OK…so I am usually not big on writing practical blogs, but here of late I have had a few friends asking for the secrets I have found along the way in my pursuit of excellence in Worship through music. Some are tangible things, and some are just areas that are crucial to any Worship environment. So, here are my Top 5 non-negotiables in creating excellence from the musical side of the Worship environment:
We just started using click track on a regular basis about 6 months ago. Let me tell you, IT HAS BEEN THE DIFFERENCE MAKER when it comes to setting a tempo that achieves the desired outcome. I’m sure you have been a part of a musical endeavor where the song was either way too slow and ended up dragging along, or somewhere along the way hit the “boost” button and spun out of control. With click track, you can set the desired tempo to the exact groove, rock/pop, or “dreamy” speed that you want to create very easily. Click takes the pressure off of the drummer to begin with the right tempo, and to maintain the proper tempo. I actually tell the drummers that everyone (including them) is to follow the click track, and if at any point they get off of it, they will probably be by themselves. I always make the joke with the band that “you gotta have your priorities straight…you know…God, Family, Click Track”. Seriously the best practical thing we have implemented thus far.
Obviously, you cannot run click track through wedge monitors & certainly not through the house. In-Ear monitors for me are another one of those things that can make or break a Worship environment. You can bury guitar cabinets (which I strongly suggest), put a shield around the drums, and line-in the bass, but if the audible wedge monitors are still blaring, the house WILL suffer every time. To add a layer to this, I would also suggest (where the budget allows) adding an Aviom system to the mix. This can eliminate the need for a monitor sound engineer (or in most circles, the need for the main engineer to be present for rehearsal). This helps tremendously with being tight as a band, on pitch as a vocalist, and allows everyone to obtain their desired mix.
We have been using planning center online for about 2 years now. Before that, it was literally all we could do to keep up with band/tech schedules, song/service elements, practice times, etc. Not to mention the physical delivery of material (CD’s & chord charts). Now we create a standard schedule for these things and email it out (for those who like to plan ahead), and then post the same things on Planning Center. Bascially PC serves as a living, breathing schedule, resource center, & hub of communication for our ministry (and others within the church). Everyone on the plan receives an invitation email to which they can either “Accept” or “Decline”, thus giving us instant feedback. This information can then be automatically put on their iCal or Outlook calendars. They can also pull the plan up at any time to download the materials or even stream the songs directly from the plan. This has been a vital part in the planning of services and the scheduling of the band & tech team.
Probably the #1 most neglected element of a Worship set I have seen is lack of true musical transition in a Worship set. It can literally mean the difference between a meaningful worship experience and an abrupt (3 songs, a communion thought, a sermon, and a closing song) service. Great worship leaders/pastors think through the details of getting from one worship element to the next. There should always be a plan for this. Whether you have a few musicians you trust to provide some atmospherical transition (typically the keys player or electric), or maybe you are advanced enough to have the worship set mapped out with loops, you should have a plan. The worship set should never feel like several different sections of the service, but rather one continuous movement. For that matter, it should also lead smoothly into and out of the sermon, video, etc. that is planned for the day. The bottom line here is that the beauty is in the details!
A wise music professor once told me that “anything done in public deserves a focused practice”. This is another element that we have always taken very seriously. Every week before we execute the service plan we go through a Dress Rehearsal that includes every element of the service with the band, speaking pastor, announcement person, and tech team to ensure that everyone is on the same page. (The obvious catch here is that the speaking pastor simply runs through his points with the media person instead of preaching the entire sermon.) We have a separate music practice beforehand where we work out transitions, parts, etc. This has been key to achieving the next level of excellence in the services.
So there you have it. These are five non-negotiables for me in planning, rehearsing, & executing excellent services. These can obviously never come in front of the spiritual aspect of things (discipleship, community, & prayerful dependance), these are just a few tangible steps toward giving God our best in Worship.