By Wade Huggins

Many times, the first venue for a new worship leader is at a youth gathering. What’s next? How do you best invite these students to join you in worship? I’ve had this conversation with many youth pastors, bands, and worship leaders. We all agree, students are not the easiest to lead in worship. Let’s be honest there is a lot to compete with in the lives of the average student today.

If you’ve ever felt discouraged after leading a youth gathering, you are not alone. So how do we best direct their attention away from so many competing interests and guide them towards fixing their eyes on Jesus? Here are a few things to keep in mind next time you step in front of a youth group to lead worship.

  • Meet them where they are and be in that moment with them. I can’t stress how important this is. I remember an evening not long ago the students looked worn out. It turned out that most of them had just finished a long day of standardized testing. I knew that there was going to be no way to get them going and energized. They needed rest. It was a great opportunity to lead them to a place of rest in the presence of God. Then there are the nights where the students have all seemingly consumed two 12oz Red Bulls and are bouncing off of the walls. You may not have any chance of knowing where they are at until twenty minutes before things start. So plan for this. If you’ve planned and rehearsed for an energetic start to the night, but notice they need some rest, be willing to change your planned direction to best meet the students where they are.
  • Give them direction. Some worship leaders like to think that if they just get up there and sing through the song, God will do the rest. There is both truth and myth at work in this philosophy. While you have to allow the Spirit to break through and guide the hearts and minds of students into worship, consider that it is through you that the Holy Spirit is doing that work. Be prayerful about the worship set. Find ways to give guidance in the spaces between songs. Use transitions to guide the student’s hearts and minds in worship. This can be as simple as guiding them to repeat a small phrase of scripture with you, or it can be a devotional thought, or it can be a simple scripture reading. Remember that you are taking a part in raising up the next generation of worshippers. Teach them how to unleash their spirit to worship God. Talk about why we sometimes raise our hands in worship. Talk about why we bow down. Talk about why we worship. Aaron Keyes has some great thoughts on the Hebrew words for worship and praise. Share some of these thoughts with the students. I have found them to be incredibly helpful and think you will as well.
  • Don’t treat them like children. – This seems self-explanatory but the fastest way to lose a group of students is to treat them like they are kids. You would be surprised by how the phrase, “Hey kids!” causes them to immediately disconnect. Respect them by not treating them as children and they will be more willing to follow you where you lead them.
  • Know why they may feel uncomfortable In a room of students ranging from 6th graders to seniors in high school, honestly, you are going to have some who are very uncomfortable singing. I’ve found this to be especially true with middle school boys. Their voices are changing and some are embarrassed to sing. We need to be careful not to lead them to think that loud singing equals worship. That misses the mark. Instead of encouraging them to sing louder, try encouraging them to find words in the song that are really speaking to them. Give them direction to worship silently if they wish. The singing will come as their heart grows in worship for God.
  • Invest in the lives of the students you are leading. – Be more to them than the guy or gal up there on the stage singing songs. Be their friend. Recognize that you are in a position of influence and use that influence to point them to Christ.
  • Be Yourself – Students today see right through the façade. Authentically worship God as you lead. Do not be afraid to be vulnerable. You are not Chris Tomlin, Matt Redman, or Hillsong – don’t try to be. Be yourself and allow God to use you to lead the students in worship.
  • Lead Familiar Songs – They want to sing songs they know and are more likely to engage in worship when they feel they know the songs. Sometimes it takes singing something over and over to really allow the words to be written on our hearts. Help them embody the songs through leading songs they are familiar with. Find two or three songs that the students really enjoy singing and try to sing one of them every week.

Now, go out there, be yourself, and lead the next generation of worshippers!

Wade serves as the Worship Pastor at First Baptist in Athens, TX. His primary hub for leading is the local church but he also leads worship at camps and other student events. He is in the process of completing a masters degree at Baylor University’s Truett Seminary. Wade loves The Lord, Kristin (his wife of three years), the church, the Texas Rangers, and a delicious sandwich every now and again.

Hit me up on on Twitter and Instagram @wadehuggins.

Hey loop community I wanted to spend a little time thinking about how we prepare to lead our people each week. I know we spend a lot of time as musicians prepping the content, arrangements/song sequences, loops, multi-tracks, etc.  So we tend to spend a lot of time prepping the music but what do we do to prepare what we say aside from what we sing? Unfortunately, we need to speak as well as sing. I know for me it has always been a pretty daunting task. What we have to realize is that we can’t rely on our talents as musicians alone. It is vitally important that we learn to speak as well.

We have the unique opportunity and privilege to help the people we serve connect with what you’re singing by leading them to a response through what you say. What we need to understand is that there is a balance that we need to find. I have visited churches where the worship leader talks too much and gives too much information but I have also seen times in which the worship leader doesn’t say anything and just plays through the music. I have to admit that I have been guilty of that as well and I am not saying that there are not occasions when not saying anything is best. Although, I think too often our sole focus is on singing or getting our people to sing but our role as worship leaders is to help our people see who Jesus is, who God is, what He has done, and then lead that response.  We can’t assume that everyone is ready to sing nor should we assume that everyone in the room is a believer.

Okay so how do we deal with these issues? The best way that I have found to balance everything out is to script what I am going to say. I know what you are thinking… Where is the spontaneity in that? Well in my experience by scripting out what I am going to say has given me freedom to use or not use my material. There may well be a week that I find what I was going to say is not appropriate or will make an impact in that particular moment so I don’t use it. What it does give me is freedom from the stress of coming up with something to say off the cuff all the time. Some you may be able to pull this off but when I try it I end up either going on too long or not saying enough. In all honesty I find myself stumbling over what to say, which leaves me frustrated, and sounding like someone just standing on stage rambling on nonsensically.

So what are some practical ways to approach this issue? The first thing is to prepare an introduction. Don’t just start out by getting up in front of everyone and saying, “Let’s worship.” The people we are leading need to know three things: who we are, what we are here to do and why we are about to do it. The next thing is to identify a moment. Really look at your set and pray through it. This is the fun part as this is where we get to partner with the Holy Spirit. Is there a lyric or a moment that can be used as an opportunity to connect the hearts and minds in the room to something that would allow them to sing that song even before they’re singing it with their mouths.

Todd Fields said that in order to create a moment like this we must think about what we are going to say in light of three things: being concise, being clear and connecting. We want to hook our people to a song not just have them sing it. There are many transition techniques we can use. It could be scripture, a line in a song or even an experience that you or someone else had that could drive the point of the song home. The key is though to be prepared. The more we prepare the smoother things will go.

The Holy Spirit can lead you in the days preceding Sunday for what He wants you to say. We have to love our people enough to sit with Him and ask Him to lead you as you prepare to script out what you are going to lead your people in.

The Church, Loops & Fear!

Wade Huggins —  October 9, 2014 — 1 Comment


Contributed by E.J. Gauna

There’s little question that these are amazing times we’re living in. Technology is advancing at an exponential rate and brings great progress with it. The way we buy music (when was the last time you paid $19.99 for a CD at a Sam Goody at the mall?), how we get our news and even the way we pay for our groceries is changing by the day. We don’t have flying cars yet but our lives are more resembling the Jetsons every decade that passes. This is an awesome thing.

Technology can be scary though. Try Googling “singularity” but only if you’re prepared to throw away your smart phone and hide in a Cold War-era bunker with a tin foil hat on your head and only eating ranch-style beans, vienna sausages and distilled water for the rest of your life that isn’t controlled by an Android device (probably Apple though ‘cause We Are LC).

The Church (as an institution) has historically done a poor job of embracing technology and incorporating its culture and liturgy.

Case in point: when we think of our childhood church many, if not all, have an organ present. It may have been a B3 or a pipe organ with our Catholic friends but most people had one in their church.

The organ was a scandalous edition to the church when it was first introduced. It was said that it belonged in the theaters and the secular nature of the instrument had no place in the church.

This was the first worship war.

In the last few decades we’ve had the battle between electric guitars, live drums and lights, screens and haze to argue about. These are worldly, loud things that don’t have a place in the church. They belong in the theaters and in the clubs.

The second worship war.

I think we are in a new war. Technology has given us the ability to have an entire worship band inside of a computer. We can sound like whatever we want to sound like by playing along with music from an iPod or mp3 player. It’s not uncommon to see more electronics on a platform than musicians. From MacBooks, midi controllers, drum triggers, drum pads, and synth stations: our stages and platforms are becoming more electronic.

This is scary for some people. I’ve heard the argument that playing with loops, tracks, or computer based synths isn’t real. That we should be good enough musicians to sound like a record without computers or loops. Even though the record we hear was recorded on a machine, along with 8 layered guitar tracks, overdubbed vocals, and a mountain of effects on the back end.

We can even hear the argument that tracks are for the world. They’re for Arianna Grande and Justin Timberlake who don’t have great bands to use…

I can easily get on a soap box on why loops benefit the church but that may be for another blog.

My point is that we as the church should embrace new technology and advances in music. Not only embrace it but advance it more than the world is doing.

I see this happening now in the world of guitar effects pedals. Worship music is beginning to define a certain sound. The guitars are beginning to sound a certain way. There are companies that cater specifically to the worship guitarist and their gear has found its way onto the boards of highly visible (read Hillsong) pedal boards. Unbelievers on guitar gear message boards talk about this phenomenon and I am grateful that for once believers are leading in the arts rather than creating an alternative to the secular. !

Loops are a great way to augment your team’s already valuable talent not diminish it. Loops open doors for creativity in instrumentation and arrangement. Loops allow a single worship leader with just an acoustic guitar to add strings or pads or drum loops to better communicate the message of the song or inspire engagement to that message. Loops allow the team at a mega church to develop their own sound and not have to rely on always paying musicians to come and play.

There are downsides to loops as well. If we rely too heavily on our Macbook and it is baptized by our Pumpkin Spice Latte we may be in trouble. Our team may feel unnecessary if we go overboard on our instrumentation supplementation. Something we probably have all experienced is the train wreck of getting off the click while the track is playing or accidentally triggering a loop during the pastor’s prayer.

New methods, new tools and new technology can always be unsettling, dangerous and a little scary. New ways of doing things will always be polarizing. Our motives are always important and should be checked in why we are choosing to implement new technology in our corporate worship experiences. I would say, though, that as long as we are holding close Jesus’ words he said in Mark 16:15 to “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature” then, for me, we should do it by any means necessary. If you’re standing still, you’re moving backwards.

We should be constantly moving forward. Even when the next new thing is scary.


Several weeks ago, our pastor said he wants our church to be a singing church. Considering the plethora of articles and blogs written about getting the congregation to sing, the sentiment is a common one: How do we engage the congregation and lead them to worship together as a family with one voice raised in worship? I’m not going to address worship leaders, but rather, everyone else on stage. One thing that we can do to help the congregation engage in worship is remember, the rest of us are also worship leaders. But what does that look like?

Know the words….and sing them!

I confess that I have found myself so immersed in creating tracks, practicing parts, and dialing in the perfect guitar tone that I sometimes forget to listen to the words during the week. We need to pray through and meditate on the lyrics of the songs throughout the week, preparing our hearts to lead on Sunday. Then during the worship time, no matter what instrument we are playing, sing along! We can’t pretend everyone is only looking to the worship leader. We aren’t invisible. I love visiting a church and seeing a drummer singing his heart out when no one can hear him but God. How can we lead the congregation in worship as a church family if only one or two people on stage are singing while the rest of us stare intently at our charts or fingers? Which brings us to the next challenge…

Memorize the music

I know this may seem daunting, especially for volunteers with full time jobs and kids, but like anything else, memorization is a skill that takes practice, and over time it gets easier. We should eliminate anything that distracts someone from worshiping, and few things are more distracting than a player who doesn’t know the song. When the songs become second nature, we free ourselves to focus and reflect upon the lyrics and to engage the congregation in worship. On engagement….

Open Your Eyes!

Have you ever had a conversation with someone who never looked at you? It’s awkward! There will be times that our posture on stage is inward reflection or upward in praise, but our primary posture should be outward to the congregation. We are there to serve and guide them. People come into church with baggage and heavy hearts and we need to invite them into worship. Our facial expressions and stage presence need to communicate that we are excited to be there, that we are excited to see them there, that we welcome them to worship our Savior and God together. Singing with eyes closed the entire service isn’t very inviting and can work against our invitation to worship.

One of my favorite quotes I heard at a Seeds Conference (seeds.churchonthemove.com) is that the level of engagement and response in worship in the congregation will rarely exceed what is on stage. So let’s sing with hands lifted high and invite everyone into worship with us.

Andy Walker is a producer based in Nashville, TN. Andy has had the opportunity to play with several bands & worship artists, including Tim Hughes, Ben Cantelon and Luke Hellebronth. He’s played at countless churches & was a music director at one for two years. As a producer & writer, he’s had song placements on MTV and continues to work with indie artists, as a producer, mixer, or musician as well as creating resources for worship leaders. He lives with his wife and two kids south of Nashville.

(image credit: Christy Wilson: http://www.christyjoyphotography.com)

Screenshot 2014-09-24 15.58.43

by Eric Barfield

As worship leaders, we’re constantly transcribing, modifying and adapting chord charts for specific musicians and singers each week. It’s a lot of hard work, and often requires a small forest’s worth of paper for printing out all new charts every time there’s a modification.

What if there was a way to write a single chart that clearly spelled out the rhythm of the chords, was instantly transposable to any key, and was easy enough to teach inexperienced musicians in a few minutes? Enter the Nashville Numbers System.

For those of you like me that didn’t know how it works, the Nashville Numbers System is based on the simple concept that it’s possible to notate a 7 tone major scale using just the numbers 1-7, adding dashes for minors. Here’s why switching to the Nashville Numbers System makes your job as worship leader easier:

1. It’s fast. Really, really fast. I was working up a difficult Latin song the other day, and I was able to transcribe in realtime using just numbers things that would have taken twice as long if I was using chords.

2. It allows you to see where the chord change is accurately. Rather than posting the chords above the lyrics and relying on a musicians knowledge of how the melody goes, it simply says that each chord written lasts a measure, unless underlined when it’s only worth a half a measure. For more detailed switches, you simply make notes next to the chord (for instance, if the chord switches on the 4th beat, I’ll underline the two chords and put three dots to remind myself).

3. It makes it stupid-easy to transpose. Since the system isn’t reliant on anything other than positioning, If you know your scales and chords, you can instantly switch to any key. No more mad transcribing to drop everything a half step for a finicky singer.

4. It’s perfect for modern music. While I wouldn’t recommend using this system for jazz or classical, it works especially well with modern music styles that are mostly in major keys with few extensions.

5. It’s easy to teach. In fact, it’s so simple if you write me, I’ll send you a free and easy how-to e-book on how it works just shoot me an email here.

Eric Barfield is a full time keyboardist and producer based in Nashville, TN. Eric’s career has included his music being placed in films and commercials, working at 9,000 member Grace Church, and performing onstage with a variety of artists including Dove-award winning singer Steve Reischl, American Idol finalist Joe Banua, and jazz legend Joe Bozzi. Eric lives with his beautiful wife, Sarah, and their two Siberian Huskies in East Nashville.