The What & The Why: Finding A Win In Student Worship

Imagine you’re a worship leader. Skinny jeans, amazing hair, perfectly picked out accessories, very cool guitar… you get the gist.

You spend hours and hours practicing. You show up early on a Sunday to set up. Then, you practice again. You pray. You pray harder. You suit up in your ’14 vintage jean jacket (the one you can’t find in stores anymore). Then finally, you step on stage and put your heart and soul into soaring melodies and furious guitar playing, all coming together in what you think might be the best fifteen minutes of worship the world has ever seen.

The response? Blank stares.

A 7th grader is picking his nose. A 10th grader just discovered new Snapchat filters and thinks the middle of the worship set is a great time to try them out… with five friends… and the flash on. One senior is fighting with her boyfriend while another is getting a little too close to her significant other just a few feet away. All in all, it’s rough.

It doesn’t take long for worship leaders to realize that it’s simply impossible to measure the success of what we do every week during our worship sets based solely on the response from our students. We can chase excellence in music, only to find a lack of connection to our students when it’s all said and done. Or we can chase engagement from students, only to find that same kid who seemed incredibly engaged during a song on Sunday got busted at a party the following Friday.

So what do we do? Well, I think we need to focus our attention on a better why behind the reason we’re spending so much time singing and worshiping in our short student programs week after week. We need to find a better win. Because measuring by our students’ reactions alone just isn’t cutting it.

Here’s the thing: Most worship leaders are generally good at focusing on what we need to do during worship. Get students to jump or dance on that high-energy song, have them sing out that chorus, and then pray that, if we play it just right, they’ll raise their arms on that third and final song. We tend to apply formulas to our worship sets, believing that somehow the right song selection combined with the desired student reaction will somehow equal spiritual growth in the ministry. Sure, it’s great when a worship leader prayerfully considers the set list and students engage in worship in response; God can totally use that to grow students spiritually. But I would argue that if they don’t know what worship is or why they’re responding to the songs we sing, we’ve totally missed the point.

One of the biggest wins in student worship is when we’re able to truly combine what we’re doing every week with why we’re doing it. For example, jumping around during a high-energy song doesn’t really sound super spiritual on its own. But something changes when you start to communicate to your students why we worship and sing the way we do. We jump around in worship because we know we have something to celebrate in Christ. We can express our joy with a little dance party because we have a God who gave up something amazing so that we could have that joy. We sing not just because it’s something we’re supposed to do or have always done. We sing because it pleases God; it reminds us of something valuable. We dance because our joy is overflowing in Him. We lift our hands because it’s a way to demonstrate surrender, vulnerability, and trust in a God who cares for us. We worship because of who God is. And when students start to understand the why behind the what, that’s a win.

You’re a ministry leader. You know why worship matters, but do your students? Have you communicated the why behind the what in a way they can understand? Maybe a win for your students is to see them simply understand the point of music and worship in a new way. Maybe the number of hands raised in worship is far less important than the number of students who understand the role worship plays in their lives, not just during a church service but in every other moment during the week, too. Maybe fostering that sort of understanding in our students is a win worthy of chasing as we lead each week (while still wearing that vintage jean jacket, of course).

This week, ask yourself: What’s one way I can better communicate why we worship to the students in our ministry? Start with that question and let the Lord lead you. I promise, as you see your students begin to understand the why behind worship, you’ll see them become more engaged in what they’re singing each week.