What you’re about to read is a true story.
In one worship service, actual fire came down from heaven. The whole area was pulsating with God’s glory and effusing with smoke, making it impossible for anyone to enter the building. Instead, everyone was standing outside — hundreds of thousands of people! Every single person fell down when the heavenly bolt exploded into view, and they all shouted in worship: “For he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever.” The service lasted for a solid seven days.
How to Engage Your Flock in Worship
It’s a true story. (You can read it in 2 Chronicles 7, and 1 Kings 8.) I think it’s safe to say that those people were engaged in worship. Really engaged. So, how do we do it in our churches today? With the absence of fire from heaven and a theocracy that requires one’s presence at the service, how can we create an engaging worship service? The reality is, we can’t create a perfect worship setting. It doesn’t matter how comfortable the chairs or how expensive the sound system. You don’t get to pull the levers and push the buttons to produce an ideal worship service. Only God can do that. Nonetheless, there are things that we should do in worship that better facilitates true worship.
Attract People’s Attention toward What Really Matters
If there were such a thing as a meter for measuring mind-wandering, worship services would probably register off the charts. In a worship service, we sing familiar songs, and hear familiar words. It just seems so boring sometimes. Even an “exciting” worship service can slowly drift into the pattern of same ol’, same ol’. Besides, when we sit down in a room in a moment of relative quietude, our minds instinctively wander, not worship.
To battle this attrition of attention, we as church leaders must work hard at gaining the attention of the congregation? How do we do this? Conventional tricks include slapstick humor, loud music, viral videos, or some slick adaptation of a pop theme in a church setting — like a sermon series called “Breaking Bad” that’s about breaking the power of sin, get it get it? That can be trite, not to mention, irreverent.
Instead, there are ways to attract attention that are both respectful and workable. Here are three suggestions:
- Get serious. One of the most significant ways to attract people’s attention is to become truly serious for once. Our society craves entertainment, laughs, and frivolity. There’s nothing at all wrong with that! Church services ought not to be as dull as a graveyard. Now and then, however, it’s important to point people to the serious nature of what they are doing — worshipping the Almighty God, the King of Kings. This is an event of intense reverence and absolute humility. Be serious about it.
- Introduce change. When we’re stuck in the rut of routine, it’s easy to totally lose people’s attention. The predictable pattern of song, prayer, announcements — or some minor variations on the theme — invites tune-out and boredom. Change your schedule. Add new elements. Take things away. Shake it up. You’ll have attention, guaranteed.
- Ask questions. Careful queries can grab someone’s attention like crazy. There are worn out Christian cliche questions like, “Won’t you let God work in your heart today?” “Are you ready to worship?” and — one of the worst — “Can I get an amen?!” By giving thought and preparation to your service, you can begin by asking careful questions that will attract people’s attention and provoke thoughtfulness throughout the service. For example, as you introduce worship, ask “Can you think of a time in the past 24 hours where you voluntarily and intentionally worshipped God?”
Remember, attracting attention, isn’t about building more pizzaz for the service itself. It’s about focusing that attention on God, the sole object of our worship.
Ah, distractions. How they devour perfect moments! Many people tend to have a low tolerance for distractions. A baby’s cry, a dropped hymnbook, an unmuffled sneeze — these constitute “distractions” in some people’s experience. Whether or not these are really distractions isn’t up to us to decide. What is up to us is to provide, as much as we can, a distraction-free worship setting. Simple things like appropriate climate control, comfortable seating, and a well-rehearsed worship team can go a long way toward preventing “distractions” from occurring.
The thing about worship is, as grand as it is, there’s no single “right” way to do it. Obviously, things must be done in a reverent and appropriate way, but there is no worship manual that mandates the raising of one’s hands, stipulates a dress code, or describes the right words to say. We are free to worship in spirit and in truth.
The problem comes when we experience a sense of entrapment in a certain style of behavior for worship. Too often, this behavior does not come from a Godward heart, but from the prescribed conventionalism of our setting. I had a friend whose personal expression of worship was to raise his hands while singing and praying. At his church, his conservative brothers and sisters were so distracted by his movement, so he simply moved to the back of the church where his raised hands weren’t as noticeable.
I appreciate the respect he had for their scruples, but I also wish he could have been free to raise his hands right up in that worship service — and that his brothers and sisters could let him do it without too many stares, whispers, or shocked expressions.
As much as possible, be open to various expressions of worship. It’s not up to us to say “You’re doing it wrong!” God has set some clear parameters for worship, but he leaves a lot of freedom, too. Some people engage in worship best if they close their eyes and raise their hands. Some people engage in worship best if they stay seated. Some people engage in worship best by using their iPhone to take notes during the teaching. So be it.
Your goal is not to have all the people behaving the same way. Your goal is to invite people to worship the King — whatever that looks like individually.
In the hectic pace of our busy life, we don’t often take time to be still. One of the best ways to help people really engage in the worship is to allow them to just sit there and contemplate God’s majesty, to identify the needs of their heart, or simply to allow God to impress upon them His character and greatness.
Worship doesn’t need to be an endless flow of sound, stimuli, and experience. It can include quite moments of corporate solitude and reverent restraint. Don’t be afraid of the silence.
Let’s not forget that “worship” includes teaching, too. Engaging your congregation in worship is a matter of teaching them about worship. Often, we assume that we all know what worship is, how it’s done, and what to think about it. But then we start nibbling at some passages (like John 4 and Revelation 4), and we think, “Oh. Wow. Huh. Okay.”
Engaging in worship isn’t about getting the lighting right, the volume perfect, or somehow happening on that special moment where you get all tingly and goosebumpy. Those are fine moments, and I hope you have them. But to really engage in worship both spirit and truth must be present.
The burden falls upon pastors to convey that truth as it is explained in God’s Word. How does one teach well? To start with, explain what the Bible says, with honesty and simplicity.
I’ve included this last in the list, not because it’s kind of a compulsory Christian thing to do, but because it’s probably the most important element of discussion. Underlying an act of worship is a heart of prayer. It’s fascinating to see in Scripture how “worship” and “prayer” are mingled in a solution, where it is impossible to distinguish one from the other. It is appropriate to call some worship “prayer,” and to call prayer “worship.”
Keep prayer front and center as you worship. Pray between songs. Sing prayers. Be prayerful in your worship, and worshipful in your prayer, because worship and prayer are inseparable.
We can’t coerce people to worship God. And we shouldn’t try. We can, however, exalt God as best we know how.