Overcoming the Conspiracy of Performance
For some reason, I had always been blessed with singing congregations—that is until I encountered a church which had never been given the opportunity to sing. I was saddened by the fact but determined to act!
Sometimes the more spectacular the choir program, the less singing people do. The contemporary shade of worship is similar, the more spectacular the worship team, the less singing people do. In many ways both of these situations set a congregation up for loss…namely, the loss of interconnection with fellow believers who might otherwise be in pursuit of God-presence. Why? Because striving for excellence has left them behind in a conspiracy of performance.
So, what to do? Here are 4 suggestions that just might increase the participation of the people whom we have declared we want to lead in collective worship.
1. Do all of your announcements before worship starts even if the congregation isn’t in place yet. Get over the idea that somebody won’t hear them. Let it go!
Worship should be worship, not subservient to chit chat and hyperbole. If we take it seriously, our congregations will follow. It is a myth that we have to cajole and manipulate participation. We need to demonstrate it!
As announcements end, help folks transition to a quiet (NOT bite you in the tush), calmly sung song that it is not driven by anything but the sound of people’s voices and minimal accompaniment.
2. One Sunday, drop music out of the service completely for the first 30 minutes. Talk, pray, confess, be quiet, and stop relying on music to move the agenda. When you finally get around to singing, make it something everyone knows and loves. The audible sigh in the room might convince you that, under the right circumstances, people desire to sing without being bludgeoned!
A friend tried this idea and had a lady come up after the service to ask, “What happened to the music in the beginning?” He said, “We wanted to let God have some time with you to himself.” I love that answer!
We continue to place music in the untenable position of being the prime definition of what constitutes worship. It just ain’t so, friends.
3. People are being overwhelmed with db levels. Shut it down more often and let people breathe! More often than not, folks are just put off by “loud.” Unfortunately, we believe the opposite to be true. It’s time to reevaluate the efficacy of “loud.”
If you’ve never tried it, go acoustic—yes that would even apply to organs, if you managed to keep one—pull back on electronics and boost involvement. This is the scariest thing and over-amped worship team can do. Trust, your congregation will pick up the slack if you just let them…maybe not at first, but eventually.
Interestingly, they need to know that they actually have some work to do. Generally, we do it all for them.
4. Take fast music slowly from time to time, as when Barbra Streisand sang the 30s song, “Buddy, Can You Spare a Dime,” with such soulful slowness that we ached all over again for the desperate poverty of the Depression. Take the tempi out of whatever context people have come to expect. The (now ancient) Delirious song, “Did you feel the mountains tremble,” takes on a whole new meaning when sung slowly and deliberately.
Try these ideas out on your congregation. If they don’t work, tell me and I’ll give you 4 more!
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