practicalworship

Ideas, tips and practical advice for the everyday worship leader.

Latest Posts

Picking songs by using a survey

Many careers ago I used to work for a radio station. One of the things I learned while I worked there is how they pick the songs they play—and more specifically how long to keep a song in rotation and how frequently people want to hear that song. Radio stations use surveys to do this. That one time you called in to win a t-shirt, you gave them your contact information in return. So later in the year, someone would call you from an “independent” consultant group (I put that in quotes, because it really never is independent). They would play clips of songs over the phone and ask you to rate them based on a scale they gave you. Nowadays, radio stations use online surveys based on the same concept of playing audio clips and asking you to rate them.

The goal of a radio station programmer and the goal of a worship leader are vastly different. One purely wants to entertain you while the other wants to use music and songs to help the church express their love for God. But even though the goals are different, I’ve found this tool works well in both cases.

I generally try and do two surveys a year. Each survey contains 18-20 songs. At the beginning of the survey, I try to set the tone that this isn’t a popularity contest. How you pick songs for a worship service and how you pick songs for your Spotify workout playlist are very different. A lot of picking songs has to do with context (what are the other songs in the set, what is the sermon about, etc.) But, at the same time, I want to recognize the fact that we know certain songs just resonate with our hearts more than others. And the only way to really find out is to ask people. If you frame the questions in such a way that it’s not about picking your favorites but rather trying to think back to how God has personality used that song over the past few months, you can get some good feedback.

Here’s a PDF file of what the first few questions of the online survey looks like.

With each song clip, I ask people to pick from one of five choices. They are:

  1. I really enjoy singing this song
  2. It’s not my favorite, but it’s okay
  3. I used to enjoy singing this song, but I’m ready for something else
  4. I’ve never really enjoyed singing this song
  5. I’m not familiar with this song

The first two options tell me that the song works (although if too many people say it’s just okay, I probably should lean more on songs that score higher on the “really enjoy” option). If a song scores high with option 3—that they’re ready to move on—I look into putting that song on the shelf. I know the song works, but we’ve burned people out on it. We put it away for awhile, but I know I can bring it back later when it fits—that it’s a viable option in the future after we give it a break. If a lot people tell me they’ve never enjoyed a song, then it’s probably time to scrap it for something else. The fifth option just gives people an out if they’ve never heard the song.

Here’s a PDF file of the final report I received. When analyzing the data, I try to look at it as a whole. If a song scores low, it may not be just about the song itself. It may be speaking about your overall philosophy of how you build your set lists. The first time I did one of these surveys, songs like “Let It Be Known” by Worship Central and “Alive” by Hillsong Young & Free scored very low. But by looking at all the data as a whole (including the comments), what I discovered was my philosophy was off. I was building sets that had too much “let’s get excited about Jesus” and not enough introspective love songs to God. I was also trying to be too trendy and using too many new songs, when our people wanted more of what they were already familiar with (like “How Great Is Our God” by Chris Tomlin and “God of Wonders” by City on a Hill). Once I fixed the philosophy, I tested the song “Alive” again and found it scored pretty high.

Also, this doesn’t replace your other means of deciding which songs to include in your sets—it’s in addition to. For example, I noticed Kari Jobe’s “Forever” didn’t test as high as some of the other songs. However, the last time our band did the song (a few weeks ago), you could tell that people all over the room were connecting with God through the song. Context is everything.

Think about how you use the songs in your sets as well. The first song in our sets is typically designed more to set the tone and put energy into the room. We don’t necessarily expect everyone to sing along (and quite frankly we have tons of people still walking into the auditorium during the first song), so these songs are more performance songs that might have a catchy chorus to sing along with. Some examples would be “In Sync” by Hillsong Young & Free and “Glory In The Highest” by Fellowship Creative. I don’t expect these songs to test very high compared to a song like “Lord, I Need You” by Matt Maher. But I am using the survey to compare opening songs against each other, to see which ones we should lean on more (or we should drop).

One of the most important questions you can ask on any survey is “What else do you want to share with us?” It can open a whole new door of information on how the worship ministry is succeeding (or not succeeding) in their goal. Get ready for some brutal comments when you ask people’s opinion. You have to have thick skin when you attempt something like this. The very first comment I received on our very first survey was this:

“Changing worship leaders didn’t improve the worship.”

Music is such a subjective thing. So you’re not going to hit the mark every time with everybody. But try not to take the individual comments personally and instead look at the overall message. Pay attention to the trends, the things people say over and over.

I’ve found surveys to be a great tool to help keep a pulse on how our worship ministry is best serving the church. It’s not the only tool, but the feedback I get from an online survey has been very helpful in shaping how our church worships God through music.

How I prepare for worship team rehearsal

I spend about 2-3 hours each week the day of rehearsal preparing for that evening. My goal is to do as much as I can before everyone arrives to maximize our time during rehearsal to focus on what we came to do—to rehearse the songs for service! I want to intentionally avoid anything that could be a potential time-waster by prepping as much as I can and discovering problems early. In the last few months, I’ve created a weekly checklist in Evernote for my rehearsal preparation process. The items below come from that list.

  • IMG_8042Load audio console presets: We use the Behringer X32 digital mixer, and our audio engineer has presets already created and stored for various singers and musicians. Based on his template, I load in the presets for the musicians and singers for that week (i.e. Jonathan is using the BGV2 mic, Alan is playing his Telecaster electric guitar). It’s one less thing for our volunteer audio engineer to do when he arrives for rehearsal and puts him one step closer to building his mixes.
  • Save and load band mixer presets: Many worship teams use personal mixers first made popular by Aviom for the band to mix their own monitor mixes. Many of these personal mixers have the ability to save and load presets. I save presets for each musician that plays at each position. For example, let’s say Nathan played electric guitar last week and Dustin is playing guitar this week. Nathan’s mix is preset number 1. Dustin’s mix is preset number 2. Before rehearsal starts, I update preset 1 and save Nathan’s latest mix for the next time he plays. Then I load in preset 2 from the last time Dustin played. It cuts down on time spent adjusting monitor mixes when the band arrives, since different people like their mixes in different ways and positions change musicians frequently.
  • IMG_8037Prep the wireless tray: We have a custom-built tray to store our wireless mics and IEM packs. Singers need microphones. The acoustic guitar player needs a wireless pack. Some people need IEM earbuds; other people bring their own. I organize the tray for the worship team playing that week. I also take this time to clean the IEM earbuds. It’s the non-glamerous part of being a worship pastor, but it’s vital to maintain clean gear and not share ear wax among team members.
  • Distribute service paperwork: I have three things I print out for key positions for the tech team, although not every position gets all three things. I print typical run sheets from Planning Center that show the order of the service including all the songs. I also print a list of all the names of every worship team and tech team member and what position they’re serving in for that weekend (again from Planning Center). Then I print lyric sheets for all the songs that show the exact order we’ll do the songs (mainly for the two ProPresenter positions and for the lights position).
  • IMG_8036Test audio cables: Our band uses wired belt packs for their IEM headphones. There’s a cable that runs from the personal mixer to their belt pack, then they plug their headphones into the pack. We’ve had a fair amount of these cables and these belt packs go bad during rehearsal, so I’ve started getting the habit of checking all of them each week. Rehearsals go smoother if you can discover gear problems earlier in the day before everyone arrives.
  • Distribute charts for the band: I have different kinds of charts for different positions. I have drum specific charts that list the lyrics on one side of the paper and notes on the other side (written, not necessarily musical notes). Other positions get normal chord charts, although the keys may get a special chart that shows the notes for a specific lick within a song or a specific chord shape but not necessarily every note of the entire song like traditional sheet music.
  • IMG_8053Set up stools for the vocalists: I work with my vocalists separate from the band before bringing everyone together, so I set out 3-4 stools on the floor near the stage for us to gather in a circle and rehearse.
  • Mix Ableton Live tracks: We utilize prerecorded tracks in addition to the musicians on stage to help fill out the sound. These tracks include extra keyboard parts, a rhythm electric guitar part, extra percussion like shakers, etc. I sit in the congregation seats and listen to all the songs for the week and make general adjustments. We fine-tune things later during the actual rehearsal, but I try and get generally close before everyone gets there.
  • Load MainStage sounds: We use the Mac app MainStage for all our keyboard sounds, and each song has a sound that gets saved by the song title. I build a master set list file that has all the sounds loaded in the order the keyboard player will need them.
  • IMG_8052Check the settings on the guitar amp: The church provides the backline for the electric guitar position (meaning the electric guitar player uses his guitar but plays through our amp and FX pedals). I’ve taken a photo of the amp knobs and leave it at the amp, and before rehearsal I check the settings at the amp against the photo. It helps us to avoid wasting 10-15 minutes figuring out why the electric guitar sounds so muddy, just to discover later someone jacked with the knobs at the amp.

Worship teams and tech teams working together

This week I had the chance to be a guest on the podcast Church Tech Weekly. Mike Sessler is a church tech guy, and I really like what he’s doing at churchtecharts.org. Through blog posts and his podcast, he helps to equip church tech ministries to communicate the Gospel in powerful and creative ways. On the show we talked about creating good audio from the source—discussing about the band itself and the arrangements of the songs. Here’s the link:

http://churchtecharts.org/show/2014/12/9/church-tech-weekly-episode-219-oregon-oklahoma

But I know that many of the things we discussed on the show are things that generally fall under the responsibility of the worship leader—not the technical director. And I know for those in the tech ministry it can feel like you have all the responsibility but none of the authority to fix these kinds of things. You’re told to mix the band and make it sound good, but what do you do when you know the solution is to change the instrument or even the musician? These kinds of decisions are out of the technical director’s jurisdiction. And that’s usually when the tech person throws their hands up in frustration. They don’t feel like they have a conduit or a venue to address what they see as an obvious problem.

You can lead up

You may not be in charge, but you do have influence. You can leverage that influence if you do so with grace and love. If you don’t feel like you have the avenue to address these things, create it yourself. Initiate the conversation. Take your worship pastor out to lunch. Get to know his perspective but also put your ideas on the table so he can see your perspective. If things sound bad during rehearsal, ask your worship leader to come off the stage and listen from your place in the room.

Understand you and your worship pastor probably think differently

Generally speaking, worship people and tech people are made from different cloths. Musicians and “creative types” are going to be more big ideas people (“It would be awesome if we…”) and not so concerned with the nuts and bolts. They aren’t going to naturally see the need for organization or structure to the level the tech person naturally sees it. Conversely, tech people think more logical, more in the practical. I’m making over-generalizations, but typically tech people have the personality to be the landing gear for the creative people.

I mention that to make this point: God created you and your worship pastor for a specific purpose. Your personalities compliment each other. You need each other. If you find yourselves saying things like “Doesn’t he see this is a problem,” the truth is he may not notice the problem at all. God designed your personalities to be in tune to different types of issues, and you are to work as a team.

Start with having the right heart

1 Peter 2:13-3:7 has a lot of wisdom when it comes to submission to authority. God has created each of us with equal worth, but our roles may have different placements on the org chart. Wives are to be submissive to their husbands, servants are to be subject to their master. (By the way, it’s important to note that these same verses have strong language of caution for husbands and masters in how they are to lead.) So one of the best ways to honor God is by respecting the org chart He has put in place for His plan and purpose. No one likes to be told that the first step in resolving conflict is to die to self, but it’s true. But the beauty of it is that when we do die to self and give these situations to God, He takes them and does things we never could imagine or thought possible.

If you haven’t already, begin to work to gain the trust of your worship pastor. How can you best serve him and set him up to succeed? What does he need and how can you be a part of the solution? Also, can you honestly say you’ve prayed about it and given it to God? How often do we try to do things in our own power instead of giving it to God and giving Him the chance to do things in ways we could ever dream or imagine.

Rome wasn’t built in a day

You probably have a list of things you would “fix” if given the chance. Once you gain the trust of your worship pastor and you have his ear, just start with one thing. Take one thing and work together to fix that. Then find another thing and work together to fix that. Then another. It will most like happen much slower than you’d prefer, and you have to respect the times when he says “no,” but it can happen. Rome wasn’t built in a day.

Spend money on knowledge

Drum micsBudgets. We all deal with them. Some of us have large budgets, some of us have small budgets. Some of us have non-exist budgets. But to whatever degree, we have finite amount of resources to do what we do and make it the best it can be. And because the dollars are limited, you have to prioritize and make decisions on where to spend money—where you’ll get the most bang for your buck. Do I upgrade the sound board or do I replace the stage monitors with IEM’s? Do I buy the music and resources for this big Easter musical or do I get new heads for the drums? I’ve spent money on many things over the last year being at Trinity, but there has been one place I’ve spent money that gave me the greatest return—that gave me the most bang for my buck. I’ve spent money on knowledge.

When I first came on staff, I asked a lighting director from a church up the road to come down for the day. Once he was in our space, I asked him two questions: “If you were the LD at our church, how would you use what we have and where would you start spending money?” Out of that day (and a few additional follow-up conversations), we developed a plan to take our process of running lights to the next level. He recommended that we remove all the colored gels from our front lights and go straight white front light (with quarter color correction). He showed us how to add emotion to a song by adding or changing lighting during a song (instead of just building one look for a song). He even helped us create a map of how to refocus all of our front lights to give the most flexibility for our services.

Earlier this year, we brought in an audio engineer from the same church. Our sound guy is very good at what he does, and we’re very blessed to have him at the FOH controls every weekend. But he felt he had room to grow—specifically in the areas of drums and FX. This audio engineer helped us rearrange the mics on the drum kit and explained the reasons for his recommendations. He helped our FOH guy build FX patches he could use and layer and how to use hi-pass filters on reverbs and low-pass filters on delays to create some great textures that weren’t overpowering or muddy.

In both cases, once we had a plan in place, we found we already had many of the resources needed to execute the plan. They didn’t recommend installing a new light board or purchasing new drum mics. We did purchase some new PAR lights for backlighting (something we didn’t have before), a few sheets of color correction and later in the year we bought a new snare drum based on a recommendation, but that was about the extent of actually spending money on “stuff.” Most of our money was spent on knowledge—the cost to bring these guys to our building and cover their expenses. It wasn’t cheap, and it wasn’t expensive. It was, however, undeniably worth every penny.

Many times I think we get on Vimeo or LiveStream and watch church services from all over, and we see the “stuff” that they have. And then we think to ourselves if we just got more moving lights, if we just had a digital board we could do what they do. Maybe. Maybe not. But if you can seek the advice from people that have devoted their lives to their craft, you typically find that a little tweak here and a small change there can create significant improvement.

Another way I’ve applied this principle of spending money on knowledge is to bring in high caliber musicians to help train my up-and-coming volunteer musicians. There are many incredible musicians in the area, but most of them already have a full-time Sunday morning commitment at other churches. So I basically spend a little bit of money to help those high caliber musicians clone themselves with people already within our church. I ask them to listen to the songs we’re got scheduled for the weekend and have them come in during the rehearsal (or some other time during the week) to share with our volunteers how they’d play the songs—what chord shapes to use on the guitar, what sounds to use on the keyboard, how to break down a complicated drum groove and figure it out. I’ve found that my volunteers love the opportunity to learn more about the instrument they enjoy from people that have incredible real-world experience, and I get the benefit of that volunteer using their newfound knowledge with our worship team.

There comes the times when you need to upgrade your gear. Better gear typically yields better results. But a well crafted plan is worth its weight in gold, and many times you can increase the quality of your ministry by just learning how to better use the current equipment you already have.

Mother’s Day: From concept to service

This year for Mother’s Day we decided to interview a bunch of kids and write a song around the things they said. We showed the video in service, then we performed the song live. The finished product turned out better than I had hoped, and our people really seemed to enjoy it. I thought how the process worked from concept to service was interesting enough that it would make a good blog post. (A video of the finished product is at the end of this post.)

I need to say up front that this was not an original idea. We borrowed it from Church on the Move in Tulsa (entitled I Love Moms Or Something), and they borrowed it from Flight of the Conchords (entitled Feel Inside And Stuff Like That). But once we started interviewing the kids in our church, the whole thing took on a life of its own.

We started with writing the interview questions. I took these pretty much verbatim from the COTM video. We worked with our kids ministry to select kids and set up interviews on a Wednesday night. They were great! They selected kids that have a reputation for saying funny things and are naturally outspoken, and they coordinated all the interview times and letting the parents know what was going on. Each interview lasted about ten minutes. Some kids gave us tons and tons of material. Other kids gave us barely anything we could work it, but we discovered that each kid would at least give us one thing we could use—you just had to dig for it.

We knew the song would be centered around all the things that would be missing if there were no moms in the world, so many of the questions focused around that. There were two things I was looking for specifically. One was a title. In both the COTM and the Conchords videos, they got one of the kids to suggest a title but then tack on a phrase like “or something” or “or stuff like that.” Then, as the joke goes, the interviewers make the assumption that the tag phrase was part of the title the child suggested. We could never get our kids to say something similar. However, I liked the phrase “Thanks moms” that one of our kids threw out. The S’s at the end of each word was just funny to me, and then when we actually put the words to music, it just happened that there was this awkward pause between the words when we sang them that added to the humor of the title.

The second thing I was looking for specifically was a “grand finale” moment for the end of the song. I originally thought of a rap section (again, similar to the inspiration videos) and tried to get some of the kids to rap some made up lyrics. But we could only get one kid to give us a few words. However, one of the girls made the comment about her mom dancing to 80s songs, and that allowed us to go in a completely different direction and achieve that same kind of moment.

Once we finished all the interviews, I had the video producer send me mp3 files of the audio of all the raw footage. I listened to all the files and put each answer into a spreadsheet. I know that sounds really geeky, but it was an incredible tool to keep things organized when it came time to actually write the song. Even if the answer didn’t seem like much, I recorded the answer in the spreadsheet because you never knew what word or phrase you’d need. Some of the answers the kids said made the song because they were funny. Some of the answers the kids said made the song because they rhymed with something else.

Mother's Day Spreadsheet

Then it came time to write the song. I focused on the chorus first, then I worked on the verses. With just my acoustic guitar, I used the voice recorder app on my iPhone to record the song. I did this several times as I filled in lyrics (and sang “la la” lyrics where I didn’t have words yet). I think they’re four different versions of this song on my phone (here’s what the first one sounded like). I used the Notes app for the lyrics (which syncs with iCloud), so no matter where I was or what device I had in front of me, I could type in lyrics as I thought of them. I was able to write and finish the song over the weekend.

With the song finished, I quickly made a GarageBand track to send to the band, so they could start learning the song (I finished the song on Tuesday morning and rehearsal was that Thursday evening). Also, with the song finished, we could now focus on the video. Since I still had the spreadsheet, I put together a complete script for the video with notes of all the cuts necessary and where to find them. I gave that script to our video production department. They were awesome, and with the help of the script they were able to produce the video pretty quickly.

That Tuesday evening, the other worship leader and I got together at my house to begin figuring out who was going to sing which line and how to approach harmonies. We already knew that the line about the 80s music would be part of the big finish at the end, and we even already had the idea of the band starting to playing the Cyndi Lauper song in the middle. But it was that night we decided we had to actually dance some signature 80s dances. So here we are, two grown men, in my long narrow master bathroom dancing in front of the mirror trying to choreograph this thing. That’s probably not something I should admit in public, but it’s true.

Thursday evening is our normally scheduled rehearsal for the weekend service. We did the normal process of working up the band, then adding the vocals and dialing in the sound. It was also at this time that I worked with our lighting designer. My vision for this song was it had to be over the top and completely overdone. I told our LD to pull out every trick he had and to use lots of moving lights and pulsating colors, and he came up with some pretty cool stuff. Taking some inspiration from the Conchords version—since their song was a spoof on the infamous “We Are The World” type songs— I got the idea that me, the other worship leader and the band needed to perform the song very seriously and over the top—like our lives depending on it.

Here is how everything came together. It was incredible to watch this idea take shape and become a finished production in just a week and a half.

Auditioning members for your team

When I came on staff at Trinity, I auditioned every member of the team—even people that had been on the team for years. Auditioning is more than just finding out if someone can sing or play, but to learn more about how they sing or play. I need to know more about what my team members are capable of. Does a guitar player play like Jimi Hendrix or Lincoln Brewster? Does a singer sound like Sarah McLachlan or Adele? This tells me how to use the members of my team and to play to our strengths. Here’s a couple of thoughts on how I approach the audition process.

  • The person auditioning needs to be prepared to sing/play a song that I have chosen. Depending on the instrument (or their voice), I already have specific songs picked out for them to do at the audition. This allows me to hear them doing a song similar in style to what we typically do on a Sunday morning. I provide them everything they would need to practice: a chart, the original recording with the lead vocals, and a “minus one” version that has their part removed from the mix (which is what they’ll perform to during the actual audition). Hillsong has a lot of great resources for this—especially from the “God is Able” CD. Just search YouTube. The thing to keep in mind is that the song you pick—especially for vocalists—may not be the best fit for their voice. It may be too high or too low or their voice timbre just doesn’t fit the song. But I always tell people I’m not auditioning you on potentially leading this song; I just want to see what they’re capable of.
  • I do allow them to bring one additional song of their choosing. This allows me to hear them sing something they’re passionate about, or a style they favor. I can learn the versatility of the musician. For example, a female singer might bring a country song in addition to the song I ask them to sing. I don’t do a lot of worship songs in a country style, but it does happen (i.e. doing Rascall Flatt’s “Changed” for a baptism service), and it’s good to know I have people on the team that can do that style—and that they’re passionate about that style.
  • I schedule the audition for at least a week out. I really expect the person auditioning to come prepared, and I want to give them time to do that. Whether they actually do come prepared is their choice, but I give them the opportunity.
  • I intentionally don’t remind them about the audition. I don’t send an email or call them to remind them of the audition. I want to see how much responsibility I can trust them with and how much they really want to be a part of the team. I can’t have someone on the team where I’m constantly reminding them about rehearsal.
  • I intentionally don’t offer a copy of the words for singers. Again, I want to see how much prep work a person puts into their audition. If someone needs words, I have copies of the lyrics on hand. And it’s not necessarily a bad thing if someone needs the lyrics, but it tells me a lot about the person when they do come in with the words memorized.
  • I always have someone else in the room besides myself and the person auditioning. This is essential if you’re, for example, a guy and the person auditioning is a female. You should never be in any room alone with someone of the opposite sex (besides your spouse). But, even if you’re a guy and the person auditioning is a guy, it’s good to have a third party involved. They can offer good input as to how that person might fit on the team.
  • I spent 10-15 minutes talking with them before they do their song. Besides learning what they’re capable of musically, I like to get to know their heart, their history, their passions. I try to keep this time as casual and low-key as possible, but I’m essentially conducting an interview. I ask them questions like when (and how) did they become a Christian, what kind of music do they listen to, why are they a member of our church, what do they do for a vocation, have you played anywhere else, etc.
  • I set the PA and the lights just as they would be for a worship service. I want to recreate a Sunday morning service as authentically as possible. What’s it like to have the lights glaring in your face.
  • Besides looking for their musical abilities, I am looking for stage presence too. Stage presence is a tricky subject in the circles of leading worship (and is probably a good topic for another blog), but I think stage presence is important. “Performing” is not in itself a bad thing. It just means you’re being intentional. The question is what are you being intentional about—pointing the attention to yourself or pointing it upward to Christ. If you’re singing a song about being amazed about God’s grace, everything about your body language should be communicating that as well.
  • I’m prepared to say “no” to the person. Or at least say “not yet.” Most people have a good idea of what it takes to be on your team (as they see the talent level required for your team week after week on Sunday mornings) and they have a good idea of what they’re capable of. However, there’s a few people I’ve had to say “no” to for various reasons. And in those cases, I try to give them honest feedback on what wasn’t good and what they can do to improve. For example, I had a singer that auditioned that didn’t have good breath support, and whenever she wasn’t intentional to breathe in enough air, she sang flat. I shared this with her and pointed her in the direction of some good resources. I even brought her along to a one-day worship conference with the rest of my team where I knew there was a class on vocal performance. If someone has the heart and a great attitude, I try to create opportunities for them to gain the experience and talent to be on the team.

Organizing your wireless equipment

If you use wireless microphones and wireless in-ear monitors, keeping all that gear organized can be a challenge. I was looking for a way to keep everything together, make it easy for the band to know what gear is theirs and still be able to store everything easily and safely. Here’s the solution I came up with.

I built this tray out of wood. I used pieces of masonite to divide the tray into compartments, and then I lined both sides of the top of the tray with plastic—the same kind of plastic you’d use to protect the corners of the walls in your home. (The plastic comes in a L shape and is usually 6 feet long. I purchased one and cut two pieces the length of the sides of the tray).

Each compartment is assigned to a member of the band, and their name is written on the plastic part with a white china pencil. Then all the gear the band members need gets put into their respective compartments. In the case of the singers, they get two compartments. One holds their microphone and the other holds everything else (IEM pack, IEM headphones, wireless transmitter for a guitar, etc.). I also use this tray to organize wired microphones and wired IEM belt packs for those that aren’t wireless.

I had seen another church do something similar, but their solution was hung on the wall. Because we keep all of our gear in a safe, the tray made more sense for our situation.

For the weekday rehearsal, I get everything organized in the tray for the band and then leave the tray out on a table in our green room. When the band arrives for rehearsal, they grab their stuff and put their car keys into their compartment. This helps to remind people to put their gear back when rehearsal is over, so things like IEM headphones don’t walk off accidentally. After rehearsal, I put the tray back into the safe, and everything is ready to go for Sunday morning when I pull it back out again.

Here are some more pictures:

Wireless organization (b)

Understand the “why”

There’s a lot of amazing things happening within the church recently. Many people from around the country are doing some creative things to make the Sunday morning service time exciting and engaging. And the beautiful thing about the internet is that it’s really easy to see what God is doing in different churches across the nation and to get inspiration for our own churches. Many churches either stream or post on Vimeo their entire service (not just the teaching time), and it really opens the eye to what can be done to portray the Gospel of Christ.

There are even a few churches that have websites devoted just to sharing their resources (i.e. graphic files, music, videos, blogs) with other churches, and there’s conferences held across the nation throughout the year devoted to equipping the church to make their services excellent and powerful.

With so many great resources available to you, I encourage you to always been learning. We need to always be students of worship leading—studying what other people are doing as we all attempt the same goals.

But as much as you should be learning the “what,” you should be learning the “why.” As you’re watching another service and you notice how they design and program their lights, try and figure out why they made the decisions that they did—not just figure out what they did. Why did they choose to open with that song? Why does it work (or why doesn’t it not work)?

There’s a church up the road from me that I study a lot, and they are very generous about sharing their resources with other churches, devoting time to writing blogs and even host a great conference every year (www.seedsconference.com). I watch their services every week on Vimeo, read everything they write on their blogs and Twitter and many times prefer their arrangements over the original version of certain songs. If there’s ever a church that closely models my views on reaching the next generation without alienating the generations that paved the way, it’s this church.

My best guest is 80 percent of their views and thoughts I agree with and try to apply the same principles in my ministry. Another 10 percent of their ideas I agree with for their church size and situation, but I don’t feel it would work or be appropriate for what we do (10k members versus 500). And the final 10 percent of their views I don’t agree with.

But the point is that I’ve spent a lot of time dissecting what they do and why they do what they do. When you understand the “why,” you can make a better decision on how you might apply something to your own church and situation. It’s not enough to see something that we think is clever and want to steal the idea. You need to ask yourself why it’s clever and why it works in their setting. Then ask yourself how it applies to your setting.

Understanding the “why” is also a great exercise for churches that don’t seem to fit your mold. For example, if you serve in a church that typically does a blended service, find a church that is doing cutting-edge Gen-X style services and try and figure out the “why.” When you figure out the method to their madness (so to speak), you begin to understand more your own process and decisions better.

Do you pay to play?

When worship leaders get around other worship leaders, it seems one of the most common questions is whether or not you pay the members of your band. Here’s my answer and the thoughts behind it.

When someone is serving at their own church, no, I typically do not pay any members of the band. Just like any other area of the church, I believe it should be an honor and a privilege to serve. We don’t pay greeters, and we don’t pay Sunday School teachers. So it stands to reason that we shouldn’t automatically assume we should have to pay the members of the worship band. However, if I bring someone in from the outside (meaning they call another church their home), I will make sure that person is paid. Also, if I’m filling in at another church and I bring band members from our home church, I will try to get them paid as well. But even when I’m paying someone to play or sing, I only hire people that would probably do the gig for free. The money is just a thank you and an acknowledgement that you’re spending time away from your family and home church (and to cover any travel costs and wear & tear on their gear).

The reason I say that is because I’ve found that “hired guns” who play music for a living have a harder time buying into the vision of what you’re trying to accomplish. Professional musicians tend to play the way they want to. It’s a “take it or leave it” type of situation, and most times you just have to leave it. For example, I’ve filled in a few times at a church where the rhythm section (drums, bass and electric guitar) were paid, and I’ve never been able to get any of their drummers to listen to the mp3s and come to the rehearsal prepared. They just figure they’ll find the groove at rehearsal and go from there (which is tough to do when the opening song is Hillsong’s “Our God Is Love!”). At another church, only two of the musicians were paid, and those two musicians were the ones I had the most commitment problems with. If you pay a musician, it is what it is—another gig. If you treat the position as an honor and a privilege, you tend to attract people that are willing to buy into the vision of what you are trying to accomplish as a worship leader and as a church. I’m not saying that’s how it is across the board, but the odds are not in the paid musicians’ favor.

If there is no one within your church that has a specific skill set that you’re looking for, I don’t have any problems with hiring someone to fill that gap. For example, at my home church, we really don’t have anyone that is really proficient at electric guitar, so I bring in someone from the outside. But I also know he’d play in a heartbeat for peanuts, because he’s bought into the vision and is excited about the goals we’re trying to accomplish on a Sunday morning.

If you’re currently in a situation where you pay your players and you want to transition towards an all volunteer group, make sure you’re up front with them. Meet with them one on one and ask them if they depend on the money they make from your Sunday morning service as part of their monthly income, and figure out the best way to help them if it is. Also, give them plenty of notice. Telling your band three months in advance is not excessive in the least. Making this move might seem a little scary at first, but you might be surprised who comes out of the woodwork with a desire to play and serve their church that were otherwise intimidated by the “professional” players on your stage.