Worship Encouragement- Leading Worship When No One is There
No one trained you for this. No one modeled this for you. No one knows how to do this. There is no right way. AND, there are several ways to do it. Leading worship during a world pandemic is completely new territory. For the most part, churches aren’t meeting in person during this time. Some are doing drive-in church, some are pre-recording worship, some are doing worship live, and some are not doing any worship at this time. Everything is upside down and new. But guess what? You can do this! You can.
Angela Shaw, a worship leader at Freedom Fellowship Church in Orlando, Florida, shares what she learned recently about leading worship when everyone is at home, watching online.
WORSHIP LEADING EXCLUSIVELY ONLINE
I recently had back surgery. I had to miss three weeks of church. (Man, was that strange!) I am so thankful for that experience. I had never attended church exclusively online. I had no idea how different it was. It gave me a completely different perspective on leading.
THINGS TO REMEMBER
One important key: Think about what it is like for those participating in worship online. People are in their homes. Their dog is there. The dishes need to be done. There is laundry that needs to be switched to the dryer. The kids are distracted. It might feel weird to stand and clap like they do at church. It’s different for them.
It’s different for you. You are used to leading people you can see, not empty chairs. The first time we did our service exclusively online, I struggled through the first song. It felt like practice. It felt fake. On the outside, I might have looked put together, but I was freaking out on the inside. (Let me pause for some encouragement: The next week it took half a song for that feeling to go away. The following week, I didn’t even notice it!) I had to slow my thoughts and remember that on the other side of the iPhone that we were using to record was Sylvia, one of the sweetest and most encouraging ladies in our church. On the other side was Dolly, someone who faithfully attends church without her husband most weeks as he works a lot of Sundays. On the other side of that phone were the people I was leading. I couldn’t see them, but they were there.
I read an encouragement that we are doing this for an audience of one. In this context, it wasn’t referring to THE One, as in the Lord. That is true, and we all know that. But this was referring to that one person who might watch and go from death to life. That’s what it is about. Not a perfect set. Not perfect tech. Not the perfect amount of songs. It’s about proclaiming God’s Truth and leading people to Him. He can fill in a lot of gaps. Be released. Be aware that things are different, consider some of the tips below, adjust how you lead a little, but then be released to do what you do. You have been chosen for this season to lead these people. You can do it!
TIPS FOR LEADING EXCLUSIVELY ONLINE
There is no right way to do things. There is no wrong way to do things. Yet, these are things that I have found helpful for my church. You might find they don’t work exactly for your church. The point is that we have to think outside of the box. We can’t lead worship like normal, because this isn’t normal.
Understand Their Environment: This is key. Understand where they are and what distractions they are combatting. It’s not impossible for someone to enter into worship at home, but it’s certainly new and different.
Talk More: One of the number one rules in worship leading is to not preach a bunch of mini sermons. When you are exclusively online, people are watching because they HAVE to, not because they chose to stay home. They aren’t “feeling” the music like they normally do when they are in the church building. Talk a little more to help them follow along with you. You don’t have to talk before each song, but again, help combat those distractions by continually drawing them in.
Familiar Songs: Can you teach a new song? Yes. I’ve seen churches do a new song during their live feed, and it was powerful! (Shout out to World Prayer Tabernacle in Chalmette, Louisiana, doing “Graves into Gardens” this past week!) But a set full of songs that are vaguely familiar or new will be difficult for people to follow. Remember, distractions are loud when you are at home. This is even more important if you don’t have the tech to display the lyrics on the live feed. Do songs that people know and can sing along with (or hum to during the verses, because--let’s be honest--we don’t know ALL the words to the verses either).
Shorter Sets: Consider doing fewer songs. This, obviously, is a conversation you need to have with your pastor. How long do you want the whole service to go? There is a shorter attention span at home.
Fewer Instrumental Breaks: The song “Unstoppable God” has an instrumental break before the bridge. It helps to build it. It’s needed. It’s good. But when I was at home, during that instrumental build, I found myself wondering when we were going to sing again and if I had time to go switch over my laundry. So it ended up being a time when my mind began to wander. You don’t have to rush through your set, but be aware that it is different, and those times of instrumentals or just waiting on the Lord present differently in a home environment. Some people will be right with you, feeling the wind of the Holy Spirit move, but some will be distracted and wondering why you are playing for so long. Find the balance, a balance that is so much more important when you are exclusively live streaming.
Plans are Key: Plan for the unexpected so you can stay on track. You may need that plan. Things happen. Just last week, our monitors went out right before we went live. My normal, “Welcome to church; let’s worship” turned into me talking to fill time while we fixed the monitors. When we finally were able to start singing the first song, I knew exactly where I was going with the song. I had a solid plan. I can always deviate from that plan, but it was there and I needed it. I plan where I’m going to talk and write down a few bullet points. The point is not to be rigid in the planning, but to have some guardrails to help you stay on track and make sure you get to the destination.
I remember when that first exclusively online service ended. It was hard to lead without the people there. I felt this so strongly. I missed them. I needed them. How do I know if they are following me if I can’t see them? If I’m going down a path and I notice they aren’t following, then I normally “zig” a little. If I see that they are really with me, I might “zag” a little to go deeper. They were like my Holy Spirit confirmation. Then it hit me like a brick between my eyes. I realized that I was relying on THEM to help me hear the Holy Spirit. Ouch! Without the people sitting in the chairs, I had to rely completely on the Holy Spirit. Now, of course, there is balance. If we notice that no one is following, then we aren’t leading. We do need to pay attention to the people we are leading. But without them, I found myself having to have a greater dependence on the Holy Spirit. I don’t see that as a bad thing. We are going to come out on the other side of this not the same. For me, I want to grow as much as I can during this season. Let’s lean into the things that God is teaching us. For me, it’s another level of tuning my ear to hear the Holy Spirit. For you, it might be something different. But let’s commit to letting the Lord fine tune us some during this time. And when we get to the other side, we will have learned some things and had some valuable experiences that we would not have had otherwise.