Rehearsals are complicated things. No two are ever the same, you can never quite know what to expect, you’re dealing with real people with real personalities, you’re at the mercy of equipment and the operator(s) of that equipment, you’re working with volunteers who (perhaps like you) have other full-time jobs and responsibilities, and you’re trying to accomplish several different goals.
For me, those goals include: chemistry building, musical preparation, spiritual calibration, arrangement tightening, sound checking, monitor mixing, prayer, worship, creativity cultivation, transition smoothening, potential train-wreck spotting, and many more.
Some rehearsals go really well. Some don’t. This will always be the case. But if you’re not intentional, careful, prepared, relaxed and confident, you run the risk of having worship team rehearsals that are ineffective, counter-productive, and draining. They’re incredibly important to your worship team’s effectiveness in serving their congregation.
Here are some practical suggestions for fruitful rehearsals:
Get the songs to your team at least 48 hours ahead of time
Rehearsals are for rehearsals. Practice belongs at home. Get your team the song list, music, and recordings at least two days before rehearsal, or sooner if possible. The more time people have to listen and play through songs at home, the more fruitful your rehearsal will be. (For legal ways to get recordings of music to your worship team, see this post on Worship Matters.)
Pray before and after
J.S. Bach would write “J.J.” (Jesu Juva: “Jesus help!”) on top of each of his works. At the end he would write “S.D.G.” (Soli Deo Gloria: “To God be the glory”). This is a good model for what to pray before and after our rehearsals too.
Keep it moving
No one likes sitting in traffic. People would rather take a longer route if it means they’ll at least be moving. The same principle applies to rehearsals. No one likes a rehearsal that moves slowly or is stop-and-go. Keep it moving and your team will rise and call you blessed.
Know where you want to go
Staying with the car analogy for a moment: Have you ever followed someone in a car who keeps making u-turns and getting a bit lost? You’re willing to grant them a few u-turns, but if it keeps happening, you’d rather not follow them anymore and just follow your own directions. Same for your team.
Have the music ready
Few things will annoy your worship team and limit your rehearsals’ fruitfulness more than not having the music ready when rehearsal starts. If your team brings their music from home, then this burden lies more on them. But if you provide chord chart packets for your team, make sure they’re ready and in order for everyone. And pay attention to the details: are the words right, are the chords right, and are the chords in the right place? This will save you and your team a lot of time at rehearsal.
Make sure everyone can hear each other
If you rehearse in a living room, garage, or some other practice room, spend some time and/or money to ensure things aren’t just going to be loud and messy. Make sure everyone can hear themselves and each other. If you’re practicing in your actual worship space, always have a sound engineer present. If you can’t hear each other, you might as well not rehearse.
Foster a light-hearted atmosphere
People love to laugh. Make little jokes, poke fun at yourself, tease people, and leave space for people to be themselves. While you want to keep things moving, if you allow pressure and anxiety to build, you’ll be working against yourself.
Don’t tolerate persistent tardiness or bad attitudes
Two or three times a year, I send a gentle reminder to the worship team to be on time to rehearsals. This is usually because two or three times a year I notice the worship team is coming late. If, after these reminders, someone continues to come late, you need to talk to them personally. If, after this, nothing improves, you need to give them a break from the worship team and kindly ask them to tell you when they have some more space in their life to honor the time commitment to the worship team. If you choose to keep kicking this can down the road, you choose to limit your team’s effectiveness and growth.
A year ago I wrote a post called “Loosing Your Cool Isn’t Cool”, and I compared the worship leader’s role to that of a flight attendant. If your flight attendant looks worried, then you should look worried. If they look relaxed, then you won’t mind the bursts of turbulence. Your team is watching you. Stay cool and relaxed even when there is turbulence.
Leave them wanting more
Rehearse only what you need to. New songs, new arrangements, transitions, dynamics, etc. Whatever you and your team feel unsure about. But when you rehearse what you are all comfortable with (i.e. playing through entire songs instead of just a chorus), or rehearse too long (i.e. past 9:30pm) you’re spending energy you’d be better off saving for later. I’ve recently begun giving my team a break after an hour or so. Taking ten minutes to use the restroom, check voicemails, get some water or something small to eat, or just take our instruments off, has been a big positive for our rehearsals.
Never stop evaluating your rehearsals and how you lead them. Look at how other worship teams rehearse and take their good ideas. Ask for input from your team. Whatever you do, don’t make the mistake of thinking rehearsal is just a time to get together and play through some songs. It’s not. That’s what a campfire is for. Rehearsals are for the congregation. So make them as efficient and effective as possible, for the sake of your congregation, the health of your team, and all for the glory of God.