Tighten the Band- Making the Most of Worship Team Rehearsals
One of the things that I count as a tremendous honor in worship and music ministry is having the opportunity to travel and work with many different worship teams across the nation. As I work with musicians at various levels of experience the one thing I see is quite a variation on how different music ministry teams carry out their regular worship band rehearsals. In my 18+ years in worship and music ministry I have learned some things that I know will be helpful to you as you endeavor to create a God honoring worship service. So, let’s start at the beginning.
I like to have a regular and consistent format to all rehearsals that I lead. That way there are no surprises beyond our control. Team members know the expectations and we make the most of our time together. When they walk in the back door, they know what to expect. This builds confidence in your team. Now, before we go any farther here, you need to know that before the actual rehearsal begins, several things have already taken place. Each team member has come in, set up and tuned up their gear (as necessary) and has retrieved their music for the week from a table that I keep on the platform. On this table there are copies of the song list for the week, along with any NEW music that we will be learning. That’s all.
Each team member is responsible for keeping their own personal music file, so once we learn a new song, they are expected to keep it in their music file and use that same piece of music each time we play that song. (New team members are given a complete set of music when they come on the team.) This alone saves me a ton of time in having to remember and explain “the way we did the song last time”.
We begin with a quick sound check of the monitors so that we are ready to go. I call the rehearsal to begin by playing one of our regular and familiar upbeat songs. This allows us all to blow off the dust from last week and warm up as well as allowing the tech team to do any last minute tweaking that the system needs. It also helps to put behind the cares of the day and focus us on the task at hand. Once we do this I have a simple outline that I use.
• Prayer/Check In
• Worship Time
• Review of last weeks service
• Work on New Music
• Overview the Entire Service
Let’s look at each of these components to give you an idea of what we are doing and how we accomplish our rehearsals.
I like to start all rehearsals with prayer and then a time to quickly touch base with worship team members. If someone in the group is struggling with something I want to know at the BEGINNING of rehearsal for a couple of reasons. First, if I see someone having a hard time, (either battling with emotion, being distracted, or any number of things) during a rehearsal it’s hard for me to determine if it’s personal or related to the rehearsal. This frees me up to not have to concern myself with ministry issues while we’re working on the technical aspects of the service.
Secondly, it allows me, and the team, to minister to any individual who might be having a hard week. Now, at this time you might ask; “Isn’t this about rehearsal, the technical aspects of the service?” Well, the answer to that is yes, but I am constantly reminded of a quote that a friend of mine uses. He says. “We must remember that Jesus died for people, He didn’t die for music.” Now, although we can argue semantics and say that music was redeemed too, his point is simple. We don’t have a ministry if we don’t have people. Everyone knows that we are together to rehearse so we can’t take a lot of time ministering. Many times we will spend extra time in prayer together and then at the end of rehearsal a group will get together and be able to spend time with an individual. THE MINISTRY IS ABOUT PEOPLE.
Following our prayer and check in time, we go into a short time of worship together. This really helps us focus and get into the right place before the Lord. The worship team also knows that many times I will use this to introduce new music.
Remember, they have already pulled their charts and have everything they need in front of them. At this point we are not working on the music, just worshipping. If your team ministers on a weekly basis, members rarely get to sit in the congregation and worship. This is their time.
Review of Last Weeks Service
We take a minute after we worship to run though the previous week’s service. I make some brief comments and then ask the team for comments and/or questions. I don’t dwell on things here unless we had a major problem that needs to be fixed. The great thing about this time is that it allows me to teach a little bit on following the voice of the Holy Spirit, especially on those weeks where we made a change DURING the worship set.
I encourage the team to ask a lot of “why questions”. I want them to know what I’m thinking. This goes a long way toward building a true TEAM environment. I give lots of encouragement and stay really positive. I have learned that if you stay on the positive end of things, many of the problems that we have encountered will take care of themselves.
Work on New Music
This is a key. I start here so that we have enough time to learn the song and to arrange each person’s part as needed. In MOST cases the team has gotten a recording of the song prior to the rehearsal. BUT… not always.
Depending on the level of difficulty, sometimes I’ve done the arranging in advance and other times we work it out in the rehearsal itself. Working on arrangements together gives everyone a part in the creative process. Now, there are some pitfalls to this, but I’ve found that the benefits far outweigh the few times that I have to nix someone’s idea or take the arrangement reigns. We process these times with a couple of simple guidelines, the first is that “God put the music in you and that’s how He wants to hear it out of you.” We don’t always have to sound like the CD. The second is that everyone understands that the worship leader has the last say on the arrangement, so there are times we banter things around a bit, but again… It’s a healthy process. In either case we all learn the song the same way, the first time.
Overview the Entire Service
This part includes working through songs that we already know, charting any special transitions between songs and letting team know where we are headed. I start this time by talking through the service, sharing any thoughts from our Senior Pastor and talking about what we believe the Lord wants to accomplish this Sunday. This naturally brings us to talk through any song transitions, modulations and/or key changes that we might encounter. I have the band make notes here. “Post-It’s” are the order of the day.
Following that we start at the top and run through the service as we would on Sunday. Once we get rolling I DO NOT want to have to stop and re-explain everything that we are doing. Everyone knows that we will have to do the transitions over a few times, but we all know where we are going BEFORE we get there. This is a tremendous time saver.
Before we dismiss I always ask if anyone has any questions or needs to run through any part again. Most times we have done a pretty good job during the rehearsal, other times we need a few more minutes to work though a part. If it’s a vocal or band issue only, we close in prayer and allow the group (vocalists or band members) to be dismissed. I don’t hold the whole team there for additional work unless it’s necessary.
I keep the prayer short and really positive, addressing any personal issues that we may have talked through in our check in time. On dismissal, it’s my goal to get everyone out on time. Using this outline has allowed me to get rehearsal dismissed on time or even early about 95% of the time. If I am going to ask people to show up and be set up on time, I need to respect their time at the end of rehearsal.
In closing, let me offer a few tips to maximize your rehearsal time.
Have regular rehearsal times that everyone is aware of. The participants in the coming week’s service should be required to be there. This should be obvious, but in some cases we err on the side of grace too often. Developing an excellent expression to the Lord requires sacrifice on everyone’s part.
Make sure that YOU are ready for rehearsal. By this I mean that you have already gone over all of the transitions, songs, etc and have put in the time so that you know where you are going. The better you are prepared for what is planned, the more ready you will be for what is unplanned.
In some cases I will have separate band and vocal rehearsals. Sending the vocal team to another rehearsal room allows us to really focus on parts for both band members and for the vocalists. Then after working through these parts we bring everyone back together for the final run through.
Have team members bring tape recorders to rehearsal. I don’t “require” this, but you would be surprised at how the level of musicianship improves when people listen to themselves during the week.
Require your team to sing out – if they make a mistake I want to hear it. This is not the natural instinct of your team. However, if you can train them to make their mistakes loud ones, it’s easier to get those things fixed. These are worked through as a team.
In everything we do, let’s remember that we are rehearsing to help the people of our congregation connect with the Lord. Because of our calling as worship team members, we naturally connect with the Lord through music. Not everyone who attends our weekend services find it as easy to sing to God with all of their heart, soul, mind and strength. The better prepared we are for our part, the easier it is for your congregation to make that connection. This is our sacrifice of praise.