Over the 8 years I’ve been serving at my church, I’ve learned by trial and error, but mostly by necessity, that it’s possible for a worship team to rehearse (a) anywhere, and (b) with very little time, and still be prepared.
Of course there’s the ideal: a dedicated time, a regular time, in a dedicated space, preferably with all your equipment, even more preferably with the same equipment you’ll use for the service, in the same room where the service will be, with the equipment cooperating and being run by experienced people.
If you can have that ideal, then God bless you.
But if you can’t have that ideal, then welcome to my world.
Especially now, since my church has lost our building, and we’re worshipping off-site at schools on Sunday for the foreseeable future. We usually can’t get into these spaces until Sunday morning, and can’t rehearse much in that space because our first service has different musicians (more traditional), so we look for a band room or choir room or something with a piano and some chairs.
This past Sunday we were at a Catholic High School which had promised us the use of their band room, but alas it was locked. We had to improvise. So we found their chapel. No piano, no instruments, no anything, but we had to make it work, and so we did.
I think a lot of worship leaders/teams think that in order to have a good rehearsal they have to run through every song twice, do the entire length of that song, have a protracted time of discussion and/or chaos in between songs, and go past everyone’s bedtime so everyone leaves tired.
I’ve learned a few things over the years thanks to not having “the ideal” that I think have helped me and the worship teams at my church learn to have short rehearsals without all the equipment or conveniences.
Step one: Talk your team through the songs. Take charge. Communicate clearly from top to bottom how you want the song to go. Tell your instrumentalists and singers what you’d like for them to do. Don’t boss them around, but do give them direction. You don’t have all day. Before you play a note of the song, talk through it. Say “here’s what we’re going to do…” and lay it out. Go through the whole song list like this. Talk through all the songs in sequence.
Step two: Play through the songs. Don’t have all your instruments? That’s OK. Your drummer can play drums with his hand on a chair. Your guitarists can bring their guitars in unplugged. Just have someone give you the right key to the song and lead them vocally. If you have some instruments, make sure everyone plays quietly so everyone can be heard. Before you play through the songs, recap what you said earlier when you talked through them. Then play through it. Then review it. Was that good? What wasn’t? People aren’t idiots. They know when something isn’t working.
Let me just pause here and say that you don’t need to rehearse the entire song. Rehearse what needs to be rehearsed. You can save time on some songs by singing the first half of verse 1 and then skipping to the second half of verse 2. Or just stop the song and say “OK, now let’s pretend we’re all the way through the song and let’s practice the accents on the last chorus”. People will go with you and thank you for saving them time.
Step three: Stop and pray. Not-ideal rehearsals are a priceless opportunity to remind your team how much they need the Holy Spirit’s help. So, first, stop. Don’t drag out the rehearsal. Stop it when things are good enough. Then pray. Everyone in a circle. Then you’re done!
Few things will burn your team out more than ineffective rehearsals. And few things will burn worship leaders out more than feeling the need to have everything perfect at rehearsals. In a sense, lower your expectations for rehearsal and just make it work. An hour and fifteen minutes should be your max, in my opinion, unless you’re recording a CD or rehearsing multiple song lists or tricky songs. On average, though, 75 minutes is more than enough.
Honestly, most worship songs are about 4 – 5 minutes long. And most churches do about 5 or 6 songs per service. A liberal estimate puts that at 35 minutes of music per church per service. So since you don’t need to rehearse each song full-length, you should technically be able to rehearse for a service in 30 minutes. It’s possible!