looked up to so trustworthy was the fact that they were just worshiping their Jesus in their own way, and bringing a congregation along for the journey. Whether the congregation engaged or not, they were going to worship their Lord! Now, I’m not saying that we should close our eyes the whole time, and have a personal praise party. We have a responsibility to lead, but we cannot be so focused on trying to do everything everyone else does, that we forget to actually meet with Jesus in our corporate worship services.

True authenticity is what connects people together, and what connects us all to Christ. When we realize we can come to the feet of Jesus with all our baggage, brokenness, and humanness; and He meets us there with open arms, we find ourselves falling at His feet. When we lead our congregations, we need to remember that posture as we praise God. It is only then that the presence of God is fully accessible through us… otherwise we become more of a distraction than a conduit of His presence.

I know you’re probably thinking ‘that’s all well and good, but I need some practical applications here!’ …and I’m glad you thought that! I’m about to get to those practical and basic keys I’ve found along the years, I just need to press how important our posture of worship is. It doesn’t have to be awkward or highly expressive, it just has to be you. Meet with Jesus the way you do in private and take the congregation on the journey with you. You can only take people where you’ve already been yourself.

This leads me into practical application number one. Prepare. Prepare, prepare, prepare. Make sure you have set aside time to prepare your worship set. Pray, sing, and learn your part. Learn the rest of the parts (loosely – so you know where the band is supposed to go). Listen for places in the set where other people on your team can worship God in their element, and encourage them to do so. Learn all the vocal parts, so you can confidently lead your team (if your rehearsal is a mess, your service will be too). Learn the words, so you don’t have to rely on the screen in the back, or the paper on the floor. Know where you want to go, and leave room for things to change. Be confident in the songs for the service. That way, when you get up to lead the team in rehearsal, you can lead them clearly and efficiently, and therefore roll a smooth rehearsal, into a clear and effective service. The more prepared you are, and the more times you have run through the songs the week prior to the service, the more you can authentically worship Jesus in your worship service, and take people on the journey to meet with Jesus, that you’ve been preparing for all week.

The second practical application I can give you, is to know your demographic. Be aware of the people who come to your church. Be aware of the people who live in the neighborhoods around your church.  Be aware of the people who live in your city. What is the key demographic there? What kind of music do they listen to, what is their age group and, what kind of work do most of them do? Are you in a city, in a rural town, in the suburbs or in rougher area? Researching these things will do wonders for your song selection. Knowing who you are as a leader is important, and knowing who you are as a team is just as important. If you live in a rural town with four radio stations that are all country, your weekend set list should probably not be four gospel songs. Your congregation may love to hear them, but there is a difference between a worship concert and a worship experience.

The third practical application is keep your eyes open and use verbal cues. This may seem like a no brainer, but to some, this is the hardest thing to do when leading worship. I’ve got to be honest, it can be really awkward when you first start, but once you get in a rhythm, you won’t even remember why you didn’t do it in the first place. Make eye contact with people – not in a weird, stare them down kind of way, but just glance at people and let them know, ‘I’ve got you, come with me, it’s safe where we are going’. Doing this is not just on the worship leader, it’s something the whole worship team should do. This makes a huge difference to the person who’s there for the first time, or the person who’s going through a tragedy. Knowing that you see them is everything to those people. Then, we use our verbal cues. They don’t have to be all the time, and they don’t have to be perfect, but they are very necessary. I’ve found the best way to find ease in using verbal cues is to practice them. When you are in rehearsal, say ‘sing with me’, ‘everybody’, ‘ you sing’, ‘amen’, just as you would in the live worship experience. This will make those moments seem natural and just part of the set. And I promise you, when someone is there for the first time, or resisting worship, and you smile before the verse of a new song and say “sing with me”, you invite them into worship with the answer to all their problems. You take them with you!

The fourth practical application is pattern. Learning the pattern of the church in which you lead is crucial to connecting with your congregation. You have to gain their trust. They need to know you are safe. They need to know you are for them. They need to know they can follow where you lead… because it is in that trust that you are truly functioning in your calling and gifting as a leader. This is what sets you apart from a concert, and places you into a community of worship. This is the key to all keys on leading a congregation of worship. Know the vision of the church, set the space for the pastor to preach the message, and create safety and refuge for every single person there. The way they’ve always done it at the church you’re at might not always be the best or most progressive way, but it’s the way they’ve done it, so we must respect that, and honor the process. Honor the past. Honor the pattern. It is only when we place honor on an existing pattern, that we can then stretch and grow the pattern. Before we can go to new places, we must be trustworthy.

The fifth and final application, is knowing your purpose in a collective setting. The place of a worship leader, and worship team, is to set the stage for the message. This is really important to understand. The place of worship is not to show off your new gear, or that awesome vocal run you’ve been practicing. The place of worship is to create an atmosphere for God to move, and for hearts to be opened to receive the word that God has for his Church on that particular day. When we really truly understand what our purpose is, we can take a deep breath, step back, and remember why we are doing what we are doing, and who we are doing it for. It takes the pressure off, and we can just worship Jesus, with excellence and purpose. It’s what we were created to do. Check in with your senior pastor, if they’re doing a sermon series, do songs that compliment the series and sermons week to week. Work together, help each other, set each other up for a win. This is the greatest thing we can do in a weekend worship experience…unify. Just breathe in and out, and unify.

Connecting with a congregation in worship is simply about being the best you can be, before God, and taking others with you. No matter if you are the worship leader, the bassist, or the person running sound, you have an important role to play. Remember to connect with God in your calling and craft, then take others on the journey with you corporately. Support one another, lead by example, and honor to the right, to the left, above and under you. This will make all the difference in the way people trust you. Because if there is one thing I’ve learned, the platform doesn’t hide our shortcomings, it amplifies them. So own it. Go confidently, go authentically, be bold in your worship, and be bold in your mistakes. Your congregation will thank you, and more importantly they will love you because of it.

Written by: Kelli Wright

Kelli is the Consulting Director of Froot Group, a worship staffing and consulting company.


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