What to do when you worship band shows up unprepared for rehearsal

Are your worship band members showing up to rehearsal unprepared? If so, you’re not alone. Recently while working on a course for Worship Leader School, I asked members of the waitlist, what is your greatest challenge with worship band rehearsal? Dozens of people replied with, “my band is not showing up prepared.”

I know how frustrating this can be.

As worship leaders, we spend hours each week planning and preparing for Sunday. Nothing is more annoying than band members failing to practice and learn the music at home. You are not able to accomplish nearly what you wanted at rehearsal because your team is still learning the song.

There is no silver bullet, one-size-fits-all solution to this problem. But I do have five questions for you that will help you diagnose the problem and give you ideas for how to inspire your team to show up to rehearsal prepared.

Question #1 - Have you set a clear expectation that your team should be practicing at home and rehearsing at church?

While it may seem obvious to you as a worship leader that learning and practicing a song should be done on one’s own time at home, have you clearly communicated this expectation to your team? Explain to them the difference between practice and rehearsal. Eliminate from your vocabulary, “band practice.” It may be misleading some of your team members to think to themselves, “It’s okay that I don’t have time to practice and learn the song at home, that’s what band practice is for.”

Maybe you have inherited an existing worship ministry. It’s okay to implement a change of expectation in this area. Don’t expect it to happen overnight. Communicate this expectation regularly, but in a way that won’t make you sound like a dictator. Say to your team at the beginning of rehearsal, “I’m so grateful you guys are here today and thank you so much for all the work you put in at home to learn the songs.” For those who did practice and learn the songs at home, they will feel appreciated and inspired to continue their good habits. For those who are showing up prepared, they will realize they are not meeting expectations and will (hopefully) change.

Question #2 - Do you create excellent practice resources for your band?

It’s our job as worship leaders to eliminate any excuses someone may have for showing up to rehearsal unprepared. Of course, certain things are out of our control, such as emergencies or someone’s complete lack of motivation to work on the songs at home. But there is a major factor within our control? Are we providing our teams with quality chord charts and MP3 files so they can practice the accurate arrangement of the song with ease?

Don’t expect your team to show up prepared if you are providing them with chord charts from Ultimate Guitar or CCLI Song Select (two resources that are equally unreliable). Don’t expect them to show up prepared if you are linking them to a pirated version of a song on Youtube that is in the wrong key. Use websites like praisecharts.com to provide them with accurate charts and legally purchase your MP3 files from Amazon or Apple Music. Upload all of those practice resources to Planning Center so they can be accessed from one convenient location.

You may need to invest in other resources like worship song tutorial websites (Worship Online or Worship Artistry) or subscribe to Rehearsal Mix by Multitracks.com. There are so many great services available for your team at a low cost that will help them master their instrument or vocal parts.

Do you need to meet with some of your team members one-on-one? For example, at one church I would meet with a drummer individually once a month. He was a solid musician but would greatly benefit from some one-on-one time with me to help him learn new songs and fine-tune familiar ones. During our meeting, he would hop on drums, I would plug in my laptop running tracks in Ableton, we would both wear in-ears, and we would play through the songs. I could give him a lot of helpful feedback and instruction that would take up too much time during rehearsals.

All worship teams look different. Keep trying new things to ensure your team is well-resourced and has no excuse to show up unprepared.

Question #3 - Do you model preparedness yourself?

If we as worship leaders show up to rehearsal fumbling through the chords and lyrics, then our band is never going to take us seriously when we ask them to show up prepared. Go the extra mile. Memorize everything. Know the arrangement like the back of your hand. If we are going to lead our team into preparedness and musical excellence, we need to model it. They need a clear vision of what it looks like to show up to rehearsal prepared.

Question #4 - Do you give your team members specific instructions on what to practice?

For many of you, this will be the most actionable tip from this article to get you some positive results in this area. Hopefully, a few days before rehearsal, you are sending an email or some form of communication to your team letting them know the songs are up and practice resources are available. Instead of merely saying, “the songs are up, go practice and learn them,” give your team members specific instruction for specific songs. Here’s one way to do this.

Hi Team,

The setlist for this Sunday is loaded into Planning Center with all of the appropriate charts and MP3 files. Here’s what to work on for each song.

Lion and the Lamb

  • Drums (Tyler) - You’ve got most of this song down, but really hone in on the rhythm of the verse and the syncopation at the end of phrases.

  • Electric Guitar (Jordan) - The breakdown before the final chorus rests on you nailing that lead guitar part.

You get the idea.

List out all the songs and spend a few moments drafting some quick practice notes for your band. Chances are when you give them some specific things to practice, they will feel greater responsibility and direction for how to show up prepared. Write all of these notes in one email or shared document and that will help foster accountability when other band members can see what their teammates should know when they arrive.

Question #5 - Have you addressed the issue of unpreparedness directly?

Maybe there is one individual on your team who repeatedly shows up unprepared. You provide them with great practice resources, and you give them specific instructions on what to work on but nothing seems to change. You need to approach them about the issue. Approach them in a kind and loving way. Say something like this, “Hey Ashton, I’ve noticed you haven’t been able to show up to rehearsals knowing your part. It makes it really difficult for the team to sound cohesive and holds us back from achieving musical excellence. What can I do to help you show up to rehearsal prepared?”

Great leaders ask great questions. I think I heard Andy Stanley say that at a talk once. He’s right. You are never going to help people solve their issues like lack of preparedness by harshly accusing them and mandating they change. Asking them a question puts the responsibility in their hands to find a solution that will work. Maybe there really is something you can do to help them as a leader. Maybe they should be scheduled less. Maybe they need more time to practice new songs and you can start planning out when you introduce new songs further in advance. Or maybe they come to the realization they are horrible at time management and need to change.

If someone repeatedly shows up unprepared, even after you have directly addressed the issue, then you need to make a tough call as a leader. Is it fair to the rest of your team for them to remain in the band? Could you recruit new people who are more motivated to practice on their own time at home? You may need to ask that person, “do you want to be in the band anymore?” Chances are they will opt-out because they know they cannot meet the expectations and it simply is not a priority for them.

All worship ministries are unique. There’s no simple solution to this problem. But ask yourself these five questions and there’s a good chance you’ll discover the root cause. Maybe there’s more you can be doing as a leader or maybe a team member simply doesn’t prioritize practice as much as he or she should.

Let’s face it. Worship ministry is tough. There’s a lot required from Worship Leaders. You have to be a musician, pastor, administrator, competent with tech, and as we’ve seen here, a leader. Worship Leader School is an online resource where you will find the essential advice, training, and support you need to plan and lead worship. Worship Leader School includes courses on all five pillars of worship ministry as well as access to the community of like-minded students.

To learn more about Worship Leader School, click here.

What advice and tips do you have for inspiring your worship band to show up to rehearsal prepared? Let me know in the comments.