Should you clap in church?

Posted: August 20, 2007 in Church, Music, Perspective

How much do some of you out there – as worship leaders or Christian performers – feed off of crowd response?

This has always been a tough one for me, because, ultimately, it’s not about meIt’s about God and whether or not (1) I’m worshipping Him and (2) leading others into worshipping Him.  Though I cannot and should not force that experience on someone, I can try to lead them there – through music, song selection, words spoken, etc. – to facilitate their worship experience.  Whether or not it actually happens is ultimately up to how God’s Spirit moves in the lives of people in the room.

So – in spite of human tendencies for personal glory that many stage performers have – I don’t want or expect crowd feedback in a way to boost my own ego.  But I do see the crowd’s response as a sort of “guage,” or “worship meter” to determine whether or not I’ve been effective at drawing them into God’s presence – or whether or not I’ve grabbed their attention so that they might hear God’s word, etc.  If they’re singing along, maybe raising their hands (if they feel comfortable doing so), clapping, etc., I know that they’re being drawn into the experience – and hopefully one with God and not just one with the “rock band.”

I know this guage is wholly inadequate – because I cannot presume to know what God is doing in the heart of a person just because they’re not clapping.  I’ve heard of other worship leaders who have fallen into this trap and even become a bit judgmental towards those in their respective crowds who didn’t worship ‘overtly’ in a way that could be observed by others.  I do NOT want to make that mistake.

Now that I’ve let you know where I’m coming from, let me tell you about something odd happened this past Sunday…

 We opened the service playing “Work,” by Jars of Clay – and it went really well.  We hit all the right notes, sang all the right words, and the feedback I received from people after the service was that it went really well.  And usually, such a performance is followed by applause or some vocalizations from guests.  But this sunday – as soon as the song ended –  NOTHING…nada…room was so quiet all that was missing was a tumbleweed or two blowing across stage or a baby crying in the distance.  I stood there staring into 116 pairs of eyes watching me stone-faced and nearly panicked as if my fly was down or I had a big booger hanging out of my nose.

My brain scrambled to explain what was happening.

1 – My first thought:  “We must’ve really sucked.”  I mean really sucked  – in a “we-had-the-musical-equivalent-of-an-accidental-bowel-movement-onstage” sort of sucked.  I felt like curling up into the fetal position as I sheepishly said with a now-dry voice, “Welcome to Crosspoint.”

2 – My second thought:  “Okay, no prob.”  After all, I hope people are thinking about God and not about us…and that’s what I want!!  (But even then…can’t we show some – any – emotion towards Him?)

3 – My third thought:   “We’re a new kind of church” – and in an overchurched culture such as Decatur, Alabama, even unchurched people have assumptions about how they are supposed to act in church…and clapping, for them, might seem irreverent or inappropriate.  And in this new environment, they’re not sure how to respond.  Such a thought was even posed to me last week in an e-mail by one of our newer members.  She said, “I personally think that there should have been more applause but it’s not about the bands hard work anyway.  It’s about Him.  A lot of people were there this morning.  Some new, some coming every now and then, and some old but it all came together.  I’ve noticed by sitting in the back that a few people maybe that are new don’t know how to act as far as learning how to worship but i think that will all work itself out.”

4 – That led to my fourth thought:  “Maybe we didn’t lead them well enough.”  Maybe we hit all the right notes, played with energy, but somehow – didn’t say what we needed to to engage the crowd.  Maybe the song was misplaced.  Maybe the song should’ve ended going straight into something else…not missing a beat, thus, avoiding the awkward silence.  Maybe our leaders in the crowd were too reserved in their own responses.  I can speculate and speculate, but all I can really do is work hard to NOT LET THAT HAPPEN again!! 

Since the buck stops with leadership, here’s my final thought:  We should be teaching people how to worship.  We should be teaching people how to seek out God and respond to him.  We should first do that by modeling it ourselves.  We should be teaching people how to celebrate God through song, and serving, and living for Him.  If we – as leaders onstage or off – want to see people come to a real relationship with Christ, we shouldn’t be bashful about that relationship.  I think our cups ought to be “runnething” (!) over every single day in a way that is contagious.  I want to hear the crowd ERUPT in applause – not because of the band or because of Dave (pastor) or because of some funny video or ANY of that, but because they realize that they are actually in God’s presence and it excites them (and NOT just at church in a one-hour time slot on Sunday morning).  There’s excitement in God’s love and in what He’s doing in the lives of people.

Heck, David danced naked in front of the Lord.  Now that’s a response!!  So should we not at least – in our own, non-naked way (LOL) – respond to God with celebration and excitement for who He is and what He’s doing?


  1. Work – Jars of Clay
  2. Rain Down – Delirious
  3. Everlasting God – Lincoln Brewster
  4. Take My Life (Here Am I) – Chris Tomlin
  1. Anne says:

    Hey Kevin,
    Just read your blog & am glad I did. I was beginning to wonder if it was just me Sunday that noticed the awkwardness of silence after Work. As I started to clap, I had this “Oh my gosh, I’m the only one clapping” feeling. Freaky. I don’t ever remember that happening since I started going to Xpt.

    So why did this happen? Looking back I have to say that I was clapping for the band & the excellent job they did perfoming this song. I’m sure new people coming in just don’t know how they should respond. Maybe it was my ADD, but that song confused me. I had never heard it before, but after it was over I thought – “I have no clue what that was about.” I wonder if that was an issue with others as well? PLEASE know that this is not a bash to you for doing this song! Thank God you didn’t sing “My baby takes the morning train, he works from 9 to 5 and then….”! (OK, you can go vomit now) Just letting you know my thoughts.

    Gotta go – Dave just preached on work last Sunday, and here I am at work – reading blogs & commenting! Hey…I’m a work in progress!

    Thanks for everything you & your band does to make Sundays AWESOME!

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