A frequent topic among worship leader discussion groups is “How can I get my congregation to engage more?” That discussion usually leads into another discussion about how people worship in different ways, and how outward expression is not the only indicator that worship is happening.

Yes, I completely agree.

But we also know when things just feel awkward – and how it can affect a congregation. There are so many different issues that can send a worship service sideways: vocal, instrumental, audio, video, team dynamics, and those topics are covered very well here in [WM] magazine.

There’s one issue, however, that’s not talked about a lot – and it’s the easiest to fix. That’s the expressionless guitarist, bass player or keyboardist whose face is buried in the music stand for the entire worship set, and the only sign of life is their moving hands and fingers. They are the backline worship zombies, statues or wax figures. Pick your metaphor.

I’ve sat through way too many worship sets where the upfront leader is cajoling, begging and pleading the congregation to get more involved – even chiding the early service crowd to wake up and/or get more coffee – and all the while the backline musicians look comatose. Awkward.

I’ve seen worship leader discussion groups that are in favor of banishing music stands altogether. While I can appreciate the idea, it’s just not realistic for most volunteer musicians with limited rehearsal time. And I really believe that the bigger problem lies not with the stands themselves, but with the players behind them. Have you noticed that when musicians stare down intently at music stands, their focus can often be mistaken for a frown?

The solution is simple. Encourage your players to look at their music stands only when necessary. Instead, look up. Smile. Move a little. Engage. Enjoy being there.

A natural first step is to simply encourage the musicians to interact with each other. Enjoy the simple pleasure of making music together. Audiences notice when the other musicians appreciate that tasty drum fill, guitar riff, bass run or perfectly-timed keyboard swell. That’s just part of the organic joy of live music.

The next step is to encourage your musicians to sing along, even if they’re not singers and even if they don’t have a mic in front of them. It makes a powerful statement and frees the congregation to join in.

Finally, encourage them to worship. One of our drummers – in the sections when he’s not playing – stands and lifts his hands. For him, it’s a personal worship moment. For our congregation, it’s an amazing example of worship leadership. Yes, it’s not just the “worship leader” who leads worship. The whole team does.

Now, having said all that, make sure it’s authentic, and not “just for show.” Audiences can sense superficiality and hype from miles away, and that’s even worse than lifeless zombies. You’ve probably seen the YouTube videos of way-over-the-top musicians, and those antics clearly have no place in a worship setting.

But freedom in worship is a wonderful thing. And it’s a powerful way to draw an entire congregation into worship with you. Jesus came to give life abundantly. Yes, even to music-stand-focused guitarists, bass players and keyboardists.

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