My good friend, Steve Hamrick, director of Worship and Church Technologies for the Illinois Baptist State Association, has written and spoken on the levels of worship response. I asked him to write a guest blog post for me, and he has provided this insightful look into the responses of the people we lead each week and how to move them to a deeper connection with God in corporate worship. This week, we will explore the first of the three responses.


Planning a worship experience for a congregation can be quite a challenge for a worship leader. While some still pick their three favorite songs immediately before a service, many leaders consider dozens of factors which may increase congregational participation such as the scriptural context, theme, familiarity of the music, performance keys, appropriate instrumentation, style balance, and the maturity of the congregation, among others. One thing that makes crafting a liturgy (order of worship) difficult is that the congregation is so diverse. Each person has different backgrounds, contexts, interests, and maturity.

The purpose of this article is not to label and classify people in our congregation. The purpose of recognizing these various levels of participation is so we, as pastors and leaders, can help people understand there is more to worship than singing a few songs and listening to a sermon. The leaders set the environment for worship to happen, but none of us can make someone else worship. The Holy Spirit does that.

People worship on various identified levels. There are probably a lot of other sub-levels not included below. These levels are fluid. One week (or moment) we can be on one level and the next be on another. They are listed progressively but people certainly skip levels in a given corporate worship service. It is the job of the pastor and worship leader to encourage the congregation to mature to a deeper level of response.

How can we help our congregation (or ourselves) move to a deeper level? If worship happens when the believer responds to God’s revelation, then one way to mature is to realize that God intended us to participate in worship, both personally and corporately. There are many Scriptures that tell us to worship together, shout joyfully, sing, pray, bow down, kneel, raise hands, dance, read Scripture, and even eat together. A second step in moving deeper is to acknowledge that worship should be measured by obedience. If obedience in the Christian life is not demonstrated, then we have only experienced ritual. The third step is to understand that maturation in worship is a process of discipleship. The more our fellowship with Christ grows, the deeper we respond to him. It is obvious that in a corporate worship experience there will likely be people of every level of worshiper, from the lost to the most mature believer.

Here are the six levels that I have identified:

  1. An Indifferent Response

An indifferent response is denoted by a lack of physical presence and no noticeable participation. The second verse of the hymn We’re marching to Zion explains with the words, “Let those refuse to sing who never knew our God.” Our level of response is dependent on how well we know God. People respond indifferently for many reasons.

  1. Unsaved or seeker: Those who have no relationship with Christ have no reason to respond in joyful celebration to God. This could include both the churched and the non-churched.
  2. The self-conscience. Some believe that they cannot sing, so they do not. Others have legitimate physical issues that cause them not to respond verbally. Shyness can also be a factor.
  3. The angry. Those who are dealing with personal conflict with the church sometimes based on worship style preference.
  4. The Stoic. There is also room here for those who are actually worshiping in the minds but there is no outward, physical symptom of participation. The real evaluation here is not with outward appearance but the Christian fruits they display.

Possible solutions: As the leader builds a relationship with those who don’t respond outwardly, ask them a question like this, “I notice you sometimes don’t participate much on the outside when we worship together. Can you tell me your story about this?”[1] It is a non-threatening way to begin a conversation. The worship leader can respond accordingly.

[1] Asking this question to many people through the years is how I identified common responses of lost, self-conscience, stoic, and angry. I am sure that there are many additional reasons why people don’t respond outwardly during corporate worship.

  2. A Banal Response

A banal response is characterized by those singing or participating by rote, but with the mind disengaged or disingenuous. Since we cannot see what is happening in the mind and heart of others, we cannot really determine by observation if someone is worshiping on this level, but many will admit it if confronted. (Face it, all of us, even worship leaders respond on this level on occasion.) This banal response can be caused by:

  1. Over-repetition of liturgy: When a song becomes too familiar, we can sing it without considering the meaning of the text. We can participate by habit. Those who attend churches that use a common lectionary may unintentionally respond by rote.
  2. Immature motives: Some attend church for reasons other than worship. Some may come because of tradition. Others may attend to make some good business deals. Some attend because church for social reasons. Almost any reason is a good reason to attend church because you will be exposed to the Word of God, however, until there is spiritual growth, the worship response is generally shallow.
  3. Boredom: Boredom and ritual can replace joyous celebration. Some in our church are bored and exhibit banal behavior by spending the service on their cell phones reading social media or drawing on their bulletin. Sometimes this problem is made worse by poor worship planning by leaders. Those who plan worship need to constantly consider ways to involve the congregation in response.
  4. Subterranean motives: Unfortunately, there are those who attend corporate worship to seek attention for themselves. The Pharisees are described as those who go through the motions of worship but have ill intentions as described in Mat 15:8 and Luke 20:45-47 to 2:1-4, where the worshipers are more interested in making self-righteousness known to men. Not any better are those who love the acts of worship more than the one we worship. I have been guilty many times of loving a chord progression or guitar lick more than the text of a song. Be careful not to love songs more than the Savior.

  3. A Primary or Elemental Response

A primary or elemental In my estimation, this is the level upon which most believers worship. While on this level, worshipers participate and reflect upon the expression of words and actions contained in the songs, Scripture, and message. The beauty of worship is appreciated. There is legitimate thanksgiving and vocal praise offered. Affirmation of the word is voiced. However, there is little application from the worship experience. Worship ends at the conclusion of the corporate time.

  1. Most common: This is the level at which most people likely worship.
  2. Temporary: This level of worship generally ends when the service is over. It may be described as getting our “church on,” being “fed,” or receiving my “God fix.” People who worship on this level are like those James described as those who forget what they look like immediately after looking in a mirror (James 1:23). They are hearers of the words but likely not doers of the word.
Click here to explore the final three levels of worship response.