Why You Should Clap in Church

Photo by Amanda M Hatfield

So, my church-going friends, what type of church do you attend? No, I’m not talking about what denomination. Nor am I talking about worship styles. Nah. What I want to know is, does your church clap? And if so, why?

I’ve been a part of a number of congregations over the years. Some have been clapping churches, some have not.

Today, I’m a part of 2 congregations. One, a very large Methodist church where I work, has a number of worship services. I attend the more contemporary ones in the evenings, and there is often applause after each song.

But I also lead worship at a Lutheran church on Sunday mornings. They’re a wonderful congregation, full of young families. They love the contemporary music our band plays. And yet, this worship service, other than the music and informal dress, tends to be very traditional. They follow a liturgy that never changes from week to week. They have communion every Sunday. The cross is carried into the sanctuary during the opening hymn song. It’s a beautiful service, with a melding of the old and the new.

And they don’t clap.

It was very odd for me, the first Sunday I was leading worship.  For the past decade I’ve been a worship leader, and I’m used to at least a smattering of applause after a song. So to have a rockin’ song finish up, hear the sound of the last drum hit reverberating off the walls, and then… silence… just felt really weird.

And then a little kid called out, “Yea!” Which received a lot of laughter.

All that is a long lead-in to an argument I’m going to make. I call it, the Case for Clapping. There are arguments I could make against it, too, but what’s the fun of laying out both sides of the argument in a blog post? I think the Case for Clapping is the stronger case, so I’ll just present it. I leave it to you, dear readers, to fill in the rest.

1. Clapping is a natural expression of joy. I see it in my children. When my 3-year-old daughter is delighted, she claps. I took her to a guitar store recently. She had never been. She has only seen me playing guitar at our house or in church. So her reaction to seeing a huge wall covered in guitars was one of shock, then sheer delight. She laughed, then looked at me, looked back at the guitars, her hands over her mouth, and then simply started clapping, laughing the whole time. The employee thought it was hilarious. So did the dad. As a recent news article noted, “It’s human nature. I mean if you agree with something or you approve you clap. It’s like laughing. A lot of time it’s involuntary.” ((http://www.foxnews.com/us/2011/11/03/taking-liberties-clap-off))

2. Clapping does not mean you’re applauding the musicians. 

Sometimes the fear is that people are getting the applause, not God. There can be a concern that the people up front are performing, not leading worship. There is a fear of inflating egos. But see point 1. And trust that your worship leaders are up there for the right reasons. If they’re not, trust me, your clapping or lack there of isn’t going to solve their problems. Humility will.

3. Clapping sometimes means you’re applauding the musicians.

Okay, so yes, I’m contradicting myself. But it’s my blog, so I’m allowed. But let me explain it like this: Sometimes it’s okay to thank people. Sometimes it’s okay to applaud the singer who just blessed you with an awesome song. Sometimes it’s okay to encourage the nervous layperson who just got up and told their story as a sermon illustration. The Bible tells us time and time again that we are to encourage one another. I’d go so far as to say that to not clap can be discouraging. I remember once I heard an incredible musical performance during an offertory. It was stunning and glorious. The congregation spontaneously rose to their feet applauding at the end, it was so moving. And I remember the singer, looking bashful, just pointing up to heaven. “It’s all for God, don’t applaud me,” she seemed to be saying, deflecting our applause heavenward. And I get that, I really do. But I felt a little gypped. Because while I’m eternally grateful to my God and my Savior, I was also thanking her, for her hours of practice, for sharing her gift with us, for making herself vulnerable before a crowd of hundreds. I wanted to shout out, “No, I’m really thanking you, too!”.

4. Sometimes not clapping feels strange.

I saw a performance of Godspell once. It was great. At the end, Jesus was crucified, and was carried out (up the aisle, through the audience) by His followers, who were singing softly, “Long live God… Long live God…” before breaking into a rousing “Prepare Ye The Way”. But this director, instead of letting the drama play out as anyone would expect, with a resurrected Christ appearing on stage for the curtain call, decided to make a statement. Maybe he didn’t believe in the resurrection. Maybe he just wanted to get a reaction. But after Christ was carried out, He stayed out. Everyone did. It was just over. And a bewildered crowd stood around looking at each other, wondering when we were supposed to put on our coats and leave. And again, I felt utterly gypped. I was robbed, robbed of my opportunity to express what had been bottled up in me for two hours. An audience wants to clap, needs to clap. And so, applied to church, I find that sometimes the silence is more deafening than any applause could be. It just feels odd. And everyone knows it.

5. God likes it!

I know, because He told me so. “Clap your hands, all you nations; shout to God with cries of joy.” ((Psalm 47:1)) “Let the rivers clap their hands, let the mountains sing together for joy.” ((Psalm 98:8)) “You will go out in joy and be led forth in peace; the mountains and hills will burst into song before you, and all the trees of the field will clap their hands.” ((Isaiah 55:12))

So that’s my story and I’m stickin’ to it. Sure, I can make some arguments against clapping in church, and I’m sympathetic to those arguments. But I think most of the reasons people don’t applaud come down to 1) Tradition 2) Decorum and 3) Fear of pride. And there’s some legitimacy to all three. But I feel that clapping is a natural expression of joy, and if we truly believe the message that Christ has indeed died for our sins and we can find hope in Him, then we should be applauding longer and louder than anyone.

14 Comments

  1. I completely agree with you on this post. Especially when you’re trying to create an environment when people outside the Christian faith tradition will be comfortable.

    One addendum I’d add is that there’s a LOT worship leaders can do to make clapping more comfortable for congregations. The first thing the have to do it to end the song powerfully. 16-measure outros can often undermine the power of the final chorus; a nice, powerful stop is often more emotionally satisfying.

    The second thing worship teams can do is for the vocalists to clap during the song and at the end of the song. That way we’re all clapping for God and the experience together. When I’m worshiping in a congregation that kind of leadership really empowers me to respond naturally.

    The last thing I think worship leaders can do is make sure the band really nails the performance of the song. That way the whole experience becomes a celebration, rather than something prosaic or something to be endured.

    (or not)

  2. Great post. I agree. I will have to share this with my anti-church-clapping friends and family.

    I also think this would make a great guest post on Stuff Christians Like.

  3. I can see some of your points, but not all. And not enough to sway me to your side of the argument. You said, “An audience wants to clap, needs to clap”. If that is the case, then the audience should remember that we are commanded to stay away from fleshly things; things of the “world”. And clapping in that context is a “fleshly thing”.

    But what moreover concerns me, is that those services you described sound more like rock concerts than they do of worship services to our Lord. Yes, the people might get worked up with that type of music, but who are they really getting worked up for? And is their enthusiasm for God quenched only by pounding rhythms and dynamic singers? What happens when they are out of the auditoriu… church?.

    I also have to disagree with something that Alex said in his comment.
    He said “Especially when you’re trying to create an environment when people outside the Christian faith tradition will be comfortable.”

    Alex, why would you want to make people outside of the Christian faith(or even those who profess to be Christian) “comfortable?” Jesus said “Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the road broad that leads to destruction, and those who enter through it are many.”
    You either accept God’s way, or you don’t. He gives us that choice. But we shouldn’t try to bring God’s way down to man’s way in order to increase numbers of the congregation, as you will only end up getting a lot of false converts, who will be lost in the end and wondering why when they reach the judgment seat, Jesus says to them “I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity.”

    Don’t believe that that includes people who are active in their respective churches? Well, don’t take my word on it:

    Matthew 21Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven.

    22Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works?

    23And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity.

    • William – Let me respond to some of the points you’ve made. You suggest that clapping is a “fleshly” thing. It is? How so? I just did a quick word study on the word “fleshly” in the Bible, and I honestly don’t see the connection. Not only that, but one of the points I was making in my post is that clapping can be a good thing, whether directed to God (we can praise Him with applause) or even to people, when it is a means of encouragement. (This says nothing about the motives of those called to serve as worship leaders. If they “perform” for the applause, that’s a separate issue, and something they need to deal with at the foot of the cross. My post is about how the congregation should respond.)

      Regarding people getting worked up because of music, I’d say, of course people get worked up because of musi. It’s what music does. It’s why the Old Testament armies were sometimes led by the musicians. Music impacts our emotions. If we suggest that this is somehow wrong, then perhaps we would suggest that music just be eliminated from church altogether…

      Regarding making church comfortable, Paul addresses this in 1 Corinthians. When he says that people shouldn’t speak in tongues in church, he’s not making a statement about his opinion of speaking in tongues. He’s noting that visitors will think the worshippers are crazy. In other words, hold your tongue, for the sake of making visitors comfortable. Worship is by Christians, towards their God. Yet at the same time, we are to be mindful of those in our midst who are guests. While there may be an inherent offense in the Gospel let the offense of the Gospel come from the Gospel, and not from other places.

      • Actually, he is saying to not speak in tongues, because it was no longer necessary to do so, as they were originally intended for the unbelieving Jews, not for the NT church.

        Secondly, I agree with William, you are writing your article from a one sided perspective, clapping for those performing a rock concert. It appears that that is the type of service you are referring to, which basically means you have brought the world into the church and there will be no distinction anyways. Most church services would not be like yours. Just my thoughts.

        • Jason – Thanks for taking the time to read the post, and share some thoughts! I’m really grateful.

          It sure doesn’t sound to me like Paul’s saying not to speak in tongues. “I thank God that I speak in tongues more than all of you,” he writes. I see nothing in 1 Cor 14 that makes me think he is saying to not speak in tongues. The plain reading of the text seems to indicate a prohibition on speaking in tongues without prophesy. All that being said, we may just agree to disagree. The point I was making initially was not about tongues per se, but about the fact that Paul was exercising a certain sensitivity to those in worship who may not be believers. “So if the whole church comes together and everyone speaks in tongues, and inquirers or unbelievers come in, will they not say that you are out of your mind?” While some see the term “seeker-sensitive” as a dirty or corrupt term, I think Paul invented the idea. That’s the point I’m making. It’s not about tongues. It’s about “inquirers or unbelievers” – visitors to worship services.

          Second, I’ll readily admit my opinions are one-sided, and this article was intentionally so, and stated as such. I take issue with your phrase “clapping for those performing a rock concert”. You loaded a lot of subtext into your word choice. I won’t argue the merits of worship styles here, and take issue with your presumptions. I have much to say on this issue, but that will be another blog post for another time. But I will say this: This notion that our styles of music are somehow corrupting the church (i.e. “brought the world into the church”) is silly nonsense. I encourage you to study the term “wordly” in the Bible. It refers to quarrels, jealousy, and gossip. That’s what we are to keep out of the church. It has nothing to do with music or art. Nothing.

          You end by saying, “Most church services would not be like yours.” What is mine like, do you suppose? I wrote this in 2011 (and I’m so glad you’ve read and engaged with it today! Thank you!), and my original post talked about the services I was involved with then. Today, I’m no longer leading worship and I work at a church that is very traditional. And yet everything I wrote still applies. Two weeks ago was Easter. We ended the service with the Halleluia Chorus from Handel’s Messiah. And when it was over, we applauded and cheered wildly, and fittingly.

  4. In the Hebrew language “taqua” means to clap your hands as in praising the Lord. We clap not only after a song but during the song as well. It is all a form of praise and worship to our Lord and Saviour. Psalm 47:1 states “O clap your hands, all ye people; shout unto God with the voice of triumph.

  5. But you wanted people to clap because of you finishing a song? Isn’t it weird because it was for you? Yes,God do love clapping but it was during the singing part that you clapped along? Don’t you feel that if people clapped after a song ended,it looks like they are thanking you for the entertainment? Even if there should be applause,shouldn’t God be the one applauding?

    • I really want to write a long reply, but really the best reply I can come up with is this: Please re-read the post. I think the questions are addressed therein.

  6. You have just made my day. When I feel happy (and I’m 72) I sometimes clap here by myself. I love clapping in my church. Your article was by far the best I’ve ever read and been encouraged by. If people would allow the Holy Spirit to speak to them about their doubts, the answers come. And the spirit just spoke to me in your article. Love you and God bless you immensely.

    • I remember reading this a couple of months ago when you posted it, and I meant to reply to it then. Your comment made my day! Thank you for sharing your joy!

  7. Clapping after worship songs has made me uncomfortable for many years – I’ve been a Christian and in either Pentecostal or evangelical churches for more than 50 years now (since childhood), so I’ve experienced the advent of clapping following songs during worship. I personally don’t clap. Recently we changed churches, from a large (2-3,000 members) congregation where the worship team put on a great show and everyone clapped, to a tiny (100-200 members) church where the worship is led by one or maybe 2-3 people on guitars & keyboard, no drums, and there are graceful, prayerful segues between songs. We can hear each other sing, and nobody is performing, so there’s no need to clap, and nobody does. I sure don’t miss it. And yet these people of all colors are some of the warmest, most joyful Christians I’ve ever met. For me, it fits.

    • Jenny, I can’t thank you enough for writing and sharing your thoughts with me. And yes, I hear you loud and clear. The church you’re at now sounds a lot like the Lutheran church I mention in the post. And yes, that non-clapping church had some of the warmest, most joyful folks I’ve known too. To me, it felt odd. But that’s me. Like I said in the blog, I could make counter points to each of my own statements, and I’m sympathetic to them. I’m glad you’ve found a place of worship that fits you so well.

      -Rob

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