Three ways to develop your worship team's musicianship

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.

How to create a worship band audition process

Regardless of the size of your worship ministry, I recommend having a process for auditioning new members of the team. You do not want people in your band who lack the competence, character, and chemistry you desire. Here is a 4 step process for vetting potential band members and making sure they will be the right fit.

Step one - Create a clear vision and expectations for your ministry

Document your vision for the worship band and expectations for its members. You may need to consult with other leaders at your church. Maybe you want to have strict standards about who can play on the team, but your senior pastor expects that Mary-Lou, the long time member with organ experience should be allowed to play piano or keys in the band despite the fact she has no clue how to play with a contemporary band. Write down your expectations for how much band members should devote to practicing every week, or if they are expected to memorize music. Document your expectations for yourself as the leader. Over the years I have learned that a lack of clear expectations leads to a lot of awkward conversations and conflict in the future. Have a crystal clear vision of who your band is and the priorities in your ministry. It will help you give clear judgment on who will be a good fit.

Step two - The online audition

Have a web page on your church website dedicated to receiving inquiries from people interested in joining the band. Ask for basic information such as their name, phone, email address, and their instrument. Ask them to send you a link to a Youtube video of them singing or playing their instrument to a worship song you select. This video recording is “round one” of your audition process. It should give you an idea if they are a good fit. If they are not skilled enough, send them an email or give them a phone call and thank them for their interest but tell them their skill level does not reach what is necessary for joining the band. It is not easy to do, but learn from my mistakes. I hate telling people no. Instead of biting the bullet and enduring temporary short term awkwardness, I said yes and eventually regretted it. In one case, I let someone sing on Sunday once but then had to tell them they no longer could be in the band because they were not able to perform up to par. I wish I would have been honest with them earlier.

Step three - The in-person audition and interview

Once someone has completed the online form and has made it through the online audition, it is time to schedule an in-person audition and interview. Provide a list of three or four songs to prepare to play and let them know what gear they will need to bring to the audition. Have them play a song or two and analyze their musicianship. If you want, record them so you can refer to it later when you make your final decision. Hopefully, if they made it this far they at least have an 80% chance of making in the band. During this meeting make time to ask them questions to ensure they will align with your expectations of character and chemistry. This is different for everyone, so you will need to come up with your unique questions.  Explain to them the expectations you have for worship band members and tell them you want them to take a few days to consider whether or not they can meet those expectations. During those few days, you will also think and pray about their audition. Delaying the decision and notifying them by email will allow you time to make sure they are a good fit and say no if necessary. Do not feel like you need to give them an answer on the spot.

Step four - Assimilate them into the team

When someone makes it onto the team, do your best to make them feel a part of the family. It starts with making time to meet with them one-on-one so that they feel like they know you as their leader. When he or she arrives at rehearsal, introduce them to the rest of the band. Invite them to any social events you host for your team. Consistently develop relationships with all of your band members and remind them of the expectations for being in the band.

This audition process might sound a bit overboard to some. You might think it is unreasonable at your small church. I disagree. Putting a system like this in place will allow you to properly vet potential band members and save you a lot of headache down the road. At first, it might be a slow road building your team. You might say no to more people than you like. Over time you will gain momentum and attract the right volunteers to your ministry. Those who make it on the team will be committed to excellence, and they will be your most valuable asset as a worship leader.

What does your worship team audition process look like? How do you feel about the one I described? Share your thoughts, love, and opinions in the comments below.

How to find new worship team members

Finding people to fill all the required positions in your band or production team can be difficult. It is especially tough when you lead worship at a small to mid-sized church. Here are four strategies to find potential new members for your worship team. I say “potential” because in these early phases of recruitment you do not know if they are going to be a good fit. That will require getting to know them and having them go through your audition process. Here we will focus only on how to start having more conversations with potential band members.

Be proactive and ask around.

New worship team members do not magically appear out of thin air. You must be proactive in the process of finding them. Before and after the worship service on Sunday, you should be interacting with the congregation. As you have casual conversations with people, ask them if they have any musical experience or interest in joining the worship band. If they do not, ask if they have any friends or family members who do. You are bound to find people interested in serving if you consistently ask.

Partner with the assimilation team.

Most churches have an assimilation process. Hopefully, your church has a system for helping attendees or members get involved by serving. Make sure that “worship team” and “production team” are on the list of options for people to serve. You will want the assimilation pastor or person overseeing that process to tell people that some or all positions for worship volunteers will require an audition process. Being able to lead songs in front of the congregation requires a certain level of musical competence that serving at the coffee bar does not.

Identify and train young musicians.

My favorite way to find new worship team members is to identify and train young musicians with little experience but high potential. Some high school students are dying to learn how to play guitar and sing. You have that knowledge and can easily share it with them. It is going to require a fair amount of work on your part, but it is worth it when you see them grow as musicians. Who knows? You could be the catalyst to help them discover a calling to worship ministry. Encourage these students to take lessons to develop their voice or instrument. Give them lessons yourself if you have the time. You could get paid to build your worship band.

Contract musicians.

Finally, you may want to network with musicians who you can pay modest stipends to play in your band. Ideally, they would be Christians and have an understanding of the purpose of worship music. Maybe they are stellar worship volunteers at another church, but they would not mind playing at your church once a month or every other week. I have had a lot of great experience working with these types of musicians. Sometimes contracting musicians is tough, especially if your church has no budget for it. Explain to your leadership how helpful it would be for the quality of worship to have a hundred or two hundred dollars a month budgeted for contract musicians. I would expect to pay anywhere from $25-$75 per service depending on their experience and skill level.

If you consistently network with other musicians and get to know the people in your church, you will have a steady stream of people who are either interested in serving in the band or available for hire for a modest stipend. Are there any other techniques or strategies you have used to find new team members? Let me know in the comments.

5 ways to love church volunteers

Volunteers are the lifeblood of the church.

Have you ever took a moment to consider what your ministry would look like without them? You would be a one-man band, there would be no child care, there would be no host team to greet visitors, and all of your production gear would just sit there unable to amplify your voice, throw lyrics on the screens, or set the mood with lighting. Without volunteers there would be no ministry.

Unfortunately, it's really easy to take volunteers for granted, especially the most reliable ones who serve every single week. As mundane as it may seem, some of the most valuable work you can do as a leader is show your appreciation for your volunteers in small but tangible ways. Make it a part of your weekly work schedule to reach out to at least two or three them with kind gestures of appreciation. Sometimes it’s difficult to come up with ideas for what to do, so here are 5 ways you can love a volunteer that do not require much effort or time.

  1. Thank them after every service - This is probably the easiest way to show appreciation. After your volunteers have slaved away for you for two or more hours on Sunday morning, try to tell them thank you before they leave. You don’t have to say much, just a “Thanks for your time and the great job you did…”

  2. Write a thank you note - Order a pack of thank you cards and some stamps and send them an old-school handwritten letter. You could also write them a thank you note via email, but my guess is people have a greater appreciation for taking the time to write it by hand. Leave the box of thank you cards on your desk or some place where you’ll see them regularly and be reminded to use them.

  3. Take them to coffee or lunch - This cost money, but try to have funds allocated in your ministry budget to do this. Spending time to get to know your volunteers outside of church at a local restaurant or coffee shop will really go a long way in showing appreciation for them and building trust. If the volunteer is the opposite sex, I highly recommend inviting their spouse, or bring along your spouse. Just make sure you are never in questionable situations.

  4. Brag about them on social media - Find creative ways to share how awesome they are on social media. Take photos of them while they are serving at church and then post them on Facebook or Instagram and write some sort of caption that talks about how awesome they are.

  5. Ask how you can pray for them, pray for them, and tell them you’re praying for them. Go out of your way to ask them how you can pray for them, record those things in a format so you can recall them later, and make it a part of your weekly routine to pray for them. If you do the other four things in this list and develop a meaningful friendship with your volunteers, I think you’ll find praying for them something you look forward to doing.

I’m sure there are a billion other creative ways to show appreciation for your volunteers. What else would you add to this list?