10 tips for leading youth worship
Over the last four years I’ve had the scary yet hugely rewarding privilege of leading thousands of young people in worship at some of the largest events here in the UK. Most of these events take place over 5 - 7 days. Listed below are my top 10 tips of leading youth worship at a festival or event.
1. Be yourself
This is huge and so easy to forget. The chances are you’ve been invited to lead worship because of who you are and what you carry, so please don’t turn up and try to be someone you’re not. Lead from a place of acceptance in God and confidence in the talents He’s blessed you with. David refused to wear Saul’s armour when facing Goliath and instead trusted in the weapons that had served him so well in the past. Be yourself. Young people are amazing at spotting a fake. This is not an XFactor audition, this is leading worship. It’s about opening yourself up and being vulnerable on stage - not wearing a mask and replicating a bunch of covers. The best definition of this is a quote from Tim Hughes who said “Worship leading is taking your private cry and making it public”.
2. Lead them on an epic journey
At each event I pay special attention to two sessions, the first and the last. Almost without fail, the engagement and depth of worship in the final session is a long way from day one. Typically we start with shorter, punchier, and high energy sets and over the week increase these sessions in length and depth. Don’t expect too much on night one but dream and aim big for the final night!
3. It’s all about relationship
One of the biggest obstacles at an event like this is that the young people need to learn to trust you. Or an even better way of putting it, you need to work hard to earn their trust. I’m so blessed that not only are all the members of my band great musicians and worship leaders, they have all worked or currently work in youth ministry. This is our secret sauce! My team lead their hearts out, sweat pints, and then get off the stage and sit with the young people. They are often involved in small groups, cafes, sports, and any other area that enables us to build rapport and relationship with them. I honestly think that at least 90% of the “success” of leading youth worship is about off-stage relationship. Don’t be a green room band.
4. Youth are not Kids!
When I was first invited to lead at a large event in the 11-15's age group, I was a little dismissive and viewed it as a stepping stone to “greater things”. Wow was I wrong! That first week blew me away and the engagement was huge. They were the best expression of Church I had ever seen and now I don’t want to lead in the adult venues until I look or feel too old to keep up with them! Seriously, do not lower any bars, treat them as adults, albeit a more passionate, energetic and much louder group of worshipers!
5. Modelling is fun!
We jump a lot! Why? Because we believe in modelling fun in worship to an age group who often experiences or thinks of church as boring. In the first few days we consistently encourage, shout, and tell them to jump and let go. And by the middle point of the week they are only jumping if and because they want to. My band are passionate worshippers, often at the expense of our own energy and voices, we give it our all. To God first and to the young people second.
It’s not all about the jumping though, of course there are loads of tender reflective moments too. But my good friend Beth always comments that when a young person is prepared to let go and get sweaty in worship even when their teenage crush is just metres away, you are achieving something. They are getting over themselves and focusing on God.
6. Creativity with a capital A!
As you probably know, one of my main instruments on stage is Ableton Live. Ableton gives us huge leverage in the creative department. We can use sounds and textures reserved usually only for the studio, control lights, lyric videos and pro presenter slides. We’ve also used it to trigger a lighting show on everyone's mobile phones! Find a way to raise the bar to show the young people you value them and that this event isn’t their normal church or young group. You’ll find their expectation and engagement increase as a result.
7. Be familiar but be different
This sounds like an oxymoron but repetition and familiarity can be as good a tool as freshness. For example, if I’m wanting to use a current and new song I need to sound like the original as far as possible. For me this means only the original MultiTracks or patches will do here. I’ve seen bands click into a half accurate version of a current song only to be met by disappointment from the young people as they hear yet another poor cover and refuse to engage.
On the flipside of this, the need to be creatively different is hugely important. When pulling an older or over-done worship song we always look for ways to freshen up the arrangement or even mash it up with something from the charts.
8. You can’t beat a good cup of T
Us Brits love a good cup of tea and the perfect blend here is teamwork. Anyone can assemble a bunch of great musicians but forging a team takes more investment and will always be more rewarding. We try our very best to work on our friendship and relationships. We push each other to be better people, pray together and have a lot of fun. I consider my bandmates my best friends and our level of connection really kicks in mid event when we are tired or lacking in any area.
9. Find the anthem
There is always a hit song that just explodes and each week it can be different. We try early on to find what songs are connecting and which will be our anthem for the week. It could be a song that centres around the teaching themes or one that perfectly sums up the mood in the room or one that doesn’t seem to have any apparent reason. Once you find it, embrace it and don’t be afraid to use it whenever needed. And of course it will usually be the exit song on the last night.
10. Always store a bucket-load of flexibility up your sleeve
You will travel as much of a journey as the young people you are leading and as a result you might not have thought of every possibility. Youth Workers can change their talks, schedules can change, and of course God can do the unexpected.
One year at a large event we lost all power during the soundcheck before the first night, so we led 1200 young people in worship acoustically from the middle of the room without any mics and even worse… no Ableton!!
Flexibility is huge and it comes through preparation. Knowing your pot of songs and tools here is the key. I have invested enough time in learning Ableton to know how to make it work for me. It serves the way I lead and gives me the flexibility I need. I can pull up any song in a moment and it will load the chord and lyrics on our iPads, announce the song and key in our ears and even load the lyrics on ProPresenter.
Question: What's your favourite tip from Kristian's list? Do you have anything to add to the list? Leave a comment below.