Leading worship in small attendance settings requires some special care.
But small is relative.
You might think small is 20 people in a worship service or meeting. To a large church student ministry that typically has 200 students, 50 would be a low attendance night. To a small, rural church, 150 might be a huge crowd.
Factors are the size of the room, the style of music and the makeup of the band. What I’m thinking about for this post are the instrumental and vocal worship teams who are using sound systems to lead their congregations in worship music on a weekly basis.
Here are few tips for leading worship energetically even with a small congregation:
Maybe it’s just me, but I find most of the common modern worship songs are in a key just slightly too high. If you’re in a room of a 1000 people the energy goes up, there are more people to carry the sound and a higher key is actually better. But in most local church worship settings, taking the key down a notch or two is helpful to engage people. To sing high, you almost have to sing loud, something that people may not do well in a smaller setting. The largest percentage of people attend worship on Sunday morning and singing high in the morning is tough.
Don’t spread out. The closer people sit to each other the louder they will typically sing. If you are using chairs in your space, set up just enough so people must sit near each other and near the front. If you are in a space with permanent seating use rope or cards to encourage people to sit together in a particular section or area. There are several benefits to getting the congregation in close proximity to one another, one of which is more energetic singing.
Don’t Talk Too Much
When the congregation is smaller, I have found that people on the stage feel the need to speak more. Worship leaders can encourage singing, interject some phrases and words, teach and describe a new song now and then, but we don’t want to needlessly try to fill space. Especially stay away from phrases like: “we’re small but mighty” or “the crowd is thin, but it’s a holiday weekend” etc. Instead, confidently say things like: “Nights like these are great opportunities to praise the Lord!” or “Let’s clap and worship together” or “This is a new song we will all be learning together next week, so I invite you to listen to it this morning.”
Sing Familiar Songs
To energetically lead a small congregation, be sure to include familiar songs every time. We keep it fresh by strategically inserting new songs, but be sure that people know enough of the songs to sing loudly. It may be wise to begin with a song or two that people for sure know then move to a song that is less familiar. New songs are important, but familiar songs are what help people engage.
Be Relationally Available
One amazing way to help add energy when you’re leading a smaller group in worship is for the worship leader and the worship team to be relationally available. This means knowing people, connecting before and after, and allowing opportunity for “off stage” interaction. Relationships can help carry worship teams in smaller settings. One of the best assets a smaller setting affords is for the worship team to know the people and vice versa. Here are some thoughts on relational vs presentational worship leading.
No Instrumentation Overload
Allow the congregation to hear themselves singing. The band is there to assist in this and must learn to play energetically quiet if needed. There isn’t a one size fits all approach and even this may vary from week to week. You may find in your setting that percussion is a better fit that a large drumset. Some weeks you may need just acoustic guitar and piano. Other weeks there may be a fuller sound with guitars, keys, drums and bass. The goal of the band is to accompany the congregation in singing worship songs to God. We are assistants. Don’t overload the worship team.
Act Twice Your Size
One of the keys for growing a church is to plan and prepare as if you were twice your size. What steps need to be taken to ensure you are doing your best? Don’t fall into the trap of thinking there are only a handful people, they won’t care what we do. Too often in the church world, we equate excellence with large. We assume that because we aren’t a large church, we can’t do great things. Work with what you are given. Assemble the people the best possible way you can. Lead worship with excellence. Make sure the lyrics and order are correct. Adjust the flow of worship to be solid and plan and prepare for growth. Lead like you are twice the size congregation that you are.