Worship Team Mechanics: Auditioning

I want to spend a few posts this week on issues that worship leaders face with growing, managing, and maintaining their worship teams. Whether you’re in a small church with only a handful of musicians or a large church with a bunch of them, it’s important that you have a clear and thought-through process for how to steward the gifts and people that God brings before you.

I am not the expert of any of this. I am still learning, still making mistakes, and still trying different approaches. But I hope that some of what I say will be helpful. Today we’ll look at how to audition people well.

Why audition?
God gives different people different gifts. No two people are the same. Every church is made up of different people with different gifts for different purposes. If you’re a worship leader in a church, one of your roles is to steward these gifts, and help people with musical gifts discern how and if they are called to serve the congregation.

Set dates
I used to say that if people were interested in exploring serving on the worship team, they should email me. I’d then set up a time to meet with them. The problem with this was that I might have 5 or 6 different people all wanting to meet on different days and at different times. It was unmanageable. Now I’ll pick one Saturday afternoon every 3 or 4 months and announce that auditions will be held on those dates. I’ll schedule auditions a half hour apart, assuming each one will take about 20 minutes. This way I’m only giving up 2 or 3 hours.

By the way, I would strongly encourage you to carefully word your audition invitations. I wrote a post on this a while ago and you can read it here.

Email questions
Once someone gets in touch with you and expresses an interest, the very first thing I would encourage you to do would be to (1) thank them, and (2) ask them a few important questions about themselves. This is not an exhaustive list, but generally I find these 4 questions helpful:
– (1) Tell me your story of how you came to trust in Jesus Christ.
– (2) Tell me your story as a musician.
– (3) In what ways have you served in worship leadership in the past (if at all)?
– (4) Why do you feel called to this particular ministry.

Asking these questions over email is a good idea. This way you have it in writing. People start to blend in after a while, and this way you can remember who said what. Further, it keeps your auditions brief, since you don’t need to spend a ton of time with each person asking them detailed questions about themselves. They also have time to think it through.

You’ll learn a lot from these questions, particularly if you see any red flags (I wrote a post on red flags to watch out for and you can read it here). Be on the look out for people who can’t really articulate a faith in Jesus Christ (they’ll need some discipling before joining the team), or people who just want to play music because it’s fun (they’ll need to catch a passion for worshipping God and leading others in engaging with him).

Schedule auditions
I’ve found it helpful to then schedule people about 30 minutes apart. This gives me time to (a) meet them, (b) chat with them to make them comfortable, (c) ask them a few questions to get to know them, (d) audition them, and (e) get a few minutes’ break before the next person.

Explain to the people over email that you’ll be singing or playing through a few familiar worship songs together. If they need the music in advance, get it to them. If not, pick really familiar songs.

Interview the person
You’ve already asked them a lot of questions over email. Their answers might have given you some things to ask them about. I’d encourage you to ask them what brought them to your church, and to make sure they’re a committed member of the congregation. If they’re not, you need to communicate why that’s important, if it’s not already a requirement.

If it’s a singer, ask them if they normally sing melody or harmony. Can they make up harmonies on the spot? Can they learn by ear? Do they always start singing on the first word of the song? Do they wait until the chorus? What’s going through their minds?

If it’s an instrumentalist, ask them what they’re thinking. Is the bass player listening for the kick drum? Is the drummer listening to the bass player? Is the pianist stuck playing in the middle?

Whether it’s a singer or instrumentalist, explain to them that while skill is important, what’s more important is their heart, and what’s most helpful to you and to the congregation is to have a worship team of people who are clearly engaged in worship. You’re not looking for backup singers and musicians. You’re looking for worship leaders.

Set up the audition
First, put them at ease. If it’s a singer, ask him/her if they want any water. If it’s an instrumentalist, let them set their stuff up and offer to help. Make a joke or two. Most importantly, let them know that this is just a chance for you to get a feel for their gifting, and that they can just be themselves and not worry.

Second, explain that you want to respect their time and help them by being honest with them about whether you think their gift would lend itself to being used on the worship team. Ask them if that’s OK. Hopefully they say yes.

Run the audition
I find it helpful to tell them something like “I’m going to start this song, and you just come in where you usually would if we were doing this in a service”. This way you can get a feel for whether or not they have really good instincts, or whether they just jump in without much thought. Play through a song or two, sometimes stopping and letting them play or sing on their own, and take enough time to hear them sing or play for several minutes.

What to say if they’re gifted
If they’re gifted, affirm them. Tell them you’d like to explore finding a place for them to serve.

What to say if they need work
If they need work, affirm them. Tell them what was good. Tell them what wasn’t so good. Then tell them what was good again. This is what we call an “affirmation sandwich”. Then tell them a number of things they need to work on, and that you’d like to keep in touch with them as they improve.

What to say if they’re not gifted
If they’re not gifted musically, affirm them. They have taken time of their day to come meet with you. They are seeking to be obedient to a prompting they feel to serve the church. Thank them for their heart to serve the church. But then kindly tell them that it’s your impression that this is not the right place for them to serve. Be specific, be kind, and keep smiling at them. Let them ask questions. Understand that this will probably be awkward and that’s just the way it goes. Affirm them again, offer to help them find other places to serve, and let them go.

For some more of my thoughts on how to say “no” to people, you can read a post I wrote here.

Why you shouldn’t allow everyone who auditions onto the team
For some churches, the idea of auditioning musicians, much less turning some musicians down, is unheard of. A certain level of chaos reigns, where anyone and everyone who expresses an interest is allowed to come to rehearsals, allowed to stand on the platform, and allowed to play on Sunday mornings.

I know that the heart behind this is to give people a place to serve and to avoid a culture of perfectionism, but it completely rejects the commands in scripture to play skillfully (Psalm 33:3). It ignores the fact that not everyone has the same gifting and that the body of Christ is arranged with different parts and different members (1 Corinthians 12). The standard will differ depending on the church, but there must be a standard.

Be slow to add someone to the team
It’s much harder to ask someone to step down from the team than it is to ask them to join the team. If you think someone is called to serve on the team, try to find a small venue for them for a while and see how they respond. If they’re reluctant to serve in children’s ministry because they really want to be up front on Sunday morning, I would avoid using them.

No lifetime passes
Finally, communicate to all new and existing worship team members that no one has a lifetime pass to the worship team. Everyone serves for seasons. You might find it helpful to follow a school-year type approach. Each September you kick off a new year. Each June you have an end-of-year celebration. In the summer you keep using people, but you give people a chance to reevaluate whether or not they want to commit for another year. This also gives you a chance to reevaluate whether certain members should continue or not.

6 thoughts on “Worship Team Mechanics: Auditioning

  1. johnforbis August 22, 2011 / 2:23 pm

    Setting up auditions for my worship teams (in September) and this post came at a great time – trying to reinvent how I do auditions, you’ve given me some new ideas…thanks man!

  2. Adam August 26, 2011 / 1:17 am

    Auditions are a tool for discipleship! Yes! You nailed it. Too often leaders make institutional constructs (like auditions) all about the Institution. In reality, our institutional constructs need to be all about the organism – the people. You expressed this wonderfully! WOOT!

    Also – that “Affirmation Sandwich” thing. Cool. I call that “PSP” – “Praise, Suggestion, Praise.” PSP is easy to remember. I try to use PSP all the time – like in rehearsals and mentoring leaders. I had a leader once tell me, “Don’t tell anyone what they did wrong unless you put it between two positives.”

    I must admit – every time I read your blog, Jaime, a little part of me deep down inside wants to be Anglican.

  3. Matt March 26, 2014 / 1:05 pm

    I have mixed emotions about auditions. Although I would not want to include those who can’t sing at all and potentially ruin the ministry, we need to be careful not to project a worldly “American Idol” kind of atmosphere. For those who do not make the cut but sing well, there should be constructive criticism and a plan to get them from mediocrity to a new level of quality of voice. In the past mid-sized churches I have belonged to use the Sunday night “solo” as way to judge your ability. Then if they like what they see then they approach the member to see if they are interested in joining the praise team or choir. Personally I like this approach and find it to be a much less “secular” approach to the process.

  4. MChou August 8, 2016 / 2:30 pm

    Auditioning is not according to the Lord. Jesus didn’t use this tool to scrutinize anyone. He said “come unto me…” & “whosoever will …” . Just take a look at those who ended up at His ministry as His servants.
    “Grow in the grace & knowledge of Him”…. “Abide in His strength”. He is the source of righteousness & strength- Isa. Of course, those He called His grace will also sustain. Many I know over the years actually have grown in their love & service “He will honor those who serve Him”.
    However, how can you know if the person serving is truly serving the Lord. Is the person led by God ? I didn’t know how to sing. However, the music conductor had this gift from God to inspire and to teach !

    • philipwambualive December 8, 2016 / 2:23 pm

      What you have brought out is definitely true. Non the less I think we need to remember that Jesus did not call anyone who was musical.. well as far as we are aware non of the disciples could run away and play an instrument. He did though call people with a profession e.g. fishermen.. He called them and introduced them to a higher level of fishing. He also called a tax collector who was probably a skilled tradesman. He was also was called to a higher platform of what he was previously doing.

      What I am getting at is that Christ himself called those who followed him to a greater responsibility.. With that, I think musicians that serve and are out to be in the church ought to be skilled and on top of their game. I would have and audition not scrutinize anyone but to actually figure out how I am going to walk the person through growth as a musician in the church.

  5. westbreedlove August 9, 2016 / 12:43 pm

    very helpful…Thank you!

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