Toward Effective Worship – Part 4



I HATE when that happens!


Ever said that at church? In church? Me too. Usually right on the heels of something that yanked my attention from what we were supposed to be doing and turned it toward something else. Worship leaders don’t mind anticipating and looking out for distractions to keep them from happening, or reducing their impact, that’s our responsibility in a way. But when one gets through and messes things up – HATE when that happens!

(Click here to catch the start of the series – Part 1)


There’s an adage you’ve probably heard, it works in athletics, in manufacturing, in business, with all kinds of situations, including church:

Try to imagine everything that can possibly go wrong

Then put things in place to make sure it doesn’t.

So it’s not the greatest English – it works!


Here are some common distractions that get in there and destroy a congregation’s focus like foxes eating the grapes before they can be harvested. It may seem like a list, I guess that’s OK. The good part of what follows is that you won’t need any money to prevent these. Just effort.

  • The Last Minute is a primary source of distractions. Can you do something ahead of time? Do it. You’ll avoid the last-minute syndrome and “we ALmost got it done in time.”

  • The sound system’s too loud! Set a maximum level. A free but subjective way to accomplish this is to appoint a couple trusted folks to keep this in mind and give them permission to tell the sound technician “Need to ease up a little.” A more objective way is to buy a sound meter (Radio Shack has them and they’re not too expensive) and agree on a threshold you won’t exceed.

  • Temperature. You don’t want women shivering instead of participating because it’s too cold. Neither do you want men nodding off because it’s too warm. Ceiling fans are great – unless they create a draft. Adjust. While we’re not here to make people comfortable, necessarily, it’s best when the Holy Spirit is the one making them uncomfortable.

  • Cell phones and pagers. This is largely a training concern. Graciously remind everyone at the beginning of the service, knowing someone will be glad you said something. If you’re on the platform much, think ahead so you know what you’ll likely do when you hear someone’s phone ring in the middle of a service. Several weeks ago I was a visitor in a service when someone’s phone started playing its melody. The pastor paused and grinned, “I could almost dance to that. ALmost.” The chuckles that followed eased the embarrassment a little, but enough attention was drawn to the interruption for people to maybe remember next week and turn theirs off. If you’re on call Sunday morning and think there’s a chance you’ll be called, don’t sit three rows from the front in the middle of the row. Please? Sit on along an aisle, near an exit. And set your device on vibrate. The people around you will thank you later … if they even hear it buzz.

  • Feedback! Aggressively go after this one. Find it and kill it. Set this standard: How much is acceptable? None.

  • The wireless mic just went dead. (Hate when that happens!) With a little voltmeter, check to see that your batteries are either brand new or have a 90% charge when church begins. If you’ve no voltmeter handy, start each Sunday or each event with new batteries.

  • Missed Cues and miscues. Ushers, soloists, video segments, accompaniment tracks, (it’s a long and varied list) Remind yourself that many of these are caused by other distractions. Go upstream until you find the source — and take care of it.

  • Crying children. Teach your congregation ahead of time (when the babies are all being good) what you’d like parents to do when a child suddenly cries so the rest of the church can keep their mind on the teaching or worship around them. Be gracious and kind. I heard one pastor say “I cried when I was a baby too. In church, even. And Mom had me to the foyer before I could take a breath for the next round. She was a good mom, and I turned out OK. … I think.” 🙂 Instruct and empower your usher team on how to help without insulting or offending.

  • The computer locked up! When the image on the large screen stops supporting what you’re doing, everyone sees. Everyone loses. Everyone quits thinking about God for a minute and thinks about the computer. Or you, if you’re the one at the keyboard — and you don’t have enough shades of red to turn. Pay attention to computer maintenance, virus protection and the like. Regard the church’s media computer as you would a fine instrument and play it as such. I recommend weekly defragging and cache-clearing right after church so there’s nothing in the way next Sunday morning.

Annnd a couple more, lest you think none of the distractions come from up front. They can.

  • Ruthlessly eliminate hurry as a member of the choir or praise team. An old Chinese proverb says “It is impossible to hurry with dignity.” In ushering people into the presence of Almighty God —which is what you’re doing as a member of the team leading in worship— you owe it to God and His people to do so with dignity. Haste brings more than waste, it distracts. Don’t.

  • Inside jokes. How many are permissible? None. For there to be insiders who get it, there have to be outsiders who don’t, and church is no place for that. I recognize congregations have personalities but I’d say go easy on jokes and humor in worship until you understand very well what’s acceptable to the church’s leaders. Safest position? Cheerfully point people to the Lord Jesus. Save the mirth for fellowship times and conversation with each other.

  • Attire. (ohh-my.) This can be delicate. I’ve found the best approach is to talk to both men and women, and to focus on what we do want, not on what they can’t wear. Hemlines can be distracting, and the more steps up to the platform, the greater the risk. Necklines, both men & women, can divert a person’s attention from praising God. Too much color can silently coax “Look at ME” instead of “Look to Him” Too-tight clothing does the same thing. Here’s a key question I recommend. If you’re going to be on the platform at any time during church next Sunday, put on what you plan to wear earlier in the week and ask your mate, a good friend or your reflection in the mirror: “When I wear this, is your eye drawn to my face?” Don’t settle for anything less than a “Yes” for your answer.

  • Never let yourself “showcase”. If the congregation’s attention is drawn to someone’s skill or ability, they’ve momentarily forgotten about God and a distraction is the result. This is a fine balance to obtain and maintain, but strive for it. I’ve participated in contemporary services with full worship teams, utilizing thousands, even millions of dollars in equipment, skillfully pointing the people in the room to God above. It’s wonderful! I’ve enjoyed the remarkable skill of a musician leading from a single instrument, and have been ushered into full and complete worship. In moments like those the skill is never showcased – it’s put to good use, even passionately, but it, like love, does not boast, is not proud, never self-seeking (see 1 Cor. 13). Play skillfully (Psalm 33.3) but humbly.

  • Let the music speak for itself. As a worship leader or song-leader, every time you coach, cheer or interject between phrases you introduce a distraction for everyone already focused on God. Attention is instantly diverted from Who you’re singing to, down to you. Now they have to re-focus. So don’t. If what you need to say is really important, find the right time, but don’t interrupt 50 to 500 people or more to interject something insignificant. Get out of the way, let the music speak for itself, and point everyone’s attention God-ward.

Whew~ that’s quite a bit, but think about what church would be like if one by one you started peeling them off and getting rid of them. Would it not be worth the effort? Particularly since they don’t tax your ministry budget at all?


This is by no means an exhaustive list. It’s your turn. How have you solved some distraction concerns where you worship? Would you share with those reading in? Have a question about one that’s about to drive you nuts? Ask; we may be able to help.




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