FRONT & CENTER (an expert from Getting Your Church To Sing by Steven James Reed)
The first is to know where to stand. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had to ask people who the leader is and was surprised to find out that it was the person in the back hiding behind their musical instrument, music stand, or possibly behind a potted plant in the shadows of the darkened stage. While it might be a bit more comfortable for you to blend in, it’s difficult to get people to follow you if nobody knows you’re the leader.
Leaders should be front and center and, ideally, elevated higher than the people you are leading. This does a number of things; first is that it allows people to see you, secondly it easily identifies you as the leader, and thirdly it taps into the built-in human tendency to respect things that are higher than they are. It’s an ancient truth that has been used by kings and kingdoms over the course of history. Thrones are always higher, people have to bow down, flags must be hung lower than the most important flag, and the list goes on… The general rule is to always be a little taller than the people you are leading. If they are sitting on the floor, you sit on a chair. If they are in a chair, then you stand. If they are standing up, then you stand on a platform. This simple practice will instantly help people follow you.
Since the default behavior for humanity is to think that whoever is in the front and center is the leader, you should be mindful of who is occupying that space, because people will think that person is the leader, regardless if they actually are or not. I would encourage you to do whatever it takes to get the leader into the leader’s location, or to be as close to that place as possible. If you lead from the keyboard, you should put it out in the middle. If you need to move the keyboard back out of the way for the sermon, then do so, it’s worth the hassle to gain the people. If you can’t relocate the keyboard, then have someone else play it and you lead without playing. That may seem extreme, but the results will be noticeable to the congregation. You might feel terrified and naked without your keyboard, but the people will instantly sense a change for the better.
Next, comes the question of how far in front should you be? While many people find comfort in being in the middle of a line of vocalists, you won’t fully tap into the benefits of positional leadership until you are (singularly) out in front. The basic premise is that if you are supposed to be front and center then everyone else should be behind you. This is because the power of being in the center can still be overpowered by the other perceptive indicators of leadership. The distance of how far people, who are not the leader, should be behind you will be determined primarily by how much you personally look like a leader as compared to the other people around you.
Once again, the default behavior is to view people who are taller, older, or more dominant looking as being the leader. It also has to do with how you dress and how you act. As I mentioned before, I am a fairly large human, so when I stand close to regularly sized individuals, it makes them look small. Even if the actual leader is in the middle, when I stand too close to them, I look like the leader, simply because my physical presence overwhelms their position. As a result, when I am not the leader, I must step further back in order to defer to them.
This is also true if someone looks older than the leader (as they don’t actually have to be older). People who look more dominant (which gender is a factor) need to give more space to the leader as well. Just to be clear, I would keep all the background vocalists in a line, however, the space between them and the leader is increased until the leader looks like the leader when compared to all of the vocalists (or whoever is standing in the front).
So if you are a shy young lady, you will need to move further in front than if you’re a confident man in your 40’s. Again, I realize that can seem unfair, but we all deal with it in all aspects of life and it can be managed. You can also shorten the distance by how you are dressed. If the leader wears something different, then it easily identifies them. Choirs in choir robes with the leader in a suit provides a stark contrast and is pretty obvious, however, there are many other more subtle approaches as well.
The main reason you need to endure the discomfort of being out in front is that people are hopefully being distracted but in a good way. The point of worship leading is to get people to express their hearts to the Lord for the purpose of fellowship with Him. We actually want people to not pay attention to what we are doing most of the time. Just like tour guides, we don’t want to distract them from what they came to see and experience, however, when it is time for instruction, the people need to be able to quickly identify the leader. Once they have the information they need, they can return their focus toward heaven.
If different members of your team take turns leading songs, then you should exchange physical locations as well. Have the next leader step forward when they are leading and then step back when they are not leading. While front and center is best, if you are far enough in front it can overcome the power of being in the center. This can be a big help for those times when being in the middle is just not feasible.
Another powerful way to indicate leadership is to have the rest of the team turn towards the person who is leading. This simple and slight turn of the shoulders acknowledges them as the leader and shows deference of authority. My wife and I often have to do this, since we most often co-lead songs and even co-lead parts of songs. Without saying a word people can look to me to know what to do because when they see me slightly turned toward, and looking at, another leader, this position leads them to look where I am looking, whereupon, they find the leadership they need.
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