Church Worship

What Do Congregations Really Want from Worship Leaders?

What Do Congregations Really Want from Worship Leaders?

Music is one of the languages my heart speaks best to God. Likewise, His voice resonates and resounds like a reverberating gong to me when I listen to and sing music. It’s no surprise that I pursued music ministry in college.

I’m aware now that not everyone responds to music the way I do, and that’s okay. Our differences are part of the unique imprint that God places on each of our souls.

Yet even though He gives the gift of uniqueness intending to unify us, it seems it can also divide us. Rather than embracing our diversity, we clamor for conformity.

Worshiping the Lord through music and song sometimes polarizes people.

Congregants bring a wide variety of preferences in style, and perceived understandings, to worship. For some, music is not their primary language of communication with God. Worship leaders need to navigate these choppy waters with sensitivity.

The purpose of worship is glorifying God: making him known, proclaiming his goodness, and remembering his wonders. It’s a time to give expression to our heart’s cry and to receive God’s comforting truth. It’s a time when we stand united as one voice praising God while allowing him to speak to us as individuals.

Worship leaders’ jobs are to help with this exchange of voices, but not to interfere with it.

As a worship leader, you must be aware of so much while you’re leading. You need to know the music, and what your instrumentalists and vocalists are doing. Then you need to be aware of where the Holy Spirit is leading, and how the congregation is doing. It’s a beautiful thing when we can “find the river” as Bob Sorge writes in his book, Exploring Worship.

To do this well, worship leaders must steward congregations. It’s not about us at all. It’s not about our vocal technique or team leadership. Or if we have flawless worship experiences.

It’s about serving the congregation and the Lord.

But hearts are deceptive. They can get tangled in a mess of insecurity and pride. When hearts long for God’s ways, he reveals hidden messes so that you and I can become the leaders he intends. After one such revelation, God showed me this picture of my role as a worship leader:

I saw a fancy restaurant with a table set for two. The table was small and round with a pristine white tablecloth. It was set with the finest bone china, and a single red rose in a bud vase. God occupied one seat and the other was empty. But the seat wasn’t for me. The seat was for the people. It wasn’t my time to sit at the table. My job was to serve God and his date. It was neither to flirt, nor to entertain.

I was to bring the honored guest to the table, and serve them without drawing attention to myself.

And to bring what each needed to create a beautiful exchange between the two.

Over the years, I’ve learned that congregations need six critical things from their worship leaders. They vary from the practical to the spiritual to the mundane, but all are important:

1. Build relationships with your congregation.

Relationships build influence. As you grow in relationship with God, you receive his influence. And when worship leaders get to know the people they lead, influence grows. Worship leaders need to interact with other people in the church.

Your interaction with people should not only be from the platform. How can one expect to lead if one does not know who they are leading? When you know your people, it allows you to lead with compassion and discernment. Knowing who you’re leading enables you to create unique set-lists based on God’s plan for worship.

A congregation doesn’t need music stars. They need leaders who want to know them and their stories.

2. Value excellence.

A congregation needs you to value excellence, not perfection. Come prepared; which means taking time to practice. Kinks arise in sound levels, technology, and with musicians. It’s best to work these out before the corporate worship experience.

Not only do your teams need to know the music, but your people whom you’re leading need to know it as well. This means giving people time to learn new songs and not introducing too many new songs too quickly. You want them to sing and to connect with the music, and time is a necessary commodity for this.

It can take several weeks of rotating a song through the set-lists for a congregation to sing a new song from their heart.

3. Develop spiritual depth.

Above all, love Jesus more than the music. When you live out his truths in the hard parts of our life, the roots of faith grow deep. Second, the songs we select should exhibit a spiritual depth.

We need to examine the lyrics for reflection of the trinity and biblical truth. Songs need to highlight the gospel message of sin and grace. Leading worship provides a time to teach about God’s love, grace, and mercy.

4. Consider your church’s culture.

Of course, the Bible is not dependent on personality types. If it were, we would never know what it’s like to have the power of God in our lives. But if you consider your church’s culture as you lead them into worship with God, you can help prevent polarity.

The people are the culture. What are the predominant personalities? Introverts or extroverts? Traditional or contemporary? Thinkers or talkers? It matters.

5. Make participation easy.

You should teach that worship is life-altering and awe-inspiring, but there’s a balance between talking too much and too little. Make participation easy by inviting people to lift their voices, raise their hands, or to praise using their own words. Keep the songs in an easy key to sing in, simple times, and take out the riffs, scats, and fillers.

Plan the transitions ahead of time so that transitioning from song to song is seamless. These benefit the congregation’s experience. Be easy to follow. Sing the melody and let the backup vocals take the harmony.

Allow quiet places for reflection and personal praise.

6. Be patient.

Being patient means introducing change with care because it could take time. It means leading with humility and not arrogance. It’s leading from biblical conviction and not personal preference or people-pleasing. Leading worship from a place of biblical conviction roots our attitude in patience. We cannot berate our people into praise and worship, we invite. Sometimes people reject that invitation and the best response is one of patience.

Leading worship is a platform ministry, which makes it easy to elevate it to a status that isn’t intended. Leading worship is a place to serve others.

It’s a place to lead others to the table of God, and then step back to let them take a seat. What a privilege to lead worship while caring for your congregation’s hearts!

Jessica Van Roekel leads worship in her local church and writes at She believes that through Christ our personal histories don’t have to define our present or determine our future and that the abundant life in Christ happens in the middle of mess. Jessica lives in a rural setting surrounded by farmland and her husband and children. You can connect with her on Instagram and Facebook.

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