Restructuring the team

Any time you add services or meeting times that require worship ministry and more involvement from musicians, the opportunity to revamp the team presents itself. If you’ve lived through this, you know that it can be an exciting time or a time of stress as you scramble to find the people needed to minister in an additional service. Maybe you’ve heard stories of churches that started more services and then stopped them within a few months because their volunteers quit.

Some churches seem to make the transition to more services seamlessly. How do they do that?

Here are three key components that will help you to successfully transition to more services.

Communication

When your pastor begins to talk in staff meetings about additional services, you will need to communicate the musical depth (or lack of depth) of the worship team or teams. This will affect the timeline of the launch of new services if you need to develop team members’ musical skills or look for additional singers or instrumentalists. I also recommend that you not wait until your pastor states that more services will be occurring before you begin providing musical development for your current team members who need it.

Then you will need to communicate with your team or teams. Basically, you need to not just show them that you are moving from point A to point B and how awesome point B will be, but you also need to show them that point A is no longer a good place to be. Change is a constant in the Christian life.

Development

Create a developmental environment. If you have only one team and you need to split it to develop a second team to accommodate another service, you will need to evaluate the musicianship of each singer and instrumentalist. If some of the singers or instrumentalists are not strong enough musicians to sing or play without stronger musicians near them, you will need to develop their skills.

You are now in a position to vision-cast to the existing musicians. You could say, “Just as you’ve committed to the ministry of helps through music, we’re committed to your continued development both spiritually and musically. We’re going to be scheduling some times of spiritual and musical development so we’re fulfilling our job as leaders in the church. We’re also going to be going through some restructuring of our schedules for the worship ministry, and we’ll be evaluating how to best use your skills within the new service format.”

Scheduling

If you have multiple teams already, you can restructure the schedule to accommodate the additional services. However, people’s schedules may not allow you to arbitrarily choose when they will serve when new services are added. You’ll want to get their input on their availability when you communicate the coming changes.

When creating the new schedule:

  • I suggest that you schedule a rehearsal time once a week where all teams are present to learn new songs, create one blended sound, and maintain a unified vision for the church and the music ministry.

  • You also will want to schedule development time for those who need it, possibly twice a month, where musical skills are taught such as how to harmonize, how to learn a new part, how to blend, how to improvise, and so on.

  • Then you will need to schedule the teams for the services. Use your strongest team members until you have been able to develop additional musicians. If you’ve fully communicated the coming changes, then your people will understand that you’re working in this changing time for their benefit and growth. If they are uncomfortable with this, then perhaps there is another department where they may better fit.

When you are planning the changing schedule, please keep in mind your team members’ work and family lives, and the fact that as musicians, they also need to practice and learn new music. You don’t want to burn out your volunteers by asking them to do more than they can.

Your pastor should be kept informed of any scheduling challenges you face. You also may want to ask your pastor to pray with you and the team as you add the new services and prepare for greater outreach as a church. This is an exciting time and together you’re going to do great things.

I’ve written more on the topics of scheduling and respecting the team members’ gifts, which you can find here and here.

What if someone asks you to sing a bogus worship song?

We all have our favorite songs that have encouraged us through tough times.

People bring me songs like that and ask if I will put them in a worship set. If the songs are not truly praise or worship, I won’t consider using them. However, I don’t want to hurt those people’s feelings because many times they are emotionally attached to those songs. But if we are going to truly worship God, we need to evaluate whether a song focuses on and blesses Him.

So what do you say to the person who brings you a song that is not really worship or praise of God?

Recognize that the song is important to them or that they hear something in it that resonates with where they are or have been. Ask them to tell you what it is about the song that is meaningful to them.

This is a good time to go through the song words with them gently and ask them to compare the song words to the New Testament. I have a list of scriptures that I show in worship workshops. We compare Christian songs’ words to those scriptures to see if they align. So many times, we find that songs sound spiritual but they don’t truly agree with the truth of who we are as believers according to the New Testament or who God is as we see in the Bible.

If our goal as worship leaders is to truly lead worship and praise of God, then we need to communicate that to the people of the congregation. It should always be done respectfully and with the goal of creating an understanding of who God is and what will bless Him. The words of Hebrews 13:15 provide direction, “Through him them, let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that give thanks to His name.” NASB

We want to praise and thank God for what He’s done, and we want to exalt and adore Him for who He is.

Where can you find good songs?

While talking to some worship pastors recently, I asked them a question that I’m often asked during my worship clinics: “Where do you find good songs?” Their answer was, “Everywhere.”

Great answer. It’s important to be aware of what’s available beyond the songs that have been the backbone of your worship sets.

Here are a few ways to keep in touch with what new songs have been released, and to find solid, scriptural songs that will have longevity and impact.

Listen to the radio, Spotify®, YouTube, or a streaming audio platform.

I was sitting in my car one night waiting to meet with a pastor to schedule a worship clinic. I had the Christian radio station playing and the song Glory by Phil Wickham came on. I truly sensed the presence of God while simply sitting in the car. Since I had never heard the song before, I typed some of the lyrics into my phone. Once I was home, I found the song on CCLI®, downloaded the chord chart with lyrics, and sent details about the song to the team I was leading at that time. It’s a great song that I’ve led in worship in many countries since I first heard it. I was grateful that the station played that song that night.

Not every song on a Christian radio station qualifies as a worship song. You may hear many songs that are Christian entertainment or encouragement before you hear a song that resonates as worship of and to God. Listen and evaluate.

Talk to other worship leaders, or join groups on social media that share worship information.

You are not in a competition, and sharing information, songs, and even resources is part of being the Body of Christ. People have told me about new songs being released, and I’ve been able to use some of them when leading worship. If you would like a list of songs that I recommend, let me know.

Watch for new releases from a band, artist, or church that consistently has solid new songs.

There are certain groups that consistently release new music. I anticipate hearing what they produce. However, not every song on someone’s project is something that I would use in a worship service. It’s important to evaluate what songs and styles would be a good fit for your church.

Make the time to study the Bible and write your own songs.

You don’t need to limit yourself to the songs that everyone else is singing. The same Spirit of God who lives in other songwriters is the same Spirit who lives in you (1 Corinthians 3:16). He can and will inspire you with lyrics and lead lines as you seek Him. If you aren’t comfortable writing the supporting chords, then find some musicians that you can worship with and allow God to flow through all of you as you seek Him for new songs.

Most importantly, evaluate what you are writing against the criteria of whether it truly is praise and worship of and to God—songs that tell who He is and what He has done. If the song is focused on the singer, then you really aren’t worshiping God, you’re encouraging yourself. There’s a place for songs of encouragement provided they agree with what the New Testament says about you as a believer. New Testament scriptures are clear about who we are and what we have in Christ because of His sacrifice and His resurrection.

I love the connectivity that happens when I talk to other worship leaders, listen to what’s being released, and write and share my own music. We’re in this ministry together.

Creativity explodes with collaboration

Let’s face it, we’re all different. That’s what makes us a great team.

Each one of us brings something different to the team; not just different vocal tones or different instruments or styles of playing, but different personalities, experiences, and perspectives.

Worship teams have the opportunity to celebrate what each team member brings. It just takes time and a leader who listens and is willing to try new things with the team to find where each person fits best.

Then, be creative with song arrangements, chords, vocal placement, and harmonies, laughing and enjoying each other while you do it.

As the leader of a ministry organization, I value each person who works with me. They’ve chosen to work beside me in achieving the organization’s goals and at the same time, they’re pursuing their personal goals and development. I see it this way: I have the privilege to hear their thoughts, to see things from a different perspective, and to do some amazing work with these talented people.

We don’t always agree about how something should be done, but we talk, plan and try new things until we find what works best. I’m glad that we don’t agree. I need them and they need me. Together we have a stronger vision of what can be.

Everyone is unique. Finding where each person fits best allows them the opportunity to pursue their passion, and it augments the team. It requires that a leader let go of control and simply direct the creative process. When everyone is allowed to truly bring what they have to offer, they will be fulfilled and the creativity generated within the team will be unlimited.

Making an old song sound new

You can refresh many older songs and still maintain their impact and integrity. Here are some things you can do to keep them fresh.

Evaluate the song.

  • Start by stripping the song down to the lead line and lyrics. Then ask yourself, “What could we change?”

  • Could you substitute chords? Would a Dm7 sound better than an F in that section?

  • Could you change the bass line? Could the bass intro the song?

  • Could you adjust the tempo or the rhythm style to make the song feel fresh? Try some different drum grooves and see how the song lyrics and lead line feel with the different grooves. Experiment. I recommend that you keep the vocal lines and vocal rhythms the same or very similar to the way the artist wrote them to avoid confusing the congregation.

  • What about trying different keyboard sounds. If you’ve been using a traditional piano sound and the song has been piano-driven, try a synth sound or a string pad instead and make the song more guitar-driven. Or, if you’ve only had a synth sound on the keys, try a retro Rhodes sound.

  • Could you create an acoustic version of the song? Some songs sound fresh when the electric instruments are stripped away and the song is played with an acoustic guitar or two and maybe a cajon for rhythm.

Switch the arrangement.

  • You could start the song with the chorus or the bridge instead of the standard intro into a verse.

  • You could start the song with a new intro, or you could change who starts the song: the bass, or just the vocals, or the drums.

  • You could start with an updated intro and then go immediately into the chorus (and sing only the chorus and maybe the bridge), and then go immediately into another song.

Recognize that some songs are what they are.

  • Some songs wouldn’t benefit from a change in the tempo or style. Some songs are incredibly powerful in their original arrangement, and you may not want to change that. If you have overused the song, you could set it aside for a while until you feel inspired or prompted to use it again. If that song glorifies God—it’s about Him or directly to Him—it will be timeless, and the people will connect with it.

The important thing is to remember that you are not limited in your creativity, nor are you limited by an arrangement that someone recorded. Keep it fresh and enjoy experimenting with the team.

Introducing a new song

What’s your personal process in learning a new song?

Do you listen to it a few times to hear the lead vocal and harmonies? Do you listen multiple times to isolate each instrument and learn the instrumental parts? Do you listen and focus on the overall feel—the tempo, dynamics, and groove?

Most of us listen to a song more than once before we’re comfortable playing or singing it. As a team you probably play it together at least once or twice (possibly more) before you launch that new song during a service.

So why do we assume that the congregation will be able to learn it quickly and easily and then immediately participate the first time they sing it? We foolishly wonder why they just stand there while we’re leading it. For most of the congregation, learning a new song can be slightly uncomfortable.

Here are some steps you can follow to make the process of learning a new song easier for the congregation.

Step One Introduce it as a piece of special music.

You could tell them it’s a new song that you will be teaching them in the coming weeks, and then sing it for them during the offering or as special music if your church usually has a time when someone sings or plays and everyone else listens.

Step Two Teach them the new song strategically.

The congregation feels comfortable in singing when they are familiar with a song. When you sing a new song with them for the first time, it can be helpful to sing it after a song that they know well. Then once you’ve taught them the new song, sing another song that they know well.

When you are singing the new song for the first time with the congregation, don’t just play the standard (recorded) arrangement; teach them the song. Sing verse one, then sing it again, then sing the chorus two or three times, then sing verse two and perhaps sing that again, then sing the chorus. Vocally cue them for the bridge, and sing through it twice, then back to the chorus.

Step Three Place the new song in the worship set for the following week’s service, and again place it between two songs that the congregation knows well.

Step Four Wait a week or two and put it in the set list again.

These four steps are practical things that you can do to actually lead worship. It’s your responsibility to lead the congregation in worship, but you can’t lead if they aren’t following. And they won’t follow if they don’t know what to do. So become an effective worship leader by creating opportunities for the congregation to learn and to participate. They will be blessed as you worship God together.

What to do when team members quit

Learning how to navigate the dynamics of relationships is an ongoing opportunity.

When a worship team member quits, a leader has the opportunity to simply say goodbye or to evaluate the relationship and to see what can be done to maintain it.

At times, team members will communicate when life changes will be happening, but if a person quits and you weren’t aware that something was going on, you should create an opportunity to meet with them.

Here are some reasons why team members quit, and some suggestions of what you can do to maintain or rescue the relationship.

The team member has scheduling issues.

Be supportive and understanding. If you’re willing to help them—perhaps scheduling them for services on a rotating basis or being adaptive to their schedule if possible—they may be able to continue on the team. However, if an adaptive schedule would create issues with other team members, you may want to suggest that the team member take some time off while they deal with their scheduling issues. You can create regular times of fellowship with that team member that will help you to maintain the relationship. When the scheduling issues are resolved, the team member is more likely to return to the team if the connection of the relationship has been maintained.

The team member was offended by what you or another team member said or did.

Work to resolve the situation. Create an opportunity to meet with the person and hear what they have to say about what caused the offense. If you caused the offense, apologize and try to restore the relationship. If someone else caused the offense, see if you can bring both people together privately to resolve the issue. Recognize that even if the issue is resolved, the departing team member may not want to return to the team, or you may not want them to return to the team. Also, ensure that your pastor remains informed throughout the process regardless of the outcome of your communication with the team member.

The team member decides to leave the church.

Maintain a friendly relationship regardless of where the team member decides to go. They are still part of God’s family. Attendance and participation at one local church or another is not a reason to refuse to fellowship. If you are continuing to show God’s love, the relationship can be sustained.

The team member moves to another town or city.

Get their new address, and maintain contact with them. If you can, help them in the moving process. People are important, and everyone wants to know that they are valued for who they are and not just for what they can do or have done. Keep the relationship. There are so many ways to stay in contact with people who are living at a distance. It’s worth the effort to keep the relationship.

These opportunities for communication can be great learning experiences for us and for the whole team. Every relationship is important and valuable.

Three more ways to engage the congregation

People’s attention can be lost while we’re leading worship.

There are practical things that you can do to gain people’s attention and lead them in a corporate worship experience. Here are three simple but effective things that will make you a great worship leader.

Let them see your mouth

Your mouth is expressive. Not only does it indicate joy as you smile, but as you form words, people can visually engage with what you are saying and singing.

When we hold a mic close to our mouths, we miss that opportunity. The mic is not an extension of your face; it is a tool that augments your singing and speaking. When your mic is placed directly against your mouth, not only can people not see what you are saying, but you will distort the sound. When your mic is placed a few inches away from your mouth, the mic’s volume level and EQ can be set so people can both hear you well and see your mouth.

Make eye contact

People look at your face when you lead worship, whether you are the lead vocalist, part of a group of singers, or part of the band. It’s important to lead with your eyes open.

I’ve been in several churches lately where the worship leaders have been less than engaged with the congregation because their eyes were closed. They created a distance between themselves and the congregation by being lost in their own experience.

Our responsibility as worship leaders is to lead, not to be so immersed in personal worship that we forget that our primary responsibility is to facilitate a corporate worship experience. When your eyes are open, and you are actively looking at the congregation, they will connect with you visually and sense that you are aware of them and are purposefully leading them in worship.

Encourage participation

When our eyes are open during worship, we can see people who are engaged in worship and those who are not interested in worshiping. At times, you may be tempted to react negatively to people who are not participating. You will want to avoid doing that.

I’ve seen frustrated worship leaders stop the singing so they can correct people for their lack of participation. When you do that, those of us who were participating are pulled away from worshiping God, and we’re made to feel as if we were doing something wrong. We probably didn’t see that others were not worshiping.

Also, it is not your job to correct people when they do not worship. Instead, encourage people by continuing to give them the opportunity to worship. Also, provide verbal cues so they know what to do. Correction can create resistance. Encouragement inspires interaction.

In a previous post, I gave some additional ways to engage the congregation. Click here to see that post.

When we make a few simple adjustments in the way we lead worship, we can create a better, more dynamic worship experience where people are comfortable and more likely to participate. We’ll be stronger leaders.

The primary thing should be the primary thing

I’m a busy person.

I like to be busy; it keeps me from being bored. But in the past, I have substituted work—even ministry work—for my time with God. I would justify that doing ministry work or work for my family was enough. I mean, after all, I was doing ministry. At times, my work supplanted the time that I would normally read my Bible, and I would skip my personal worship time. I was leading worship regularly so I told myself that was enough.

I was wrong.

My relationship with God is more important than any other relationship. My other relationships are better when God is my first love. Doing ministry work, leading worship, and serving my church or my family are all important in my life, but they are not substitutes for time given to the One who is most important to me, the One who gave me spiritual life.

I changed.

I’ve learned that work and busyness do not have to keep me from my fellowship with God. I have a God who I can talk with at any time. I talk to Him and worship in the car on the way to work. I talk to Him while doing laundry and household chores. I’ve chosen to spend every moment with God. I’ve chosen to recognize that He’s always with me and He’s always available at any time. I keep my focus on Him. He is woven into the fabric of my life. And I’ve set aside time that is just for God and me where I’ve been getting to know Him better through the words that He’s spoken in the Bible.

I encourage you to develop your awareness of God’s presence and the joy of living each day close to Him. Everything else around you will become so much better when the person who should be first in your life is actually your first priority. (Matthew 6:33)

The primary thing in life is to live life hand-in-hand with God.

Three ways to engage the congregation

People want to know what to expect when they attend a church service.

They want to know if they need to sit or stand or if they are welcome to move around. If they don’t know what to do, they won’t engage easily and freely in corporate worship.

Here are three things that we can do as worship teams to create a level of comfort for the congregation and engage them in the worship experience.

Give clear vocal cues.

People in the congregation probably don’t know what your hand signals to the instrumentalists and audio/video team mean. If you circle a finger, your worship team may know what to do, but the congregation may not understand the gesture. They may wonder if they are supposed to sing the chorus again or another verse.

A great vocal leader not only cues the worship team and audio/video team for direction in a song, but they also will cue the congregation. When I prepare to lead, I look for phrases or key words at the beginning of a verse, bridge, chorus, etc. I’ll sing or say those short, simple words just before we’re going to sing them together. For example, I’ll sing something like this: “In all the world,” or “Oh how marvelous,” or “Your Name is higher,” etc.—whatever phrase or word that most easily will convey what we’re going to sing next.

If I’m giving a vocal cue to the video team because they can’t see me for some reason, I may say, “Let’s sing verse 1 again.” This helps the congregation as well.

Post the words on a screen or wall before it’s time to sing them.

If a person in the congregation doesn’t know the words to the song you’re singing, they will be frustrated if the words to the song only appear as you are singing them. It’s most thoughtful to put the words on the screen just before it’s time to sing them, not two beats after.

I recommend that your video team practice displaying song words as they hear you rehearsing each song until they can smoothly display song words in a way that’s best for the congregation.

In essence, the video team is leading worship just as much as you are as a musician.

Tell the congregation what to do during an instrumental break.

First, ask yourself why you are doing an instrumental break. If it’s for the purpose of showing a musician’s skill or simply because that’s how another band performed it, then the people’s attention will be on the musicians and not on God.

Ask yourself what do you want people to do during that time when they aren’t singing? Tell them that or better yet, lead them in that. If you want them to participate in the instrumental break by shouting praise to God, then invite them to do so. If you want them to be contemplative and reverent, then let them know that the break is a great place to do that. You can give instruction easily by saying something like, “Let’s think about what God has done for us,” or “Let’s shout out how good God is!”

Also, singers should be coached to continue to lead during an instrumental break. If they just lower their mics and don’t vocally lead in the shout or contemplation or singing of Hallelujah etc., the congregation will wonder why you’ve told them to engage and yet the singers are standing there with their eyes closed. When they’re on the platform, singers are leaders, not simply worshipers.

It’s like the guy next to me in church once said, “I wish I knew what to do.” With a little communication from the worship team, we can all participate and experience the blessing of corporate worship.