In this podcast interview with Jenni McGrew, you'll learn practical tips for developing your worship team and connecting with other leaders to grow yourself.
Whether your band rehearses on a weekday evening, or on a Sunday morning a few hours before the church service, rehearsal time must be stewarded well so that your band is confident with their music and prepared to lead worship. Here are ten tips for leading an effective band rehearsal.
1. Prepare yourself.
As the worship leader, you must be the most prepared member of the band. Memorize the chords and lyrics of the songs. Spend extra time practicing the parts of songs that are most difficult for you. Know what everyone else should be playing at any given time. You are the musical director of the band. Be prepared so you can hear mistakes and give them specific direction on song style and dynamics.
2. Prepare your band.
Before your band arrives at rehearsal, makes sure you have resourced them with everything they need to practice at home on their own. Use Planning Center to share with them the service order, chord charts, and MP3 files. Transpose chord charts and MP3 files to the proper key. Send them reminder emails throughout the week, so they know they are scheduled to play, and they should be practicing at home on their own. Rehearsal for them should happen long before Thursday night or Sunday morning.
3. Arrive at rehearsal early and set the stage.
Arrive at church 45 to 60 minutes to complete the following tasks. Turn on the sound, lighting, and video systems to ensure everything is running properly. If not, you’ll have some time to troubleshoot. Next, inspect each member of the band’s spot on the stage. Make sure they have all of the necessary gear like DI boxes and cables to plug into the system upon arrival. If your band uses music, make sure they have accurate copies of music arranged in order on their music stands. It also helps to include a copy of the service plan. Treat your band members like rock stars. Make sure their environment is 100% functional and reduce the amount of time it takes for them to get ready to play.
4. Begin rehearsal with a prayer.
At the beginning of rehearsal, I like to remind myself and the band why we are there by starting with a prayer. Sometimes the beginning of rehearsal can be stressful as you troubleshoot tech issues and other unforeseen problems. I like taking a moment to pray before we start the rehearsing the first song. I’ll pray something like this. “God we thank you for the opportunity to lead your people in worship this morning. We pray that your hand will be upon this rehearsal time. We pray that we recall all we have practiced, and we are unified musically and spiritually as a band and tech team. We pray against any glitches in technology or service flow so there are no distractions and people can focus on you. We pray for transformed lives this morning. Amen.” Simple prayers like this can help your team focus on why they are there, and they invite God to be a part of the rehearsal process as well as the service.
5. Give your band a quick game plan.
After I pray, I like to give the band a game plan for the rehearsal time. I’ll tell them we will play all the songs once, allowing us to warm up and find trouble spots. If I hear a minor mistake, I’ll assume they hear it as well and will fix it. Then we will play through a second time, and I’ll be much pickier about spots that need attention. If there is a new song, we will play through it at least 3 or 4 times. Every rehearsal looks a bit different depending on the familiarity of the music. I like to give them a quick game plan, so they know what to expect.
6. Warm up and sound check with the first song.
The first song we rehearse I treat as a warm up and a sound check. Therefore I’m not expecting it to sound perfect. I want my band to dial in their monitors and warm up playing together. If there are any major tech issues, we address them immediately. After playing the first song once through, everyone should be set to go for the remainder of rehearsal, and they should start to cohere as a band.
7. Rehearse all songs at least two times.
Try to rehearse each song at least two times. If the song is familiar, one time may suffice. New songs may require three or four times. As I already mentioned, during the first run through I give my band members a chance to self-correct their mistakes, unless if it sounds like they are completely unaware of missed chord changes or sloppy tempo. In that case, I will correct them. The second run through allows them to nail their part with confidence.
8. Practice transitions at least two times.
Transitions between songs can make or break a smooth flow to a worship set. Practice your transitions between songs at least two times. Often I will have the band start at the last chorus of a song to practice transitioning into the next song. If I say a prayer in between songs or lead the congregation in a liturgical reading, I practice those prayers and readings and the keyboard player practices playing underneath me.
9. Be picky, but not too picky.
As the worship leader and music director, you want to help your team pursue excellence without being an overbearing dictator. Hopefully, you have set the expectation for your band members to show up prepared to rehearsal. Your guidance during rehearsal should consist of minor corrections and creative suggestions. Allow your band to have musical freedom within the appropriate style of the song. You want them to enjoy the rehearsal process.
10. Encourage your team.
When a band member nails his or her part, encourage them. Smile at them during rehearsal. If you look like you are having fun, they will have a good time as well. The last thing they want at band practice is to feel like their leader is a grumpy middle school music teacher. Always show gratitude for your team’s hard work and be their biggest cheerleader.
I hope these ten tips give you ideas and inspiration for how to increase the effectiveness of your worship band rehearsals and help you grow as a leader. Well-run rehearsals set your team up for leading powerful worship experiences. They worry less about nailing their parts and can focus more on worshipping God with their instrument or voice. What else would you add to this list? Let me know in the comments.
When you stop to think about the concept of the modern church worship band, it’s crazy. For hundreds of years, the church “worship band” consisted of a cantor, a choir, and maybe an organ. Then a few decades ago came the rise of the modern worship band. Now every Sunday, your church is expected to have a full rock band consisting of volunteers who are competent at their instruments and can pull off a five song set after just an hour or two of rehearsal.
Don’t get me wrong. I love the modern worship band. But the idea of pulling off this feat on a weekly basis is a bit insane, especially for smaller churches with little resources and few musicians. It’s up to you and your church leadership how large your worship ministry is going to be. Maybe it’s just yourself and a couple of others playing an acoustic setup. Maybe you want to have a huge band like Hillsong and have killer backing tracks that rival an EDM concert. Either way, I have a firm conviction that worship leaders have the responsibility for fostering and developing musicianship in the church. If you have existing band members who need to work on specific areas of musicianship, or you are building a new team from scratch, you should intentionally develop your team’s musical capability. Here are three ways to do it.
Spend one-on-one time working through songs with individual band members
Hands down, this is the most efficient way to develop the musicianship of your band members. It also requires the most time and effort on the part of the worship leader. You need to coordinate a time on your calendar to meet and prepare an agenda for what you are going to work on with them. It is sort of like offering them private lessons, but you are hyper focused on worship songs that your band will be playing on Sundays.
One time I had a drummer who could keep a steady beat and play technical fills, but he had a difficult time with the dynamics and style of modern worship music. It was a significant issue whenever I introduced the band new songs. He needed specific direction on the feel of the beat and the dynamics within the song. I always encourage my musicians to practice on their own at home, but in this case, I realized it would be better for me to spend one-on-one time with this drummer to more thoroughly explain the sound I wanted. I rather not do this during rehearsal and waste the rest of the band’s time.
We met for about an hour. I setup my computer with a click and backing tracks, we wore our in-ear monitors and played through the new song. At first, I would keep the original MP3 of the songs in the backing tracks. Then I would mute that track and just play with the click and other instruments. If there were a spot we needed to work on, we would repeat it a few times and even solo the drum track to hear what the studio drummer played. We were able to get down into the nitty gritty of the drum parts for this one song. Eventually, this drummer grew in his ability to play worship drums in the proper style I wanted. By learning the stylistic details of one worship song, he was able to apply the same concepts to other songs.
Spending one-on-one practice time with your musicians can give them the insight and attention they need to bring their musicianship to the next level. Over time they will grow in their confidence and ability so that you can meet less frequently or not at all.
Encourage or require your band to take private lessons
Sometimes you will have worship volunteers who have loads of musical potential, but they need the right music teacher to help them tap into it. Encourage them to take private lessons. Lessons will most likely cost them money, but I think being financially invested will motivate them and keep them accountable to develop their skills. If they are a vocalist, help them find a voice teacher to help them refine their tone, pitch, range, and ability to pick up harmonies on the fly. If they are a guitarist, help them find a teacher who will teach them scales, chords, and improvisation.
There are a few online platforms that can help you find music teachers in your area. Check out thumbtack.com or takelessons.com. They can even take private lessons online. Google “online music lessons” and you find dozens of options.
Resource your worship band with online worship band training
The third best way to grow your team's musicianship is to resource them with online worship tutorial videos. WorshipOnline.com, WorshipArtistry.com, and WorshipTutorials.com are the three largest resources in this area. Most of their content requires a subscription, but you get what you pay for. I am most impressed with Worship Online’s platform because they have the best videos for showing you exactly what and how to play different instruments. They even have videos that break down the vocal parts.
There has never been a time in the history of Church music when it is so easy to train and develop musicians in the church. Theoretically, you could find someone with zero music experience, set them up with private lessons, give them access to online tutorials, meet with them on a regular basis to sing or play through songs, and within a year or two they could be ready to play in the weekend services. Some folks will catch on quicker than others, and while you train them, it is going to be a somewhat grueling process. But if you stick with it and have the patience to develop them, they could end up being one of you best band members, and maybe someday a worship leader. I believe the church should be a wellspring of musicianship because we have the greatest reason to sing and play our instruments. But that won’t happen unless if worship leaders like you take the time to develop the musicianship of those on your team or those yet to join your team.
This is part one of a three-part series on “How to build a committed worship team.” One of the most difficult challenges worship leaders face is building and developing a team of volunteers who are willing to put in the time and effort to achieve excellence in worship ministry. That's why I've created this series. I want to give you actionable tips for building a committed team.
You have probably heard the saying “People do not care how much you know until they know how much you care.” For this context, I would change it to “People do not care about your worship ministry until they know how much you care about them.” I’ll be honest with you, as a younger worship leader, this was the most challenging aspect of leading for me. I’m more of a task-oriented rather than a relational type of person. That’s why I needed to make a plan for how to love my team not based on how I feel or what came naturally to me but based on the fact that if I was going to be an effective leader, these relational connections needed to happen. Here are four ways you can help foster meaningful relationships with your band members to encourage their commitment to worship ministry.
1. Pray for your team
First, you should be praying for your team. Regularly pray for your band members to grow in their faith, for the well-being of their families, that they find meaning in their work, and for any other requests they have made known to you. You should be aware of what’s going on in their lives so that you know how to pray specifically for them. Whether it is in person or via email, let them know they can always send requests your way. When you do pray for them, let them know! Maybe not every time, but enough for them to feel loved, appreciated, and cared for.
2. Say "Thank You"
Next, make it a regular practice to say thank you to your worship team members. They are sacrificing a lot of time and energy to help you. Try to make it a point to say some brief word of thanks or appreciation every Sunday after the service. You can even write them a handwritten thank you card and send it in the mail. In our digitized society, that type of "thank you" will stand out.
3. Schedule One-on-One Meetings
My favorite way to develop relationships with my worship team is by scheduling one-on-ones with them. Usually, I will treat them to coffee or lunch. If the person is of the opposite sex, I do not recommend hanging out one-on-one for the sake of everyone’s emotional safety. Be smart about how you spend time with people outside of church. During these one-on-ones, ask them a lot of questions about their story, their interests, their work, their family, etc. Make it a priority to get to know them more. When people are known, they feel loved and cared for, and they will trust you more as a leader. The moment you feel tension with someone in your band, I recommend spending quality time with that person as soon as possible and I think you’ll be amazed at how restorative that time can be as you better understand one another.
4. Develop team relationships
Finally, you will want your team members to develop relationships with one another. That is why I recommend coordinating social events for them to get to know one another and have fun outside of church. If possible, invite them over to your house, so they feel like they know both you and the rest of the team. You do not want your team to feel like they play in a band with strangers. Make sure there is the opportunity for them to develop friendships with one another.
As you pray for your team, thank them, spend one-on-one time with them, and host social events for them, I promise you this relational investment is going to pay huge dividends for your ministry. Of course, you do not have to be everyone’s best friend. What you do need to do is try your best to have at least some meaningful interaction with your team members on a regular basis. It will be the number one way to gain their trust and commitment to the ministry. When people know their leaders and their community care about them, they are way more likely to put in the time and effort to prepare for worship. Your band members will know if they fail to do so, they are not letting down a stranger but they are letting down a family, and no one wants to do that.
What else have you found to be an effective way to fostering stronger relationships on your worship team? Share your thoughts in the comments.