The Importance of Involving Laity in Worship

Any opportunity that we have to involve members of our church in the leading of worship is a good thing. It teaches us how to serve, to dedicate time and practice (Psalm 33:3 states, “Sing to Him a new song; play skillfully, and shout for joy.”), and brings people into the partnership of sharing the Gospel. Members of a music ministry find joy in using their gifts, community with other Christians, and usually have a deeper appreciation for the Word as it is sung and preached.

As you ponder the above “benefits” of serving in music ministry, it seems like a pretty logical place for your artistically-minded youth to connect into. For me, participating in my church’s band as teenager was a huge step into the world of music, and began leading me down a path of serving as a leader in worship as an adult. I am certainly grateful that I was included — even if I didn’t start off all that good!

After years of giving private guitar lessons, working to inspire teen’s love of music as a high school teacher, and now serving in congregation music ministry, I have found great joy in seeing young people use their gifts to serve God through music. I hope these musical musings will provide you with some practical ideas for connecting the youth in your congregation with the Arts.

Classical and Contemporary Opportunities

Every church has its own unique music ministry, so as a youth leader, you’ll have to find the appropriate places for your kids to “plug in.” Services led by organ or piano in a more classical, hymn style provide wonderful opportunities for kids who are involved in their school band. There are a wealth of parts written that are readily accessible for youth with a few years of experience under their belts. Festival services like Reformation, Thanksgiving, Christmas, Easter, and Pentecost are all great opportunities to add extra musicians to the ranks and fill the room with great sounds. At my church, I’m working to establish a once-a-month piano/woodwind/string ensemble to lead our worship. It’s a nice change of pace musically for the congregation, and it gives our youth and adults who play those instruments a chance to use their gifts.

If your church incorporates services led by song-leaders and a band, there may also be ways for your youth to get involved playing guitar, bass, keyboards, or percussion. This type of role can be a little more challenging for less experienced players because it requires pretty strong leadership skills (in contrast to a trumpeter playing along with the organ, where the organist keeps the pace, provides the leadership, and the player is better able to “follow along”). Another potential obstacle can be a teen’s ability to read music (we guitarists are notorious for our inability to follow a sheet of paper – just show us how it goes!), in which case someone will have to devote some time to demonstrating the songs, and if they’re smart about it, teaching the inexperienced player to read charts at the same time. All that to say that it’s not an impossible task to involve youth in a praise band, it’s just that my experience with it has taught me that it takes more time and effort. For me, spending time mentoring teens is pretty fun, so it’s not a bad gig.

Guaranteed Success

When I was 13-years-old, I asked my church music director if I could play guitar in worship. I knew enough guitar chords to get me through the songs, but I was lacking on a sense of rhythm, confidence, and, of course, performance  experience. Lucky for me, I had the opportunity to sit next to two very accomplished guitarists every Sunday. Long before I was actually given my own microphone (eventually I did get one – woo hoo!), I got the chance to try out my playing and essentially get free guitar lessons by watching the two “grown ups” sitting to my right. It was there that I was mentored: I’d pay close attention during rehearsals, do a lot of imitating, and in time, I had come into my own as a player. I’ve used this same philosophy ever since: pair the young,  inexperienced players with someone who knows what they are doing, and in no time at all, you’ll have 2 solid players. Best of all, players with lots of experience often see it as a privilege to share their knowledge with enthusiastic youth. At my last congregation, our drummer was a percussion teacher, and two of his students regularly sat in with our worship band. For most songs, they would play the auxiliary parts (congas, shaker, tambourine), but there were always a few tunes where the “pro” drummer would switch spots, give the kids some pointers, and let them have a go at it while he took the back seat. It was a great example of how the church can be a powerful force for furthering the Arts.


Building a mutually supportive team between the Music Director and the Youth Director is a great way to help involvement take off. Each bring valuable skills, knowledge, and expertise that, when combined, can help to maximize the number of youth involved in the worship arts. The Music Director has the capabilities to find appropriate music, assess the gifts of a musician, and to effectively schedule them to be involved in the worship services. The Youth Director has an established personal relationship with the kids and understands their family environment and social needs. Together, they can work together in ways that benefit each other’s area of ministry. Some practical ways of partnership are:

  • Meet with each other and identify areas where youth could be involved.
  • Provide your music director with detailed contact information for the youth. It’s easy to get their home number from the church directory, but the music director won’t readily have your great list of IM addresses and cell phone numbers.
  • Make introductions: You already have the relationship, so you can help make a nice, easy first impression as you introduce a teen to the director.
  • Offer to help make follow-up calls: organizing a large group of teens can be a lot of work — the more help, the better!

And don’t forget: Your music director may be able to reach kids that you haven’t been able to connect with yet. Some kids just shy away from Youth Group, but might be very willing to show up and play music. You might just find someday that the Music Director will be introducing kids to the Youth Director!

Easy to use resources

I’ve found the following resources to be easy to use from a director standpoint, while at the same time, providing great opportunities for youth (and adults) to participate in worship:

The Hymnal Companion for Woodwinds, Brass, and Percussion“. Available from CPH, there are currently 4 volumes of hymn harmonizations and descants.

Instrumental Transpositions for 150 Hymn Tunes” from St. James Music Press. For about $70 you get harmonies and descants for, you guessed it, 150 hymn tunes. They cover everything except Eb Bari Sax and Percussion. Song writer Paul Baloche provides some great resources for musicians using drums, guitars, bass, and keyboards in worship. His instructional DVDs provide some of the best instruction I’ve seen for use of these instruments in worship.