3 Steps to Growing Your Church’s Expression In Worship by Stone Meyer
Do any of these words come to mind when you think about growing your church’s expressiveness in worship? If so, you’re not alone. As worship leaders, most of us long to see our church engaged in worship. We long to see our congregation move away from passivity and apathy in worship and towards physical expression that points to an inward transformation and adoration of Jesus. Oftentimes, there’s a disconnect between what we long for in our hearts and what we see with our eyes.
Over the last couple of years, I’ve seen God move in incredible ways in our church body, and as a result, we’ve seen expressiveness and spiritual vitality grow in our worship gatherings. I believe God Himself is leading us on a journey of discovering what it means to worship in spirit and truth, and I hope our journey can bring some encouragement to yours.
Let’s start with what’s most important.
WHAT IS WORSHIP?
The most common word used for worship in the New Testament is proskyneo, which means to kiss. In context, it means to prostrate oneself on the ground and kiss the feet of the One being worshipped. All throughout scripture, we are either seeing examples of physical expressiveness in worship or being called to physical expressiveness in worship (Psalm 47:1, Psalm 134:2). We, as leaders, must continually be asking ourselves:
Are we teaching our teams and congregations to worship God how they want to worship Him, or are we teaching them how He desires to be worshipped in accordance with scripture?
If you’re married, you probably had to learn in your first year of marriage how to love your spouse the way he/she wants to be loved (I’m four years in and still learning this!). A grave mistake we can make is to love our spouses the way WE want to love them. Same goes with friendships and other relationships. Similarly, we must learn how to love God the way He wants to be loved. And God is an expressive God, and desires we worship him with singing, lifted hands, clapping, and humbled hearts.
So, is the secret to change our behavior? Are lifted hands and raised voices the end-all-be-all to a spiritually vibrant worship culture? No, what we need is not a change of behavior, but a change of mindset, ultimately leading to a shift in behavior.
DOES OUR CULTURE AFFIRM OR DENY OUR MESSAGE?
Chances are you have people on your worship team who are more reserved. Maybe they aren’t expressive because “that’s just not who they are” and although you’ve encouraged them to engage, they simply won’t because it would be “inauthentic.” Here’s how I would gently respond to that mindset:
It is possible to deny with our culture what we declare with our message. If we preach God as an extravagant and generous Father while we selfishly withhold what God has given us, we are denying with our culture what we are declaring with our message, thus making our message void to every hearer. This has massive implications for us as worship leaders and musicians. If we are singing a song like “The Stand” and proclaiming “I’ll stand, with arms high and heart abandoned” but aren’t modeling this with our body language and facial expression, we are denying with our bodies what we are declaring with our voices. If we do this often enough, our noble intensions will actually have a reverse effect on our church — our worship will appear inauthentic and lifeless. Our congregation, especially those that are naturally more expressive, will say “Do they really understand what they are singing?”
We must affirm with our culture what we declare with our message. And we must model with our expression what we are singing in the lyrics.
I also want to speak to the active role congregation members play in encouraging expressiveness in worship and affirming our message. Every Sunday, there are people walking into our church with heavy, broken, and weary hearts. And worship, coupled with the physical expression of worshipers and the presence of God, has the ability to raise everyone’s affections and bring joy to people’s hearts, including our own.
Here are three steps that I’ve seen our church take that has led to biblically-sound, gospel-centered expressiveness in worship.
3 STEPS TO GROWING YOUR CHURCH’S EXPRESSION IN WORSHIP
1. Change your vocabulary. “Well, our people just don’t worship that way. Our congregation just isn’t on fire for God.” If you ever say this statement you will unfortunately be right. Your lack of faith becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. To paraphrase Craig Groeshcel, maybe you should start saying “I, as a leader, haven’t led our church to be physically expressive.” It’s time to take responsibility for our church’s spiritual health and vibrancy. Your church’s worship culture won’t change overnight, but I encourage you to lay out a plan and take some steps towards growing your church’s expression today!
2. Become the culture you want to see. Do you want to see your church lift their hands, sing at the top of their voice, and passionately pour out their praise to God? Here’s how: start doing it yourself. A common leadership principle is that what leaders do in excess, others will do in moderation. As a worship leader and musician, expressing your worship takes vulnerability and courage. People may look at you weird, but I promise that if you press in with confidence and are truly worshiping God, over time they will be the ones who feel weird.
3. Lead songs in a way that encourages physical expression. If you’re a practical person like me, this point is for you. Here’s a few very practical things you can do to encourage physical expression while leading worship.
• When approaching an ending chorus the church knows well, say “Come on church, you lead it!” Then begin to sing the last chorus and back away from the microphone, letting the congregation lead the song.
• If leading a song with background vocalists (we have 4 on a Sunday) have one or two of them sing the melody with you. Then towards the end of the song start to ad-lib a little more. Stop singing the lead melody and start to say the line before the church sings it. For example, when leading the song “Do It Again” by Elevation Worship, on the last chorus I will say “You promise still stands” right before the chorus comes in, and then let the background vocalists take the lead. You can even start to praise God with whatever words might come to mind. I might step back a bit from the microphone and start to sing “Your are always faithful God! You have never failed me! I will hold to your promises!” This encourages your congregation to not fall into the trap of reciting words on a screen, but to actively engage with God and express their heart to Him.
• Say “we lift our hands and sing!” before a chorus. I always encourage worship leaders to use the word “we” when possible. Saying “church, lift your hands and sing” can sometimes reinforce an Us vs. Them view of worship. Using the word “we” helps strengthen a gathered-family feel in worship.
In the words of one of my favorite Matt Redman tunes, “Lord, send revival, start with me.” As we seek to raise the affections of our church towards Jesus, may we ourselves pursue the Lord wholeheartedly with vulnerability and courage.
Stone Meyer serves as the Executive Pastor of Worship & Creative at the Bridge Church in Spring Hill, Tennessee. Visit bridgesh.com for more information.