Creative Elements to Worship - Part 2

By EXW Staff
October 02, 2023

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Part 2 of 3 by Steve MIller

11. Know your acoustics! The difference between singing in our middle school room and our high school room at my last church was incredible. It had nothing to do with the heart of the worshipers. It had everything to do with acoustics. The high school room had thick carpet and building materials that made it musically "dead." It was great for a concert, because the sound didn't bounce around. You could hear the singers' words and each instrument clearly.

But for group singing, it sucked eggs. No matter how loud students sang, their voices died right in front of them. It never sounded like people were into the singing. But put that same group into the middle school room, which had no carpet, a higher ceiling, and walls that reverberated sound and voila!, my "dead" worshipers were transformed into energetic singers!

12. Use a room of optimum size. Perhaps my most meaningful worship experience was in a small living room with about 8 people, lead by a piano and acoustic guitar. No small part of the effect was that the room fit us comfortably. A large auditorium would have detracted. Our large high school group requires the use of the sanctuary, but we'd only fill 1/4 of it. To make things more cozy, we use dividers.

13. For smaller groups, try to use homes over educational rooms. Kids love homes. The difference in atmosphere is dramatic.

14. Make the room visually appealing. "Revolution" bible study for alternative kids in downtown Atlanta uses a room that's shared with other ministries. They take a good bit of time to put up posters, set up an entry table with pictures and news clippings of past events, lamps, etc. They know that appearance matters.

North Point Church in metro Atlanta has more of a large coffee house feel, with round tables and dining chairs set up around the perimeter, comfortable couches in a semi-circle around the back, and space with no chairs at the front for active worship. It looks nothing like "educational space." I've used a decorations ministry team made up of youth and adults to keep the youth room updated. Remember, adults' ideas of a youth-friendly atmosphere may differ dramatically from what youth consider relevant. Youth culture changes so rapidly that we simply must have youth in on these decisions.

15. Make the room comfortable. Many churches have old couches and comfortable chairs set around to make kids comfortable. Remember, our spirits can no longer rejoice when our butts can no longer endure. Avoid metal, folding chairs when possible.

16. Arrange chairs for optimum impact. Straight rows of chairs facing a lectern suggest formality. Arrange the rows in semi-circles to reduce formality and promote group singing. Place them in a circle for small group sharing or for facilitating discussion. It's often dramatic how a simple shift in arrangement can change the entire atmosphere.

Strive for Clear Communication

17. Teach your singers to enunciate clearly. Multiple singers must blend well.

18. Make sure the band doesn't overpower the singers. At a recent concert the singer's mic was turned down too low, ruining an otherwise powerful performance.

19. Make the lyrics visible. It totally amazes me how a visiting worship band can prepare diligently, perform flawlessly, yet have 90% of its impact ruined by not having the words available. Depending on the setting, use Power Point, overheads, or songbooks. "I don't use words because I want my students to memorize the words," some will complain. But what about those new people who don't know any of your songs? Won't they feel left out of your exclusively insider worship?

The words must be large enough to be seen, well positioned in the room. And if you use Power Point, PLEASE make sure that the technical person is thoroughly familiar with the order and flow of each song. Clicking around for the right verse is a major distraction.

I'm also for putting up the words of any special that a band performs. Even if the singers enunciate very clearly, the written word is simply another way to ensure good communication.

20. Use creative, appropriate scenes behind the words. When ascribing greatness to God, a majestic mountain scene gives us a visual reminder of His greatness in creation. Power Point makes this easy. I used to create a similar effect with slides, turning off all the lights except for small clip lights on the stands so that the musicians could see their music. This drew the worshipers away from the band to totally focus on the slides.

If the song is a teaching song, visuals could focus on the message taught. For example, a song exhorting toward ministry involvement might feature pictures of recent ministry events. The Old Testament often records God telling Israel to institute visual reminders of His dramatic works among them. Why not feature pictures of the recent mission trip or vacation bible school, or the regular tear down crew, set up crew and clean up crew doing their work for Jesus?

These pictures could appear behind the words to a congregational song, a special, or a recorded song (celebratory or exhorting to good works). Many churches tend to be so forward thinking that they neglect celebrating what God has done and is doing. Like the lepers that Jesus healed, most of us neglect returning to thank Him for His marvelous deeds.

21. Use choreography appropriately. Do choreographed singers accentuate worship, or hinder it? In our group, it would definitely distract, being perceived as artificial, too scripted. Another group may perceive it positively. On the other hand, I saw choreographed tamborine players with streamers that I felt enhanced worship among certain groups. It all depends on the target audience.

22. Consider using music in the background during other parts of the service. Before the original "Star Wars" came out in theaters, a select group of executives, financiers, etc. previewed it in a private showing. The only element not yet added was the sound track. The response? Some fell asleep. The general consensus was that the movie would flop. But the addition of the sound track brought the movie to life.

Background music, if done well, may be hardly noticed. At the conclusion of a movie, I'll often see an advertisement for the soundtrack. Then I'll think, "I don't remember any music in the movie." The music was subtle, adding excitement to the action scene or emotion to the romantic scene. In the same way, music might well accompany a skit or a video clip, or a slide show of last week's youth camp, greatly enhancing the impact.

Be Creative

23. Keep people guessing. In some areas of life, find a winning formula and stick with it. Don't do it with your worship. I remember one church that used the same order of service every week. The rut was so deep, that when a guest leader did something different, a group of people automatically stood up at the tradition point of the service, much to their embarrassment. When people can unthinkingly follow our established routine, they may go through the entire service without thinking, and thus without truly worshiping.

24. Mix up the positioning of the primary service elements. Especially when the message will be related to loving God, worshiping God, etc., position the spoken message toward the first of the meeting. The following praise time provides an opportunity to apply what was taught. One teen said of his former youth minister, "I always loved Mike's youth ministry, because we never knew what was going to happen until we got there." Besides keeping their attention, such variety teaches that music is more than just a warm-up to the message. It's significant in itself.

25. Occasionally add a new instrument or a new style. Always, always ask a representative group of youth whether or not it enhanced the worship and communication.

26. In some alternative Christian concerts, certain band members will face away from the audience. Try facing the worship leaders away from the audience on a song so see if this enhances everyone's feel that these are truly "lead worshipers."

Get the People Actively Worshiping

27. Experiment with celebration. In many Christian settings, we stifle true celebration. Reflect on a Deuteronomy 14:22-27 as an example of an annual, God ordained celebration. In brief, the Israelites were instructed to take their favorite foods and drinks ("whatever your heart desires") and rejoice before the Lord. No sacrifices. No fasts. Sounds like fun…spiritual fun!

Culturally relevant celebration in a Christian context is an alien concept to many youth. When youth celebrate in popular settings, they jump up and down, form trains and move around the room, clap, shout. Physical expressions such as dancing (Psalm 149:3) are well established in Scriptures.

The point of Scripture, as I understand it, is not that we MUST dance, any more than we MUST use a lyre (Ps. 149:3). Just use whatever is morally neutral among your people that is natural for them to express celebration. (Okay, so I'm pretty self-conscious about my own dancing.) If students get really happy in a celebratory atmosphere, you may have to warn against moshing and body surfing, if they would risk injury or otherwise take the focus off of God.

28. Allow different youth to participate from the front. Some may not be musically inclined, but could introduce a song or read a Scripture or do a drama.

Find the Optimum Style(s)

29. In general, start by using the style that the majority of your youth choose to listen to in their most relaxed moments. This is what ethnomusicologists call the "heart music" of your group. Get youth to talk to you frequently and openly about tweaking the style. They are the experts on which styles enhance or detract from worship or communication. Listen especially to the reaction of first-timers, in order to avoid the church's historical tendency to get stuck in a stylistic rut and declare it "God's style."

30. Consider starting target ministries using highly targeted styles. Youth have such divergent tastes. By trying to appeal to all of their heart styles in one service, you'll probably alienate everyone in the process. When pastor Don Roscoe inquired about visiting a successful ministry in Singapore, the person responded, "Which service? Loud, louder or loudest?" Apparently, this church had successfully targeted three audiences. In the same way, it may always be difficult for alternative kids to worship in your mainstream service. Perhaps several churches could come together to have a regional service that employs the heart music of alternatives.

31. Work hard to achieve instrumental balance. If the drums overshadow the guitars, the melody suffers.

32. Use a variety of Christian bands on CD for songs that reinforce points. These songs that teach serve a double purpose: reinforcing your message and acquainting them with great bands that can help renew their minds during the week.

Vary the Intensity

33. Vary your volume. In Western culture, increasing the volume increases the intensity. We see biblical authors raising the volume when they speak of shouting. Singers do it by singing more loudly. Instrumentalists can do it by turning up the sound or starting with one instrument and adding instruments as intensity builds.

Some old time song leaders wanted people to sing out at full volume all the time. Yet, sometimes worship can be more meaningful when sung softly. Often going immediately from loud to soft can be dramatic.

34. Vary your speed. If the first couple of verses of the song were done full throttle, consider slowing down considerably on the final verse, letting the words sink in.

35. Vary the number of instruments. Often songs start with one instrument and build till the entire band plays. Just as dramatic can be going suddenly from a full band to one acoustic guitar.

36. Transition to a higher key to build intensity. You can do this from verse to verse, or from song to song.

Know Your Group

37. Know the songs they love. Constantly survey your students, asking which songs best communicate to them and help them worship God. If you're invited to lead worship in another group, do your research. Find out their favorite styles and favorite worship songs. For a retreat, you can teach a lot of songs during the week. For a one-time shot, you'd better have a good mix of songs they already know. I've seen talented leaders get nowhere with a group because the youth weren't familiar with any of their songs.

38. Know their worship culture. A professional worship team came to my Christian college to lead a worship service. On weekends they led worship at a successful fundamentalist church that apparently equated loud singing with authentic worship. Our student culture worshiped best by singing at our own reflective volume. The leader, probably thinking we were spiritually dead, urged us to "sing out to the Lord." The more he tried to whip up enthusiasm, the more artificial he seemed, and the more embarrassed we all became - a classic example of failing to understand a worship culture.

Your picture of the perfect worship service (hands held high, jumping up and down with delighted facial expressions) may differ markedly from your group (head down, eyes closed, reclining on bean bags, softly reflecting the lyrics back to God). Ignore these differences and only the most flexible in your group will meet God in worship.

39. Know and love your kids. A leader stepped up to teach. He wasn't the most polished speaker. I quickly lost his main point among his jumble of ideas. But the kids loved him. They hooped and hollered to welcome him on stage and screamed to congratulate him as he left. Why? Because he spent time with the kids during the week and they loved him. Time spent loving on the worshipers during the week will pay rich dividends when you lead at the youth meeting. They'll forgive your mistakes and celebrate your successes. No amount of talent can make up for a distant, proud leader.

Control Distractions

40. Educate your kids on worship each week. Constantly reinforce what worship is and how to worship and you'll prevent many distractions. Without instruction, most kids see music as a background to their social activities. Thus, many aren't trying to be disrespectful by socializing during the worship. They're doing what comes natural.

Each week, I recommend reinforcing why we're doing what we're doing. Saying something between every song is overkill. But why not say, after an opening kicking song, "I hope you're having fun tonight, because worship can be fun. But I just want to remind you that this is a time for us to forget about ourselves, forget about the people around us, and give God the attention that He's due. I challenge you to not distract anyone around you, to forget about yourself, and concentrate on singing these words with us to God."

41. Have respected, spiritually-minded, college-aged people positioned well throughout the audience. First of all, they can set the pace for worship. This is not the time for your adult leaders to huddle in the back for fellowship. Urge them to dive into the worship with their hearts. When the kid who's about to shoot a spit wad sees that the 20-year-old next to him has his hands up in worship, he may put the straw back into his pocket out of embarrassment.

Second, challenge your adults with good relational skills to control serious distractions. The least confrontational the better. Often, simply walking up and sitting next to the distracting kid will do the trick. Someone may have sit next to the wired ADD kid who just consumed a quart of coffee, tap him politely on the shoulder and say, "Hey, by tackling your friends and putting chewing gum in their hair, you're kind-of distracting my worship. Why don't you try to experience some real worship with me?" Getting the adult leaders involved frees the leader from having to call down hecklers from the stage.

42. If you find yourself having to continually get youth to quiten down, consider doing an anonymous survey. Minimal talking is expected these days, even among adults. And there will always be the new people who don't "get it" yet. But when talking becomes a major distraction, something must be done.

In one group, I handed out an anonymous survey, asking youth to tell me what they liked and disliked about our meeting. I included the question, "Does it bother you when some students talk and distract?" Significantly, I found that most of the youth were very bothered by youth that talked and cut up during worship. (Some of the ones who indicated they didn't like distractions were the distractors themselves!)

Reporting back to the group that most of the youth themselves were bothered by the talkers gave me great ammunition. From then on, I wasn't enforcing an adult norm on the youth. Instead, I was trying to enforce what the youth group itself wanted. If people were distracting I could say, "Hey guys, youth in the group have told me they are really bothered when people distract their worship. Let's show some respect." We simply can't allow the irreverence of a few short-circuit the true worship of many.

43. Deal with distracting worshipers. One of my youth went to a revival where the leader told the audience that they should forget about what other people thought. Rather, they should shout or do whatever they felt to worship God. His application of this teaching was to shout in the traditional adult service. Although it may have expressed his heart, it didn’t help others worship! A group who experienced "holy laughter" at a retreat seemed to fully enjoy their worship, but distracted the rest of the campers from worship. If leadership fails to deal with such distractions, they will become stumbling blocks to many.

The Bible never says that we should do everything we feel like doing in worship. In fact, Paul tells us clearly that leaders must enforce limitations. To the charismatic Corinthians, Paul said that their prophecies must be tested (I Cor. 14:29). Tongues had limitations. (I Cor. 14:9ff). If attending unbelievers think we've gone mad, something's amiss, no matter how much you feel you're led by the Spirit. (I Cor. 14:23). Love's more important than expressing my worship any way I please (I Cor. 13:1-3). As leaders we must urge distracting worshipers to not allow their preferences to hinder the worship of others.

Go to Part Three

Steve Miller wrote "The Contemporary Christian Music Debate," and collects youth ministry resources at . Copyright Steve Miller, August, 2002, Acworth, Georgia.

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