One of the first things that song leaders learn is the reality that churches naturally drag the tempo. Countless well-intentioned song leaders start strong, only to immediately be drawn into an ever-slowing pull of the congregation, causing us to wonder who is actually leading – – the song leader or the congregation?

Seasoned song leaders learn that in order to be more effective, they must actually lead and not succumb to following the congregation. One way that leaders take charge is through volume. After all, it is difficult for people to follow what they cannot hear.

Although volume is a necessary tool for effective leading, the tendency is for strong leaders to overuse this strategy. Far too often, the result is an improper balance in which 50% of what is heard is the church, with 50% being the song leader’s dominating voice. This is disheartening if the ultimate goal is to focus the emphasis on the combined voices of every worshiper.  For example, if a church of 500 is led by an overpowering song leader, the result can be that half of what you hear is one person (the song leader), while the other half is the 500 other voices. This is out of balance!

The solution is not simple. Sufficient volume is needed for song leaders to take charge and lead effectively. However, the problem arises when the volume is sustained from beginning to end. The volume does not need to be the same throughout the song. This is what I suggest for leaders:

1. Use volume to lead, but vary the volume as needed.

There are critical times when volume is most needed – – For example, the beginning of the song and the beginning of verses. Other challenging moments include challenging words, new songs and tempo changes. There are special points in the songs when clear leadership is needed and volume is necessary.  However, the ultimate goal is for the song leader to back off (in volume) and become more transparent as the congregation responds to the leadership.

2. Direct the tempo to provide visual leadership.

Visual directing is an effective way to keep the church on track without dominating them through volume. Although not easy, this strategy can become essential in helping a church stay on track without having to overuse volume.

At the Worship Leader Institute, we teach leaders how to use microphone technique to reach an ideal balance of volume in proportion to the congregation, varying the volume as needed. The ultimate goal is to move toward hearing the congregation without the song leader, while keeping the tempo on course along with dynamic changes.

Let’s encourage leaders to actually take charge and lead, but to do so in a way that moves the leader into a masterfully blended role with the entire congregational choir.


2 Responses
  1. Hal James

    In my limited experience a song leader who: presents himself to the congregation as being confident, prepared, makes eye contact, a bit animated and enthusiastic, selects appropriate songs and is obviously trained – will not have a big issue with ‘congregational drag’. When it does happen it will be brief because the congregation will follow the confident-trained leader. Thanks Keith Lancaster for your leadership and encouragement.

  2. Jeff Smith

    Using a hand-held mic was a big change for me. I had a narrow and judgmental spirit that assumed this was a prideful and "performance" driven visual that said,"look at me." I saw it as showy and over the top.

    Keith and others helped transform my jaded perspective. I was able to see the the hand-held as a valuable tool to communicate effectively with those I’m trying to lead in order to better worship the One who is worthy of our best.

    It was also an adjustment for our congregation. Now, it’s the norm for most of our worship leaders. For those who sit out in the pews with a judge mental scowl…I understand. I was THAT guy. Thank God, I quit letting my pride get in the way of becoming a better worship leader.

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