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7 Tips for Leading Worship in Small Groups

Today’s guest post is by Rick Muchow, Saddleback Church’s founding worship pastor. Muchow served with Pastor Rick Warren for 25 years, and he has helped train over 150,000 church leaders. Muchow continues to equip and encourage local church worship teams, pastors, and worship leaders around the world.

Over the years, I have led worship for many small groups. I love it! Almost every small group I have led worship for has been grateful for the music, as if they had a deep hunger to worship together in their intimate setting. One thing I’ve noticed that vibrant small groups have in common is that they worship together. These groups find ways to sit together during weekend worship services, attend nights of worship, talk about worship, and include worship in their group time. Sadly, many groups have yet to discover or incorporate this missing jewel.

The two most significant barriers to meaningful worship in a small group are musical leadership and the misconception that worship is synonymous with music. Biblical worship is, of course, more than music, and it is not synonymous with it (see Romans 12). The essence of worship is faith, not the soundtrack. Biblical worship is faith expressed! There are many ways to worship God without music. However, one of the most common, most beautiful, and most effective ways to corporately express faith involves music.

“Music is one of the most magnificent and delightful presents God has given us.” —Martin Luther

Here are seven practical tips for leading worship with music in the small group gathering:

1. Calm fears

If public speaking is the number-one fear of most adults, then public singing was overlooked in the survey! Most people like to sing, but prefer to vocalize privately or in a setting where their individual voice will not be noticed. Getting people to sing in a small group can be a challenge. An affable worship leader encourages participation by intentionally gaining the group’s trust. Being friendly, relaxed, and likable will help calm fears about the singing part of the worship time.

Worship leaders should avoid making direct eye contact with the group members while singing words directed to God. Staring in general makes people nervous, but during singing it can be particularly weird. Picture singing the words “I love you, Lord” while staring directly at someone just five feet away from you. Direct eye contact is important when you are speaking to the group, but will feel awkward to others while singing in a small setting.

Simple rule: Be caring without staring.

2. Choose friendly

Use songs that are group friendly. That means familiar, well-liked, and in singable keys. Singing gets better with confidence. Confidence grows with familiarity. Avoid using songs that are unfamiliar, hard to learn, and difficult to sing. Another way to be friendly is to put the song in the right key. Most groups stop singing when the key is too high. This is because many people have to sing louder when they sing higher. Some can’t reach the high notes, and most people become self-conscious if they hear their voices above the rest, so they stop singing.

Simple rule: Use familiar songs and friendly keys.

3. Control volume

People follow voices! Be careful not to drown out the voices with your guitar or other accompaniment. There’s a difference between loud and “high energy.”
Simple rule: Sing brighter and strum lighter. Your guitar can be louder than you realize.

4. Contextualize songs

Participation will increase when the group relates to the song. The worship leader can share interesting facts about the song: what the song means to them personally, its scriptural reference, or how it relates to the group study.
Simple rule: Plan your speaking and be brief.

5. Connect group

The goal of group singing is connection: connection with God and each other. Music is a language that speaks directly to the soul. The worship leader’s job is to make the introduction, then stay out of the way.
Simple rule: Focus on connecting, not performing.

6. Come prepared

Know your music and sing from the overflow. The Bible says that if we are leaders, we should do our best (Romans 12:8). The worship leader should know their music and words well enough that their leading is easy for the group to follow. Effective worship leaders are more than just skilled troubadours. The worship leader must have an authentic relationship with the Father, faithfully living a life of worship.

Simple rule: Leading worship with music requires both spiritual and musical preparation.

7. Continue praying

Think of singing to God as a form of prayer. Don’t just play your songs. Pray them. People respond to sincere prayers, especially in an intimate group setting. Be aware of those you are leading while staying focused on the conversation with God while singing. Approach worship leading as more of a prayer time than “special music” or a mini concert.

Simple rule: Pray and play.
You can contact Muchow at info@encouragingmusic.com, or with @rickmuchow on Instagram and Twitter. You can also visit RickMuchow.com for more of his worship resources.

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Written by
Ryan Nelson

Ryan Nelson is a writer for OverviewBible, where he uses Logos to explore the characters, groups, places, and books of the Bible. He has served in a variety of volunteer ministry positions, primarily through Young Life.

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Written by Ryan Nelson