I love musical worship. I was 13 years old when I first started leading worship at the church I grew up in. And I can honestly say that it’s the part of any church gathering I’m most passionate about.
As you know, musical worship is a part of nearly every church service. I imagine it’s a central part of yours. Because of its important role in the life of our church, it’s important for us to always consider how we can take strides forward in this area to better edify, bless, and support our congregations.
After serving in quite a few different small churches throughout the years, I can understand the unique difficulties facing a worship leader in a small church. It takes time. It takes volunteers. It takes gifting. And sometimes, if we’re honest, those things can be hard to consistently come by in a small church.
So, let’s jump right in. Here are 7 important reminders for worship teams in small or mid-size churches:
1) Don’t settle for poor or distracting talent.
As was highlighted in a previous article on worship, if your worship team does not value excellence, you’ll lack the most important group of people for this team: musicians. Having a team that musicians want to be part of is top priority for a quality worship team, but is also crucial to engage people who attend your church and have musical talent.
The issue goes deeper than music. Especially in small churches, it is common to give volunteers serving opportunities based only on their faithfulness. However, we must strive to unite faithfulness and ability when it comes to volunteers.
So let’s speak honestly: If someone participating on your worship team would be a distraction or would greatly decrease the quality of music, they shouldn’t be on the team. Moving in this direction will free up opportunities for the gifted to come forward and for the congregation to stay focused during this important time of the weekly gathering.
“…and what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men, who will be able to teach others also.” – 2 Timothy 2:2
2) Don’t throw the service together last-minute.
This is a little embarrassing to admit publicly, but I can remember countless times throughout the years when we wouldn’t even pick the songs for our service until we showed up on Sunday morning. Whoever was leading would sift through our music files and we’d all vote on what we wanted to play that morning.
To be sure, that’s not a recommendation. But it likely sounds more relatable than not for a lot of us.
Intentional planning is stewardship. It’s stewarding the time your congregation is giving. It’s stewarding the discipleship of the people God has provided. And it’s stewarding the talents your team possesses.
Pastor, you have to lead this charge. And you need to set your team up to succeed. This likely means you need to have your sermon prepared earlier (*gasp*) — our recommendation is to be prepped 1-2 weeks out, which allows the rest of your team to prepare accordingly.
Let’s not throw services together; let’s plan them.
3) Don’t try to do more than your team can handle.
Every church is different. Sometimes small churches have an incredible pool of musicians to build up a strong team. And sometimes they don’t. And that’s okay!
But here’s what it comes down to: Excellence is doing the best with what you have. It is better to do something really well with what you have than try to do something BIG without the capacity.
Above all else, don’t get stuck in the comparison trap. In your church, you might not be able to make it sound just like the album recording. Maybe your team typically consists of an acoustic guitar and a couple vocalists. But can I make you a promise? God blesses and uses it all. We all have the same Spirit, who is alive and working in your congregation.
So I’m not saying you shouldn’t push your team musically. You should! But we need to be aware of the capacity our team possesses to determine what they can handle.
4) Empower those you see leadership capacity in. (And be looking for it!)
I’ll never forget one of my favorite stories from a new church plant I was a part of. There was a talented woman who had joined the worship team as a vocalist and, quite frankly, had no interest in “leading” a song. She wanted to play a support role on the team, and she was great at it! But I really felt like she had more capacity as a leader.
In my planning for one Sunday, I sent her a text: “Hey, I’m putting together the set for Sunday and I’d love for you to help me lead the set. Is there a song that you’d feel comfortable leading?” Though the idea of this scared her, she responded with a song and she did an amazing job leading it the following Sunday. Today, she is on the leadership team at that same church and is a consistent worship leader on their rotation.
Leaders, our job is to identify and empower leaders, equipping the saints for ministry. Even if they’re young. Always be on the lookout for those whom you see leadership capacity in. Call it out of them, empower them to use their giftings, and encourage them throughout the process.
5) Unite God’s presence and His truth.
“But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” – John 4:23-24
Why do we worship? Well, the answer should be two-fold (if we want to put it simply). 1) We worship to proclaim and remind ourselves of truths about our God: what He’s done, who He is, what He’s promised, and the list goes on. 2) We also worship to lead our congregation into a sensitivity of the presence of God, providing space as the Holy Spirit encourages, convicts, and guides them.
Regardless of our denomination, theology, or our style of worship, both of these should always be true. Our services on Sunday should powerfully proclaim truth about our God and, at the same time, be filled undeniably with the presence of Whom we worship. But here’s what we see: A lot of “charismatic” churches emphasize presence, while a lot of “non-charismatic” churches emphasize truth.
These two do not need to be at odds. Unite them and lead your people faithfully into God’s truth and His presence.
6) Finish rehearsing before people show up.
Ok, this might seem like an odd thing to put on a list like this. But hear me out. As we work with small and mid-size churches across the country, there are so many times where the worship team rehearses right up until service starts. Heck, there have even been times where we weren’t sure if the service had started or if they were still practicing!
Here’s why it matters: When you don’t have a solid buffer time before the service, there is often a level of awkwardness for people (especially new people!) to come in and sit through a portion of the rehearsal. Not only that, but a lack of space before the service doesn’t give your team the room to breathe and prepare their hearts to lead others in worship.
So if this is something that relates to your team, implement a 30-minute buffer rule. For example, if your service starts at 9, rehearsal has to be done by 8:30. If you can’t hit this target, start your practice 30 minutes earlier. This really does matter as you seek to create a welcoming environment and support your team.
7) Be creative.
Finally, don’t let routine or a small team keep you from utilizing the creativity that God has blessed your team with. Take the time for creativity in service planning. Utilize volunteers who are gifted in this way.
Creativity makes truth compelling. Creativity represents the nature of God. And creativity honors the gifts God has placed within the artist.
So here’s my challenge: Think critically and creatively about how your church approaches worship. Your congregation will be blessed immensely by it.
“For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen.” – Romans 11:36