Stage Presence and Showmanship… Does It Belong In A Church?
This is becoming a topic for great debate as contemporary Christian music continues to invade Christian worship and services. We are always under the scrutiny of crossing that line between worship and performing.
Some will argue it doesn’t matter; I believe it does. No one wants to engage in a conversation with someone who is disinterested or appears to be disinterested. This applies equally to the stage before the congregation. You are conveying worship to the congregation. If you are just going through the motions, stiff and uninterested, that’s exactly what you will convey, and the congregation will react accordingly.
No matter how sincere the team is about serving, they are missing the mark. Though I don’t advocate the entire team go over the top like an 80’s hair band!
Professional entertainers understand the importance of stage presence. Within most praise teams you’re dealing with mostly volunteers who don’t understand how to connect, or why.
I have joined in many debates about production and stage presence inside churches. Many feel it detracts from the message of the music, while others believe it draws the congregation further into worship.
I recently visited an open LinkedIn forum that was in a heated debate over this topic. One worship leader told me he forwards YouTube links of new or unfamiliar songs performed live by worship teams of all kinds each week to his members. Whether it’s Kari Jobe, Chris Tomlin, or a local fellowship, watching other groups performing songs gives his team an idea of how the song should be performed, and it helps identify how stage presence can be effective.
A gentleman name Tom Jackson, self-proclaimed as the leading “Live Music Producer of artists’ tours, showcases and shows,” offers the Tom Jackson DVD series. Many boast it is the best tool a worship leader can purchase for their team. Tom also offers the website “Expressive Worship,” which focuses on the praise experience.
Some believe it’s God’s gift to portray stage presence and others feel it is disgraceful to consider stage presence as a requirement for what churches seek in a worship leader.
Can Stage Presence Be Taught?
Should stage presence be as much a prerequisite as musicianship or vocal quality? Some are truly gifted in leading worship; they appear to be natural on stage, while others are awkward and aloof. I think to some small degree, it can be taught. Sometimes it’s as simple as placing a screen with lyrics in the back of the room with chord charts attached just over the head of the congregation, and asking the team to smile. I can’t emphasize enough the power of the smile. Again, the congregation will reflect the energy and enjoyment of the praise team.
Additionally, how well the performer knows and understands the music can make a big difference in stage presence. One gentleman within the forum stated, “Whenever I had a song structure and my solos nailed down, the more confidence I had, and the more feeling I put in to the music. I felt connected to the message, and together with the congregation. I just flat out enjoyed the whole experience. I also noticed a difference in singers coming through the rotation. There were those who seemed like they could sing the songs with passion in total darkness, versus others who seemed to think they could just show up and read the words off the back wall. I loved them all and respected their singing ability, but I noticed a difference. This involves, of course, practicing, more practicing and memorization. I know from personal experience it takes a lot of work and will not be confused with easy.”
Another quoted, “Stage presence is brought about by an effective prayer life that lets the Holy Spirit work through confession and repentance. No other way is of any use in God’s work.”
As a music director, I am responsible to offering a quality service. I often offer my first song as a launching pad for newbies. Other than that, it’s all about the best overall performance. It was contemporary music which brought me back to Christ. Mediocrity on any level could cost you. It’s not about concert level music; it’s about quality for someone to experience the word of God.
Quick story: many years ago an agent told me if you are having fun and good at what you do, the audience will experience the performance. If you are bad, they become distracted by the performer. I don’t want to distract from the message; therefore, stage presence is part of my long-term goal!