See the video of the song The Passion by Hillsong Music. It is clearly anointed. And the lead worshiper crying out above the singers, captures the sense of a large cloud of witnesses singing praise.
But sometimes worship leaders, seeking to be faithful to the original recorded in a large auditorium, will cry out above the singers. But this can feel inauthentic because of the smallish size of the crowd assembled.
When choosing worship songs, look to tempos, styles and musical arrangements that have worked best in the past in connecting with your unique audience culture. Don’t necessarily replay earlier songs. But look for common personalities in the songs and wed them with the personality of your congregation (note: each worship service probably has its own unique worship personality).
Here is a helpful chart of the most common tempo markings (with bpm) and definitions from a previous article:
Prestissimo (> 200 bpm) very very fast
Presto (168 – 200 bpm) very fast
Allegro (120 – 168 bpm) fast
Moderato (108 – 120 bpm) moderately
Andante (76 – 108 bpm) walking pace
Adagio (66 – 76 bpm) slow and stately
Lento/Largo (40 – 60 bpm) very slow
Grave (20-40 bpm) slow and solemn
For more details, see my full article for Biblical Leadership Magazine.
High ceilings force churches to often hang their front stage lights too high. The result is that the preacher, who is usually trying to convey a message with his or her facial expressions, will appear to have black holes for eyes.
Here is a client church that has improved its front lighting (though even a bit higher might be ideal).
Here is how to fix it:
Evaluate your recorded “on demand” streaming videos.
Make notes when eyes are visible and when they are black holes.
Lower your front lighting, options include:
Hang lights to the front of a balcony
Lower your ceiling lights with pipe, cabling, etc.
Add a light tree in the auditorium,
In a place that does not interfere with sight-lines.
Sometimes it can be added near the camera operator’s position.
Practice raising your head, if none of the above options are viable.
Preachers and worship leaders spend many hours preparing to communicate God’s Word. But as a church, we may not be spending as much time ensuring that the speakers/musicians’ stage presence communicates as well.
While observing hundreds, if not thousands, of worship services I’ve noticed that the beginning of the service sets a tone and direction for what follows. Sometimes called the opening prayer or the call to worship, it is often the worship leader who utters this. But, I’ve noticed that many times they seem less than focused and even nervous when doing so. This may be the result of working on the music more than on the words with which they’ll to utter to launch the service. This is especially true in non-liturgical churches where the worship leader often begins the service from the platform by offering a prayer. It is this prayer that I have found to be less than focused on a recurring basis.
Subsequently, it’s may be better for church leaders and/or worship leaders to designate someone else to deliver the opening prayer. The opening prayer should be a joyous entrance into worship. It should be uplifting, heavenly focused and inspire exhalation.
Inspiration can come from psalms such as Psalm 80, 40, 145 and 146 (see below). Even if the opening prayer is pre-written and/or in a liturgical format, the person delivering the prayer can meditate upon such psalms before hand. This can put them in the right frame of mind to deliver a biblical call to worship.
The psalmist says:
“LORD, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!” – Psalm 8:9
“He put a new song in my mouth, a hymn of praise to our God. Many will see and fear the LORD and put their trust in him.” – Psalm 40:3
Commentary by Dr. Whitesel: Communication researchers have long known that watchers will retain more of what a speaker is saying, if he or she writes writes something down in front of viewers. Audience retention increases when something is written done on a whiteboard or large tablet, rather than just projecting the words on a slide on a screen via PowerPoint, Keynote or ProPresenter. While interactive whiteboards even allow your written points to be preserved online, writing on a temporal tablet (non-electronic whiteboard, blackboard, etc.) will force the audience to watch more closely, to interact with you and to write down the points as you write them. This communication enhancement is equally effective onsite as well as online.
Do an online search and you find a myriad of products that can help almost any size church improve the retention of what is being preached/taught (see a few examples below).
Commentary by Dr. Whitesel: Do you have a vision of people gathering around a computer screen and watching a church’s worship service? Have you tried it? It works, but some of the power and majesty can seem minimized by a minimal screen. Most would agree this experience would be enhanced by gathering around a larger screen such as a household TV.
Recently, an ice storm made the roads impassable in our area. We began watching our local church online, before realizing our FireTV device might make it easier to participate via a larger household TV. After searching on YouTube for our church, we found that among the (probably) hundreds of congregations with similar names as our church, only a dozen or so offered live streaming on YouTube.
Too often when choosing a streaming platform churches opt for computer-focused streaming options. Instead, to increase your outreach:
Investigate and then use platforms (e.g. YouTube Live, etc.) that allow your services to be easily watched on viewers’ larger screen TVs.
Explain on your webpage how to access the services on larger screen TVs.
Commentary by Dr. Whitesel: Part of my ongoing research is to visit churches online before I visit them in person to evaluate the online perception versus the onsite reality. One of the greatest discrepancies is in the number in attendance.
Charles (Chip) Arn, a writer, colleague and friend, told me about his experience attending a megachurch with a famous TV ministry that had now shrunk to a few hundred attendees. He noted, “They acted like they were still on TV with thousands in attendance. It not only made me uncomfortable and it gave the impression that they were untrustworthy. They should be themselves.” I noted that, “honesty is what will grow a church, not deception.”
Don’t exaggerate the size of an onsite audience for online viewers. Some leaders make it seem that there are hundreds in attendance, when there may be dozens. This will create dismay and disappointment when an online viewer visits in person.
Sunday Church Hack: When you are streaming, there are hundreds and could be thousands watching. Accept it, pray for them … but don’t hype it.
Commentary by Dr. Whitesel: I regularly evaluate online and onsite worship services for clients and colleagues. A reoccurring experience is when a skilled worship leader is backed by supporting vocalists who have been faithful churchgoers for some time. However, if you are trying to reach younger generations (see the list of generations here and here) you should include backup singers from missing generations too.
Yet don’t err on the side of participation, and ignore skill. In many churches there is a community music leader, e.g. current or former school music teacher, etc. that can help. Seek out these musical coaches and ask them to work with your supporting vocalists, relieving the music director of having to work with novice vocalists.
Regarding getting younger people involved, see the chart below for the generational names and years (in addition, you will find an explanation of “Early Boomers,” “Generation Jones,” “Generation Alpha” and “Generation Beta” here).
Following the “Millennials” born between 1982 and 2009, the next two generations are now “Generation Alpha” from 2010 to 2024 & “Generation Beta” from 2025 to 2039.
Commentary by Dr. Whitesel: As part of most consultations I analyze the online and onsite services. I then provide a confidential report to the senior leader or executive leadership team. On many occasions I find that online services have become an afterthought, inadvertently giving online attendees a less than fulfilling experience.
Each week as a staff, review the previous weekend’s streamed service. Often churches use videos to augment the sermon and worship. Unfortunately, many times the videos are not viewable online. This inadvertently gives online attendees a sense of being overlooked, if not second-class. Such missteps can easily be overcome by a weekly staff review of the streamed service. And if all leaders are involved in the review, corrections can be made quickly.
Commentary by Dr. Whitesel: Watching a client’s streaming today, I noticed three nicely placed buttons that say …
Clicking on any of the three boxes above results in ending the streaming playback and exiting to another webpage. This would be analogous for someone in a face-to-face service taking a “connection card” and starting to fill it out; only to have the entire worship service stop, the preacher stop preaching and everything put on hold until the attendee has finished filling out the connection card.
The solution is to have:
A “feedback” button where people watching the streaming service can give you input.
Ask your staff and leaders to semi-regularly watch the service online to stop such missteps.
For more ideas about communicating in the new reality of the eReformation, see the book:
Today I have been engaged to analyze a traditional worship service. And, it is an exceptionally anointed and well organized worship expression. However, when leaders of the contemporary service participated in the traditional service they wore clothes representing their culture.
There is nothing wrong with this, but it can distance you from your listeners. This is because each culture has what Paul Hiebert (Cultural Anthropology) describes as aesthetic “products” or expressions of dress that show reverence for their culture.
While many leaders want to stretch congregants’ acceptance of other cultural norms, during worship is not usually the place. The word “worship” means to intimately draw close to God. A worship service is not the place to create cultural acceptance (though laudable), but a place to create minimize cultural differences and increase focus heavenward.
Forced-perspective will make objects in the background look closer. To avoid distractions, be aware of this phenomenon as you film your worship services. Below is an example about how making objects in the background look closer is used routinely in movies.
Commentary by Dr. Whitesel: Online guests can have a more interpersonal experience if they can dialogue with others before, after and when appropriate during an online service. But, there should be a pastoral “moderator” who can answer questions, guide and encourage. Here is how one church does it, by utilizing an “online campus pastor.”
Commentary by Dr. Whitesel: Worship registration “templates” often ask for too much information than visitors to your online service may be ready to give. Check your online registration site and ensure that phone numbers and email addresses are optional, not required like the example below. This example, from a client church that is making great strides in becoming visitor focused, was unaware it had this requirement.
Commentary by Dr. Whitesel: Backlighting (putting a light shining down on a head/back of a person) is standard lighting practice. However, churches often don’t have lights hung to do this or they are unaware of the importance of this standard lighting practice. A backlight (done well on the singer in the picture below) makes a person on the platform stand out in a 3-dimensional manner. Without a backlight, people on a stage may only appear 1-dimensional (like a card-board cutout).
Commentary by Dr. Whitesel: To ensure your streaming service doesn’t have a second class feel, make sure that an online announcer greets online attendees at the scheduled start time. A blank screen will leave online attendees wondering if they’ve connected to the right website.