Keys to a Successful Worship Service

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Have you ever felt frustrated as a worship leader when your congregation doesn’t respond the way you want them to, after hours of rehearsal? At WorshipU on Campus Bill Johnson gave us a few fundamental keys for leading a successful worship service and being aware of our congregation.


Did you know that leading worship is a dual assignment? We have to keep one eye on God and the other eye on people.

It can be easy to get stuck doing one thing or the other. We can be going after God with all we’ve got but leave people behind in the process. Not everyone runs as fast as we do, and they can get left behind when they aren’t being led gently and clearly. As we practice surrender to the Holy Spirit, we can begin to successfully lead people while simultaneously following God.

For some people, a typical Sunday morning looks like struggling to get their 3 and 5-year old ready for church, running late, and walking into the building exhausted and frustrated.

The best offering they can bring to God is to show up at church that morning. For us, a typical Sunday looks like spending two or more hours on stage practicing, worshipping with the team, and praying with the leadership team. We’re already in a worshipful state—we’re focused and ready to go. It can be frustrating when we show up after all those hours of rehearsal with our songs and our vision, but the room isn’t responding the way we want them to.

The nature of leading requires us to start where the people are, and make sure they are following well.

We can’t expect everyone in the room to be fully engaged and ready to jump into the deep end during the first song of our worship set. Each person is unique, and at a different level spiritually and emotionally. Scolding them for not being on our level doesn’t help people respond well. Pointing out people’s problems only makes them self-conscience, and self-consciousness is the enemy of worship.

It’s much easier to come to a group of people with a solution and with hope without having to identify the problem. We aren’t the preachers, we’re the worship leaders—and we don’t want to lead people’s gaze to themselves, but to God.

Hope is what builds the bridge for people to come as they are and leave changed by God’s presence.

Another key to a successful worship service is creating an environment of compassion. Have you ever noticed the state of your congregation as worship is about to start? Are people greeting each other and making connection, or is everyone scattered across the room and disconnected from one another?

In Matthew 9:13 Jesus tells the Pharisees, “Go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, and not a sacrifice.’” Our job as worship leaders is to inspire the room to bring a sacrifice of praise to God. But without compassion, our sacrifice is not pleasing.

We can lead people into worship not only by singing on the stage but doing our part to make sure compassion is in the room.

The song you’re about to sing has value when it’s in the context of compassion. Our congregations need to know that they are among people who are willing to sacrificially display compassion for one another.

One way to be intentional about showing compassion is to come into the sanctuary early and walk around, greeting people and introducing yourself. It might be easier to chat with all of your friends, but this simple and intentional act will change the environment of the room and open the door for worship before you even get on the stage.

Next time you lead worship, remember to be aware of the room and lead with gentleness. Ask the Holy Spirit what you can do to build a bridge of hope, enabling people to come as they are and leave changed.


Watch this WorshipU on Campus moment with Bill Johnson here.