Getting the Best from an Inexperienced Worship Team


By Mark de la Bretonne

How many times as a worship leader have you started sound check only to discover that chord changes, turn-arounds, or entire sections of songs have been completely forgotten by the worship team? Everyone was at mid-week rehearsal and your pretty sure the caffeine kicked in, so what happened? Let’s explore a couple of possibilities. We’ll call them the “Can we run the B-section solo again?” and the “That’s not a good key for me, but I’ll try” scenarios.

Scenario #1: The instrumental soloist may have said something along the lines of, “So I was thinking…the four bars starting at measure 56 seem busy. Does anyone else feel we should let the measure ring, do a hard break, a snare pick-up and then come back in?” Uh…ok…, but what they were thinking was: “Are you kidding me! I can’t solo across seven chord changes, end on a modulation into the 3 count of measure four! Sigh…..” 

What the WL heard: “four bars…too long…busy…new idea…” What the WL thought: “I wish you would have practiced at home.”

Scenario #2: The vocalist may have said, “You know, that’s in my break. I’ve got something in my throat today. That’s not a good key for me, but I’ll try.” They were thinking, “My range isn’t what it used to be…easy song fifteen years ago.”

What the WL heard: “bad key…have a cold, stay away…don’t expect too much…can someone else do this?” What the worship leader thought: “It was rough at rehearsal the other night. Why didn’t you tell me then that you couldn’t handle it?

So what happened? At our core, all of us are response-centric. God created us with free will and free will is only exercised in response to some other force. The WL asked; the WT tried. If your WT members are advanced players, congrats, but you may have a completely different set of issues. We’ll save that for another time. However, if you’re like most congregations, your team is made up of volunteers. People who can play and sing, but may not be masters at their given instrument. Fortunately, God does not require personal mastery to use us. As a WL it is your task to use the talent God has given your team. Sometimes this may mean going slow to go fast. What!!??

Think of it this way: If you were leading six songs during the worship service, would you introduce four new songs? Of course not. Should you introduce new songs on a regular basis? Absolutely, but as you know, at a pace the worshipers can absorb. So why would we insist on introducing a dozen changes on familiar songs during a ninety minute rehearsal. If you think I’m exaggerating, take some time this week and count the number of changes you made to the arrangement of a familiar song just to “make it more interesting.”

It may be a different key, add a verse/chorus, turn around, tag, extra measure, solo, etc. Each of these changes make sense in your head, but for those folks who don’t live in your head it is not simple. (This is where we should pause and consider how happy the world would be if they could only see things from our perspective and then agree with us, but I digress). More often than not, the changes we make are ones we’re comfortable with, but we need to stop and consider not only the ability of the WT to learn, but we need to take a close look at our ability to teach and communicate ideas. There is an old saying “if the student didn’t learn, the teacher didn’t teach”. There is a reason the seasoned veteran players are in high demand—they make the rest of us mere mortals look like, well, mere mortals.

Consider the average WT member. In between making a living working in a factory or office and taking care of their spouse and two kids, the only time they had to learn the new song and the multiple “changes” was during the rehearsal on Wednesday night. Is that their fault? No. Is that your fault? No. Is it God’s fault for not giving you more experienced people? No. Then who’s fault is it? No ones. It is the process of trying to cram too much info into too little time, expecting a result that is greater than the sum of its parts. Bottom line: Fix the process, not the people!

How? Well, start by realizing that when you came to Christ, God didn’t “fix” you. Through grace and mercy He showed you a path to go down that brought you closer to Him. Show your WT a path. Give them a focus.

Practical steps:

  1. Limit the number of songs you introduce.
  2. Insist that everyone take notes. That means you too. When people see you take notes, they will too.
  3. Limit the changes in familiar songs. Changes require new muscle memory.
  4. Encourage your team to suggest changes: They’ll buy into the change as a way forward, they’ll discover changes they’re incrementally comfortable with, and you become a leader who is willing to help them explore and grow musically.

Among other things, our responsibilities as WL’s include creating, nurturing and inspiring the next generation of WL’s. How you teach today, is how they will teach tomorrow.


Mark has served in music ministry for over thirty years. He and his wife Deanna, currently serve on the worship team at Friends Community Church in Brea, CA. Mark is the Regional Director for Continuous Improvement with St. Joseph Health focusing on people driven process improvement.

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