(by guest blogger Matt Quillen at Overcoming Average)

First, I’d like to address the fact that people other than Karl can and will make references to 30 Rock. Also, this post will look very boring, mainly because I hate looking up YouTube videos no matter how hilarious they might be.

Okay, let’s get down to business. What I want to talk to you guys about is something that I’ve seen run rampant on stages in churches everywhere. No, it’s not the needless investments in Aviom systems and drum shields  . What I’ve seen that’s particularly disturbing is how bored everyone looks on stage.

Stage presence can be a divisive topic. On the one hand, of course you want an awesome performance. Who wouldn’t? On the other, how can people focus on God if they’re only looking at you? As Christians, we (meaning me) tend to look at gray area dilemma things like that and immediately have the gut reaction of not wanting to do anything that would take anything away from God. That may bear a little examination though. Does that gut reaction come from fear or conviction? One thing I’ve learned is that fear doesn’t come from God, and doesn’t do Him any honor if our actions come there. So, if you’ve been holding back in your performance out of fear let me encourage you that it is perfectly fine to put on an amazing performance, even in church. Even for 30 people. Even before noon on a Sunday.

So that’s why it’s okay to give a great performance. Now here’s why I think it’s imperative that we do. First, there’s that thing I mentioned earlier about people focusing on you and how that might be a bad thing. The problem with that is this: where else would they look? You’re the one the chairs are pointed towards, and if they’re looking anywhere else that’s not a sign that they’re focusing more on God. Second, you have to come to terms with a harsh reality: if you’re playing music and for some reason less than 100% of the congregation is truly worshiping, for the rest of the audience you’re simply entertainment.

Another gut reaction, right? There’s nothing wrong with being entertainment, and whether you’re seen as entertainment is a decision that’s only up to the people watching you. You can’t make people focus on God, but you can set an example of being excited for a God that promises abundant life and a reason for joy. My God isn’t boring and He’s the one who gave us music and a reason to play it. Shouldn’t that translate to every detail of our performance, including how we look when we play?

As with everything when I make a blanket statement, there’s a couple caveats. Don’t go overboard. That’s when you transition from entertainment to train wreck, both of which are fun to watch, but for very different reasons. Also, stage presence should be a focus, but never the focus. You’re playing music, not choreographing a musical.

A few tips on developing better stage presence. These have helped me immensely and I’ve seen them work for others, too. (Bullet points!)

  • Be musically prepared as best you can. If you’re not confident in what you’re playing, you’ll never be confident with expressing yourself on stage.
  • Remember that you’re displaying the emotion of a song. Try to feel the song with your whole self.
  • Do what comes naturally. Some do the head-bob, some the foot tapping, but there’s no real wrong answer here.
  • Record your set on video. See if what comes naturally looks good, fits the songs, and then readjust. There’s bound to be some growing pains here, but don’t worry. It’ll be okay. The first time I ever saw myself on video I nearly died of shame. So awkward…
  • Ask people you trust who aren’t on stage for real feedback. See if any changes have made an improvement.
  • Remember that lighting and/or stage props do not equal stage presence. It helps, but there’s no substitute for actual people displaying the emotion of the song.
  • Have fun. It’s not the most important part of performance, but it helps!

Resplendent.
Matt Quillen.

(Matt is a prominent worship, band, and studio bassist in the Southern California area. He runs the blog Overcoming Average.)