20 top church worship distractions to avoid

Friday, January 23, 2015
 | 
Michael F. Haverluck (OneNewsNow.com)

When Americans flock to services across the nation on Sundays and for mid-week Bible studies, the fellowship wouldn't be complete without the element of worship. Because the worshipping of God is so vital to Christians' faith, eliminating the distractions that can inhibit one's praise has been found to be of great importance.

A Closer LookDr. Chuck Lawless, professor of evangelism and missions at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, has consulted churches for 15 years, compiling a list of ten distractions commonly encountered inside church sanctuaries across America concerning the music element of worship. After the first listing, Lawless gets more general, giving another ten distractions that take away from the worship experience, listing various components and practices that can divert believers' attention away from God.

10 distractions from the music side of worship

Here are Dr. Lawless' findings, which point out the greatest distractions experienced during worship music at church.

1. Incomprehensible choir or praise team words – Worship was intended to be about communicating a message of praise to God, and when the words are obscured, it inhibits one's fellowship with God.

Lawless

"I start with this distraction simply because we face this issue so often," Lawless explains in The Christian Post. "The sound system may be poor, the singers may not enunciate well, or the music may drown out the lyrics — but in any case, we miss the message while straining to understand the words."

2. Unsmiling faces leading worship – It is a privilege to come before God and worship Him. When a worship team's countenance communicates something different, it detracts from leading the congregation in making a joyful sound unto the Lord.

"Some solemn hymns may not necessitate smiles, but something is lacking in singing about the joy of the Lord when the singer's facial expression suggests something different," insists Lawless, who also serves as the dean of graduate studies at SBTS. "We have seen entire praise teams show little expression as they lead worship."

3. Poor musicians or singers – Just as churches seek to have the most spirit-led and knowledgeable pastoral teaching staff on hand to best impart the Word of God without diverting from His message, they must also strive to have a worship team that makes worship a joy to the congregants — without members distracting those in the pews by singing off-key or playing off-note.

"I hesitate to include this distraction because I realize the level of talent varies by congregation," the church consultant shared. "Nor do I want to suggest that only the most talented musicians or singers should be permitted to lead worship. I'm simply stating what we've experienced: sometimes the musical component of worship lacks quality."

4. Unprepared singers – Just as professional singers don't show up for gigs without practicing, how much more important is it for worship team members to prepare and sing before the God of the universe at church while leading fellow believers in praise to Him?

"Here, level of talent is not the issue; lack of preparation instead appears to be the problem," Lawless points out. "Sometimes it seems — right or wrong — as if no one practiced this component of the worship service. In fact, we've occasionally heard it stated publicly: 'Please pray for me before I sing today because I really didn't have time to get ready for singing.'"

5. "Preachy" music directors – Even though God may lead worship leaders to a teaching moment between songs from time to time, setting a routine of mini-sermons during the worship service can work to detract from what the worship part of the service is all about — lifting up praise to God.

"Some folks leading worship do a great job of succinctly and effectively speaking between songs," Lawless concedes. "Others, though, seem to use interludes to preach a sermon in preparation for the sermon still to come. Too much talking may actually disrupt the worship more than facilitate it."

6. Songs disconnected from the sermon topic – Worship should lead congregations with an open spirit to the Scriptures. If worship songs focus on biblical themes totally unrelated to the upcoming message, it may take congregants extra time to make that transition — making it difficult to adjust.

"It seems strange, for example, when the sermon series is about family but none of the song selections moves in that direction," Lawless argues. "On the other hand, worship is often facilitated — and the teachings of that service's content are easier to recall — when the musical selections and the sermon content focus in a single direction."

7. Difficult songs to sing – Instead of focusing on maneuvering around difficult notes or keeping up with an upbeat tempo, worship leaders should choose selections that all in the congregations can wrap their vocal chords around.

"Again, I am not a singer, but I do know when I'm struggling to sing a particular song," Lawless notes. "Some of our more gifted consulting team members are singers, and they at times question song selections on the 'singability' of the song. What works for the gifted singer doesn't always work for the typical person in the pew."

8. Weak use of media for lyrics – If congregants are at a standstill wondering when the PowerPoint slide is going to catch up with the song, or if the overhead projector is cutting off the first or last words on the screen, worshippers are likely being distracted.

"This distraction is a corollary to the previous one," Lawless interjects. "Lyrics on the screen are most often helpful. If, though, the phrase and sentence breaks on the screen don't match the breaks in the singing, the worshipper may still struggle with knowing how to sing the song. Lyrics on the screen do not generally help worship participants learn the melody."

9. Poorly done blended style – All worship songs at church don't have to conform to a specific style. Such a pattern of worship can have the effect of constricting the worship team to limited song choices or diminish their ability to perform songs that those in the congregation would like to sing.

"Anecdotally, we are seeing more churches move to a blended style of worship rather than offer multiple distinct styles of worship," informed Lawless. "That approach is not bad, but it becomes problematic when the worship leaders are strong in one style but weak in the other. Often, that difference is noticeable."

10. Introducing new songs without teaching them – Worship leaders taking the time to help congregants get used to new songs is always beneficial so that they won't sit or stand around as spectators the first several times after the new songs are introduced.

"Numerous good songwriters are producing strong worship music today," Lawless said. "Introducing new songs to a church, however, requires intentionality that often seems lacking. Many of us welcome a worship leader's taking the time to help us actually learn the song as a congregation."

10 top distractions experienced during worship service

After interviewing church members, reviewing consultation reports and weighing personal experiences, Lawless also put together a list of general distractions congregants often face while worshipping at church.

Below are the ten greatest barriers congregants face when trying to maintain a worshipful spirit during service.

1. Starting late – Have you ever found yourself giving your heart to God during a worship song only to be taken out of your joyful praise by a tap on the shoulder motioning you to scoot back as tardy congregants edge past to claim empty seats? Be on time — for fellow believers' sake, your sake, and especially God's sake.

"Our secret shoppers know to be present in the worship center prior to the publicized starting time and to record what time the service actually begins," Lawless divulged. "A late start may be unavoidable, but too often the tardiness is seemingly due to disorganization and apathy. A late start seldom strengthens an attitude of worship."

2. Poor sound and/or video quality – If congregants are straining to hear the worship team or view the video screen during worship, chances are that they are apportioning at least some of their concentration on trying to get past the technical difficulty that their senses must overcome.

"Occasionally, this problem unexpectedly happens when the system malfunctions," Lawless explained. "At other times, it seems clear that either (a) rehearsal never occurred to detect and correct any problems or (b) leaders chose to ignore problems. Either one is unacceptable."

3. Excessively loud music – Is more emphasis put on the volume and blaring beat of the music or on the message behind the music — and most importantly, the receiver of the praise? Volume could be good, but not if it tunes our hearts and God out.

"I suspect my age is apparent here, but even some of our young secret shoppers have commented negatively on this issue," Lawless attests. "Increased volume may be appropriate in some settings, but it does not automatically strengthen worship. Sometimes, worship occurs best in the quiet."

4. Incomprehensible choir or praise team words – Trying hard to decipher the worship team's song lyrics can easily take congregants out of their worship zone.

"The lyrics are probably great, but we cannot tell," Lawless says. "The sound system may be poor, the singers may not enunciate well, or the music may drown out the words — but we miss the message while straining to understand the words. Simply including the lyrics on a PowerPoint would help."

5. Grammatical and/or spelling errors on the screen – Anything that can draw our attention away from a pure heart of worship can form a barrier between a believer and God during service. This includes misspellings that naturally bring out the English teacher in all of us.

"Granted, this error should perhaps not be a distraction," Lawless concedes. "Surely, we can overlook an omitted apostrophe or misspelled homonym. On the other hand, God — and worshipers who are often well educated — deserve our best in presentation."

6. Poor synchronization of presentation slides – Being creatures of habit, even though many congregants may well know all of the lyrics of a song, many may wait for the slide operator to catch up with the song so they can continue to follow along. This can detract from a pure heart of worship, as some worshippers can easily form critical hearts wondering why the technician isn't doing his or her job.

"The operator gets caught up in the worship and fails to progress to the next slide," Lawless adds, giving a possible scenario. "Or, activity in the sound booth becomes itself a distraction for the operator. Nevertheless, it's difficult to worship in song when the lyrics on the screen are measures behind the worship leader."

7. Unclear directions – Worshippers should not be left guessing during the worship service about the correct protocol that they must follow. Otherwise, their attention will be focused on keeping a lookout for when the altar call will take place or when the offering or communion tray will be coming around the corner.

"Worshippers — especially guests or unchurched attenders — do not readily follow everything that takes place in a worship service," Lawless continues. "Even our best secret shoppers sometimes feel awkward over such questions as: Who is the person speaking (no one introduced him)? Will they recognize guests (and will I be put on the spot)? Am I permitted to partake of the Lord's Supper (no one explained it)? If the church does not take an offering, how do I give (again, no one guided us)?"

8. Poor lighting – Not being able to see the words in front of you, whether it be in hymnals, prayer cards or Bibles, can serve as an obstacle to overcome during worship service.

"The problem may simply be weak lighting; that is, uneven lighting in the worship center creates dim sections where reading the Bible is difficult," Lawless asserts. "In some cases, delayed maintenance results in burned-out bulbs. In others, a darkened room intentionally creates worship ambience — but also reflects a wrong assumption that all worshipers will be reading the Bible only on the screen."

9. Bad preaching – Oftentimes, when the congregants can't feel God speaking to them through the pastor, it becomes more difficult for them to be tuned in with the worship.

"This conclusion is subjective, but nonetheless truthful: worship is challenging when the preaching is boring or disorganized," Lawless argues. "It's even more taxing when the sermon covers everything but the Bible."

10. Crowd movement – People moving about around the sanctuary can easily reroute one's attention from worship, as well as from other aspects of the service.

"To be fair, I admit that worship should so focus on God that crowd movement is not distracting," Lawless concludes. "In addition, many folks we interview sit toward the back of a worship center, where the movement is likely more noticeable. Nevertheless, folks coming and going from the worship center — especially during times of prayer, reflection, preaching and response — can be disruptive."

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