Leading Effective Rehearsals

Few would disagree that the quality of a worship team’s rehearsal directly impacts the Sunday ministry itself—and over the years, I’ve been part of some refreshing, powerful rehearsals and some pointless, ineffective rehearsals, as I’m sure you have. What’s the difference? What makes a good rehearsal good?

For this piece, I’m specifically writing to worship pastors and music team leaders… but this is something I hope would be of benefit to whole worship teams. So please, read on!

And I want to start by stating the obvious: Rehearse. Now, I had written a somewhat lengthy argument on why a worship team ought to rehearse at all, but I decided to scrap it. If a worship leader didn’t think she needed to have her team rehearse, she probably wouldn’t be reading this article on how to make a rehearsal better. So, I’m going to proceed assuming that you, my musically-inclined reader, know the importance of rehearsing and want to capitalize on it. Fair enough? Alright, then let’s fist bump, link arms, and march onward!

Try a midweek rehearsal.

First, I have found that a separate, midweek rehearsal serves our team better than a Sunday morning runthrough prior to service (although we do gather about a half hour before service to acclimate). We happen to rehearse Thursday evenings at 6:30, but Wednesday evenings work well for many churches, also. Gathering for a midweek rehearsal benefits us in a number of ways, and I’m positive that it would benefit your team, too.

  • Your team will be able to meaningfully, carefully, and thoroughly work through songs instead of feeling rushed.
  • Because songs are worked through more slowly, it builds confidence in your team for Sunday morning.
  • You can sound check comfortably without families walking in and out.
  • Your team will bond together. (I often approach our rehearsals as a sort of small group.)

Most worship leaders I know who don’t have a midweek rehearsal for their team actually wish that they did. It can be challenging to introduce a new standard when your volunteers are already accustomed to something else, but if you want to start a midweek rehearsal, maybe try doing it once a month first. 

Now—how do you make a rehearsal effective?

1. Be enthusiastic about rehearsal.

Don’t just prioritize it with your worship team—be excited about it! Remember, leader, you are setting the climate. You are reinforcing (or creating, or even re-creating) the culture. Don’t talk about rehearsing as a chore or a bore, and don’t make it feel that way when your team arrives. Bring a box of doughnuts and make it fun!

2. Rehearse the rehearsal.

Play through your weekend set prior to your team’s rehearsal. Have a good idea about how you want to start and end songs, transition throughout, when the backing vocals come in, when the drums will build, etc. This will make your actual rehearsal smoother and therefore probably shorter (your volunteers will thank you!).

Also, when you walk into a rehearsal confident and prepared with a game plan, it further establishes you as the leader you are. If you feel insecure or unqualified in the area of leadership, rehearsing your rehearsal will help a ton.

3. Honor people’s time.

Have you ever been to a rehearsal that started a half hour late, or an hour late, or worse? It can be aggravating and feels like a waste of time. Worship leaders, if you make a habit of this, you will unfortunately train your team to show up later and later, and everybody loses. Remember, you are working with volunteers who have paid a babysitter to watch their kids while they show up at practice, or who have had a full day with their actual (probably hectic) job.

Start on time. End on time. This is such a simple way to earn the trust of your team, and they will thank you over and over again for streamlined rehearsals, I promise.

Here’s what it looks like for me and our team at Oakland. Our rehearsal starts at 6:30pm and I aim to be done no later than 7:45—which means that before the team arrives, our amazing tech crew or I have already set up direct input boxes, microphones with fully charged batteries, in-ear monitors with fully charged batteries, XLR cables, and everything else necessary for plug and play. All a guitarist has to do, for example, is get on the stage and plug himself in, and we can actually begin rehearsing right at 6:30.

4. Be prepared.

This piece of advice overlaps with a couple of my previous points, but it’s worth it to bring it up again. Be well acquainted with the music your team will be running through, print up enough chord charts in the right keys, charge any batteries beforehand, and have the stage ready for plug and play. When you as the leader can walk into a rehearsal confident and prepared, it can change the entire vibe of rehearsal for your team.

5. Sound check is part of rehearsal.

If I’m honest, sound checking is my least favorite part of rehearsals because, to me, it can feel like lost time as we’re twiddling our thumbs waiting for the drummer to be happy with his in-ear mix. But I know full well, as do you, that a great sound can set up powerful moments with the Holy Spirit during a weekend service—so be sure to treat sound checks as a valuable part of your rehearsal.

6. Navigate new ideas and input from your team well.

Welcome ideas from your team! We are better together! And if someone has a better idea than you do, be humble enough to shift gears. Something I say often to our team is that “we need to be big enough to let it go,” meaning, we need to be secure enough to acknowledge when something’s not working—even if it’s our own idea—and secure enough to change plans.

I want to point out, though, that if you shut down ideas from your team over and over again, eventually they will stop offering input. You don’t want that. Say yes to other people’s ideas every time you can, and praise that person in front of the rest of the team. And when someone’s idea just isn’t working, I’ve found the best way to move forward is not to make a big deal of it. You don’t want to make that person self-conscious or apprehensive of suggesting ideas in the future. Just say, “Hm, I don’t think this is working. What else could we try?”

7. Keep it light.

Don’t take yourself too seriously! Laugh a lot and intentionally keep it fun. Many volunteers are a bit shy to sing or play, and an atmosphere that’s too “professional” probably won’t bring out the best in them. Listen, once when I was leading a youth worship team, I lined half the team up on one side of the room and the other half on the other side, and they had to approach each other like the gangs did in West Side Story, snaps and all! We were all bursting with laughter. It may surprise you, but those sort of things actually lead to amazing rehearsals.

8. Make rehearsals a safe space.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. Don’t just approach your role as a worship leader but as a worship pastor. Shepherd the team that God has trusted to you. What’s more important than everyone nailing their licks is that you take care of their souls. So be very kind and be a good listener. Look warmly at the person you are talking to. If someone is acting a little unlike himself, catch him privately, give him a big hug, and reassure him that you care very much for him. When your bassist misses his entrance, be careful how you react. One aggressive look could make your whole team walk on eggshells, but one gentle gesture could transform the whole team. Ephesians 4:2 says, “Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love.”

9. Don’t just run through music. Worship and pray together.

I tell our team all the time, “We’re not a band; we’re a ministry.” There’s nothing wrong with gathering to play music. I love to play music! But God has not anointed you, worship leader, to regurgitate the Top 40 Christian Hits in front of an audience—He has anointed you to make space for people to encounter Jesus. If this is so, then we mustn’t use rehearsals for running through music only. Open practices with prayer, and not a flippant “because we’re expected to” prayer, but encourage your team to intentionally seek the face of God for five minutes, or ten minutes, or fifteen minutes… Share what is on God’s mind for this coming Sunday. Make room for your team to tap into Jesus’ Presence, so that what happens this weekend is simply an overflow of rehearsal. As Brother Lawrence would say, practice the Presence of God then and there.

Yes, this point may well be the most important. Use rehearsals as a time to worship and pray together as a team. Prepare your hearts for what the Holy Spirit is up to. Prepare the way for the coming of the Lord!

Well, there you have it.

What is something you would add to this list? What have you learned makes a rehearsal effective? I would love to know. Tell me in the comments or send me a message.

And I pray God’s blessing over you, worship leader, and your team! May this Sunday birth something monumental in your church and your community. Amen!

Josh


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