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

Youth Ministry Topics Developing Student Praise and Worship

Adding Creative Elements (Part 4)

Techniques and Taboos

Steve Miller

Find the Optimum Style(s)

29. In general, start by using the style that the majority of your youth choose to listen to in their most relaxed moments. This is what ethnomusicologists call the "heart music" of your group. Get youth to talk to you frequently and openly about tweaking the style. They are the experts on which styles enhance or detract from worship or communication. Listen especially to the reaction of first-timers, in order to avoid the church's historical tendency to get stuck in a stylistic rut and declare it "God's style."

30. Consider starting target ministries using highly targeted styles. Youth have such divergent tastes. By trying to appeal to all of their heart styles in one service, you'll probably alienate everyone in the process. When pastor Don Roscoe inquired about visiting a successful ministry in Singapore, the person responded, "Which service? Loud, louder or loudest?" Apparently, this church had successfully targeted three audiences. In the same way, it may always be difficult for alternative kids to worship in your mainstream service. Perhaps several churches could come together to have a regional service that employs the heart music of alternatives.

31. Work hard to achieve instrumental balance. If the drums overshadow the guitars, the melody suffers.

32. Use a variety of Christian bands on CD for songs that reinforce points. These songs that teach serve a double purpose: reinforcing your message and acquainting them with great bands that can help renew their minds during the week.

Vary the Intensity

33. Vary your volume. In Western culture, increasing the volume increases the intensity. We see biblical authors raising the volume when they speak of shouting. Singers do it by singing more loudly. Instrumentalists can do it by turning up the sound or starting with one instrument and adding instruments as intensity builds.

Some old time song leaders wanted people to sing out at full volume all the time. Yet, sometimes worship can be more meaningful when sung softly. Often going immediately from loud to soft can be dramatic.

34. Vary your speed. If the first couple of verses of the song were done full throttle, consider slowing down considerably on the final verse, letting the words sink in.

35. Vary the number of instruments. Often songs start with one instrument and build till the entire band plays. Just as dramatic can be going suddenly from a full band to one acoustic guitar.

36. Transition to a higher key to build intensity. You can do this from verse to verse, or from song to song.

Know Your Group

37. Know the songs they love. Constantly survey your students, asking which songs best communicate to them and help them worship God. If you're invited to lead worship in another group, do your research. Find out their favorite styles and favorite worship songs. For a retreat, you can teach a lot of songs during the week. For a one-time shot, you'd better have a good mix of songs they already know. I've seen talented leaders get nowhere with a group because the youth weren't familiar with any of their songs.

38. Know their worship culture. A professional worship team came to my Christian college to lead a worship service. On weekends they led worship at a successful fundamentalist church that apparently equated loud singing with authentic worship. Our student culture worshiped best by singing at our own reflective volume. The leader, probably thinking we were spiritually dead, urged us to "sing out to the Lord." The more he tried to whip up enthusiasm, the more artificial he seemed, and the more embarrassed we all became - a classic example of failing to understand a worship culture.

Your picture of the perfect worship service (hands held high, jumping up and down with delighted facial expressions) may differ markedly from your group (head down, eyes closed, reclining on bean bags, softly reflecting the lyrics back to God). Ignore these differences and only the most flexible in your group will meet God in worship.

39. Know and love your kids. A leader stepped up to teach. He wasn't the most polished speaker. I quickly lost his main point among his jumble of ideas. But the kids loved him. They hooped and hollered to welcome him on stage and screamed to congratulate him as he left. Why? Because he spent time with the kids during the week and they loved him. Time spent loving on the worshipers during the week will pay rich dividends when you lead at the youth meeting. They'll forgive your mistakes and celebrate your successes. No amount of talent can make up for a distant, proud leader.

Control Distractions

40. Educate your kids on worship each week. Constantly reinforce what worship is and how to worship and you'll prevent many distractions. Without instruction, most kids see music as a background to their social activities. Thus, many aren't trying to be disrespectful by socializing during the worship. They're doing what comes natural.

Each week, I recommend reinforcing why we're doing what we're doing. Saying something between every song is overkill. But why not say, after an opening kicking song, "I hope you're having fun tonight, because worship can be fun. But I just want to remind you that this is a time for us to forget about ourselves, forget about the people around us, and give God the attention that He's due. I challenge you to not distract anyone around you, to forget about yourself, and concentrate on singing these words with us to God."

41. Have respected, spiritually-minded, college-aged people positioned well throughout the audience. First of all, they can set the pace for worship. This is not the time for your adult leaders to huddle in the back for fellowship. Urge them to dive into the worship with their hearts. When the kid who's about to shoot a spit wad sees that the 20-year-old next to him has his hands up in worship, he may put the straw back into his pocket out of embarrassment.

Second, challenge your adults with good relational skills to control serious distractions. The least confrontational the better. Often, simply walking up and sitting next to the distracting kid will do the trick. Someone may have sit next to the wired ADD kid who just consumed a quart of coffee, tap him politely on the shoulder and say, "Hey, by tackling your friends and putting chewing gum in their hair, you're kind-of distracting my worship. Why don't you try to experience some real worship with me?" Getting the adult leaders involved frees the leader from having to call down hecklers from the stage.

42. If you find yourself having to continually get youth to quiten down, consider doing an anonymous survey. Minimal talking is expected these days, even among adults. And there will always be the new people who don't "get it" yet. But when talking becomes a major distraction, something must be done.

In one group, I handed out an anonymous survey, asking youth to tell me what they liked and disliked about our meeting. I included the question, "Does it bother you when some students talk and distract?" Significantly, I found that most of the youth were very bothered by youth that talked and cut up during worship. (Some of the ones who indicated they didn't like distractions were the distractors themselves!)

Reporting back to the group that most of the youth themselves were bothered by the talkers gave me great ammunition. From then on, I wasn't enforcing an adult norm on the youth. Instead, I was trying to enforce what the youth group itself wanted. If people were distracting I could say, "Hey guys, youth in the group have told me they are really bothered when people distract their worship. Let's show some respect." We simply can't allow the irreverence of a few short-circuit the true worship of many.

43. Deal with distracting worshipers. One of my youth went to a revival where the leader told the audience that they should forget about what other people thought. Rather, they should shout or do whatever they felt to worship God. His application of this teaching was to shout in the traditional adult service. Although it may have expressed his heart, it didn’t help others worship! A group who experienced "holy laughter" at a retreat seemed to fully enjoy their worship, but distracted the rest of the campers from worship. If leadership fails to deal with such distractions, they will become stumbling blocks to many.

The Bible never says that we should do everything we feel like doing in worship. In fact, Paul tells us clearly that leaders must enforce limitations. To the charismatic Corinthians, Paul said that their prophecies must be tested (I Cor. 14:29). Tongues had limitations. (I Cor. 14:9ff). If attending unbelievers think we've gone mad, something's amiss, no matter how much you feel you're led by the Spirit. (I Cor. 14:23). Love's more important than expressing my worship any way I please (I Cor. 13:1-3). As leaders we must urge distracting worshipers to not allow their preferences to hinder the worship of others.

44. Control the environment. Although they're sometimes unavoidable, such distractions as mosquitoes, excessive heat or cold, or a competing band in the next room can make worship almost impossible. For retreats and conferences, know your setting before you arrive.

45. Weed out distracting mannerisms. The difference between how we perceive that we come across and how we actually come across is often dramatic. Our adult worship leader put mics on stands to stop a lot of distracting things the singers did with the mics. Since we're blind to most of these mannerisms, we must listen carefully to focus groups of youth and adults who'll be honest with us. Occasionally video yourself leading worship to see how you really come across. It's humbling, but good for us.

46. Distinguish between "performance" and "worship-leading." The functions of teaching or celebrating or worshiping may require different techniques. For example, a drum solo may be great for an evangelistic band that's communicating the gospel, but may be inappropriate in a worship service. On the other hand, if the other band members direct their attention to God in praise for this person using his talent for the glory of God, it may be entirely appropriate.

How do you decide? By asking representative members of your target group. (I know, this is beginning to sound like a mantra. But no apology. It's critically important and generally neglected.) I personally don't like the rest of the singers turning around to look at a musician who's doing a solo during a worship set. If the solo is directed to God, why not have the vocalists either close their eyes to concentrate on God or lift their eyes toward heaven, or look at the picture on the Power Point? This keeps the focus on God rather than the soloist.

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