Kevin G Cook

Theology | Worship | Resources

7 Tips for Increasing Congregational Participation

March 1, 2015  |  worship

One of the biggest issues with church culture today is congregational participation. Church members walk through the doors, find a seat, sit back, and passively observe as the church leaders put on their worship service. They stand and watch the worship leaders perform their songs. They sit and watch the new trendy video message that somehow plays into the morning message. Then they listen to the preacher give his talk, stand for a closing song, and go to lunch.

Every good pastor and worship leader wants to find ways to engage their congregation more effectively and to get people to participate in worship. We need to go back to some basic principals in our worship planning. So here are 7 tips to help get your congregation back into participating in worship.

1. Sing songs the congregation knows

Every contemporary worship leader wants to play the hottest new song. New songs are great, and trust me, I know what Psalm 96 says. But the truth is, your worship leader is going to have far more knowledge of new music than your congregation. If we want our congregations to sing along in worship, its a simple matter of practicality – they can’t sing what they don’t know. 90% of your worship music should be songs that your congregation is familiar with. Do not introduce a new song every week – at most, if you go through a lot of songs, a new song every two or three weeks.

Further, when introducing a new song, make sure it is something that any non-singer can sing along with. Just because Chris Tomlin can sing high G’s all day long doesn’t mean everyone in your congregation can; it’s okay to change the key. Same thing with melodies: if the tune jumps around more than Aaron Neville, it might not be a good song for congregational worship.

2. Consider your congregation’s worship language

Music is a language. It is simply a means to an end, the means being a mode of communication and the end being glory and praise to God. Whatever language your members are comfortable with, be it Charles Wesley on the organ or Hillsong United on the electric guitar, that’s how they know and prefer to communicate in worship – it’s their worship language. Make sure you are all on the same page. And if there legitimately are multiple pages within your congregation, well that’s when its appropriate to have multiple services with different styles. It’s not about the music – God doesn’t care about the musical style. It’s about the people and taking away barriers that hinder them from worshiping Jesus.

3. Check your volume

There’s one theory that says if you turn your volume up loud enough for people to not be able to hear themselves, it will encourage them to sing out more because they won’t be self-conscious. Then there’s another theory says that if you keep your volume low enough so that people can hear their neighbors, they will be encouraged to sing more by the congregational chorus of voices. Well then, what do we say about this?

My thoughts: make sure your volume is just right, and tailored to your specific congregation. In my experience I find that there is a sweet spot (I typically find it somewhere around 90-95dB SPL in our sanctuary) where volume is low enough to hear your neighbor but loud enough to feel free to sing out. Get yourself a decibel meter and check your true volume.

This is not limited to bands. The organ in our traditional service is actually louder than our worship band! People will rarely complain about the organ being too loud, but it is still a good idea to consider the effects of volume on congregational worship.

4. Turn the lights back on

Your congregation is not attending a movie, or a theater show, or a rock concert. They are gathering together as a united body of Christ in fellowship to praise God and receive His word and revelation.

I know that turning the lights off, or even down, helps people to focus on the stage, eliminates distractions, makes video projection look better, and can make worship a more emotional experience. But worship is not an individualized emotional experience, and any emotional response a person might have should come from the Holy Spirit, not because you staged the lighting in a provoking way.

Anything that detracts from community is drawing your congregation further away from the point. Church should not be an individualized experience, but a communal one. Not only will this draw your congregation into more participation, but it will probably increase their sense of community and fellowship as well.

5. Empower lay people to lead

Incorporate as many congregation members as you can in leading different elements of the worship service. Have someone other than the preacher read scripture. Let someone not on staff lead the congregation in prayer. Bring someone else in to lead a public affirmation of faith or creed. Liturgy simply means “the work of the people.” It doesn’t mean “traditional” and it doesn’t mean “boring pre-written content” – it means communal participation.

This might mean more work for your worship planners. Take time to meet with members of your church to coach them in their leadership responsibilities. Train them in public prayer and reading of scripture. Coach them in giving their testimony. Practice reading Psalters together in a metered rhythm. It is not difficult to raise up liturgical leaders, and they will feel more a part of your church than ever before when you empower them to participate.

6. Use creative liturgy

Like I said before, utilize different liturgical elements to draw the congregation into participating.  Recite a psalm responsively. Pray a written prayer collectively. Do call and response prayers, readings, songs, etc. Find creative ways to read scripture passages, like group readings, skits, reading in multiple languages, or narrating the story. Add elements of art, drama, and other creative ways of communicating a message into the service.

7. Offer opportunities for response

This is huge. Worship is ordered by the ebb and flow of revelation and response, and with every revelation, we need to give the congregation a way to respond. This past week, I planned for one of our students to give a testimony about God’s provision, and it was great. But what made it even better was that instead of going straight from her testimony into the reading of scripture and the message, I planned for the worship team to reprise the chorus of “10,000 Reasons”. This allowed the congregation that just heard a powerful testimony about God’s provision in this woman’s life to have an opportunity to respond to God and sing “Bless the Lord, oh my soul!” and “I will worship Your holy name!”

In the same way, find creative ways for the congregation to respond to sermons. Songs that hit the mark are great, but think outside of the box. Communion is always a great response – come and receive the means of grace through the body and blood of Christ. But for traditions and congregations that do not celebrate the Eucharist every week, there are lots of other creative responses you could do: altar call, offering prayer or anointing, writing something out and doing something with it (i.e. a confession, and nail it to the cross), etc, etc. There are many creative responses you could come up with; and if you have trouble with creative thinking, just use Google.


About the Author

Kevin Cook is a 4th year student at Asbury Theological Seminary and an Aspirant for Ordination in the Anglican Church of North America (ACNA). After graduating, Kevin hopes to plant a contemporary three-streams Anglican Church. He and his wife Nicole attend Wilmore Anglican Church in Kentucky.

Kevin holds a Bachelor of Arts in Music and a Master of Business Administration from Florida State University. Kevin enjoys playing music and leading worship, reading fiction and spiritual classics, drinking coffee, and spending time with family and friends.

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  1. Hi Kevin

    I enoyed reading all your suggestions to get the congregation more involved. Thank so much en may the Lord bless your ministry.

    Kind regards
    Kobus Smit (Minister of Religion, Dutch Reformed Church Williston, South Africa)

  2. Hi Kevin,

    Thanks for sharing these tips! Helpful.
    May God bless you and your family!


  3. Kevin, I really appreciated your comments on worship and plan to put these into practice.

  4. Offering opportunities for the congregation to respond to your sermons seems like an excellent way to help them participate. If people aren’t given the opportunity to participate they usually won’t, so your advice on finding creative responses to help your congregation seems like it would be very useful in your worship services. I would imagine that finding ways that can help them enjoy participating will help encourage them and increase participation each time.


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