Church leadership conferences are so weird. Hundreds of guys with the same haircut and scuff-free “work” boots sit in a massive auditorium and listen to contradictions for three straight days. They’re told: “the size of your church doesn’t matter!”, and then they’re bombarded with days of teaching from the pastors of the largest churches in America telling them how to grow their ministries. They spend their time between keynote speakers singing alongside a seven-piece band of hired hipsters; the 1% that can actually hit the high notes found in the original recordings. And as a “normal” pastor of a “normal” church, it can be difficult to fight the temptation of comparison, either naval-gazing because of our normality, or daydreaming because, “we should do this at our church.”

Recently, I led at a church that looks far different than my normal Sunday morning. There were about 50 people in the room (before the kids left for their lesson in another room). It was just me and a guitar, and something hit me during the first verse of the second song: 

I can’t treat this the same way that I treat leading musical worship at my home church. 

For the sake of context, the church I’m on staff at isn’t a mega-church, but according to a study by the Hartford Institute for Religious Research[1], our attendance is somewhere in the top 2-3% of churches nationwide. As a leader, specifically the one leading music, I have to recognize that the differences in these two gatherings span far beyond simply the number of people in the room.

While my revelation during that second song may seem extremely obvious, I’m not so sure that it is. I mean, think about it: we (church leaders) are told over and over that size doesn’t matter, and then the biggest and (seemingly) best churches are paraded in front of us, as if to be examples of how to turn us into the next NewSpring or Lakewood or Hillsong.

But what if we’re not supposed to be the next success story at a church leadership conference? What if our call is to be a faithful community of Christians living out the gospel in our everyday lives?

What if our call is to be a faithful community of Christians living out the gospel every day? Click To Tweet

I think that something really unhealthy happens when we hear the newest Bethel song and then decide that that’s just what we’re supposed to do, completely ignoring the fact that our congregation is 75 (in both attendance and average age). I fear that far too many Music Pastors are approaching their liturgy from the perspective of the conferences they attend and the YouTube videos they watch, and not out of a life lived in the community of the local church.

What happens when we ignore the congregation in planning our music, our gatherings, our lights/smoke/pyrotechnics[2]? We create spectators… consumers… disenchanted church members who end up living as if worship is something that happens when the spotlight’s on and the synth fades in. But if we look to the Scriptures and the life of the community in crafting our liturgy, our music can become an extension of a Romans 12 life of worship.

Practically, here are a few things I’ve noticed about size dynamics as it relates to music in the church:

1. The smaller the setting, the more the leader has to listen.

Is the congregation able to follow the arrangement? Can they hit the notes I’m singing? The less people in the room, the more these things become an issue. People may be willing to belt it out in a Taylor Swift concert-sized gathering, but if you put those same people around a campfire to sing together, you better make those songs “singable[3].”

2. The bigger the setting, the harder everyone (including the leaders) must work to be known.

In my experience, it’s easier to build relationships in a smaller church. Everyone notices when there’s a new family in the congregation of 50, while you can walk in and out of a larger church without anyone even noticing. And for the leader, it can be easy to walk from green room to platform back to green room, feeling completely alone while the room of a thousand assumes that you’re deeply rooted in community. As I’ve written elsewhere, it’s so important that when you sing of sin and grace, there are those in the room that actually know you have and need some.

3. To leaders of all size churches, make sure that Christ is glorified in your intentions.

Are you finding your identity in the sound of your band or in the subject of your singing? Why do you want to do that new radio tune? Is it because you’ve really been wanting an excuse to use that new guitar pedal, or is it because the truth in the lyrics is a reality worth singing? Why are you going back to the well of that song that your church sings every other week? Is it because of the angry emails you get every time you introduce a new song? Is it because of the emotional response it always seems to induce? Or is it because it’s a song that truly captures the heart of your people?

I know there are more implications than I have space for here, but the truth is this: when it comes to how you lead music in the local church, size matters. Don’t try to lead like you’re at Hillsong or Elevation or Bethel. Take a look at the sign on the front of your building. That’s the church you should be trying to lead.

Look at the sign on the front of your building. That’s the church you should be trying to lead. Click To Tweet


[2] You know who you are…

[3] Yeah, I made up a word…