Monday, 25 January 2010

12 Ways To Increase Congregation Participation (Pt.1)

I have the great blessing of being part of a Church that has numerous spirit filled contributions from the congregation in every meeting. Though Grace Church has been going for 7 years now most of that time has been one long learning curve on how to handle this sort of behaviour as a Church and how, as a worship team, we can help instead of  getting in the way.

So you want to let the Holy Spirit get a word in edgeways every now and again. The congregational response ranges all the way from mildly interested to barely conscious. The only people who want to take an active part are the 2 or 3 attention seeking nutters. Weeeellllll...the primary responsibility (as in all things) is with your Elders to teach into and shepherd the church through but there are some things that the worship team and it’s leader(s) can do to help.

Realise that some Churches are too big for the congregation to contribute. It’s just that your Church isn’t one of them.

I’ve given up counting the number of times I’ve heard some Church leader sigh, “well we’re just too big for everyone to contribute" only to find their attendance scrapes 50 people only when you count children, pets and all three members of the trinity.

How big is too big? I don’t know. But I do know you could comfortably (poor word, I know) manage this kind of worship in a church of 9000 members. It can be done in a congregation of 500-600 and, by way of an example, Mars Hill in Seattle has a membership 9k yet not one of their meeting seats more than 600. The size of the Church is barely relevant. It’s the size of the individual congregation that’s important.

Conferences are another source of confusion. It’s far harder to do charismatic worship at a conference of a 100 than at a Church of 400. Because unlike Church they’re not your people and they don't know the rules (more on this later).

Rehearse for every Sunday not just next Sunday.

There’s an assumption in that statement. Did you catch it?

If all you want to give your people are the greatest hits of Chris Tomlin/Graham Kendrick/Charles Wesley then half an hour warm up should be fine. If you want a team that can serve a congregation as it chases the wind of the spirit you have 3 choices.

  • Hire the best jazz/session musicians you can afford. 
  • Start an outreach to said musicians in the hope that they get saved and come play for free.
  • Rehearse. 

So back to my main point.

    Assuming that you are rehearsing at all, you have to realise that you can’t rehearse for everything that is going to happen on a Sunday, because you don’t know everything that’s going to happen on Sunday. So you’ll need to put some time in on rehearsing what might happen. And what might happen is the following:

    • Someone might start a song in the wrong key.
    • Someone might sing a prophetic song without first having the common decency to tell you what key they’re going to pick.
    • Someone might give a prophecy that changes the course of the meeting and inspires you to pick a song that you didn’t rehearse.

    So practice some of these things as well. Your ‘planned rehearsal’ will be a little rougher round the edges and that’s a good thing. It will stop the spontaneous stuff looking utterly ragged in comparision.

    Turn down.

    How loud is too loud? If someone in the congregation can hear your voice perfectly but can’t hear the person singing on either side of them, you’re too loud. If they can't hear themselves singing, not only are you too loud, but it's possible you may be the single biggest reason for the lack of contributions in your church. May it never be.

    More to the point you are too loud if, when you are leading, you can‘t hear the congregation singing. Over several years of trying to hear the Holy Spirit’s voice I’ve come to realise that I hear the Spirit most of all through the congregation. I hear him owning truth through their responses. When their faith is rising I hear him through their singing. And when I can’t hear them I can’t hear him. And if you can't hear them and they can’t hear themselves they might as well not be there. Let’s not make that mistake.

    More suggestions next week.

    Let me know what your challenges are.
    What would you put on this list?

    Read the rest of this series
    Part Two
    Part Three
    Fourth (and final) Part 

    Related Posts: Stef Liston on Charismatic Worship
    The slow death of congregational singing
    Top 10 Reasons NOT to write songs for your Church

    Free songs by Matt Blick

    Links to this series:
    Transcendence and trainwrecks
    The blog of the Ancient Mariner
    ...(Ben Green)
    Amos5's Blog



    1. challenges; having the same people contributing each week and (not always) being intimidating because they are so eloquent or sing beautifully. If more people pray out short, simple prayers it can encourage those who have never prayed out to speak out.
      You mentioned about church elder's responsibility in encouraging this but how can worship teams encourage elders to encourage the congregation to step out? Without mentioning every week and doing there head in.
      phil j

    2. Great start and really looking forward to reading the rest Matt.

    3. Good stuff. Thoroughly agree with your comments on the amount of people in attendance being a hinderance to contribution. I used to be in a church where the sunday attendance was regularly 250+ but people still felt free to contribute. We got used to shouting and the band were well trained to play in such a way as to provide plenty of freedom.

      (I did laugh at the idea of Jazz musicians being able to chase the wind of the spirit! That sounds like an incredibly painful and LONG sunday meeting!)

    4. Alistair - Thanks. And thanks for the link.

      Tim - good point, my jazz comment could be misconstrued! I'm assuming that in getting saved (or paid) they would be able to reign in their urge to indulged in 20 minute atonal solos!

      I guess I'm saying jazz players are one of the few types of musos that do the kind of structured improvisation you get in a charismatic worship time, so they should already have some of the skills in place...

      Philip - Re:being intimidated. Amen. Sometimes the professional quality contributers among us can serve the church well by turning their awesomeness down a notch or two! There's a parallel with what any good musician does in the church using all their hard earned skills to to play simple music incredibly well...

      From what I've seen at Grace Church the elders have constantly envisioned us but not by saying the same thing every week! Somethings I've noticed them doing

      Public encouragement at the start of a meeting
      mentioning during their sermon helpful contributions that came during the worship, often mentioning people by name.
      Give encouragement privately and in small groups like prayer meetings or midweek groups.
      Give feedback privately to people on their offering and it's delivery/timing
      Talk about the reasons why we do this and value it.
      'Priming' people who have an emerging gift before the meeting to be prepared to say/sing something if God leads them (the expectation being that he will!)

      that's just a few off the top of my head...


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