I’ve always been somewhat of a metal-head and last month I had the time of my life when I finally got to go to a concert for Metallica, my favorite band. For months, I had been anticipating this night where I would gather with 18 thousand other fans in this sold-out show at the Bridgestone Arena in Nashville, TN.
Finally, the night came and when the band took the stage, the place was electric. I, along with the thousands in attendance banged my head, pumped my fists in the air, and shouted the lyrics to the songs all night. It was the most fun that I’d had in a long time.
I did notice however, that the person sitting next to me wasn’t really engaged in the concert. She was clearly a wife who had a metal-head husband who dragged her to the show. She looked like a typical soccer-mom, and she scrolled through Facebook on her phone all night. When others would jump to our feet when the band would play our favorite classic songs, she remained seated and continued to scroll through social media. But then the finale came.
The final song of the night, the band played their biggest hit, Enter Sandman. This is a song that EVERYONE knows. Even those who are the furthest thing from being a heavy metal fan will know this song. Something interesting happened when this song started though. This bored soccer-mom finally came alive. She jumped to her feet, started videoing with her phone, and she was singing along with every word. For the first time during this gathering, she was engaged in the music.
This event reminded me of what it might be like for most worshipers when we as worship leaders try to play too many unfamiliar songs. While I fully agree with Scripture’s command to “Sing a new song” (Psalm 33:3), if we are not singing enough familiar songs, people will be unengaged during congregational singing.
Here are some things that these Masters of Metal have reminded me about being a worship leader:
INTRODUCE NEW SONGS, BUT DO SO METHODICALLY
As a good rule of thumb, I wouldn’t introduce new songs every Sunday. I always tried to introduce a new song once a month. This gives the congregation enough new songs in a year, but not so much that they were overwhelmed. It allows me to be very strategic in my new song selections knowing that I am going to teach twelve new songs to my church in that year, so it really helps me weed out those songs that may not be the best of the best.
REPEAT NEW SONGS OFTEN
If I introduce a new song, you can bet that I will do it again the next Sunday. As a matter of fact, I will probably play that new song three out of the four (or five) Sundays in that month. Repetition is important. Most of those people aren’t going to download those new songs onto their iTunes playlist. And many people aren’t coming to church every single week. So, if you really want to teach a new song, and for the people to really grasp onto it and be engaged in worship, you must repeat…repeat…repeat.
WE GET TIRED OF SONGS FASTER THAN THE PEOPLE CAN LEARN THEM
Worship leaders spend hours listening, learning, and practicing a song before we ever present it to the congregation. Where you church has probably sung a new song three times within a month, you have probably sung it thirty times before that. Whether or not we, as leaders get sick of a song is not a good enough reason to throw it away and move on to the next best thing. Learn to listen to the crowd. Do they seem to be catching on? Does the song seem to welcome participation? If it’s working, keep it up.
DON’T FORGET THE CLASSICS
Remember the goal is for them to be engaged in singing. Often times you can find that your congregational participation can go up a level when you sing a hymn or even a throwback worship song, say from the 90s or early 2000s. *GASP! I would say that if you are introducing a new song, it would probably serve your church well to surround this new song with some very familiar ones if you truly want them to be participating in worship through singing.
So, the next time you are planning out your worship service, I hope you keep that soccer-mom at the Metallica show in mind. How can you engage her? Chances are, you have a church full of people like her. They want to be engaged, but we can’t leave them behind.