The Person of the Worship Leader: A Qualitative Study of Communal Worship

Publication Date



Corporate worship is an integral part of religious experience. Participation in church services allows for the activation and integration of sensory, cognitive, and affective processes of the mind, both in physical and spiritual ways. Some work has focused on congregational responses to worship, but little work has examined the process of worship or the experience of worship for the person of the worship leader. Two theoretical models, charismatic signaling, an evolutionary theory that explains how beliefs are conveyed, and emotional contagion, a theory that explains how an experience is shared, help clarify these interrelationships. In a qualitative study, 26 exemplar music worship leaders from various denominations were interviewed about their role as a music worship leadership. Nine key themes were selected from an earlier study. A matrix analysis using NVivo was conducted. The cluster analysis identified five clusters: (a) bodily signals, embodied expressions of worship, and emotional expression; (b) God-centric engagement in worship, facilitating worship, and authenticity; (c) worship leader’s mood; (d) mindfulness of church visitors; and (e) performance orientation in worship. Results suggest that bodily expressions and emotions are closely linked in communicating sacred belief. Additionally, authentic expression of faith is associated with facilitation of worship expression for others. Through the theoretical lenses of charismatic signaling and emotional contagion, religious experience is examined through an exploration of authenticity, facilitation, emotion, and bodily engagement.

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy in Clinical Psychology (PhD)

First Advisor

Abernethy, Alexis D.

Document Type





Worship, Public worship, Christian leadership, Leadership, Protestant churches




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