How To Improve The Stage Presence On Your Worship Team

David Santistevan —  December 12, 2012 — 39 Comments

To have stage presence or not to have stage presence?

That is the question of the day. I want to introduce a tension…and then discuss. So please, get your comments ready.

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What I notice about larger worship teams and artists is that they have great stage presence. Musicians interact. Singers dance across the stage. Guitarists swing their guitars and drummers raise their arms to pound their percussion.

But for the most part, worship teams across the world have zero stage presence. They are silos – lost in their own instruments. They look bored, lost, and quite frankly…dead.

They have this glazed look in their eye, like they’re saying, “You know how many times I’ve done this?”

Don’t Be Afraid of the “P” Word

I think there’s a healthy balance we can strike when it comes to stage presence. Because no matter how you spiritualize it, leading worship will always have aspects of performance.

Yep, I just said the “P” word.

Anytime anyone is on stage, they are performing. Your pastor performs when he preaches. Your associate pastor performs when he does the announcements.

Performance isn’t wrong. Matter of fact, well-informed, Gospel inspired, Glory-of-God conscious stage presence is what your worship team needs.

And I’m hear to help you get there.

Why This Matters

You may be asking, “David, worship isn’t about performance. It’s not about stage presence and putting on a show.” To that I would disagree.

Yes, worship isn’t about the band and it isn’t about their performance; however, worship is a celebration. It’s an invitation. And something happens in the room when your worship team isn’t just excited about stage presence, but about the glory of God – connecting and leading people to celebrate His wonders.

If they’re bored, something is wrong.

The glory of God demands our best stage presence.

Excellence in worship isn’t just a musical excellence – it’s attitude, preparation, and stage presence. Perform your best. Lead your best. Engage with all you are.

5 Tips For Improving Your Stage Presence

I won’t disagree – some people just “have it”. They possess natural charisma and energy. But I refuse blame poor stage presence on personality. Everyone can learn how to improve their stage presence on a worship team.

Here’s how:

1. Pursue God – The best stage presence you can model is a heart that truly pursues God. What does that look like for you? Loving Jesus in private will prepare you to love him from the platform. It needs to flow from who you are.

2. Dramatize the Simple – As a musician, there are probably techniques and riffs you can play without thinking. But having great stage presence makes you think otherwise. There’s a little drama involved, a little flair. Take that simple riff and pour your passion into it – use your entire body to play your instrument. Don’t allow yourself to “check out”.

3. Listen To & Appreciate Your Bandmates – Great stage presence isn’t just about you. It’s about how you relate to the rest of the band. You all are one unit, serving together. Make eye contact. Smile. Listen to what each other is playing. Appreciate it. Connect and have a good time.

4. Practice It – When was the last time you practiced stage presence at your rehearsal? Yea, I can’t remember either. It’s time to start. In addition to practicing the song, practice performing the song with energy. Practice worshiping your guts out. Challenge everyone to take their worship to another level.

5. Pray for your congregation – I can sense a difference in my stage presence when I pray for the congregation and when I don’t. When I show up having served them in prayer and intercession, I’m more engaged, expectant, and ready to lead. Try it. Rather than just showing up for a gig to play music, show up like a pastor ready to serve. Pray for God to move. Pray for the broken to be made whole. Believe.

OK, now it’s your turn.

What are your thoughts on stage presence?

This post is incomplete without your comments.

How is the stage presence of your worship team? What are you going to do about it?

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Photo Credit: Martin Fisch (Flickr)

39 responses to How To Improve The Stage Presence On Your Worship Team

  1. David,

    Great stuff. In the context of musical worship, I also will use the “worship presence” instead of stage presence if I sense the team getting uncomfortable or feeling like it’s a production.

    I often try and set their mind at ease and remind them this is not a heart issue. This has very little to do with our relationship with God. It has everything to do with outwardly communicating the inward work that God is doing inside of us.

    It first has to start on the inside. Our we loving Jesus with an unending passion and pursuit? If that isn’t happening that it is a show, a performance, or a false shell. So we have to seek the inward God activity first. Then we just want to make sure that we are translating what’s going on in our hearts so that people are being led on the outside.

    One other step I’m sure you also encourage is watching game film. The best athletes in the world review their game tape every week, and that is for a sporting event. Why wouldn’t we watch our services to review our communication and leadership effectiveness? Again I often remind the team this focus is on our communication skills more than judging the heart. Over the years I’ve found so many little things that I did without intention that were either distracting, awkward or drew attention to myself. I wouldn’t have been able to make those adjustments if I didn’t review the service videos.

    • Rocky, this is excellent. I love that – “It has everything to do with outwardly communicating the inward work that God is doing inside of us.” Yes! Watching yourself is also so key. I should have included that, but that’s why comments like this are so great. Thanks.

  2. Many years ago I decided that learning many little things on my instrument served me, the church, my fellow musicians, the piece, and God much better than all of the flash that I could ever imagine or generate. If I don’t have to concentrate on a strum or cross-pick pattern or a melody line I am able to worship from a lot better place. Listen to the beautiful chord inversions that Paul Baloche and Charlie Hall (And others) use combined with their amazing lyric lines. It’s so musical and worshipful. The new church we attend is so blessed with artful musicians (As in above) that I can’t wait each week to receive the order of worship e-mail.

    • Dennis, you’re right. That’s why practice and proficiency is so important. If you can command your instrument it helps with your stage presence. That way you’re not so wrapped up in playing the right notes. It flows more naturally.

  3. Wow! Such an eye opener. All the while I thought it’s just fine to worship God inwardly. Expressing your experience outwardly is also a key. I need to practice that. Tnx so much, David!

  4. Video tape your rehearsals and worship services. Get a dance instructor or drama coach to work with singers. Watch videos of famous worship groups. Don’t do anything that doesn’t feel right for your personality. Don’t be fake, learn to be a more interesting you. A little body language goes a long way. Eliminate things that might be annoying. That requires someone else’s viewpoint.
    I think most praise teams are in such a rush every week, they are lucky to get music ready, much less anything else. The music is still at the cerebreal level, not at the emotional level. They haven’t lived with it long enough to just let go.

    • Cerebral vs Emotional – that’s a whole ‘nother blog post. Great point, Don.

      • I noticed I misspelled cerebral. Do you count off for spelling errors and run-on sentences? Where is spell check when you need it? Next generation of computers will have “Thought Check”. “Do you really want to say that?” For many performers cerebral vs.emotional is a delicate balancing act. There is a great book that addresses many of those issues. I highly recommend “The Inner Game Of Music” by Barry Green. I found the book to be very helpful. Required reading for musicians in the stone age was a book, “Psychology For Musicians”
        by Carl Seashore. Although it is no longer in print, I found several archive references via the web. My how times have changed. Then it was psychology, now it is a game. The Bible says a lot about applied psychology. The book of Proverbs is Priceless. Proverbs 23:7 “So as a man thinks in his heart, so is he.” Is that not at the root of everything, even our stage presence? Can someone see Christ in us as we “perform’?

  5. Thanks for your post David. I first cringed when my senior pastor used the word “acting” and “role” when he referred to how our worship teams should lead our congregation. But now I’m using the terminology with our teams because I get it. We have a role – a God-given privilege so we should take it up with boldness and energy.

    I agree with the previous comment – “they haven’t lived with it long enough to let go”. I think there’s a direct relationship between our team’s comfort with the music to our stage presence. I think I’ll concentrate on a short list of songs over a period of time that our team can be super comfortable with, and then rotate it gradually. We’ll get sick of it way before the congregation will!

  6. Great post! This is an issue I struggle with all the time. The issue I always come up against is that while some people “get it” and are able to use performance to enhance worship, there are those who don’t and are genuinely offended by the appearance of performance. This makes me reluctant to pursue expression on stage. More teaching needs to be done but there just seems to always be those who don’t get it. I truly love all those under my care and want them all to mature in their understanding of worship so we move very slowly. But I fear I am robbing those who want to grow by catering to those who seem unable to. A tough situation to be sure! Looking forward to more comments here.

    • Chad, is it members of your worship team who are offended by stage presence? Or congregation members?

      • It’s a bit of both actually. The more senior members of the worship team have some bad connotations with the word ‘performance’ and are offended by it. But it is also members of the congregation. I think everyone sincerely wants to worship but there are some serious differences of opinion in how that should look. It makes it difficult to know how to lead the group with such a difference of understanding.

  7. I don’t mind calling it stage presence, but I’m not sure that’s totally what it is.

    I think it’s joy. Worshipping in freedom with a heart of joy makes you move in my opinion. But I grew up in a black, pentecostal church, so I’m biased :D

    I will say this is a conversation I’ve been dying to have with my current worship team. Some of them have been growing a little by example (I move a ton!), but others not so much.

    I tell people you should be compelled to move just as much as you would if your favorite team won a championship game. Because our “team” did win! And yay! Victory for Jesus is victory for us.

    If you aren’t demonstrative ever, then perhaps you won’t be in worship, that doesn’t mean you don’t have a joyful heart. But if I see you jumping up and down and hollering at a superbowl game and I can’t get you to smile on the worship team… I have a problem.

    • La Toya, I agree with you – it is joy. However, sometimes your worship team won’t feel joy. Sometimes you won’t feel like worshiping. It takes disciplined stage presence to lead from the stage. It’s a habit. Know what I mean?

  8. I intentionally clamped down a bit on my stage presence when I was younger, because I was playing(bass) at a youth conference and I kept getting comments about it, and how cool I looked. It really discouraged me, and I felt disappointed that they paid more attention to me than to God.

    I would like to change that now, and not let that hinder me, but I feel like I need to find a balance. Like when is it benefiting the congregation, and when is it a huge distraction? Or should I just not pay that any heed?

    Thanks for the great article!

    • Jonathan, no matter how you like it…people are going to watch you. Whether you have crazy stage presence or none at all, there will be people in the congregation that don’t worship. Zero stage presence isn’t the answer. You can’t let them dictate your passion. You need to pursue God in a way that’s organic to you. Does that make sense?

    • I totally get you Jonathan!!!
      as a songwriter…and worship leader…i get those comments as well…like what a great song I wrote and comments like that…

      and i hate it…deep down…i hate it because i don’t like the attention on me as i would like it on Jesus…

      But i’ve learned to just let it go…all I say is…Praise God not me…or To God be all the Glory…and it helps me let it go….and leaves me with more passion to pursue God in songwriting and worship….

      Keep on worshiping Jonathan!

  9. david habimanagakuru December 13, 2012 at 8:23 am

    wow i need to repent

  10. I totally agree with everything you mentioned!

  11. Haha. Awesome! Let’s just say someone’s going to feel way more comfortable rocking out this weekend. :)

  12. Dude, point number four? That’s good! I never thought about that!

  13. LOVE this post, David! I would add looking up from your lyric sheets and smiling would improve stage presence as well. Knowing the songs well enough to sing without needing the words and being able to worship along with it.

  14. Thanks for putting this down in a post David! It’s a difficult but necessary subject to address. I try to challenge our team members to always be growing in this while encouraging them that they have to find their own unique way of expressing that energy. It keeps it from feeling like I am trying to shove their worship in a box, but also offers them motivation for improving.

  15. i don’t think this has been mentioned in the comments yet but memorizing the songs and not having a music stand in front of you or chord sheets sitting around really helps free you up to worship in an outward way. it goes along with the “command of your instrument” david mentioned – it’s hard to have command if you and your eyes are at the mercy of your chord chart!

  16. Great thoughts on stage presence. I think one reason for the “bored look” is fear. We’re afraid of being too loud (you can probably guess I’m a drummer), or not appearing “Christian” enough, or sticking out too much–after all, someone might look at us!
    I’ve done a little drama, and one thing about being on stage is that everything looks under-exaggerated. A huge smile just looks normal, a small smile looks like none, and a plain face looks like we’re depressed. This is especially true for us shy folks. Even in the mirror, if I want to look like I’m smiling, I really have to work at it.
    Keep up the good work. I think I’ll “worship my guts out” from now on!

  17. I truely believe in putting it all out there for God. I believe that if I’m not consumed in my worship, I haven’t worshipped at all- what I mean is that my entire spirit, body, soul and mind are engage in expressive motion

  18. Thank you for enlightening the concept of the P word. (performance) in the past, I didn’t always agree with ” Praise and Worship TIme” being performance time. However, I do think performance should lean more toward Praise; because Worship is so vertical with God and the individual. As a Worship Leader, I do want to embrace a good communication style to explain the importance of Praise and Worship in the sanctuary. Praying it will overflow into a worship lfestyle for all those who desire a growing relationship with the Lord.

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