Helping Your Group Experience Worship
We’ve asked YLO’s editor Ken McCoy and his wife Jeannie (who’s the Modern Worship Director at their home church) to answer a group of questions about youth ministry and worship – questions that are fairly representative of the ones we get often here at interlínc.
“What’s happening around here?”
If you went to one of the many Christian Music Festivals around the country this summer, then you probably have experienced it. If you attended a Christian concert recently, you’ve likely been involved with it. Youth Rallies. “See You At The Pole” events. Camps. It’s a big part of all those events, and the momentum for it continues to grow.
It’s “worship” — which in the context of those events usually means “singing praise songs” — and it’s a movement that has been gaining momentum in youth ministry for several years. Kids all over the place are discovering the experience of praising God through music.
“Worship” is hot in today’s Christian culture. People don’t ask me, “Where do you go to church?” — they ask, “Where do you worship?” Everywhere I turn, I’m confronted with more and more “worship” opportunities, resources, albums, seminars, and gatherings.
However, there are many misunderstandings circulating in our Christian family concerning worship. In our zeal to connect with God we sometimes cross a line and give worship a place and power that God’s Word never intends it to occupy. Worship is not some magical experience that calls God out of Heaven and into our midst. “Worship” and “music” or “singing” are not synonyms. Worship is fulfilling the “first commandment” — to love God with all our heart, (contrary to popular belief, “heart” isn’t emotions, but our entire being or character), mind, soul, and strength. Worship is a thoughtful and emotional response to God.
Worship is all about communicating. In a worship service we communicate with God, we communicate truth to others and to ourselves about God, and God communicates back to us. I have come to believe that the reason people are drawn to a church worship experience is that they are longing to connect with God. If they have tasted this connection just once in a worship service, they come back looking for it.
Music has a unique ability to go past the head straight into the heart. God uses this special communication tool to get personal with people at the heart level in a way that almost nothing else does.
Although you can, and should, learn some “techniques” for putting a worship time together, there will always be a definite spiritual aspect to how it comes together – an feature of the planning that is almost impossible to define until you experience it. I have narrowed down what I want to accomplish in any worship service to this: My goal is for participants to feel at some point in the service as though they heard personally from God and felt connected to Him. This is done most effectively when the entire service — music, activities, and message — is communicating the same topic or focus.
“My kids sing GREAT at camp, but not at home. What can I do?”
A rub comes when you try to implement the “worship” experience (we use quote marks because we all realize that worship of God involves far more than merely singing) of a large event into your weekly youth ministry meetings. You might be able to gather a couple of guitar instrumentalists and put together a “worship team” — but you wonder why the singing doesn’t feel the same as it did at the big event. Here are a few ideas to get your group singing like they did at camp:
Work Into It— Many youth groups don’t plan for when the singing happens; they just put it at the front of the meeting and go from there. One reason that worship singing during a major concert is so powerful is that it’s such a change from the loud and rowdy show that precedes it. As with anything, you will want to plan what happens before you start singing, so that the group will be of a mind to get involved. Use games, skits, video clips and student testimonies to get your group thinking vertically if you’re making a point that emphasizes God’s character. Then sing songs about God’s character.
Emphasize Familiar Songs— There are so many great songs, with new ones coming along every day, that trying to learn too many too fast is an easy trap to fall into. Teach the group only one or two new songs a month, especially if the songs are used at a camp or concert so that the group has an experience they can tie to the song. Use available resources to familiarize your group with a song before you ever ask them to sing it.
Use Easy-To-Do Songs— Use songs that don’t need a professional band to be able to play them. The way to choose a song is to listen to a worship album and then see which song you end up humming to yourself during the day.
Take Advantage of Available Resources— The Chord Charts that are included in every issue of YLOare invaluable resources for your young musicians. Use the resources to encourage quality music leading from your kids.
“What a great song! I want to use it in my group! How?”
All kinds of other songs can be used in youth ministry worship experiences, if…
…you realize that a recording isn’t like a youth meeting. Albums are well-produced efforts by extremely talented musicians. You can’t hope to reproduce the sound of an album with any worship band you might have. A lot of what we respond to when listening to an album is the excellent production of the music. The guitar tones, the equalization, the mix, the drum mic’ing, the effects, and much more are the result of hours and hours of work — and tons of expensive equipment. So, set your expectations according to the talent and resources you have available to you.
…you rework the arrangement for group use. With most worship-music albums, you need to chart the songs into their basic components: verse/chorus/verse/chorus, etc. Several recordings have a vocal and/or an instrumental solo in them – sections that make for awkward worship leading. Those solos need to be “removed” from the song to make the song work as a worship singalong. Many songs have verses that are designed for a lead vocal, verses that would be tough to pull off with a group singing them. In those cases, just sing the chorus. The key is to simplify what an album presents rather than try to recreate it.
…you can figure out the chords, or use the lead sheetsin YLO. You may not have the blessing we do — Jeannie has “Perfect Pitch” and can tell what the musical chords are just by listening to the song. Most of us have to work laboriously to figure out what the chords are before we can use the song with our groups. Another excellent resource is the Internet. Make sure you are within the copyright laws for anything you reproduce or download.
“My Group doesn’t like to sing. What should I do?”
Like any good answer, this one begins with, “Well, that depends.” What is causing the lack of enthusiasm for singing among your young friends? Here are a few causes that we have seen and some thoughts on what to do about them.
We four and no more. Singing as a group pretty much means you need a “group” to do it well. There’s a world of difference between four or five people singing together while sitting in a circle around a fire at the beach and four or five kids at church trying to sing together. The dynamics of group singing require that there be enough people so that no single voice is dominant. If your group is too small to have high-energy singing, you should consider cooperative worship experiences with other youth ministries in your area. Some cities are reviving the old “singspiration” monthly youth gatherings – maybe you can spearhead one where you are.
Didn’t we just do this last week?Falling into a predictable pattern in our singing times is way too easy to do. In many instances, the group has become so accustomed to the routine that all the life has gone out of the singing. Read the “What makes a worship experience work?” section for concepts that will help you breathe fresh energy into your singing.
I me mine.Because of the me-centered society we live in, worship singing can easily become self-focused rather than God-centered. Even a lot of “worship” songs are thinly disguised songs about how great we feel, how blessed we are, or how cool it is to be us. Be careful of songs that have a lot of “I me mine” words. At the end of your singing session you want your young friends to be excited about God, not simply pleased about how they feel.
Yeah yeah yeah. Yadda yadda yadda.Many times a lukewarm opinion of singing God’s praises is an indication of a lukewarm spiritual condition. Psalm 63says clearly that our natural response to seeing God for who He is will be “with singing lips my mouth will praise You.”The cure for this condition is to build the spiritual strength of your group. You don’t do that through singing; you do it through teaching God’s Word and praying for His Spirit to work.
“What makes a worship experience work? Ours seem to be ‘average’.”
Here’s how I (Jeannie) plan a corporate worship experience. Although this is not the definitive way of going about this, I’ve learned that these are the basic issues to cover.
Sing two or three up-tempo and well-known songs.I have noticed that more often than not, people are not ready to sing from their heart when they first arrive — they are still reacting to their day and adjusting to this new situation. They need time to really “be” there.
Go smoothly and quickly from one song to another.Be prepared musically to keep things going; keep between-song talking and pauses minimal; the songs should speak for themselves. Have the group standing and clapping, like the worship leaders on stage. Bring some high-energy kids up front to help make this happen – they don’t have to be singers on mics, they just need to be enthusiastic and naturally energetic.
Introduce a new up-tempo song.By now the group is settling in and will be tracking with you. Teach them a new, fast song. The songleader should sing the verses alone, and then bring in the group on the easy-to-catch choruses. Read the “bridge” section* of the song after singing the first two verses and choruses. The band can continue to play softly while the leader reads. Then, sing the chorus again
*The “bridge” is usually a short “summary” section in a song, different sounding from the verses and choruses. It’s the “heart” of the song.
Transition the group to more thoughtful songs.Have the group sit down. Read some Scriptures that reinforce the topic of the meeting. A short personal example or word picture is a great way to get them to think about the songs that they are about to sing. This transition section should not last more than two or three minutes.
Sing two mellow songs. Choose a couple of songs that are familiar and fit with your topic. You need to use easy songs with few words at this point so that the group can focus on what is happening between them and God, rather than struggling with singing the song.
Finish the singing.Conclude this section with a song they know well rather than a new one. Rather than just going straight into the next item on your program’s schedule, end the worship singing with a heartfelt personal prayer that speaks for the entire group.
Some Final Thoughts
An important point to remember is this: your youth worship service should not replace the “church” in the lives of your young people. Yes, you can do things in a worship service with kids that would never fly in “big church.” In many ways teenagers can enter into worship more fully when they’re with other young people. However, you don’t want your students to graduate right out of their faith when they graduate from high school. You want to build into their experience and expectation a love and desire for multi-generational worship too. So, you may need to throttle back on some of your worship efforts in order to encourage your kids to experience worship with the rest of the church.
Take time to go through what you have planned ahead of time and “feel” your way through the worship service. You may find that you will make changes to your plans according to how the songs will flow together. Be aware of where you are leading your group spiritually and through the emotional impact of the music/songs.
Transitions between songs are very important — practice your transitions.
Use Scripture to introduce a song. Many songs come from the Bible, and showing the group that the song is from God’s Word will have an impact. After all, God speaks to us through the Bible. Either read the verses aloud, or have several kids read them out loud, or have the words on a projector for all to read together.
Choose songs that are easy to sing. Too much syncopation and too many words combined with a tricky melody will hamper the success of any song.
Avoid songs that are too high or too low for the average person to sing comfortably.
Introduce a maximum of two new songs at a session. Any more will be frustrating to the group at large and hamper any chance of worship.
At the same time, don’t overuse songs. They will become redundant and meaningless.
Although not absolutely necessary, tying in the singing with the topic of the speaker is most effective. A song performed by your musicians or by watching a video can also accomplish such a tie-in.