By Ryan McLouth

What kind of presence do you portray when you lead worship? Are you a participant, a performer, a director  or something else? Sometimes we focus our attention on the music and text so much, we forget to think about our “stage presence” if you will. For music leaders, this is an item worth considering. In some cases, it can make or break the level of engagement with your congregation.
There are many styles of visual leadership in worship. Some are very useful and practical and others not necessarily so. The first component of good song leading is engagement. Church musicians must portray an attitude of focus for the activity at hand. Engagement or focus can manifest in many different ways, and often your pastor can help coach you. Look away from your hymnal, score or lead sheet as often as you can. Having your music completely memorized for each service would of course be ideal, but is not always possible. However, it can be possible to memorize the refrain and even some transitions at least. Anything you can do to get away from looking at cues or some extraneous object is beneficial to the visual portrayal of your leadership.
The second step is eye contact and physical moderation. In a world of contemporary worship, many components of church music have begun to model popular culture. Unfortunately, one of these is the hyper-drama attached to popular music concerts. Emotion in general is not inherently bad, but a visual representation that separates the musician from the congregation is. Singing the entire service with eyes closed, exaggerated body movements and any action that draws attention to or separates the song leader from the rest of the church are generally things to avoid. Of course, there is some flexibility based on the perspective of the congregation and their level of physical involvement.
The third step of success as a musical leader is gesture. This component may take some practice. It can also manifest in many ways depending on the needs of the congregation. In some traditional services involving a vocal soloist accompanied by piano or organ, the singer may offer a hand gesture that communicates to the rest of the church that they should begin singing. If you’re singing in a contemporary or blended setting and not playing an instrument, the microphone can be a useful tool. Lowering it to a position that clearly signifies that you’re not singing shows church members when it is time to rest. Clearly and obviously lift the microphone to your face along with a slightly exaggerated breath just before an entrance to show congregants when to start vocalizing. Some of these techniques may seem obvious, but I often see music leaders neglect them in situations when they could have been useful.
There are many ways to ensure that you are visually leading your congregation in an effective manner. Those listed above are only a few. If you have any questions or comments, I’d love to hear from you! You can contact me at any time via email at or phone at 660-651-9964.