"For Those Who Are Passionate About Reaching The Younger Generation"

Youth Ministry Topics Developing Student Praise and Worship

Adding Creative Elements (Part 2)

Techniques and Taboos

Steve Miller

Be Authentic

1. Be real. Don't imagine that you can lead meaningful worship on youth night if you don't lead a lifestyle of worship the other six nights. One youth minister couldn't understand why his youth weren't getting into the worship. The leaders seemed to be doing a great job. Then he found that one singer on the worship team was living loosely and the teens knew it. Her lifestyle short-circuited the power of God. Youth can spot hypocrisy a mile away.

2. Be yourself. There are obvious limits to being yourself, since we're to become all things to all people to reach them. We may have to make uncomfortable changes, such as playing styles that aren't our favorites, in order to help our people worship. On the other hand, you don't have to be as funny as Mark Lowry, as intense as Keith Green, or as energetic as Al Densen. Discover how God has wired you and use that for His glory.

3. Don't manipulate. I'll never forget attending a revival service in a small church with my wife. We went in cognito, dressed very casually although we were staff at another church. During the invitation I leaned over to whisper something to my wife. The speaker apparently assumed I was suggesting that my wife go to the altar with me. Immediately he says, "There’s a couple here for the first night…" (that would be us) "…God's working on your hearts and you need to come to the altar and make a decision tonight." As he looked in our direction I felt the chill of manipulation. This generation absolutely detests techniques that reek of insincerity or emotional manipulation. Don't do it.

4. Strive to be lead worshipers rather than mere leaders of worship. Learn your songs so well that you can forget about the audience, forget about yourselves and actively engage in worship yourself. When people sense that you're worshiping rather than performing, they'll follow your lead. Showiness hinders worship.

5. Make your outward expressions consistent with the posture of your heart. I want to come across sincere, like I'm worshiping rather than performing. During reflective songs I want to project a meditative spirit. During celebrative songs I want to come across excited. Yet, sometimes leaders have the right inward attitude, but their facial expressions and body language say something else to the audience. We must trust others to tell us how we're coming across and be humble enough to change.

Example: I took two youth to visit another ministry. Although the worship band performed with excellence, my students told me that the lead singer didn't seem excited about the message he was singing. Why? Because he stayed stationary throughout the worship leading. To these youth, a singer that believes in his song should express it with some movement. Is that true with your group? Maybe, maybe not.

In America, speaking with a hand in my pocket projects casualness. For many adults in Slovakia, the same gesture signals deviousness. Here's a question for your focus group to look for the next time you lead worship: "When we lead worship, do we look like we’re worshiping? Why or why not?"

I'm distracted by worship leaders who have a strained look on their faces when they either sing a high note or play a fast riff on a guitar. It's fine in a performance setting, but just seems artificial to me in a worship setting. Since I know that Eddie Van Halen can smile while playing a smoking riff and Britney Spears can sing high notes while dancing and faking a smooch, I must assume that the straining worship leader must either suffer from constipation or desperately need a macho image. Either way, it doesn't enhance my worship experience. But maybe it's just me….

6. Implement a process to find and eliminate distracting body language. I always had my wife looking for my annoying mannerisms. Once she told me that I often went up from my heals to my toes. I had no idea. I'm sure that many youth opted to count the number of times I did this rather than listen to my message. Some gestures may be fine in themselves, but overdone they give the youth counters an avenue to express their gift. Ask a group of students and adults to look for bothersome mannerisms and report them to you. Then work on eliminating them.

7. Implement an authority structure and accountability. Tim and Annette Gulick report that in South America, many worship leaders are seen as spiritual superstars and view themselves as being in total authority. Thus, in one conference, the band refused to honor the time limit given by the organizers, publicly announcing that the Spirit was leading them to continue in spite of the organizers' objections (implying the organizers were not let of the Spirit). To avoid these problems, first study what the Bible says about authority structure and qualifications for church leadership (e.g., I Timothy 3, Titus 1). A plurality of qualified elders provides oversight and accountability. Even in a worship setting, one person's appeal to "the Spirit's leading me to…" shouldn't make the final decision. Others are led of God as well, and should be called upon to judge whether or not this person is right (I Corinthians 14:29-33).

8. Spiritually nurture the praise team. Pride can ruin the best of us when we step onto a stage before a crowd. Rock guitarist Eddie Van Halen lamented that his singers suffered from L.S.D. - Lead Singer Disease. Sadly, it's often no different in the church. Paul David Cull (Brazil) says that Brazilian worship "usually focuses around personalities, often exalting the performers." He mentioned to a boy that he hoped one day to release a worship CD from their group. The boy responded, "Great! Each of us will do one song and we'll all have our photos on the cover!" To fight against this, he's teaching kids how to become true worshipers. His main qualification for leaders is that they must be true worshipers.

Tatiana Ostanina (Siberia) started her youth worship team with very raw talent. One guitarist knew about 4 chords. (He now plays bass regularly for the church) She began by building a strong spiritual foundation, praying at every practice, discussing spiritual values, building unity, developing their hearts rather than concentrating on professionalism. This separated the serious ones from the shallow ones. Her patience in building the spiritual foundation paid off. Band members have the maturity to participate in decision-making. Their seven instrumentalists and five to six singers lead youth worship, lead the entire church in worship once a month, and play at evangelistic events.

If we fail to invest spiritually in our teams, developing true worshipers, they will become obnoxious brats feeding their inflated egos. In the end, authentic worship is hindered for everyone.

Prepare Your Setting

9. Experiment with shades of light. If you've ever been to an outdoor music festival, you'll notice a dramatic change in atmosphere once the sun sets. The earlier bands may have been excellent, but the direct sunlight seriously works against them. Notice the lighting in your next meeting. Try dimming the house lights to keep kids from being so aware of their own presence. A well-lit stage and darkened room keeps the focus forward and makes the overheads or Power Point stand out. Use complete darkness for video clips.

10. Try creative lighting effects. Candles can occasionally make an awesome setting for serious worship. Occasionally try multiple candles scattered among the worshipers. Try a few candles up front regularly. Do a "catacombs" effect, seeking to identify with the early, persecuted church. Ask kids what they think.

11. Know your acoustics! The difference between singing in our middle school room and our high school room at my last church was incredible. It had nothing to do with the heart of the worshipers. It had everything to do with acoustics. The high school room had thick carpet and building materials that made it musically "dead." It was great for a concert, because the sound didn't bounce around. You could hear the singers' words and each instrument clearly.

But for group singing, it sucked eggs. No matter how loud students sang, their voices died right in front of them. It never sounded like people were into the singing. But put that same group into the middle school room, which had no carpet, a higher ceiling, and walls that reverberated sound and voila!, my "dead" worshipers were transformed into energetic singers!

12. Use a room of optimum size. Perhaps my most meaningful worship experience was in a small living room with about 8 people, lead by a piano and acoustic guitar. No small part of the effect was that the room fit us comfortably. A large auditorium would have detracted. Our large high school group requires the use of the sanctuary, but we'd only fill 1/4 of it. To make things more cozy, we use dividers.

13. For smaller groups, try to use homes over educational rooms. Kids love homes. The difference in atmosphere is dramatic.

14. Make the room visually appealing. "Revolution" bible study for alternative kids in downtown Atlanta uses a room that's shared with other ministries. They take a good bit of time to put up posters, set up an entry table with pictures and news clippings of past events, lamps, etc. They know that appearance matters.

North Point Church in metro Atlanta has more of a large coffee house feel, with round tables and dining chairs set up around the perimeter, comfortable couches in a semi-circle around the back, and space with no chairs at the front for active worship. It looks nothing like "educational space." I've used a decorations ministry team made up of youth and adults to keep the youth room updated. Remember, adults' ideas of a youth-friendly atmosphere may differ dramatically from what youth consider relevant. Youth culture changes so rapidly that we simply must have youth in on these decisions.

15. Make the room comfortable. Many churches have old couches and comfortable chairs set around to make kids comfortable. Remember, our spirits can no longer rejoice when our butts can no longer endure. Avoid metal, folding chairs when possible.

16. Arrange chairs for optimum impact. Straight rows of chairs facing a lectern suggest formality. Arrange the rows in semi-circles to reduce formality and promote group singing. Place them in a circle for small group sharing or for facilitating discussion. It's often dramatic how a simple shift in arrangement can change the entire atmosphere.

Click HERE to read Part Three of this article.