8 ideas to encourage more participation in worship
I recently read a book which chronicled the rise of the evangelical church in England from the 1950s onwards. This reported a clear link between high levels of participation in worship and personal spiritual growth and communal church renewal. The book, controversially called ‘Selling Worship’ (by Pete Ward), also observes that in sung worship in some churches have moved their worshipers from being participants to fans. Whilst we generally accept that as our churches have grown, large services are more difficult to make interactive. Whilst that brings more consistent, professional sounding and smooth running ‘times of worship’, we can be in danger of turning it into a spectator sport. I was even talking to a worship pastor who wants to sack two of his three bands and make the third play every week just because they sound better.
When Paul instructs about orderly worship in1 Corinthians 14 it’s clear that New Testament worship was highly participatory. So how can we encourage band and congregation to bring an offering that retains ‘good order’? Here are a few ideas to start you off.
The building – is there anything that can be done to bring band and congregation together? My church is a huge Anglican building and the band are at least 20m away from the people up on a big stage which unfortunately builds a them and us situation . A drummer friend elsewhere actually sets up his kit in the front row facing the same way as the congregation as a gesture saying ‘We’re worshipping together’.
Congregational spontaneity – how do we feel about not just allowing but empowering people to pray out spontaneously, start songs, or bring words of prophetic encouragement? Can we create a culture that sees this as a worshipful tool to strengthen the church without creating mini platforms for those of us who like the sound of our own voices? Are the inevitable awkward moments worth the beautiful contributions that help us realise that TODAY God is with us?
A band of worship leaders – why not encourage the band to all see themselves as worship leaders? This must be backed by action so get them to contribute to set lists, arrangements or even lead a song? I’ve even been in bands where we’ve had non musicians direct the worship.
Using words – perhaps as part of the worship have a few scriptures on the screen that you invite congregational members to read out, on the spot one after another with as much gusto and meaning as they can muster as the band accompanies them. Invite poets, journalists, English teachers, actors or anyone for whom the words hold deep meaning to read. Or how about you get the congregation to write sentences starting with “God is…” and shout them out one after another?
Rhythmic prayer – I know another church where the band builds a groove that allows people to pray out in conjunction with the rhythm – almost developing spontaneous prayer poems. The band can serve the prayer by reflecting the joy, sadness, intercession, reverence in the way they play.
Pots and pan percussion – years ago Kevin Prosche once got people to bring pots and pans to a service and led people in a time of expressing themselves to God just using rhythm in a couple of sections of his worship set. In the same way we can make time to encourage people to dance who don’t normally do it – again just as a bodily expression of worship. The right musical groove can really help the congregation feel less self conscious.
Meditation – if your church finds mediation and silence difficult, what about leading people in a mediation that engages the imagination? A friend of mine gets people to close their eyes and imagine they are at the base of the Temple. Jesus takes their hand and leads them up steps, through big doors into a huge room filled with people from every nation shouting Holy, Holy, Holy. Jesus then leads them by the hand through the room into a very small room with torn curtains at the entrance. He takes your hand and places it in the Father’s hand and leaves. The question is – what does the Father say to you? Again, get the band to create the accompanying music if the are able.
Fill-in-the-gaps – if you’re really brave how about giving worshippers some tools to help them sing their own song? Have some multiple choice “God Is” or “You Are” sentences up on the screen for everyone to sing out at the same time. Band, choose a basic chord progression includes at least the 1 4 5 chords in the key. That three chord trick allows every note in the major scale that people will most likely sing to fit somewhere into the progression.
Some of these ideas are a bit way out and some dependent on the size and shape of your congregation. If you do want to encourage more participation the key is to make small changes that gradually steer the ship rather than radical ones that throw people overboard! Detailed planning, explanation and encouragement to try again will help you on the journey. Let’s not just be content to string together a series of hit worship songs but let’s help people to be participants where they feel their contribution is not only welcome, but actually makes a difference.
Have you any other ideas to encourage participation? What happens at your church?