Somewhere along the way we as a culture decided that worship = music
In fact, music is just one element of worship. Worship can happen without one single note being played or sung. We’ve also come to the conclusion that since most people do connect to music on some basic level, then surely they must connect to God through music. Thousands of articles have been written on, how to get your congregation to engage and participate in “worship”. It is difficult for us, as musicians to understand that music doesn’t transport everyone to the mountaintop.
A couple of years ago our church leadership, which includes the Pastor and (gasp) the praise band, decided to re-define our worship service with God-centered purpose in mind.
We believe that to be effective, to be relevant and authentic, there must be purpose in all we do.
In this article I want to concentrate on how we re-defined the way we use music.
1. We looked at our space
One section of our sanctuary is just chairs. In another section we set up tables and chairs. Our kitchen has a large serving area that opens into the sanctuary where we have coffee, juice water and snacks available on Sunday morning. We have speakers in the parking lot and our fellowship/classroom opens up into the sanctuary.
2. We looked at our people
On any given Sunday our congregation may include active members, youth, kids, occasional attenders, visitors, and walk-ins off the street. Some of these people have never been inside a church before. Some walk in because they heard us over the speakers outside. Some are not at a place on their spiritual journey where they can participate in true worship. The list goes on.
3.We looked at our purpose
Why are we here? To introduce people to Christ, to offer teaching, hope and encouragement. To give people an opportunity to worship in community. To create experiences for people that they might otherwise never encounter. To bring people into community, and create relationships.
To try to engage people who don’t know anything about Christ to worship through music was purposeless. Then, there are those who may not connect to God through music, but instead through prayer, or the message, or communion or even fellowship.
Fellowship is a very important aspect of worship. Otherwise why even worship in community? We decided to use some of our music as a backdrop to fellowship while allowing those who wanted to, to participate in this portion of our worship. (Which most do.)
We open with three songs for this purpose. Our call to worship song (the same one every week) is everyone’s cue that we are about to get down to business. Our prayer song and communion are within the body of the service. The service is dismissed and at that time we do three more songs, which again allows the choice to participate or not.
In sharing this I was asked two questions:
1. Doesn’t singing the same song every week get repetitive and boring?
No, because we were lucky enough to find a song that we strongly identify with. Two years in and no one seems to want to change it.
2. Do you find it frustrating that the congregation is not focused on the worship/music?
No, because when you try to force people to worship with something that does not speak to them it’s not authentic anyway. They have a choice. The ones that do worship with music are right in front worshiping with us. Our purpose as a worship band is more than just leading people in worship. It’s helping people connect to God with a message. There are some really good song messages out there that are not necessarily worship songs. Some are about life struggles, some describe our life and some are just fun to sing (like Mercy Me’s “Shake”). People work, drive, play, exercise and sleep among other things, to background music. Just because they’re doing something else doesn’t mean that they don’t hear the music or get the message.
If change is something that is needed in your worship service. Consider the space/people/purpose model and see where it takes you.
Evron Sampson has served in church leadership for the past 18 years. Serving as vocalist and on keys in the same praise band for all of those years. She transitioned to worship leader out of necessity sometime in 2012. She has also led children’s and youth ministry, adult teaching, volunteers, outreach ministry, worship planning and congregational care.
Among other things you might find her creating websites, creating events, cooking or scrubbing toilets.
She has survived a church split, a church plant, a merger of a high traditional church and casual contemporary church, and a re-launch. Since 2008 she has worked as the administrator of Rock Hill church in Hot Springs, Ar. She and her husband are also therapeutic foster parents. They have 3 adopted girls and currently foster 2 boys ages 4 and 15.