As the worship leader in a local church, you have to be prepared week after week to lead your congregation into God's presence through the incredible avenue we have in praise and worship! In most cases though, you are not only responsible for getting yourself prepared, but you have a team to get ready... a team of volunteers... with a wide array of experience, knowledge and ability. This can often be an area of serious challenge, and since we are all always looking for suggestions on making this an effective weekly event, I've put together a 10 Commandments for you to abide by in your worship rehearsals that I believe will be very helpful to you.
Some things will seem like review or common sense to some readers... but everything is always good to be reminded of... and to know that you are not the only one that struggles in certain areas! I know this is long, but buckle in and let's do this...
Thou shalt be respectful of your volunteers' time.
- Start rehearsal on time! You need to keep rehearsal as short as possible, and starting on time is a big part of accomplishing that. Even if someone isn't there yet, begin rehearsal. The latecomer will see the importance more if they realize they missed something as they stroll in late.
- Get done what you need to, then get your people heading home. Don't waste time on unnecessary items. Keep things moving!
- If a song from your set is so familiar that the team could play it in their sleep, do not waste time rehearsing it. Simply ask if anyone feels that they need to refresh on any part of the song. If not, move on.
- If you have a lot of vocal work to do, consider a separate vocal rehearsal so you're not wasting the time of the band members. Same goes if you need to spend a lot of time working out band elements.
Thou shalt become a team.
- The worship part of your church services is vitally important, so the TEAM needs to be ready. This goes beyond knowing the notes and lyrics. Work to establish true unity and community within your team. Doing this will allow you to be more effective as you TOGETHER lead your congregation in praise and worship!
- Make sure all of the time you spend together is not work. It should not be all work and no play. Without letting time get away from you, be sure your rehearsal has a comfortable atmosphere and that you allow people to actually enjoy being there. Having fun is allowed... and encouraged. Also, try to occasionally cancel a rehearsal and replace it with a fellowship night... where everyone can get together (at someone's home preferably) to eat and just spend time getting to know each other better.
- Be Accountable. Team members should respect their leader enough to be accountable when they have to miss a rehearsal. The leader should be accountable in the rehearsal to the rest of the team and let them know why missing people are not there. This will take care of assumptions that people will no doubt make for other members' absences.
- Pray for each other. Spend a few minutes at the beginning or end of your rehearsal to take prayer requests from the team. The leader should also note any prayer items for upcoming services or events. Pray together for these needs and encourage your team to remember each other's prayer requests throughout the week in their own prayer times.
Thou shalt be prepared... both the leader and team members.
- As the leader, it is your job to equip your team so they can come to rehearsal prepared. If you do not, then you have no one to blame but yourself when the team is not ready for the rehearsal. You need to provide a set list for the upcoming service(s) at least 2-3 days prior to rehearsal if possible... and also note any additional plans for rehearsing or learning other songs not on the set list.
- The leader should provide adequate materials for learning each song so team members can spend time on it prior to rehearsal. This should include audio (MP3, CD or YouTube) and a correct chord chart (in the correct key). Do NOT send your team members to YouTube searching for a song themselves. If providing an online resource, give exact links that provide audio in the arrangement and key that you will be using. Otherwise, they will likely listen and prepare for the wrong arrangement or maybe the wrong song entirely! Using online services such as Planning Center Online, Box.com or DropBox.com are very helpful in getting team members access to MP3s and charts, from their computers or mobile devices.
- Team members should spend an adequate amount of time preparing for each song at home. This should be more than just listening to the song in the car as they drive to rehearsal! Get familiar with any specific parts that you will need to cover on your instrument or your vocal range... and KNOW the song. The group rehearsal time shouldn't have to consist of playing the song for everyone and introducing it. MAKE NOTES!
Thou shalt not provide offensive chord charts.
- Yes, you need to prepare the team members by providing chord charts ahead of time... but providing poor quality charts is almost as bad as not providing any at all. The charts provided should be accurate based on the arrangement that you want to use. They should also be in the same key that you are doing the song. In most cases, your team members do not have enough music theory knowledge to transpose a chart on their own or make corrections. Even if they do, they shouldn't be expected to do the work that you should have already done for them.
- The majority of chord charts found online are incomplete and incorrect. Do not be cheap and just grab whatever you can find. Go to a quality source like WorshipReady.com to get charts that you can count on being accurate for your usage.
- When you get a chart, play through it yourself to verify it is correct BEFORE you give it to your team. You do not want to learn in the middle of rehearsal that you set your team up to fail by providing bad charts.
Thou shalt have a plan.
- Know what you need to accomplish in the rehearsal. Have a plan of each song you intend to run and what all needs to be addressed, taught, etc. Be sure to give your team a few days notice of what songs they need to have ready for rehearsal.
- Know the vocal parts that you will need to teach the vocal team. You should not be hashing out these parts on the fly in rehearsal.
- Know your transitions. How will you be transitioning from song to song? How will each song start and finish? How will you setup key changes? Know the answers to these questions before rehearsal so you can adequately share this info with the rest of the team.
- Think ahead. Your rehearsal is not just for this Sunday, but for Sundays over the next few weeks, or maybe even months. Know what songs you need to be rehearsing now so you're not having to throw new material in front of your team at the last minute.
Thou shalt start with what you know.
- Spend the first part of rehearsal going through the songs that are already more familiar. This is best so you can make any needed sound adjustments and also get everyone in sync with each other, focused and ready to learn the newer material.
- Remember, you do NOT have to rehearse the songs in the order that you are doing them in your set list. Rehearse in the order that makes the most sense for making the rehearsal time as effective as possible.
Thou shalt break it down.
- When learning a new song, break it down into pieces: Intro, Verse, Chorus, Bridge, Instrumental, Ending, etc. Work out each section with the team and make sure everyone knows when and what they are expected to play/sing (or NOT play/sing). I recommend learning the Chorus first so everyone gets the heart of the song in their head, then build it out from there to the Verse and Bridge. Once the main parts of the song are established and learned, the intro and ending will come easily, as it is usually an instrumental version of one of the other sections of the song.
- Once each section is worked out, begin to put it together. Work through transitions of the song, such as how you will transition from the chorus into the bridge. Then run the whole song, top to bottom. This will reveal any weak spots that you can then return to and spend more time.
- If a new song is more complex, spend the time on each section enough that everyone will know exactly what they need to do in the song and can then work on it more effectively on their own. Then in the following week's rehearsal, come back to complete the song after everyone has ironed out any rough spots on their own.
Thou shalt be an example of submission.
- Surely you do not want your team members to grumble about your leadership in regards to your song selections, arrangements, or any other decisions you make. Keep this in mind and make sure that you remain submissive to your lead pastor, whether you agree with everything or not. When your lead pastor requests that you do a specific song or gives any direction that you do not like or agree with, you do NOT voice your opinion or even hint at it to your team members. You simply do as you were directed and get the job done. If you have concerns, work them out with your pastor, but your team should never see anything but respect for your pastor coming from you. Model it for your team.
Thou shalt be in charge.
- Every team has a leader, but each person on the team brings something to the table. Undoubtedly, team members will occasionally offer suggestions or ideas to implement to a song or arrangement. You should welcome and encourage team member input, but also do not forget that you are the leader. Not every idea from the team has to be used. If you do not like the idea (even if everyone else seems to), be firm enough to make a decision. Thank them for their input, smile, and nicely let them know what you are choosing to do instead of their idea. You can provide a reason, but you are not entitled to do so.
- Team members will no doubt struggle with chatting amongst themselves or playing their instruments to fill in times where they are not part of the rehearsal. If they are being distracting, be firm enough to kindly ask them to stop and to pay attention. If attention is lacking, often times continuing on and starting to play/sing the next song will draw their attention back.
Thou shalt cultivate flexibility and creativity.
- Remind your team members that the song, when used in your worship service, does not have to sound exactly like the CD! Encourage them to draw on their creativity. For example, encourage the guitar player to play their own solo in the instrumental section... not duplicate the solo played on the CD.
- Establish a general arrangement for the songs you will be doing, but get your team comfortable with remaining flexible and able to follow your lead with any "on the fly" changes. As the leader, you should be sensitive to the leading of the Holy Spirit, so if you are feeling led to sing a song that was not planned or to deviate from the previously planned arrangement of a song... DO IT! If you know ahead of time that you may do variation of some sort, give the team a warning so they can be as prepared as possible. However, you need to continually remind them to be watching and ready for any changes that may come. Encourage them to worship as they play/sing, but to not lose track of paying attention to where you are going as you lead.