Church Worship

Ministry Matters: Exponential Rehearsals

  • Sally Morgenthaler Contributing Writer
  • 2005 12 Jul
Ministry Matters: Exponential Rehearsals

Many of us who lead worship teams on a weekly basis wish we could be in two places at once. Oh, to be like Michael Keaton's character in the film Multiplicity. Imagine... three personal clones, deftly negotiating the Christmas and Easter seasons. What bliss! There's just one problem. Hollywood special effects labs aren't within most churches' budgets. Oh, well. We can still learn to set clear priorities and make the most of being only one person in a multi-faceted job.

Nowhere is our wish for multiplicity so acute than at rehearsals. When we're young in contemporary worship leadership, we typically solve that problem with The Mega-Practice Blitz: that three-hour, mid-week exercise in pandemonium when both vocalists and instrumentalists vie for attention. Unfortunately, our simplified rehearsal techniques merely contribute to the chaos. The favorite beginner's approach? Run through each song 10 times until everyone has it. (Translated, nobody "has it" at all. They're just thoroughly sick of it!)

Unfortunately, a "kill two birds with one stone" strategy does exactly that, only, it's volunteers we destroy, not birds. Face it. What unpaid vocalist wants to waste an hour or more on Wednesday night just to listen to the band haggle through keys, intros and intricate chord changes i.e., "Are we going with an A6 first inversion or an AM7 root position?" And let's not forget those tortured instrumentalists. Such a deal - to miss both "Home Improvement" and "Star Trek Voyager" while we pontificate for the 637th time on breath support basics (argh!) or pound out parts ad infinitum.

If you truly want to make the most of your one and only self, get rid of the "one rehearsal fits all" myth. Plan two shorter, well-planned, mid-week practice times: one for vocals, the other for the band. Then get everyone together for a 45 minute "combo" rehearsal before the actual worship service. If you do this right, the quality of what you offer up to God will rise exponentially. Interestingly enough, so will rehearsal attendance. <p>Exactly what constitutes a well-planned, mid-week rehearsal? I guarantee you, it's more than zipping through all the favorites and learning a hot new tune for the week. Don't get me wrong. Refreshing old material is crucial. Introducing new worship music is a must. But there's a lot more to good worship service preparation than focusing on repertoire. A well-planned vocal or instrumental rehearsal means that you also do the following:


(approx. time: 1 hour and 45 minutes)

  1. Worship (prayer and praise, 7-10 minutes)
    The team that worships together is a Romans 12:1 team. Its members learn the difference between performance and adoration, between preening for attention and giving oneself up as an offering, holy and acceptable to God. By the way, the most neophyte church attendee has no trouble distinguishing between the worshiping team and the non-worshiping team. Usually, they're able to do so in a heartbeat. So, don't take any shortcuts here.
  2. Reinforce the group identity (5-7 minutes
    If you hope to keep interest high and motivation strong, there needs to be a time each week for the group to restate and reinvest in its God-given mission: mentoring others into a dynamic, life-changing worship relationship with Jesus Christ. Here are some "group builders" you might consider. It's best if you rotate these through the month.
    • A well-prepared teaching or devotion on worship. Suggestion: each month, invite a different group member to teach. Emphasize both content and feeling, a good mix of Scripture and other worship resources with the presenter's personal passion for worshiping God.
    • Specific prayers for individuals (members or visitors) who are coming to worship each week.
    • Planning a special evening service that is targeted to a specific age or ethnic group.
    • Open discussion Suggestion: share exciting things God is doing through
    • Informal testimonies from visitors or members who have been touched in some way by your worship services.
    • Testimonies by missionaries about what God is doing through worship around the world.
  3. Evaluate the last worship service (10-12 minutes)
    Always unpack the last service (i.e. what worked well, what didn't, what could be changed). First, offer your own observations as a leader. Think this through carefully and jot your points down ahead of the rehearsal. If you have made a video of the service, zero in on just a few specific sections, cueing the tape up in advance. Finally, open the evaluation up for a five minute, constructive discussion. You might find the following discussion ground rules helpful:
    • Each person is expected to honestly evaluate himself or herself before commenting on others.
    • No "put downs" or hidden agendas; comments should be gracious and encouraging (Phil.4:8).
    • Leader has the responsibility to steer potentially volatile or sensitive discussions into
    • Leader wraps up the discussion with specific action items - a very short "to do" list, including who is expected to carry them out.
  4. Develop vocal technique
    Unless you're going for one incredibly "alternative" worship sound, your worship team vocalists need as much specific teaching about breath support and sound production as choir members. They need brief but thorough warm-ups to get their sound focused and "moving on the breath." (For a superb, how-to resource, see The Vocal Workout Series by Chris and Carole Beatty, StarSong Publishing).

    A well-balanced vocal workout is a must. Yet, here are two principles that are even more important if your goal is vocal excellence.

    • The best technique work for vocalists is to pay close attention to pitch, blend and vocal production problems during the course of rehearsing weekly material. In other words, you as the leader need to turn each song into a vocal-learning situation.
    • Bad singing is bad singing. It's never okay. If you've ever heard yourself say, "Let's get the notes down first, then we'll go back and clean it up," consider this: the human brain learns vocal production mistakes as quickly as it learns to sing the wrong rhythm or notes. Do it right the first time. When bad singing becomes a habit, you have to spend two to three times as much effort correcting it.

<p>Depending on your team's needs and personalities, you may want to shift the order of these activities around a bit. Also, you'll notice that "Reviewing" and "Building a Repertoire" are not listed. Those are points five and six to be covered in another article.

Sometimes the amount worship leaders and music directors need to accomplish each week is downright overwhelming. Fortunately, a good, solid strategy of preparation will not only help reduce your stress, it will boost your confidence level and give you more joy in your ministry. There may only be one of you, but then again, God has a way of making much out of little when it is given to Him. Seems like I remember something, somewhere, about a few measly fish, a few bread crusts....

Copyright 1998. Worship Leader Magazine. Used with permission.

After many years in worship ministry, Sally Morgenthaler, author of Worship Evangelism: Inviting Unbelievers Into the Presence of God (Zondervan 1996) and founder of, travels the world as a nationally-known speaker, teacher and worship consultant, helping congregations, students, seminaries and worship pastors and leader develop their own postmodern worship models. Visit her web site at