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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.