Relational VS. Presentational Worship Leading

A seven year old, at a church of 100 people or less, can play “Mary Had a Little Lamb” on the piano for the offering and everyone will love it.  It won’t matter how well she plays or how much she might mess up – the people know her.  They know her parents and they probably know her grandparents.  And as a result, almost anything she does will be wonderful and worshipful.

That same scenario would not play out so nicely if the church was say, 500-700 people in attendance.

What causes the change?  Relational vs Presentational leading.

As a camp and special event worship leader I have learned this lesson in many ways.  Why does a song we’ve never even really done before come across so great at a summer camp?  Even on the fly?  Why is the music, worship and energy during a small weekend conference over the top?  Because the students or participants are connected to our worship teams relationally.  They know our names.  They sat by us at lunch during the event.  They are personally connected to us and that changes how they perceive and connect to the music and ministry.

Our team has also served in other events where the attendance was greater.  We eat dinner in the green room with other artists and speakers.  We only get a chance to see the congregation for brief moments and we may only be leading worship music for one evening or maybe a couple days.  In that case, we would never think to pull out a song we had never played!  It’s because we didn’t have the relationship component.  It was all presentational. Their only view of us was from the stage perspective. It raised the bar.  And we had to behave differently.

Just because you are relational doesn’t mean that you can wing it or do a bad offertory song. And it’s not to say that we should only do our best when there are lots of people in attendance.  We want to offer excellence in all we do, with what we have been given, giving glory to God through it!

But, it’s the transitional time that’s worth being aware of.  If your church ministry and attendance is growing, your worship ministry will experience the pain of crossing over the line of relational vs. presentational.  You will have to come to a point that presentational side of the ministry is together so people can freely worship, even if they don’t know the leaders personally.

If you aren’t growing – you may be in the funk of trying to be to presentational in a relational context or visa verse – too relational in a presentational context.

The irony is that skilled presentational level to a larger crowd will come off seeming relational more than a “relational” attitude does. But, a worship leader without a relational side will never be able to come off presentational.

This isn’t a public label – it’s only for you.  Don’t call one worship service relational, where you will put all the kids playing Mary Had a Little Lamb on the docket every week or anything.  But knowing the times when you invite a relational component into the situation might help.  This might be for a special, smaller worship time.  Or a more intimate, mid week core group worship night.

Have you experienced this? How would you classify your worship services?

In a future post, I will address thoughts about each of these aspects.


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6 thoughts on “Relational VS. Presentational Worship Leading”

  1. Tim, Your post connects with me big time. You’re right, there is great irony in both styles of worship leading. I’ve recently transitioned from leading worship at a church of 6,000 in a large metro area to a church of 1,000 in a smaller, conservative town. During my time of growth as a worship leader at my previous church, everything in me fought against presentational leading, but because the church was fast growing, I was forced to grow as a presentational worship leader, realizing that visitors didn’t know me at all and didn’t understand why we would let “Suzy” (whose family had been in the church for 50 years) play a bad piano solo. I wanted to lead relationally so that our worship would be more than mere entertainment. That’s when I realized that the relational aspect of leading had to take place off the platform and through a little bit of vulnerability on the platform without compromising excellence.
    I’m in a challenging situation now because the expectation at my new church is much more relational. With new visitors coming every week, I”m trying to walk our congregation and worship teams through focusing outward so they begin to understand why Suzy isn’t playing solos anymore in the main weekend worship services and why we need to raise our “presentation” bar.
    While the desire is to be relational in our leading, if we want to see growth in our churches, we must almost be presentational…and that’s not a bad thing. We just need to make sure we are being genuine and relational both on and off the platform at the same time so it doesn’t become a “show”.
    Thanks for your post!

  2. cliff… thanks for your thoughts. It is a fine line between performance mode for the sake of entertainment and the presentataional mode for the sake of the congregation. good thoughts! thanks. Keep up the good work.

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