Leading worship for the first time can be a daunting task. On the surface, worship leading looks simple. Just pick a few songs, practice a little with the band, and you’re set to go. But like any leadership position, there is a lot that goes on behind the scenes to make sure your worship gatherings go smoothly. In this article, I’m going to share ten tips to help you feel prepared and confident to lead your church in worship, even if you are a complete beginner.
The question of the day: if you new to leading worship, what questions do you have for me about worship ministry? Let me know below in the comments. If you are an experienced worship leader, what advice do you have for someone just getting started in ministry? Leave your advice below in the comments.
I’ve been leading worship since 2007. I was a junior in high school. I could barely play guitar and sing, but I had a passion for worship ministry. I started a youth band with some friends and one day when we were practicing the lead pastor our small church heard us and said, “Hey, you guys sound great. Do you want to lead on Sundays?” At the time he was both preaching and leading worship. I was young, confident, and naive, so I responded to him with an enthusiastic, “yes.” Next thing I knew I was planning and leading worship every Sunday. I’m glad my pastor gave me this opportunity because I’ve lead worship for the past decade in volunteer and paid staff positions.
Maybe you have the opportunity to lead worship for the first time, but you don’t know where to begin. I’m going to share ten tips that I wish someone would have told me when I first got started. These tips will save you a ton of headache down the road. This article is by no means the end all be all guide to leading worship. Continue to do your research and learn from other sources. But after learning these tips, you’ll have a much clearer picture of what this role entails from a practical and leadership standpoint. Let’s dive in to the tips.
Tip #1 - Make a plan
I’m a strong believer that worship ministry is like an iceberg. Your congregation only sees the top 10% of the process when you lead them on Sunday morning. That’s the part everyone who goes into leading worship is excited about. What most people cannot see is the hours of planning and preparation required every week to ensure a smooth flow of worship. Your first step is to make a plan.
If this is your first time leading worship, make sure you work together with your lead pastor or other team members at your church who are in charge of coordinating Sunday morning. Document the order of service, so everyone is on the same page. How many songs are you doing before the sermon? How many songs after the sermon? Is there communion? What type of music should be played during communion? Who is going to welcome the congregation at the beginning of worship? Who is going to dismiss the congregation? When does the worship leader need to invite people to stand or sit? Plan out these details, so you are not left guessing on Sunday morning. Plans are critical, so you can focus more on worshipping God and less on wondering what is coming next. You need to lead your congregation through the worship gathering confidently.
Tip #2 - Pick songs everyone knows
I do not recommend introducing new songs if it is your first time leading worship. Stick with songs that you know, and your congregation knows. Song familiarity will help remove hesitancy and obstacles that will cause mistakes. It will also increase your congregation’s participation in worship. It can be discouraging for new worship leaders when they introduce a new song, and no one is following them.
If you are unsure of where to find familiar songs, look through the list of songs that your church sang over the past six months. Ask your pastor what songs the congregation knows well. You can also check out the CCLI top 100 songs. It’s a list of the most popular songs at churches around the globe. Since so many other churches are singing those songs, there’s a good chance your congregation will know and connect with them.
Tip #3 - Pick song keys that are singable
One of the most common mistakes new worship leaders make is picking songs in keys that are too high or too low for both themselves and their congregations. If you choose a song by Chris Tomlin or Taya Smith, remember that they have amazing vocal ranges that may not be realistic for you to lead. Everyone’s voice is different, and every song is different. The rule of thumb I go by for men is the try to keep the range of the melody lower than D4 and above A2. For women, I try to keep the melody below C5 and above A3. Those numbers are just my personal opinion. Generally speaking, most people do not have large vocal ranges. Make sure the majority of the melody of a worship song falls within a vocal range comfortable for most people in your church.
Tip #4 - Send your band members chord charts and audio files for practice
There’s a good chance that part of your responsibility as the worship leader is to resource your band with the materials they need to prepare for Sunday. Do not skip this step of your planning process. You can find great worship chord charts at praisecharts.com. They do cost a couple of dollars each, but it is worth the headache it will save you when your band tries to read off of random charts you pulled from Ultimate Guitar or other unreliable resources. It’s also important to send your band members an audio file of the song in the correct key so they can practice the song at home. Avoid just sending them to a link on Youtube. It can be frustrating, especially when they want to practice a song in the right key.
You can manage all of your charts and audio files using Planning Center for free. Planning center gives you the ability to easily transpose chord charts and audio files for your band members. Make sure your band members are well resourced, and they have everything they need to practice and memorize the music beforehand. It will make your job so much easier come Sunday morning.
Tip #5 - Memorize lyrics and chord progressions
If you are new to leading worship, start memorizing your music now! Sure it’s easy to print music out or load it on an iPad, but getting in the discipline of memorizing your lyrics and music will dramatically increase your confidence and ability to engage with the congregation during worship. I wish I would have started memorizing all my music a long time ago. It will require extra time on your part, but once you have a song memorized, it’s going to be stored away in your brain for a long time so long as you keep in the rotation.
It is okay if the first few Sundays you lead worship you need to use a music stand. The quicker you can wean yourself from it, the easier it will be to go without it in the future. I’m just speaking from experience. For some reason, I doubted my ability to memorize songs during my first few years of leading worship. The main reason I didn’t do it was because no one challenged me. I want to do you a favor and challenge you. You’ll be amazed at what a few minutes each week devoted to memorization will do for your worship ministry.
Tip #6 - Provide your media team with the correct lyrics in the right order
As the worship leader, you must ensure your media team can project accurate lyrics on the screens so that the congregation can follow along. I recommend building your song slides so that the person running your presentation software needs only to hit the next arrow for the planned song arrangement. Missed lyric slides can be a huge distraction in worship. Don’t assume your media team has the correct songs in the correct order loaded up. If you don’t prepare the lyric slide yourself, take a moment to review them before the service. Hopefully, your presentation volunteer was able to run the slides during rehearsal. But everyone’s situation is unique. Make sure the lyrics are 100% correct, so your congregation can participate without distraction.
Tip #7 - Plan out your transitions
Before you rehearse, know how you are going to execute the transitions between songs. Know who will count off songs. Know when you might speak or pray to the congregation. Know what you will say or pray. During rehearsal, practice your transitions. It is just as important to practice transitions as it is to practice the songs themselves. If you want to speak or pray between songs, ask another person on the team, maybe the person on keys, to play softly in the background. Try to avoid dead silence as that can be jarring to the flow of worship.
Tip #8 - Allocate 60-90 minutes for rehearsal time
If you play a set of 4-6 songs, make sure you set aside enough time for band rehearsal. You can rehearse on a weeknight, or you can rehearse a few hours before the worship service on the weekend. In my personal experience, rehearsing on the weekend is a much more efficient use of time. When people practice during the week, they often forget a lot of what they learned during the in-between days. But it’s completely up to you and your team when you practice. Make sure you have a long enough time slot blocked out.
Tip #9 - Run through every song at least twice
Here’s how I run rehearsal. After we pray, we go ahead and play through the whole first songs. Even if the band makes mistakes, we play through till the end. During the first song, we are getting warmed up and dialing in our monitor mixes. We will then work through the rest of the worship setlist. When I hear a trouble spot in a song, we will go back to it and fix it after we have played the song once.
Once we work though all of the songs, we will go back to the top of the setlist and play everything through once more. Some songs require a third time through. That’s why rehearsal time should be 60-90 minutes long, so you have enough time for repetition. Don’t forget to practice how you will start the service, your transitions, and how you will end the service. These small details have a huge impact on your team’s momentum.
Tip #10 - Pray
Throughout the whole planning and leading process, don’t forget to pray. Ask the Holy Spirit to guide you as you pick songs. Ask him to help memorize songs and know what to say or pray during worship. Ask him to help you band come together as a team. Ask him to prepare the hearts of the congregation as they come to worship. Ask him to move powerfully in worship and to change hearts and lives. You are doing all of this for God. Don’t forget to include him in the process.
I have much more to share about these ten tips, but hopefully, that’s enough to give you the confidence to lead worship for the first time, and I hope you subscribe to my channel so you can receive more in-depth videos on all of these topics.
If you are an experienced worship leader watching this, what advice do you have for a first-time worship leader? Share below in the comments. If you are a new worship leader, I’m excited for you. What questions do you have for myself and the Churchfront Community? Leave them below in the comments.
No matter what experience level you are at as a worship leader, make sure you enroll in my free training, Lead Worship with Ableton it’s a series of four videos that will help you get started with the #1 worship leading software. It’s perfect for beginner and veteran worship leaders alike.