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How to Grow a Sustainable Worship Team

Who among worship leaders is not on the lookout for new players to add to their team? The average size church in America is just south of 100 people, so it comes as no surprise that bands don’t just form all on their own. But there’s a way to build a sustainable worship team, rather than just getting Sunday covered. In a previous article I wrote about Sunday vs the Big Picture, and this principle is critical when applied to growing a worship team. Ultimately, what I want is less about getting positions covered, and more about growing a sustainable team that wants to be there.

Rather than seek people out specifically to play instruments, I spent some time thinking over the many ministries in which I’ve played as a volunteer. I came up with a short list of the ones that made me want to continue playing there. They:

  • Didn’t seem desperate
  • Respected my (and one another’s) time
  • Were organized
  • Didn’t micromanage every note that we played
  • Called me out when I let them down
  • Owned their own mistakes and learned from them
  • Demonstrated gratitude toward their volunteers
  • Cared about me as a person

Not everyone’s list will be the same, but these things were on mine. So with the goal of creating a sustainable worship team, I set out to create an atmosphere that I would want to be a volunteer for. I’ve prioritized having a good A/V setup, charts ready, and a culture of open discussion. I’ve made it a point to spend more time meeting with and encouraging the people already on the team rather than hunting up new players. I’ve also had regular events in my home where team and spouses come over for a group dinner, as well as other tangible signs of thanks.

It really does work over time

Right now, I’m four years in and have a pretty stable team and all positions covered. I’m well aware that it could change; I’ve got three drummers, but one recently took a job with a lot of travel and another is joining the Navy, so there’s that. But I’ve made a commitment that our worship will be led by people who attend and love our church, and that I will invest in their development as musicians and leaders. When we were first starting up, that meant a lot of acoustic services. But they were acoustic services led by capable musicians from our church body. As the church has grown, the culture has taken root.

It’s not about your budget

It’s important to note that most of this has happened without any big budget. It’s mostly getting coffee with someone, buying a fresh set of strings for a player that has put in a lot of Sundays, and sending a note to let them know that I am praying for them and share a verse or word of encouragement.

When I’ve had the budget for it, I’ve tried to put it to permanent things that will help everyone, and that cuts down on little frustrations. It’s surprising how far something like a floor tuner on every DI, or a good quality mic stand that isn’t beaten up will go when providing a little extra morale each week. This year, I know that my drummers hate our splash cymbal, and really wish we had an 18” crash. Guess what I’m on the lookout for?

It’s much easier to respect their time and contribution than it is to try to hire or persuade people to cover for a short time.

Instead of trying to make a big change for this week, make a small change for all the weeks to come. You’ll get more bang for your buck, and for your time.

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