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The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

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Applause in church

What are we saying when we clap?

The applause began as we were stepping down from the risers. The choir had just sung the last words of the chorus. We were a voice for the congregation, all of us praising God with our hearts through our song. "Lord, please let the clapping be for you. Let the applause be for joy in the ability to praise you through the music," I thought.

Does applause put worship on the same level as a performance? Can applause be a form of praise or thanksgiving?

The pastor is saying, "Let us welcome this new member into our congregation." My hands join enthusiastically as I thank God for his work through the Holy Spirit in this family before us. Welcome, little child, into the arms of God's family.

l have no qualms about clapping in appreciation for the service of workers in the church who might be honored during worship. God says in the Bible to shout, sing, even dance. But these are spontaneous actions of the individual, not a response to what someone else has done.

My concern comes when a choir sings or little children have a part in the worship service. When we begin clapping, what does this say to them? You have just performed for us and we think you did well? We were certainly entertained by what you just did? Since we didn't clap last week when you sang, you must have done better this time?

Perhaps not. Perhaps we are using our hands in a reactive way to thank God for these members who are using the abilities that he has given them for his glory.

I should not be in the pew second-guessing the motives of the congregation. l would prefer not to have applause, but l realize this is not a realistic expectation. Perhaps a simple statement could alleviate the problem for me. A leader saying that the applause is in thanksgiving would be sufficient. Then applause would not have to be a response to a performance, it could be another form of worship.


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