The Worship Swing-Vote Principle: A Divine Partnership

This is Part 2 of “The Worship Swing-Vote Principle.” Don’t miss Part 1.

Over the years, I began to quiz people after church about the musical worship time. I found that there were some people who, no matter how good the music and leadership was, didn’t worship. On the opposite end, there were those who worshipped (and wholeheartedly, at that) no matter how good or bad our team did leading. And then there were those who were sometimes “into it” and other times “not so much.”

I began to notice patterns and dynamics. I began to see the relationship between leadership and these people groups. My conclusions led me to what I call the “Swing Vote” principle, or 60/20/20 rule. It starts with the people.

Leaving Them Hungry

The three groups (60/20/20) have different attention spans. The Bottom 20 have none. The Top 20 can worship for seemingly forever. This is the dynamic you see in YouTube videos of worship at large conferences. Almost all in attendance are paying Top-20 customers, ready to engage and stay engaged. Someone sends us a video link, and we watch it, and are mesmerized and inspired, and through tears say, “We’ve got to do that in our church!” You practice it the way they do it on the video. It’s just awesome. Then, at church … it tanks.

The reasons for this are many. This is church, not a conference. D’oh! It is composed of 60/20/20 folks … not all from the Top-20 group. There may not be 10,000 people singing. Our musicians are not pros. The song in the video lasted eight minutes. Most of the Middle 60 took the exit ramp after four minutes. Yikes!

The Middle 60 have a finite amount of time we can engage them. I want to figure out what that time is (approximately) and stop just short of it each time. Why? I want to leave them hungry for just a bit more. If I take them beyond their worship attention span, they will not be as hungry next time.

Let’s just say that each musical worship time is on a bell curve with a beginning, ramp-up, apex, ramp-down and an end. The Top 20 can stay engaged from beginning to end, and since the leaders are Top 20, they will, as well—hopefully! However, the majority of the Middle 60 usually will take the off-ramp at about the 30-minute mark. If most of the people exit there, I want to end just short of there—at 29 minutes or so.

If I do, they will not experience “worship fatigue” from going too long and being on the sidelines too long while the Top 20 engage.

Please note: The times are just for illustration purposes. There is not a magic number to end on. The point is, know when the Middle 660 jump off, and end just before that. Leave them hungry!

If you end early, you risk the ire of the Top 20. They will always want to go longer. How I would work with this is by enlisting them to be part of your team that moves more people into full-hearted, fully engaged, fully expressed worship. I would also have other, more intentional worship times—other than Sunday morning—when your Top 20 can blow all the dust out of the pipes.

Since we are leading people, we must be attentive to what’s going on in those people. If the majority have taken the exit ramp, and we keep going, the leadership mistake is on us.

The Feedback Loop

If we want to lead effectively in anything, we need to get feedback and interpret that feedback well. When you solicit feedback, which you should, I would suggest you aim for the Middle 60. If you ask for input from a Bottom 20 person, they may comment that the artificial plants need dusting or just walk away. Really, it’s happened. If you ask the Top 20, whether it went well overall or tanked, they will most likely give you a soaring report of how well the team did and how good God is.

If you ask a Middle-60 person how things went—what seemed to help them, was it too loud or long, were the songs easier to get into, were there any distractions, did they like the new song, etc.—their input will likely be helpful for future worship-leading ventures. When a Middle-60 person approaches me and offers unsolicited input good or bad, it is gold! Pay attention to their input, implement what you can, and you will see a difference in your ability to engage them.

All groups are dynamic.

The question arises, “Aren’t we trying to move everyone into the Top-20 group? And, once we do, don’t the principles become irrelevant?”

The answer is, yes and no. Every time a group gathers, there is a set of dynamic variables—things that affect the individuals within that group experience.

Is everyone on the same page with what we’re doing? Did they have a tough day, or are in a rough season? Is everything well with their spouse or kids? Is the place too hot or cold? Is the music too loud or soft? Were they late, early or on time? Could they find a parking spot? How many distractions are affecting them?

There are any number of factors that affect how you are once you show up, which in turn affects how well you engage. Several factors are significant.

One dynamic factor is the number of newcomers present … people you don’t know. When there are a lot of new people, the regulars tend to hang back. This dynamic frequents major holidays like Christmas and Mother’s Day. The place is full, but the regulars don’t engage. Why? Because people become more conscious of themselves around people they don’t know. Interestingly, fully engaging in worship involves trust. When trust runs low, engagement normally follows it.

When we first started doing small-group gatherings for our newcomers, we would start each gathering with a three-song worship time. They were some of the most awkward times ever! Even our leaders hung back. We decided to skip it for Session 1, and in Session 2 had each person share a meaningful worship story from their journey. Afterward, the worship times were rich and intimate. We learned that when people know and trust the people they are worshipping with, they will engage more fully.