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Lance Winkler leading worship at the Church of the Resurrection. Photo by yours truly.

How do we who plan and run worship services make our services friendly? Welcoming? Engaging? After a conversation with a friend last week, I think I’ve put my finger on a helpful tip. It seems a little unintuitive, too, but I think it holds true.

Worship services tend to be what I would call “presentational”. You have a person on a stage who is presenting information to a crowd. The way this person speaks to and interacts with the crowd does a lot to set the tone of the worship experience, be it warm, humorous, empathetic, reverential, or contemplative. But the communication is still, almost always, one way. If you’re in a congregation, especially a larger one, you can still feel “talked to” rather than “talked with”, if that makes sense. Good worship leaders, of course, are able to pull people in to worship and get them to respond through singing, dialoging not so much with the person on stage as with God.

But it’s often easy for someone to still feel disconnected from the experience. So here’s my simple suggestion: Have conversations among the people up front, too. I know, I know. It sounds counter-intuitive. But if people are able to converse with each other at key transition times in a worship service, it actually helps to engage the congregation. And I think it’s because people feel like a part of a conversation rather than a presentation.

Think about talk shows. Jay Leno talks with guests, but he does it in a way that invites you, the audience member, into the conversation. He even chats with his band leader, who almost becomes a surrogate of sorts for the audience. If everything in a worship service is one-way presentational, no matter how engaging that presentation is, you can still feel talked to. But imagine this scenario: An associate pastor has been performing the role of “emcee”, saying welcoming words, maybe announcements, doing the tasks that move the worship service along. Instead of simply walking off the stage when worship starts, what if this person says, “Chris is our worship leader this morning. Chris, I understand you’re going to be teaching a new song this morning. Why did you pick this song to teach us?”

Then Chris has a chance to respond, and we get to see a different side of Chris than we’d see otherwise. The emcee then says, “Awesome, I can’t wait. Thanks so much for leading us this morning.” Then, turning back to the congregation, “Let’s join in as Chris leads us.”

It applies to the pastor, too. Some pastors only give the sermon. And while they can be very engaging delivering the sermon, it also establishes the pastor as The Professional Bringer of God’s Holy Word. A pastor involved in a casual cross-stage conversation earlier in the service (or by conducting an interview during the sermon) is suddenly humanized and more approachable.

Pretty easy, right? I know some of you are thinking, “This warrants a blog post?” But I’ve seriously seen lots of worship services that are all presentational. I don’t think it’s as intuitive as we might think. But I’m convinced that this simple little act can do much to make worship more meaningful, engaging, and warm for all involved. What do you think?