Last year I went to a worship conference. It was the first I had been to in a few years. The worship leaders there were extraordinarily different. I have been to some conferences that felt as if the same worship team got up and swapped out some similar leaders and kept playing. This is not a knock on anyone. If it works, do it. But this conference was a little different. They had a younger band kick off the first night, a group of seasoned veterans play the next morning, and a pretty fantastic band with a guest worship leader the final session. I was quite pleased to see the different styles of leadership they all possessed. I cannot say that one person was better at it than the other per say. They were just…different. That being said, the type of involvement they brought out of the attendees (who at that point were the congregation) was pretty telling. The differences in each one point to a few different ways in which a congregation is engaged. In my mind they engaged the congregation in Body, Mind and Soul. They were generally engaging as follows:
Bring the Energy (Body)
The first night with the young band forced a level of excitement that was unmistakable. They were fantastic at going after the tangible joy in worship. Some people think this alone is not enough to engage a congregation. I disagree. If done well and with authenticity, it is an incredibly effective tool to pulling a congregation into involvement. I think where lots of churches see this type of engagement fail is when it is executed poorly. In order to engage the congregation with what I will call “pure energy” you have to be willing to bring it…hard. There must be cohesion between your words, the music, and your actions. On top of this, the team needs to be on board together. Like anything else, you are not going to convince everyone to participate, but this is an effective tool for many.
Help People Connect With What They Are Singing (Mind)
The Next morning there was a worship leader who liked to tell stories and engage the congregation with speaking spiritual truth. He was a teacher, preparing everyone to connect with what they were singing on a deeper level. This is my preferred way of getting people involved. I was in my zone at this point of the conference, and I marveled how well the worship leader crafted his moments. What he said was perfected toned not only to the songs were were singing but the entire theme of the morning. I dug it. And apparently so did those around me. It was a very intimate and sweet feeling, more internal than the other sessions. It helped me focus on communion with God.
Bring the Passion (Soul)
This is a harder one to quantify or explain. This is distinctly different than energy, although it could be construed as such. The third session saw a pretty sweet band being led by a guest worship leader. This was interesting, as the band opened and then brought out the leader after a couple of songs. The opening set, I spent most pf the time watching the musicians do their thing. The drummer was a sight to behold, and they had a synth bass player that made all the low end feels. It was cool to watch, but not all that engaging from a worship stand point. Then the guest worship leader came out and from the first song she sang, there was an engagement that was palpable not only in me, but in those around me. There was a clear passion that exuded from the stage that, by the end had the room significantly out-singing the sound system (and this was a legit system). It was so good I scoured the internet for a video a few days later to see if what I had experienced actually happened, and sure enough, the video shows a room full of people singing their lungs out, barely allowing the music from the stage to be heard. It was fantastic.
All this to say that there are different ways to engage people. Some comes simply by making people bob their heads and clap their hands. It is amazing how this will help engage people in surprising ways. Others appeal to the head, allowing people to think through their worship in ways that will lead to deeper connection with God. By taking a moment to breath, some people will find it easier to connect to the already present presence of God. Finally, there is passion. It is ill advisable to try and create passion all the time. It is exhausting and will leave you with no place to go. But there is no substitute for getting people fired up about our God, the results of which can be what I can only assume is a poor reflection of heaven. I suggest using all three ways. You are most likely going to be better at one of them, but all three will help reach the most people. In a perfect world everyone would just worship because that is what God deserves from us. But that is like saying every Christian should be mature and complete while ignoring the need to lead people toward this maturity. Using this tools to engage the congregation on different levels and in different parts of their being, will ensure the most people can have a meaningful encounter with God.