How To Lead A Room That’s “All In”

We ended the song with the entire room singing loudly. It was a reflection of what was happening in their hearts – they were “all in!”


If you’ve never experienced leading a room like this, run and sign up to lead at a pastor’s meeting, or have a dozen worship leader friends over, or volunteer to lead at the next National Worship Leader Conference. (just kidding about that last one)


But experiences of gathered worship like this “ruin us for the ordinary.” As my friend Bruce reminded me the other week (referencing Bob Sorge) “God didn’t save us so that we could yawn in church.” We all want to be leading a community that is leaned in, that is completely given, that has the veins popping out of their necks because they are singing with such intensity. A community that’s all in. For me, it’s part of my job – “Discipling the congregation to more fully lead themselves in a life of worship.”


It’s part of our job.


I was reminded by a conversation with my friend Tony that we need to “rate” the excellence in worship not primarily by how the band on stage plays the music, but rather by the way the congregation gives themselves to the Lord in song. I was telling him about this experience I had in the 90’s in New York City. It was my first mainstream concert – an angst-drenched one at that. The Cranberries were on stage. My friends Jenny and Jake joined the crowd of about 300 fans. When they got to the chorus of one of their most popular songs (with the classic vi – IV – I – V/vii progression), the crowd sang so loudly that they actually drown out the band. And this wasn’t a mellow, quiet band either – this was alternative rock at its best. And our joined voices topped the massive sound system.


I couldn’t believe it. It marked me.

Most of us can only dream of leading a congregation who week after week drowns out the band with their singing.


But why only dream? These are God’s redeemed people, pulled from the miry clay, called from darkness into light, once dead in our sins but now seated in heavenly places with (get this!) Christ!!


We should sing louder and stronger than any other group of people on the planet. How do we lead them?


The Gospel

We need to be awakened and inspired to live in this reality that we are God’s redeemed people, pulled from the miry clay, called from darkness into light, once dead in our sins but now seated in heavenly places with (get this!) Christ!! My friend Dave shared with my what he aims the worship at Manheim BIC to be: The Gospel…

  1. What God is like
  2. What God wants
  3. What God has done
  4. Who we are
  5. Who God is calling us to be

Start with testimony songs that recall this and then move us toward intimacy where we’re singing straight to Jesus.

Sing Familiar Songs

Well shoot-fire, it’s not rocket science, Beppo! If we don’t know the songs you’re leading us in, it’s always harder to enter into them fully. This experience that I told you about at the beginning of this Fertilizer was a good reminder. I was asked to lead Days of Elijah, Shout to the Lord, and Come Now Is The Time. All of them from the 90’s. Past their day in my book, but the leader that requested them knew better. He knew the crowd that would gather. I bartered for at least one song from this century, which he kindly agreed to. Even so, many of us would argue that 10,000 Reasons is either burned out or close, though “it’s a great song.” But did they sing!! And boy was I wrong!


Teach New Songs

Now this does NOT mean that you don’t teach new songs. We absolutely need fresh songs to articulate and bring to life these truths. But when you teach new songs, TEACH them. Really. Take a minute to sing the chorus line by line with them repeating it back. That way when they get to the chorus, it’ll feel familiar and they can sing out.


This isn’t a concert after all. It’s more like the congregation is the choir.


Just Ask, Man!

It’s easy to think that the “songs will work by themselves.” (and if you talk too much or poorly, you may have been given this good advice) The congregation may not understand what the song is saying, let alone connect with it in the way that you do. Give them a reason to belt. Tie it to the Gospel. Step into their shoes and string a connection from their lives to the truth you’re going to sing. And try not to overuse cutesy clothing metaphors (,Dave!) “Can we sing this song like we really mean it, like it’s worthy of our lives?”


Lettuce. Turnip. The Beet.

You might need to groove harder (and better) for your people to feel comfortable singing out. And now for the opposite advice.


Turn down already. If the congregation isn’t needed for you to sound good and full, you are sending them the message that they’re not needed.


Just let that sink in.


What I’m saying is that we have to intentionally fight against the “the band is enough” syndrome. The band is meant to enable, not replace, the congregation’s song. The band is meant to enable, not replace, the congregation’s song. (italics and repetition added for emphasis) Sometimes we lead that by playing with energy and volume. Sometimes we stifle that by playing loud and proud. Sometimes we need to drop out during a song to let the congregation carry the moment. Probably more than once per set.



So this week, like every week, let’s lead toward the dream of roomfuls of worshipers who are wholly given to Another…on earth as it is in heaven!