Walk into just about any church this Sunday morning, and you’ll see something so common that you’d never think twice about it — worship leaders on the stage. In contemporary churches, it’s as common as padded chairs and plexiglass pulpits. But maybe we need to ask the question, should worship leaders really be on stage?

Should Worship Leaders Really Be Exalted on Stage?

The Problems with Worship Leaders on the Stage

What’s the problem, anyway? Most churches use stage-centric worship. An architect designs a church, and one of the first things he does is plan for a stage — big enough for a full band and maybe a choir, too. Stages are the focal point of the auditorium. Stage-centric worship leaders are de rigueur in churches today.

 

So…why is this an issue?

 

Here’s how one churchgoer described his situation:

“I actually find myself getting distracted from the lights, the pretty people on stage, and the instruments, during worship and it can be frustrating because I know I’m not worshiping the Lord which is what we’re all there for. Should this be changed? Or is it important for them to lead from up on stage?”

 

I see where he’s coming from, and that’s why I’ve raised the question. No, I don’t have any verse from Scripture or private revelations from God that will settle this matter once and for all. I’m just getting the question out there. Here are some of the concerns that I have with stage-centric worship leaders.

•  It distracts from worship. Like my friend wrote, “I know I’m not worshipping the Lord.” In other words, he is distracted. Obviously, we don’t expect to have a perfect physical setting for every worship event. Babies will cry. Lights will flicker. Chairs will creak. People will drop their Bibles. It happens. But if there’s a major distraction that we can prevent, shouldn’t we consider it? With worship leaders on the stage, under the spotlight, and in the limelight, there’s at least the risk of distraction at best, and at worst the inability to worship.

 

•  It places worship leaders on a pedestal. Have you read our team’s article on worship leaders and pride? Or Kristi’s discussion of humility in the life of a worship leader? We write about it, because we know it’s an issue. Let’s not pretend that worship leaders are immune to pride. The lights turn on, and there you are — in the presence of the people. You’re seen, heard, and respected. You’re The Worship Leader! And so it begins — an insidious version of pride. It’s horrible. Part of the process of feeding this monster is the very fact that worship leaders are in front, being spotlighted, being promoted, and being seen. Stages don’t create pride. But they can contribute.

 

•  It turns worship into a performance venue rather than a worship event. Most contemporary church stages are modeled on the modern pop music stage setup. It’s the same instruments, configuration, wiring, blocking, and other accoutrements. One might argue that just because a rock concert has the same stage setup as a church doesn’t mean that the church shouldn’t do it. Speakers stand in front of people just like secular people, right? Christians drive vehicle with four wheels just like secular people, right? Of course, but there’s more. Many of our worship events are little more than concerts, albeit using Chris Tomlin and Matt Redman songs. Sometimes, the “worship service” is a performance driven event rather than a God-focused worship time. When we replace “worship” with a display of talent and skill, we’ve substituted our adoration of God into the adoration of musicians. This tragedy is facilitated by the mimicry of secular performances — elevated stage, theatrical fog, ERS, gobo lights, and a few laser effects for good measure. Is this necessary?

 

I know what you’re thinking: Okay, if they’re not on the stage then where should they be, huh?

 

The Solution to Stage-Centric Worship Leaders

Like I mentioned above, I don’t see the issue of stage placement and spot lighting addressed in neither Leviticus nor Hosea, not to mention the sixty-four other books of the Bible. In my study, I did learn that during the dedication of the temple (2 Chronicles 6:13), Solomon used an elevated stage when he led the people in corporate prayer. Nehemiah did the same thing when he led a rededication ceremony (Nehemiah 8:4). This doesn’t exactly answer our issue, though — should worship leaders be on stage?

The fact is, there aren’t any hard-and-fast answers. No single solution will work or should work for every church forever and ever, amen, thus saith the Lord.

Each church and church leader must honestly face the risks and potential effects of their particular worship plan. It’s an important decision. Please don’t feel compelled to do something just because every other church does it, or because a seriously awesome church leader recommends it or does it.

So, if you skimmed the previous section and skipped to this section because it had the word “solution” in it, I’m sorry to have disappointed you.

 

Mold-Breaking Alternatives:

Here are some mold-breaking alternatives that may get you thinking. Since this article addresses the contemporary-style, band-on-the-stage model of worship team, the alternatives below provide suggestions for this model.

 

•  Worship team on the floor. Instead of giving them a stage presence, why not put them in front, but on the main floor? This clears the way for a more prominent display of projected lyrics, too. It could be possible to shift the team to the side, too, rather than occupying the entire stage.

 

•  Worship team behind the congregation. With sound amplification the way it is, there’s no really compelling reason to have the worship team in front, is there? I’ve visited a church where the choir sang from the back of the church. Though unexpected (to me), it served to highlight in my mind that the worship wasn’t about the performers — it was about God — and helped me focus.

 

•  Worship team out of sight. Have you ever been to a funeral home where the musician performed in a separate room off the stage — maybe with a screen or louvered wall? The idea behind such a design is to remove distraction and to keep the audience’s attention on the memory of the loved one rather than the performer or musician. It’s not a bad idea, actually. Maybe removing the worship team from sight altogether allows us to have the benefit of the accompaniment without the distraction of their focused presence.

 

By the way, worship leaders and musicians, we’re not trying to get rid of you. We’re just proposing ideas that may help you do what you do better — allow for more focused worship. Focused on God, that is.

 

What ideas do you have?

About The Author

Daniel Threlfall

Daniel Threlfall has been writing church ministry articles for more than 10 years. With his background and training (M.A., M.Div.), Daniel is passionate about inspiring pastors and volunteers in their service to the King. Daniel is devoted to his family, nerdy about SEO, and drinks coffee with no cream or sugar. Learn more about Daniel at his blog and twitter.

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25 Responses

  1. Julie Moore

    Daniel, I’m so excited to see you write about this particular subject. Last year, September 15th around 2:30am, the Lord woke me up and spoke to me about 2 specific things. One of the things was about worship. He showed me a vision of the worship teams in the overall collective church, turning around and facing the same direction as the congregation. They led forward from that posture. Everyone was focused on the Lord, the worship leader was not exalted, was not a cheerleader giving direction and exhortation, etc. We were all moving out together, worshiping the Lord in total abandon. Christ was the ensign the one we all pursued and fixed our hearts upon. It was beautiful. He told me to encourage the church with this. That’s what I’m trying to do now :). Appreciate your prayers! Sincerely, Julie Moore, Schnecksville PA

    • Daniel Threlfall

      Thanks, Julie. That’s so encouraging!

  2. John

    Good thoughts… but most church worship area layouts are not friendly to these ideas! Our area is very traditional – long and narrow. Small platform… clearly designed to have ‘leaders’ on the platform because that is what has been ‘traditional’ for ages. There is no space to be on the floor in front of the platform or to the side of the platform or even in the rear behind our fellow worshipers. I do wonder about people remembering that we are here to worship the Lord, so our norm is to always begin with prayer during which we are all reminded very clearly that God alone is worthy of our worship. In many situations, it seems like the best we can do is to ask and allow the Spirit to constantly remind us all that God alone is worthy to be praised. As leaders we point the way to the ONE worthy of worship and deflect all praise to Him alone… some physical layout situations make that harder than others!
    Musically speaking, I try to remind our team that our goal is to be ‘non-distracting’… neither so bad people are distracted nor so ‘professional’ that people are distracted. God hears in perfect pitch… make a joyful noise… do your best for the Master! Let your face reflect your joy at being able to worship Him and help fellow believers to do the same. No one ever gets it perfect all the time… keep practicing to do your best for the only ONE worthy of praise!

    • Daniel Threlfall

      Good points, John. And I totally see where you’re coming from. Contemporary setups do little to accommodate alternative arrangements. Most importantly, however, is exactly what you reminded us of — focusing on worship, regardless of how you’re positioned.

  3. Tom

    I think removing worship leaders from stage discounts the ability for worship leaders to lead people into worship. Just as a pastor motivates and encourages the people through preaching, so can a worship team motivate and encourage the people to worship.
    Of course that requires that your worship team is not a band with singers, but worshippers who happen to play instruments and sing. I am not distracted by our worship team on stage, but motivated by them as they lift their hands and lead people to praise and worship. But they truly enjoy worshipping and are not striving to perform.

    • Daniel Threlfall

      Good observations, Tom. I’m sure a big part of the issue has to do with the heart condition of those who are leading the worship time.

  4. Jeff

    Though I haven’t spent a lot of time thinking about the physical POSITION of the worship team, I have thought a great deal about the function and size of the worship team. Over the past few decades, the worship team has taken an increasingly prominent position in the worship service, and it keeps getting bigger. The worship team I lead (one of two at my church) has 8 people on it. The other worship team has over 10.

    Back in the day, the ‘worship leader’ was the only one on the ‘worship team.’ One person, on a piano or organ, would sing the first few words of the song loudly enough so everyone could hear, then the congregation would take over with the piano or organ accompanying them.

    Personally, I would love to see the church return to a more ‘minimalist’ approach to music in the church. I’m not a hymns-only guy (in fact, we rarely do hymns at our church). I’m fine with modern worship, but I think the role and the function of music and musicians in church has been blown way out of proportion.

    The voices of the congregation are typically drowned out by the amplified guitars, drums, voices, lighting, smoke machines, etc. Is this really what we planned on doing–moving the locus of the ‘worship’ from the congregation to the platform? In my humble opinion, this needs to change.

    • Daniel Threlfall

      Wow. Right on, Jeff. You spoke words that I completely agree with — “the role and the function of music and musicians in church has been blown way out of proportion.” That is so true.

      I’ve been in attendance at some churches where I can’t hear myself think above the noise of the music, and where I can hardly see my hand in front of my face for the fog and blinding lasers.

      Is this worshipful? For some, maybe. For me, it’s difficult to say yes.

  5. Tom Kraeuter

    Part of the bigger problem is the terminology. Stage? Really?
    Such a term for the front area of the church is a relatively new concept. In the past it would have been a chancel area or, perhaps, a platform. A stage? That’s where the actors/performers are. Just using that term gives it a whole new connotation.
    Secondly, the bigger issue is not where the worship leader/team is/are positioned, but how they are presented. When the “house” lights are dimmed and the colored “stage” lights are full blast on the “performers” on the “stage,” then of course there’s a problem. We’re not there to highlight those people. We are there to worship God.

    • Daniel Threlfall

      Exactly right, Tom. I think position and presentation — which you draw a distinction between — have so much commonality that it’s hard to differentiate between them, practically speaking. “We are there to worship God,” and whatever draws us away from this needs to be drawn into serious question as part of our practice.

  6. retlaw7

    I can relate to this blog post! I remember a few years back, our church (during Easter if I remember right), had an evening worship service, and nothing was up on the stage except for the cross. There was a piano player and a guitar player, but they were off to the side, behind a black curtain where they couldn’t be seen. During that service, it was so easy to just focus on the Lord. Loved it!

  7. Glenda Huntoon

    I have attended many churches and all with a different set up. Although the set up was different, the worship leaders were still in the front of the congregation. In these experiences I have found that the leaders of that worship were the key to keeping the focus in the right place. I won’t mention any specific churches, but the ones where I have experienced intimate worship with out distractions, were the ones where the leader was totally focused on his or her personal focus on worship. If the worship team is focused on pointing the congregations attention to worshipping the Lord and not drawing attention to themselves, the congregation for the most part will follow suit if their true intent is to focus on worshipping the King.

    A person must also take some responsibility for his/her own focus. There are times when people are distracted because of something amiss in their relationship with Christ. I attended a Bible study where the worship team was clearly just beginning. Their talents were in the very raw stages of progress. But the worship that night was amazing. Not because of the performance of the team, but because we were all there to worship the Lord and exalt HIM.

    • Daniel Threlfall

      I liked this, Glenda: “A person must also take some responsibility for his/her own focus.”

      That’s so true. It can be easy to criticize virtually everything about a worship venue as distracting. There are so many different “distracting” factors and so many “distractable” people, that ANYTHING can become a distraction: too hot, too cold, baby crying, too much smoke, weird glint of the projector, sweaty worship leader, ugly worship leader, carpet frayed, whatever.

      We definitely need to understand that worship is less an issue of setting and surrounding, and fundamentally an issue of the heart.

      Like another commenter wrote, the Holy Spirit is the one who draws us into worship and helps us worship.

      • Jeff

        These comments are indeed the heart of worship. As a worship leader myself I translated this exact thing to the congregation a few weeks ago. If we come into worship with the attitude ok entertain me and you better make this worth my while, our focus is in the wrong place. It is on self and what you can do for me and not on Jesus Christ our Lord and Saviour and allowing the Holy Spirit to draw us into a time of meditation, prayer, praise and heart felt Worship to our Heavenly Father. We are at the present a relatively small but growing congregation without a stage or special effects. These things do not personally bother me and I have been in large churches and had a truly beautiful time of praise and worship in drawing near to my Lord but its not because of the hype. We have equally beautiful times of worship at our church and in small groups as well it is really a matter of where the heart is. Eph 1:18 I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened, so that you will know what is the hope of His calling, what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints, Blessings and Thank you.

  8. Benjamin

    Great article!

    I am not aware that any person can lead me or any person into worship. That is all done by the Holy Spirit. Worship leaders are the new rock-stars of ministry. Everyone wants to be one, or be known as one. The upfront, on-stage, lights-on, band-mentality is so prevalent know, that I don’t know how to react to it. Personally I get uncomfortable when a person on stage, are hyping me up to do something.

    I also cannot concentrate on the lyrics, when there are beautiful people (I have never seen an unattractive worship leader) that are incredible musicians with very cool looking attire, rocking out on stage. I’m more interested in them and what they are doing which is not the point right? I’m there to worship God!

    That’s just me 🙂

    • Daniel Threlfall

      You and me, both Benjamin.

      And when they have cool tats or sweet scarves, it’s even harder to focus. 🙂

  9. Ross Lewchuk

    Great and very relevant article! I couldn’t agree more with your concern in this area. The potential for a “show biz” spirit in today’s worship is quite real, and sadly often manifested. Both the congregation and the worship team can slip into idolatry, competitiveness and artistic egotism, leaving true praise and worship outside somewhere. The churches in Germany of J.S.Bach’s day had a choir loft in the back, with the architectural focus on the pulpit and baptistery. The music “wafted down” from above, with the musicians and singers basically unseen. However, this addressed only half of this age old issue (i.e. visual exaltation of the worship team), the other half being the balance between real congregational participation in singing praises, and the use of highly skilled singers and musicians to do “the real thing.” The bottom line of course is worshiping “in spirit and in truth,” which is independent of any temple or church building or even technical skill. Paul and Silas did not pray for singers and musicians to be sent to them in jail. Just the two of them sang psalms, and God sent an earthquake in response!
    Back to solutions: I know of a Haitian congregation in Montreal, Quebec (Canada) which has the Pastor lead the people from the pulpit while the worship team, embedded in the congregation, sings from wireless mikes, with the musicians placed below and to the side of the platform. Works great! Then there are times when we want those specially gifted singers and musicians to minister in ways that others cannot.
    God is pleased both with the general and the special praise, as long as it is genuine. Let us not discourage or try to “out sing” the non professional congregation, nor put down and rarely use the gifted singers and musicians. Let us keep God first, and He will provide the joy, peace, harmony and balance we need for effective praise and worship. He will give your church its own unique solution.

  10. Darren

    Excellent article, I personally think that the Pastor/Rev’d should lead the worship with the worship team at the side of the stage. Also have a rota of worship leaders so every week a different worship leader works with the Pastor/Rev’d to direct and focus the congregation. Unfortunately over the years I have seen many Pastors struggling with worship leaders who are going in a different direct from the Holy Spirit and fleshing it out in the church.

  11. Rob

    I like the way we do it at LIFEhouse. The PowerPoint with lyrics is in front of the congregation. We are on the right side of them. The attention is on the words, and -hopefully- God.

  12. Pete

    “the role and the function of music and musicians in church has been blown way out of proportion.” That is so true.”
    I was so disappointed to read this and the response to it. Dissapointed because I think you have marginalized and penalized worship leaders because of a few abuses. Yes, we all have seen the rock and roll shows, and we all know when this is man focused and not God centered. But please, not every worship leader struggles with pride, and none are perfect. Placement is not the answer. I would say from my experience and the experience of many worship leaders I know, that the church has no problem diminishing the role and function of music, worship leaders, or musicians. Most of us are trying to lead a congregation in worship that is often hostile to style, indifferent to subtle changes that enhance the flow and substance of worship, and may even put up with the music long enough until the real reason they came comes up – to hear the word preached. Yes, there are celebrity worship leaders. By and large the church has worship leaders who worship and are trying to lead the church in meaningful, reverent, and creative worship. When was the last time anyone thanked a sound tech for using his gifts to minister, or for minimizing sound issues that will allways happen at the worst times, or how long has it been since anyone thanked an usher, greeter, musician, worship leader, nursery worker, or anyone other than the pastor for a great service, or using their gifts so others could be free to worship with their heart, mind soul and strength? Everyone needs a little encouragement once and a while, and it’s not making the recipient prideful to let them know. If you believe that the role and function of a worship leader has been exxagerated lately, how do you explain 1 Chronicles 9:33 ( New International Version)”Those who were musicians, heads of Levite families, stayed in the rooms of the temple and were exempt from other duties because they were responsible for the work day and night.”
    Sounds like the church has diminished the role and function of music and musicians to me…

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  14. Norma Howard

    I am in agreement with the fact that so much of what we do in church today is pure entertainment. Not only are the musicians and song leaders glorified and lifted up, but so are the speakers, (ministers/pastors). So many times the focus and/or attention is taken of of Christ and directed to the person who is up in front of the people.

  15. Rev Dennis Wilson

    The whole point is to put the focus on the preaching and worship of God. With the exception of the Pastor delivering the sermon, there is no real need for a stage for performance purposes. The Pastor, when preaching, needs to be positioned where the people can see and hear him clearly, so the message gets out.
    As for the worship service the people should be more focused on their worship of God than the performance. Put the worship team where they can be hear throughout the worship hall. this will sound harsh, but anyone that joins the worship team to getup before the assembly, is looking for praise, not giving it. If you think this is wrong, see how many will be willing to do if they could only be heard and not seen.
    God’s Grace and Peace be with you.

  16. Pete

    Amazed at how people put a low value to what others do as an act of worship. It simply isn’t true that most of what we do in church today is pure entertainment. Yes, in SOME churches, but please, not EVERY church, and definately not in mine. Matbe you should define what you mean by entertainment, and then see how that might fit in biblical accounts such as when the people danced before the Lord when the Ark was returned, when they worshipped and spoke in toungues, etc. Don’t judge others, or by the same standard you will be judged. I totally disagree that a platform is only for the pastor – what a slam again against those who are preparing the people to actually be ready to hear what God has put on your heart to share. We are all parts of the same body, and even your ushers and greeters have a role in how people are led into worship. I have personally done this for free, and have no problem being put in a place where I can only be heard instead of being seen, if that would enhance a persons worship experience with God. My brother, ANYONE who gets in front of people need encouragement sometimes. Even you. False humility says you would do it if you never got any encouragement, and baseless accusations say that my main motivation is for praise. What if I were to say you only like the sound of your own voice, rather than helping people live out their faith in a way that is pleasing to God, or that you are threatened that you might not be the most popular person in the church? If you think worship leaders are unneccessary, ask yourself this – when you had any significant event in your life happen, good or bad, do you remember a sermon you heard easier than a song you heard?

  17. jMAT

    You just wrote out everything that I was thinking about how the music worship in church should be, in order that our praises are directed fully and surely to the One who absolutely deserves all praises. Recently have been bothered that I’m distracted at many points in worship because of the choir being present on stage and was researching why praise and worship is the way it is nowadays.

    But what is the point of contemplating what could make worship better? People are more inclined to bring glory to themselves at all points and I’m guilty of that. I try to direct all glory to God in my daily life, but I doubt other people think the same way. Maybe not everyone is distracted by this type of worship otherwise things would’ve changed.

    Wished that everyone would share my zeal about making sure that our
    worship is only for the true living God and His son Jesus Christ. I doubt that it will be a reality in this generation, so until then, I’d have to force myself to shut my eyes and focus only on God. That is as I’ve concluded the best advice for myself now.