Looking for engaging worship ideas that work in your small church? Find leadership tips, worship orders, creative ideas for lent & advent, and new songs.
Do you feel like you are failing? Or maybe even flailing?
Not sure why worship feels so flat? Or why it can’t be more consistent?
When you watch the latest video from Bethel, do you wonder why that song doesn’t seem as moving when you lead it?
First off you are not failing!
If you love God and you worship Him, keep at it.
As a worship leader in a small church, I’m mindful that I do not have a music degree from college. I cannot play all instruments.
I’m not trained in music production, sound board or videography. I have no idea how to teach someone to play bass, drums, organ, or the handbells.
What I AM is a bit of a musical hack who seeks Jesus.
I learned to play guitar as a youth director. Putting every song in the key of D so I only had to master the 3 easiest chords!
I had a little vocal training in my teens. And I play just enough piano for rudimentary accompaniment when I sing.
Possibly my biggest offering as a worship director in a Small Church is that I am a visionary and a constant encourager. I tend to see potential in people and work to develop their gifts and dreams.
In saying all this, if you are looking for technicality, education, and PhD musical thinking, I am not your mentor!
Instead, this site offers:
- Ideas to breathe new life into your worship leading
- Creative elements to add to your worship order
- New songs that work in a small church
- Resources to make holiday seasons set-apart
- Thoughts on team building
- How to bring new meaning to an old hymn
- Tips to develop your ministry culture
- Help to develop musicians and singers
There are worship leading principles that fit any church size. But this entire website is dedicated to the Small Church! So let’s talk about the differences.
If I bake 40 chocolate chip cookies, I use the same recipe I would use for 400 chocolate chip cookies. I just make 10 times as much.
I use the same ingredients. The same pan. The same oven.
Worship Leading is Not Like Baking
Worship leading for 40 is very different than worship leading for 400.
The numbers alone affect energy, momentum, song choice, song style, and even song key.
The numbers in a church also highly affect team recruiting, development, and leadership.
While worship leaders at LARGE churches may hold auditions.
- Worship Leaders at small churches may have to work to even find musicians. And then develop the ones they find.
Worship teams at LARGE churches seem to effortlessly duplicate the sound of Hillsong & Bethel.
- Worship teams at small churches need to adjust, adapt and sometimes reject the latest Christian radio hit.
Worship leaders at LARGE churches may have rotating teams and the more-than-enough feeling.
- Worship Leaders at small churches often have the same 4 players each week. And they run a high risk of burn-out and apathy.
These unique challenges need their own space. That’s why thecreativelittlechurch is here.
BIG CHURCH vs SMALL CHURCH
What Does the Small Church Have To Offer?
Visiting other churches, the main thing people notice in worship is that sheer numbers bring Energy. Life. Noise. Volume. Vibrancy. Excitement.
A large church often means more experienced singers and musicians to lead. And maybe even a Full-time Paid Worship Director.
The team might be larger. Maybe even more talented.
And larger budgets lead to a nicer stage. Better equipment. Lights. Video. Sound.
But while large churches may have more volume, the small church has 2 incredible offerings.
1) Less Noise
Noise, talent, stuff, and pride tend to distract us from God. And from the simplicity of pure worship.
So the beautiful thing is the Small Church has less noise, less stuff, less options, sometimes less talent… and thus (often) less pride!
This can lead to very simple, heartfelt worship and less of a feel of performance.
2) Intimate Community
Small churches have a community that literally walks in each others’ pain and joy in a way that a large church does not.
If someone in your small church is elated with the birth of a child, the whole church is lifted by it. We experience that joy as our own.
In the same way, if someone just received a terminal diagnosis, we also walk that journey together.
The fact that small churches do life together in such a way absolutely affects Sunday worship. It’s more intimate. More raw. More real.
So, accept this small church of yours as a beautiful gift.
It saddens me when ministry leaders look at small churches as stepping stones to larger churches.
I believe God designed the small church for exceptional purpose.
WORSHIP LEADING WELL IN A SMALL CHURCH: 4 KEYS TO WAKE UP YOUR WORSHIP
- Sustain Your Personal Worship: The ONE Thing You Need to Do
- To Develop Your Team, Get Your Heart Right
- Look Beyond the Music: Add Worship Elements that Engage
- Choose Wisely: 4 Essentials For Picking Songs
SUSTAIN YOUR PERSONAL WORSHIP: THE ONE THING YOU NEED TO DO
You cannot lead worship God’s way if you don’t feel spiritually connected to the Living God.
In the midst of your joys, your struggles, your personal pain, and your questioning, are you still coming back to the core of worship? Do you personally thirst for more of the Living God?
It is common for ministry leaders to feel burnt out. To run on empty. To be tired and drained. To feel lost.
If this is you, you need to make a change.
It is not supposed to be this way.
Your worship leading should not be drudgery. It absolutely needs to flow out of your personal spiritual life.
Don’t Let Performance Outstrip Your Heart
There is, of course, an element of performance in worship leading. We can’t deny that. You are up in front of people.
You can’t show up in your pajamas. You can’t call off sick or sad.
Worship leaders often suck-it-up and show up.
There is undeniably a get-up-and-do-it element of this job (or calling, if you prefer). Worship leaders stand upfront and sing even when their deep desire is to be home sobbing.
Worship leading involves trainable skills.
- Learning to open your eyes while worshiping.
- Making appropriate eye contact with others.
- Creating dynamics contributing to the emotion of a song.
- Singing conversationally instead of letting every ring out.
- Practicing so the musicians function as a unit.
All this means that we are taking genuine worship and adding to it the skill of leading others.
The Danger is We Get So Good at the Skills that We Lose Our Hearts
Don’t lose your heart as you lead.
We see it happen often, don’t we? People quit ministry. Or the church all together.
They lose faith. Or they lose the belief that God uses the church.
A ministry leader falls, and we wonder how they got so far off track. Stay humble. Keep seeking. None of us are far from that fall.
John 15 says … Abide in Me. Apart from Me you can do nothing.
When you feel your passion for Christ waning, you need to get off the work-track and reconnect.
- Take a spiritual retreat.
- Get up early with the sun.
- Practice fasting for a time.
- Find a mentor.
But stay connected. If you are not truly thirsting for the Living God, you may still be performing very well at leading people in worship.
But your heart call is to be a Worshiper. Not just to lead.
So the ONE thing you need to do is ABIDE.
TO DEVELOP YOUR TEAM, GET YOUR HEART RIGHT
You might not have a full band. You may have the same 3 people each week. You may desperately be praying for a drummer.
You may have a self-proclaimed singer who really can’t sing.
Or you may just be winging it every Sunday because you have a day job that takes all your time and energy.
Wherever you find yourself today, please invest in your team. No matter how small. Developing your team is a significant part of your ministry.
As you develop musicians, you are developing worshipers.
Your attitude and love for your team will make a huge difference in their view of worship and of the church.
Accept What and Who You Have NOW as a Gift
If you have one guitar and a cajon, work it.
If you have one singer and a piano, enjoy it.
Make the best of what you have. Learn to worship in new ways. Don’t keep wishing, “If I only…”
Look for the uniqueness in whatever team you have right now.
If a third world church can worship God with their whole hearts in a mud hut with no sound system, then why do we think we need more of anything?
Become a Developer of Musicians
You may be surprised to find how many people have always wanted to play an instrument or learn to sing. So, invite your whole church to something on this list:
- a guitar workshop
- a short-term holiday caroling group
- a percussion clinic
- a hymn-sing with 4 part harmony
Find someone to lead them if you aren’t able. Watch who expresses interest.
Teach your congregation to be musicians and singers!
Can you envision an entire congregation of musicians and harmonic singers? Imagine!
Develop Your Worship Ministry Culture
As you are team building, whether you have one musician or lots, be very aware of the climate you are creating.
- Is it positive?
- Growth minded?
- Rushing or Resting?
- About development or about talent?
Be aware of what you are reflecting. Choose it carefully.
LOOK BEYOND THE MUSIC: ADD WORSHIP ELEMENTS THAT ENGAGE
Adding other elements of worship will bring vitality, depth, and growth to your worship!
In the church today, we tend to equate worship with music.
And while music can be an important aspect in worship, we really don’t need music to worship God.
Some people will never worship God through song. They simply don’t connect with music. But that doesn’t mean they don’t worship.
Worship is a heart thing. Worship is Adoring God. Showing Him Reverence. Submitting our Will.
Could today’s obsession with music actually be watering-down our worship?
While music has been a central aspect of worship across cultures and throughout the ages, it isn’t the sole aspect.
The early church emphasized various Worship Elements. Not just music. These were not new to them. Both the Old and New Testaments are filled with examples.
Many denominations post what they consider true Elements of Worship.
Since we are not one denomination, I want to suggest a very broad list. If you can use these components to Worship the Living God, I say DO IT.
- public reading of scripture
- breaking of the bread
- study of scripture
- tithes and offerings
- caring for the needy
- … and that’s just a start!
Somehow, we have raised the importance of singing to exponential limits. And many spiritual disciplines and quieter ingredients are even forgotten.
Music is Exciting. Fun. Moving. It is a large part of our culture. We grow up with music. At home. In the car.
With the help of technology, we enjoy music anywhere, anytime.
Worshiping God? Easy isn’t enough.
It’s Time to Reawaken the Depth of Our Worship
Emphasizing other elements of worship will not only change your Worship Order. But your Worship Heart.
Instead of dismissing those who never seem engaged in our singing, let’s figure out what engages them.
What draws them to worship?
It might be lighting a candle. Reading or hearing scripture. Sitting quietly in reverence. Being anointed in prayer.
You would not be leading worship if you did not connect with music. But remember, everyone is not created the same.
And while music can be an important aspect of worship, it is not only.
Bring Focus to other Worship Elements on Sunday
OFFERING: How can you make your Offering time intentional worship instead of just one more item in the order? Could you change how you collect it this week (upfront, passing a plate, children gathering it)?
SCRIPTURE: Could someone read scripture from the back of the room instead of the podium? Read scripture together. Pass out small pieces of the scripture to be read by different people.
PRAYER: Could you add a period of silent prayer? A box to collect prayer requests this week and then one prayer over the box? Calling up school teachers or public workers to pray for them?
SILENCE: Silence is powerful. Nearly unheard of in today’s noisy world. God spoke in the silence throughout Scripture. How could you incorporate an element of Silence into your service?
For examples of how we used some of these other worship elements at Lent, take a peek at these:
We’ve all seen an illustration of an iceberg. The smallest part is what is seen.
The tip of the iceberg in worship is music.
The depth of worship, mostly forgotten in our current age, is the other 90%
Begin adding some teaching and focus on other elements. Not just in your public worship, but in your private worship as well.
Wait. And watch God move.
CHOOSE WISELY: 4 ESSENTIALS FOR PICKING SONGS
Dynamics vary incredibly with church size as well as church personality.
Just because you heard an incredible song at a conference doesn’t mean that song will work in your small church.
Considering the unique culture of a small church is vital when choosing songs.
For songs that work in my small church, I look for the following:
1) A Singable Range
Not too many people can do the octave flip or sing a 3-octave range.
This is a current trend with many male recording artists. It builds dynamics and emotion like crazy, but it is not doable in the small church.
If I can put the verse and chorus in the same octave without losing too much of the feel of the piece I’ll try it. Otherwise, sorry. It doesn’t make my list.
2) Intergenerational Feel
We have a multi-generational congregation. When I hear a song, I picture my 65 year old friend, John, standing tall in worship.
If I can’t picture him singing those lyrics, it doesn’t make my list.
Some of the college-age worship songs, while gripping and excellent, just won’t relate to my church family.
And, surprising to some, the old time hymns are actually the favorites with my young adults.
3) Mix of Tempos
I love songs we can clap to and I love songs we can cry to. Too many of either doesn’t keep our worship flow very happy.
A typical worship order starts with faster gathering songs and moves us to a more reflective place.
This isn’t a trick of the trade. It’s just human.
Walking into worship, we humans need to get our wiggles out. We need to refocus from a morning that already had frustrations and joys.
We are not quite ready to be quiet. Opening gathering music draws people in. Gains our attention. Gets us ready for more.
A mix of tempos is a must!
4) Not Too Many Songs or Too Many NEW Songs
My congregation can handle about 2 new songs a month. Beyond that we lose the feeling of the familiar.
People awaken to new songs.
Worship deeply to familiar songs.
And disengage when songs get stale.
Herein lies the balance.
In addition to choosing songs wisely, great worship leaders learn:
- how many songs to keep in their repertoire
- how to introduce new songs with intention
- when to file away tired songs
- when to bring back the classics
WOMEN AS WORSHIP LEADERS
I do not want to write this section. But I know I need to.
I would like to avoid conflict for the rest of my life. But I know that is not possible.
And just mentioning Women. In Leadership. In Churches. Well, conflict is inescapable.
I will not argue the theological views of women in leadership. I know there are many.
Some churches allow women to lead children and women, but will not allow leadership over a man. As such, some churches would never allow a woman as worship leader.
I assume if you are reading this blog you are a woman in leadership in some way at your church.
A Personal Experience
Years ago, our male worship leader was gone for a few Sundays and the pastor asked me to lead one week. I did.
Immediately after worship, our guitar player took his guitar off the stage and left. For good. He could not remain in a church where a woman was asked to lead the worship team.
He had no problem that women were on the team. But the fact that I had leadership over the team (which included men), even for that one week, was in conflict with his belief system.
As you can imagine, after decades of being a pastor’s wife and also a leader in multiple areas of ministry, I have experienced much.
I’m often driven to introspection about what I’m doing and why.
About what God desires. Where He is working. And what I believe He has for me.
I truly do not enjoy being in leadership over men. In part because of my own insecurities.
In part because of the varying convictions in the Christian church.
In part because I’ve worked with many men who are not God-honoring in their own behavior.
And yet, in all my seeking, I find myself here quite often. Walking in the tension.
2 Thoughts to Consider … from One Woman Worship Leader to Another
As a woman, I find it difficult to encourage men in their spiritual walks. I think God’s design is men mentoring men. Timothy to Titus.
1) If you are fortunate enough to have a God-seeking, Truth-living man on your worship team, I highly recommend pulling him in as a leader for other men as much as possible.
Have him share his walk. His insights. And partner with you in leadership. I think this is a beautiful way to see God at work. If you do not have that man on your team, all you can do is your best.
2) I also caution you to maintain a high level of relational integrity and clear boundaries.
Have written standards for your team on man-woman relationships. Such as: Not being alone in the Church. Or in a car. Or behind a closed door.
Spiritual life is intimate by nature. You are not called to share another man’s spiritual life unless you are married to him.
Boundaries are necessary for a myriad of reasons which I’ll make sure to cover in another post.
So, for now, as a woman in ministry, if you find yourself confronted or confounded by Differing Beliefs, Misunderstandings, Comments or Confrontations, my best advice is to Stay Humble.
And afterwards, run to God.
Take your heart, as well as your mind, to what you know to be true.
I do not believe all women are called to leadership. Nor do I believe all men are called to leadership.
It’s a rough road.
Guard your heart. And simply do your best to walk with your Loving Creator.
FOR NEW WORSHIP SONG IDEAS AND MORE ABOUT WORKING WITH VOLUNTEERS:
Team Building in a Small Church. Your Ultimate Resource for Finding Volunteers, Keeping Volunteers, and Appreciating Volunteers! Especially for Women in Ministry in Small Churches.
Top New Worship Songs for June 2019. Worship Leaders, stop here! Each month, my Top 3 Picks for New Christian Worship Songs save you time searching for do-able songs for your small church. My monthly picks include One Fast, One Medium, and One Slow Tempo, with added tips for leading worship.