A Critical Question for Worship Leaders

Featured / Headline / Leadership / March 1, 2016

Worship leaders tend to gather like a pack of middle school girls roaming the mall. Walk into any coffee shop and you’ll spot a small herd of bearded hipsters flaunting a modified Elvis haircut. Sometimes, you just want to take a picture.

Every so often, I find myself smack dab in the middle of these clusters of coolness. I don’t really belong, so I observe their behavior from the outside – like a sociologist studies culture.

As I listen to the banter, I become aware of a strange eight bar loop in the rhythm of their conversation. Phrases like “click-track,” “pedal board” and “planning center” are trapped on repeat and fill their exchange like notes on a page. It’s like a chorus that repeats over and over. Eventually, a critical question crescendos from someone in the group:

So, what songs are you guys do’n these days?

Repeat the previous eight bar loop.

The Wrong Question

That’s when I thought, if you ask the wrong question, you’ll inevitably get an answer that isn’t helpful. Churches across the country have platforms filled with music and pews flooded with silence. In epidemic proportions, corporate worship has lost her participatory edge.

Discovering what other churches are singing is really no discovery at all. It just perpetuates the problem.

The Right Question

Instead, we need to know the songs that are working. What if worship leaders across the nation changed the question. What if we mined out the tunes that really engage people in the worship experience; songs that resonated with how God is moving in our pews and throughout our community.

And what if we discovered that what works is the very thing we ourselves don’t like? Can leadership trump our creative values?

What if we swapped the question and asked, “What songs are your people actually singing these days?” or “What songs are actually engaging your faith community?

Then, repeat the previous eight bar loop.

Dave Milam
Dave Milam is a pastor, communicator and the founder of One Life Church in Charlotte, North Carolina. As a a gifted communicator Dave's right brained style of delivery helps his listener connect and remember God's truth in a uniquely visual way. Connect with Dave on Google+

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on March 1, 2016


on March 1, 2016

My question would be “does the music have to be that loud to be effective?”

on March 2, 2016

Good stuff here brother… we need to have the proper balance of the songs that are singable and songs that just flat out minister to people… many songs can do both

on March 2, 2016

Excellent thoughts

on March 2, 2016

My take on this is only this…. The question I would ask is what songs evoke worship in the hearts of the people in the church? Everyone will have different opinions about the style, loudness or tempo of a song but if the song is doctrinally sound and draws me into worshiping my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ the King then I think God is pleased with our worship.

on March 2, 2016

Right on, Dave. I despise going to Church anymore! In this debate I’ve read other articles about the mindless drivel that passes for “Christian” music, let alone worship music. There’s no worship. I don’t recall who said it at this time but they compared Sunday morning music time as a concert with compliant mannequins standing there silent for 20 minutes. But, if you say anything about it to a pastor then you’re told that you’re bringing descent and division in to the church and “we need to reach the unchurched”.
We have a large auditorium with some big windows on the wall behind the platform. It has been covered over with black curtains and a HUGE screen on which to project the words to the songs we don’t know…or like. All the lights are turned off, the spotlights and spinning lights and now the fog machine are set in to motion. The worship leader yells the next line at us like we can’t read along with “Come on church, SING!” What happened to church? I just want to go to church on Sunday.

on March 3, 2016

Well writen old friend. I like how you try to get to the root of the issue.

on March 7, 2016

I like where you’re going here, Dave, but I do wonder if perhaps this still grants a bit too much authority to the songs (and implicitly, their authors).

Our churches aren’t a homogeneous organism for which we need to derive some magical musical formula to elicit the response some worship leader (or group thereof) thinks is The Right One. Rather, they consist of individual people at unique spots in their individual spiritual journeys, with individual emotional and intellectual triggers that flow naturally from their individual personalities and life experiences.

If you want to write a catchy tune, there are formulas for that. If you want to work up a concert-like frenzy of noise and animation, there are formulas for that. And the opposite is true: there are plenty of formulaic ways that a given song can be expected to discourage worshipful participation (poor key selection, extreme metric or melodic complexity, sloppy execution, etc.). But authenticity doesn’t always look the same for one person as for another, so I don’t know that worship is quite so formulaic.

I propose a slight enhancement to your question: “What songs are working for your congregation, and why?” If all we can come up with are answers that would likewise be determined by a similar poll of pop/rock concertgoers, I submit that we’ve defined “working” poorly and probably need to understand our congregations a bit more deeply.

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