Monday, February 23, 2009

Applause Between Songs: What Are You Thinking?

How common it is in most Evangelical churches for the congregation to clap their hands during the time of "praise and worship." And how often have I seen in the churches to which my family attended growing up (and even many of the churches which I've attended as an adult) the congregation clapping in between the songs. As the congregation is led from one song into another, sometimes there's a gap in time, a gap that is filled with clapping, i.e., applause.

And what's that applause for? It's not for the worship team, or singers, or choir is it? Is it applause to God for His goodness and Gospel? How many who clap during this time of transition between songs really give it any thought whatsoever as to why they're applauding/clapping?? Not many if any, I'd presume. I dare say that most just do it because that what they've always done, or because everyone else is clapping too.

I remember a chapel service while attending Oral Roberts University, when the late Ed Cole (author of Maximized Manhood) was our guest speaker. It was during our opening time of singing that, as usual, the students applauded between each song that was sung. But after the 2nd or 3rd time this happened, Mr. Cole stepped forward and stopped us. I wish I could remember exactly what he said, but he basically told us to stop it - to stop always clapping and applauding after each song by default, without thinking. His admonition was that such conduct was really rather lazy - rather than worshiping Him in spirit and in truth, with our heart, soul and mind, we just fill this time with mindless, uninformed clapping. He challenged the student body to think and not just react. To think and not just do what we've always done - always done without question or thought.

So, why do we do it - why do we so often automatically clap or applaud between songs during our church services? Should we do it? And if so, for what purpose - to what end?

And if you so applaud, why do you? What are you thinking while you're applauding, or what are you intending by your applause? Have you given it any thought from a scriptural standpoint?

I'd love to hear your thoughts on this.

(Ok, you may clap now.)


At 2/23/2009 9:10 PM, Blogger Jennifer said...

We actually do not clap at our church, which some visitors find unnatural (presumably because they're used to clapping in their home churches). Our worship pastor has asked that we do not applaud after musical presentations because we are not "performing" for the approval of men. We are worshipping through music. The exception seems to be that we do applaud whenever the children's choir performs. I don't know that there's a good reason for that other than a desire to encourage the children, but that seems to be our regular practice.

At 2/25/2009 8:19 PM, Blogger Marliss said...

In our church (very similar to SGC) we occasionally clap after a worship song. It always means, at least to me, that we were especially touched by the Spirit during that song, or we have to have an additonal outlet to the exuberance of our praise of God after the song is over.

I am sure there are people, especially younger ones, that just clap because everyone else is doing it. This has made me think that I should talk to my own children about this.

At 2/27/2009 3:33 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

In the current church body we are part of, clapping after each song makes me uncomfortable, as it seems to be thanking the praise team for the excellence of the performance, rather than for the excellence of God. I do clap as an expression of additional worship/praise to God after some songs, if moved to, but not every song, just as I dont lift my arms up with every song.

At 3/02/2009 8:02 PM, OpenID mattmo865 said...

As a worship leader, and that mainly for youth, I've learned by experience that people need to be taught to think about these things, because so often it does seem like just an automatic response. Our youth rarely applaud, but when they do, it seems to be a genuine expression of worship and praise to God, and not to the band or worship leaders.

At 4/09/2009 6:24 AM, Blogger Andrew Kenny said...

I'd been thinking about the whole idea of applause for the worship leader or the Christian singer singing songs of worship to God.

It really gets to me!In its essense woshipping God is giving oneself to God. If this is the case should we be applauded by man? THe Lord himself warned us not to show off our piety before me to be praised by man.Rather the reverse. To get praised for it just desn't ring true- or even get paid big money for itseems worse.
Anyway through googling this I came across the article below which may be of interest and also your own blog which I'm now commenting on. Peace and Grace.

What's Wrong with Applauding in Church
by Laurence A. Wagley
Issue #10

The faces of the Cherub Choir members shine as they finish their song. Before I know it, I am applauding with everyone else. What am I doing? I glance around to see if anyone is watching. (We liturgy professors take ourselves very seriously.) What are we to make of this increasingly popular practice of applauding in worship?

I realize applause is not necessarily one of the major issues of worship, but I think it does deserve some comment. (I realize, too, that one of my colleagues once made some restrained comments on another marginal item called the children's sermon and has yet to recover from the answering barrage.) Let's begin by considering some reasons that might be given in support of applause in church. We could point out that applause demonstrates life and vitality, which is better than boredom; that it provides the congregation with a means of participating in worship; that it contributes to an environment of caring and friendliness; and that it communicates support and approval. Let's look at these reasons.

Worship Leaders or Performers?
Even liturgy professors are in favor of life and vitality in worship. But applause is like a wet puppy—once let in the house it is difficult to control. Some aspects of vitality are not appropriate in a worship service. Also, vitality has a short shelf life: applause can become as perfunctory as any other ritual.

The goal of participation seems like a persuasive reason for welcoming applause. It is clear that applause has a cathartic effect at concerts, performances and sporting events. People want to participate, they need to participate, and they will participate. That's true in church too.

But church should provide opportunities for participation that are less directly tied to encouraging performance. Congregations are not audiences, and leaders of worship are not performers. The role of the liturgist (and of the choir, organist, and ushers) is to enable the congregation to participate, not to win people's approval. Members of the congregation may, on reflection, realize that certain things in the service were done very well. But if the worship leaders draw attention to themselves and seem to ask for applause, then they are not fulfilling their roles.

What if the congregation applauds a sermon? That means the sermon was pleasing to the congregation. Now, preachers need approval, but I think most would not welcome the implication that their sermons are preached to win people's approval. Instead, they think a sermon is successful if the people—far from judging the performance of the preacher—consider how pleasing their own lives are to God. Leaders of worship encourage people's participation in worship so that in that participation the people may respond to God.

Does applause help form a caring and friendly community? Perhaps. But when friendliness becomes an end in itself, the church has turned to idolatry. Friendliness should be a byproduct of the church at work and worship, not its primary goal.Applause may, in fact, have a negative effect, making us self-conscious about our performances. And too little applause may make us feel unappreciated.

Applause may communicate approval and support, and often an individual or a group needs that. People docome to church seeking a sense of worth, wanting to be loved. But applause is too cheap a response to those needs. If that kind of support is all that worship has to offer, then worship has been impoverished. The poor, those robbed of self-esteem, those who are oppressed—they, too, need approval and support, and the good news of God's love is their best hope. If they see concrete signs of the church's concern and are enfolded into the Christian community, they will feel supported in a way far beyond the effect of applause.

Toward God-Consciousness
Applause can also lead to a sense of competition. If we applaud the choir's anthem today, why didn't we applaud last Sunday? Do we applaud every Sunday, every event, every person? Do we withhold applause for a particularly good anthem so the choir will work harder?

The most likely occasion for applause—in response to children—may be the time when it does the most harm. Applause may lead children to learn patterns of exhibitionism, competition, and self-centered behavior. There is also considerable evidence that by substituting appreciation for a cute baby for awareness of the presence of God, adults have undermined what is, in some communions, one of the holiest sacraments of the church, infant baptism.

Acts 14:8-18 records that the people of Lystra were so impressed with Paul and Barnabas that they did obeisance and wanted to offer sacrifices to them. When Paul and Barnabas understood what was happening, they ran among the people, assuring them that they were human beings "of like nature with you." "With these words they scarcely restrained the people from offering sacrifice to them."

Preachers and liturgists seldom provoke such a response, but the applause we do receive, as well intentioned as it may be, is a sign of misunderstanding. Those who applaud may think they are being supportive and encouraging to one another, just as the people in Lystra who prostrated themselves before the disciples thought they were showing honor to people who deserved it. But, in this case, the good can be the enemy of the best. It is appropriate to show honor to one another but not at the cost of denying honor to God. To applaud a solo, a dance, or a sermon is to draw attention to the means rather than to the end. Encouraging self-consciousness rather that God-consciousness will finally destroy worship entirely, making us the First United Admiration Society rather than the church.

Reprinted by permission from The Christian Century, December 3, 1986.

At 4/16/2009 1:13 PM, Blogger The Blainemonster said...

Great overall question. I've pondered this quite a bit myself. I think that people tend to clap for several reasons:
1) During singing, they tend to be more emotional which leads to the "clapping reaction" as simply an expression of that emotion.
2) People don't like silence. (Too bad)
3) They do it at concerts and performances.

I'm always a little uncomfortable when someone sings a special song and there is uproarious applause afterwards. This usually happens if the tune is of the Southern Gospel genre. This isn't typical of our church, but many in our congregation are deeply moved by that style (some actually think it's more spiritual ;) ). These numbers will actually arose a STANDING ovation. It's just b/c they're excited.

I lead worship at our church and I'm going to take the opportunity to help my brothers and sisters think about these things.

Again, you've made a great point.

At 6/16/2009 3:10 PM, Blogger John Lockie said...

I think some people at my Church sing the songs without thinking about what the words mean.

Maybe we should stop singing then.

This way we don't have to worry that God is going to send a lightning bolt down from heaven and burn us to ash for failing to do things correctly!


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