This article was originally published in Worship Leader magazine (July/Aug 2015). For more great articles like this one, subscribe today.
If you are a worship leader trying to keep up with today’s modern worship sound, you have probably realized that it’s pretty difficult to recreate the epic orchestral, mesmerizing folk or powerful wall-of-sound qualities that predominate the worship genre. You encounter challenges such as lack of musicians in your church, an underpowered sound system, budget constraints, limited rehearsal time or team-member inconsistency. All of which are valid and difficult obstacles to overcome when trying to build a worship team that sounds great, carries spiritual authority, and operates with unity. It may seem like excellence of sound and spirit is reserved for the megachurches with thousands of members and even larger budgets. However, this is simply not the case. No matter what size of church you’re in, you can have an excellent worship team. Here are a few things to remember as you and your team grow in excellence:
1. Excellence starts from the top down.
Probably the most difficult thing for any musician is gaining a realistic perspective of his or her ability. You’re either your own worst critic or your biggest fan. But I encourage you to evaluate yourself objectively. Discover your actual strengths and honest weaknesses, because one of the keys to building a team of excellent members is to be sure that you lead by example.
Excellence is not about perfection or being the best. In fact, excellence should never be based on a comparison others. It’s about confidence, maximizing what you do have and being willing to learn.
Here are 3 keys to leading excellently:
- If you’re a little unsure about your song list for the week, that’s okay. Your team will trust you and give you their best effort if they feel like you’re comfortable and confident with the decision you’ve made. If you are constantly insecure or hesitant about your decisions, your team will sense that and will subsequently reflect your insecurities with poor playing, confusion, and doubt.
- Know your limitations. Choose songs that fit your range. Keep your melodies simple. Don’t push for notes you can’t hit. If you can maximize the skills that you do have, and stay within the boundaries of what you are capable of, you will be able to perform with excellence.
- If you’re not incredible at your instrument yet, are you getting into lessons and practicing your craft? Your team does not expect you to be perfect, but they do expect you to grow. A desire to become excellent at your craft and an effort to achieve excellence will attract excellent team members who can help you improve and pursue growth for themselves.
2. Build with the right people, not just the right musicians.
Imagine you have access to the best drummer in the world, and he’s willing to play for your team. However, he can’t make it to rehearsal. Also, he will be out of town a couple of Sundays every month. And he’s not totally sold on the whole idea of Christianity. His drumming style is more jazzy and hip-hop than what your team is actually aiming to sound like. But he has incredible skills! This guy doesn’t exactly sound like the greatest fit, does he? Do you think it would be worth using him simply because of how awesome he is at the drums?
Too often, worship leaders think an excellent team is made up of rock-star musicians instead of genuine people. Obviously, they need to have some musical inclination to be contributing members of the “worship band.” But more so, find someone who is aligned with your vision as a ministry. Someone who is looking to serve God before serving themselves. Someone who is trustworthy and reliable—someone who will grow with you.
In the long run, you will have a band with far superior chemistry, flow, and spiritual authority if you choose this approach, rather than the band full of musical all-stars who play different styles, are not serving the Lord, and have no loyalty to the ministry or team. If this means you have a team that sounds a little shaky, remember what I said about excellence: when your people have confidence, play within their ability, and are teachable, they are winners.
3. Set goals and take risks
At the core of every individual, there is the desire to be great. Unfortunately, few people have developed a vision for how to achieve greatness or have received the support to go after it. As Proverbs 29:18 says: “Where there is no vision, the people perish.”
So as a leader who is building a team within a small church, you may not have all the resources to chase after every dream; however, you can have a goal in sight that you can share with your band. Here are a few examples of some goals you and your team could choose:
Goal #1: Write original songs.
A great starting place is to write and play original songs. Give your team members the excitement of playing their song for the church. Co-write as a team. Build cool arrangements and take risks.
Goal #2: Record an album.
Don’t promise anything you can’t deliver (like a specific budget or timeline), but if it’s in your heart to record an original worship album as a group, let them know that. Let them be part of your dreaming. Set some achievable markers that can help you realize that dream.
Goal #3: Travel opportunities and itinerant ministry.
Start small. Play youth retreats and local worship nights. Play for free. Wherever you start will build excitement for the future. It will give your team a vision. It will give them the motivation to become better because they will see their dreams are not as far off as they may have thought.
You and your team may never aspire to any of these things and that’s okay, we simply want to stress the importance of vision and goals. Always remember, every goal and aspiration of your team should support first and foremost the strength and building of the local church.
4. Play to a click
A very simple and practical way to get your worship team to a higher level of excellence is to start playing with a metronome. This one simple step will immediately make your band tighter, more uniform, and help to simplify their parts. If you can’t afford to switch your whole stage to in-ear monitors, you can at least get your drummer on a click using a headphone amplifier in place of a wedge monitor.
5. Use a quality sound engineer
There’s an old trick in the live music industry when the headliner isn’t much better than the opening acts: replace the soundman (or woman).
A great audio engineer can make a mediocre band sound really good, just as a bad audio engineer can make an awesome band sound awful. It’s all in the mix. Use the same approach to finding a sound engineer that you would use to find a leader, guitarist, drummer, etc. Don’t brush this role off as unimportant. As much as Grandma Jane may want to sit behind the soundboard and serve the ministry, this position requires as much foresight, training, and skill as any other position on the worship team—if not more!
Again, you can give someone an opportunity to grow, but don’t settle for someone unknowledgeable who has no desire to become excellent.
6. Have fun
The foundation upon which you must build your worship team is community and camaraderie. Spend time encouraging each other, praying for one another, and laughing together. This principle applies to any form of leadership, but be sure your team knows how much you genuinely care about them. Otherwise, they won’t care how awesome you or your team’s potential is. Be connected. Be loving. Be family. Be a team. The most important ingredient to building a successful worship team is actually being a team.
We hope these points help you achieve the impact you would like to have with your worship team. Rehearse a lot. Pray a lot. Take risks. Pursue excellence. You can do it. God will always bring the right people across your path. Be open to building new relationships and discovering the hearts of the people around you. This is going to be fun!
Joshua Mohline is the director of WorshipU, the online school of worship from Bethel Music. Joshua has a background as a worship leader in worship settings from small to large and has been a part of the Bethel Church worship teams since 2012. Now he facilitates the worship school, as it serves thousands of worship leaders and teams worldwide to become equipped and empowered in their callings.