One of my favorite things about Hillsong is how missional they’ve been in replicating the cultural DNA their music rests upon. Noting they already had a number of campuses in Australia by the time they launched their first American campus in New York City, this issue seemed like the perfect opportunity to find out about their approach for replicating that cultural DNA here in the States.

As a bit of background, my wife sang with the Hillsong team before coming to the US. For the past ten plus years I’ve heard story after story about the quality of leadership Darlene Zschech and bassist Ian Fisher provided for the team in the “early years”. When one of my guitar students joined the Hillsong New York City team, I was thrilled for him, and very curious to find out how they were going to bring him into the fold.

Dave Krysl gained notoriety as the guitarist in Haste the Day before becoming a professional photographer in NYC. He is also the Guitar Oversight for the Hillsong NYC Campus, and was kind of enough to spend a bunch of time with me on the phone sharing the what, why, and how behind what they are doing in NYC. This is great stuff, so please share it with your leaders and team.

[WM] Dave, tell us about what your roles and responsibilities are at the NYC campus?

[Dave Krysl] I serve as a volunteer at the Hillsong New York City campus, as a guitar player/music director. There’s always a music director that’s rostered, it’s usually either a keyboard player or a guitar player, and the responsibilities are to communicate to the rest of the band what the worship leader wants. We help walk the other musicians through the set and any last minute changes. So, that’s what I do on any given Sunday.

I’m also in charge of oversight for the guitar players at the NYC campus. We have a creative team, which encompasses worship, T.V. and film, communications, and production. The worship leaders fall under the worship category for the creative team, and then there are sub-categories for the musicians. For each instrument there is a team, like the guitar team, the keys team, drum team, and bass team. There is one point person that is in charge of each of those sub-teams.

Freddy Restrepo, is in charge of oversight for all of the musicians, and that’s his actual title. He started out as a bass player here and has been given more and more responsibility as time goes on. Now he looks after all the musicians and I have the oversight for the guitar team. That’s what we call the leader of each of those teams – “The Oversight”. I’ve been doing that for close to a year now. I look after the care of the guitarists as well as bringing new people in and getting them plugged in. There is some admin stuff involved too.

[WM] What is the process for getting new musicians plugged into the community, and from there, into the team?

[Dave] We use a web platform called “My Hillsong”, which is a cloud-based service that is an internal Hillsong platform. It’s run out of Sydney, but every Hillsong church uses it across all teams. It allows us to program our serving teams and connect groups. When people join the My Hillsong app, it allows them to put in their personal information, as well as areas of interest, like playing guitar. The admin people who receive that information then connect that person up with the team leader of their areas of interest. The Hillsong NYC campus is pretty gigantic, and there are a ton of different teams, some of which I don’t even know what they are. So the goal is to always get people as connected as possible.

The creative team is fortunate enough to have our own team night every Thursday night, and we’re always trying to get people who are interested in the creative team to come to team night. It’s basically like a mid-week service. We usually do some worship, have a message, and then there’s usually some kind of training or master classes that happen after the service is done. Sometimes we’ll do musician’s trainings, guitar-only trainings, or photography training, etc. Team night is the best tool for us to put faces to names, and there is time to meet people and to meet the leaders. That’s pretty much our method for how we go about getting people plugged in.

We’re getting a lot better at doing follow up with new people and making sure that no one falls through the cracks, because in a big church in can be easy for communications to get lost and for people to not get followed up with. That really bums us out, because we try and see each person that walks through the door as an individual, with their own story. We firmly believe that God has a purpose and a place for each person that we come into contact with. The more people that we can bring along with us on this journey, the stronger the team is going to be and the more people that they will bring along too.

We firmly believe that God has a purpose and a place for each person that we come into contact with. The more people that we can bring along with us on this journey, the stronger the team is going to be and the more people that they will bring along too.

[WM] What are some of the things you want the people you lead to keep in mind?

[Dave] The Creative team is a little bit different because there is a lot of “doing” involved, like being a guitar player, for example. It’s easy to get caught up in the mentality that you just show up for the services that you’re rostered for, you play your instrument, and then you’re done. But our goal is to not make the “doing” the focus, but rather to focus on building up the people and investing in them. That’s been what I’ve been focusing on over the past year with the guitar team. I want to make it not as much about how you phrase licks and play chords like the players on the Hillsong albums, but to make it more about investing in the culture and community and connecting more people together to encounter Jesus. It’s a really fine balance.

One example I can give you, I did this intro to one of our trainings that we call musician’s bootcamp. It’s basically where anyone who is interested in playing shows up. We rent out a rehearsal space and we cycle through having different teams play through a couple songs just to see how everyone is doing and if they have any questions or anything that they can work on, as far as their instrument goes. One of our pastors gave a talk one time, and his main point was when he said, “I don’t know if I’m called to greatness. I’m an okay speaker. I’m an okay communicator. But I know that I’m called to significance.” And so, this whole idea of the difference between greatness and significance is one of the things that I think is foundational for our Creative team. We have a ton of really talented musicians. Great guitar players, great keyboard players, great drummers, but in the long run we’re not looking for great musicians. We’re looking for people who want to build their lives around being significant in God’s Kingdom. What a difference that makes! I really believe that someone who is an average guitar player but is totally connected to their relationship with God and to the mission of the team, they’re going to have a much greater impact than someone who is just really good at their instrument.

…in the long run we’re not looking for great musicians. We’re looking for people who want to build their lives around being significant in God’s Kingdom. What a difference that makes!

One of the goals that we have as a team is to always be building into people to get the right culture, so that their eyes and hearts are focused on the right things. The improvement that they’re making in their playing will be built out of that. The more that they understand why we even have guitar players on the worship team, or why we have a worship team at church in the first place, the more they’ll understand why it’s important to practice and really care for their craft and invest in their gifts and abilities.

The other thing to remember too is that none of our musicians are paid to play. That’s a question we get asked all the time, especially when people are first interested in joining the team or serving with us. I know that in some of the mega-churches across the United States the musicians are paid per service or per week. Sometimes it’s a little weird to explain to people that we don’t get paid and that we’re all volunteers. We wake up at 5:00am on Sundays and show up for early call times. We don’t own a building, so we have to rent out different venues every week to do services. So that means that there’s extra work involved every Sunday with unloading trucks and all of the gear that’s needed. In New York City we have to keep a lot of our gear in rental trucks – I can’t lug my seventy-pound pedalboard on the train from my apartment to church. One phrase that you may have heard, which our pastor took from a JZ song, is that we’re doing church “in the wild.” You just have to show up with this attitude of, “Whatever it takes, we’re going to make it happen.” We’re lacking a lot of the convenience that exists in a lot of other churches. I think that the only way that we’ve been able to get as far as we have and even have the services and the impact that we’ve been able to have is through the culture that’s been built over the past six or seven years, and all of the people that are willing to sacrifice time and money and effort to make it happen. That’s the idea that we want to instill in people that are looking to join the team. To just take the selfishness and the spotlight out of the picture. It can be a little difficult at times, and at others it’s easy. Some people show up and they just get it automatically.

That’s one of the reasons that I stress that we’re all volunteers. Because no one is more important than the next person. Everyone is seen as being a crucial, pivotal part of the creative team. We couldn’t be doing what we’re doing if it wasn’t for the countless sacrifices that volunteers have made over the last seven years.

we’re hoping that by building into people and investing in people, then we can be part of the story that happens over the next ten years.

Getting people to understand that even in a big church like Hillsong, it’s not easy. On the other hand, I feel like we’re extremely fortunate and blessed to be reaping the benefits and receiving the fruit of a lot of years of hard work and sacrifice from volunteers that came before us. We’re right in the middle of a series at our creative team nights called “The Storyteller Series”. It’s a five-week series where we are looking back over the past six or seven years since Hillsong NYC started. We’re taking a step back and looking at what God has already done. It’s just crazy to me. Hillsong Church was founded over 30 years ago, and we wouldn’t be here today if it wasn’t for the sacrifice of volunteers thirty years ago, or the financial support and prayers of church goers even ten years ago. So, we’re hoping that by building into people and investing in people, then we can be part of the story that happens over the next ten years. Who knows what will happen? The church is growing and having impact, and to play even a little tiny part in that is what I find to be the coolest part of serving at this church.

[WM] That is awesome! I think people will find it both informative and refreshing to know that you guys aren’t coasting, rather you are actively sowing for the seasons to come.

[Dave] It’s the idea that we haven’t arrived yet, but we’re anticipating future fruit! When I look at what Hillsong United does, and what the Hillsong Global team is doing, they have been equipping the local church with resources for decades. We are very fortunate and blessed to be able to use those resources. I think one thing that gets missed a lot from people who are outside of Hillsong churches, is in the common perception that Hillsong is kind of a closed sphere. But that’s not the case at all. The vision behind what Hillsong is doing is to be a resource to the local church. I know that is Brian and Bobbie Houston’s vision behind doing the Hillsong Conference. We have these amazing resources like songwriters, worship leaders, and producers, and we’re all on the same journey. I think that they’re trying to provide any church with the resources to further God’s Kingdom.

That’s what we’re trying to do here in New York City. There are a ton of churches that are like family to us. I’ve even been sent to play a youth conference at Chris Durso’s church. He does these youth conferences almost every week. And we’ll send teams to this small church on Long Island. It’s just about however we can help to further God’s Kingdom. We all have the attitude about wanting to help see it happen. I would love for a 150-person church in Montana to feel like we’re all on the same journey, and that whatever they are doing at Hillsong NYC is being done in partnership with them. That’s how I see it, and that’s why it’s really important for me to get as many people plugged in as possible and to build the team so that it’s a strong as possible. I think that’s how lives get changed. God uses people to change other people’s lives.

[WM] How close do you like things to be to the albums and what tools do you use to make that happen?

[Dave] The people from Hillsong Worship in Sydney will go in and record training videos for each instrument and then upload them to their Vimeo accounts, and then give the creative teams across every campus access to those videos. We use those and send them to all of the musicians that are on the creative teams. One thing that we stress really hard as far as playing for a Sunday service, we generally say to stick to the album parts. We literally say that almost every week. There are a lot of different reasons for that, one of which is that the people in Sydney who are writing and recording the albums are putting a lot of thought, time, energy, and I would even say divine inspiration into the way these albums sound. And we want to honor that and respect that. So, we’ll tell the musicians that there are specific albums parts that are in these songs for a reason – let’s just go ahead and honor that and stick to the album parts.

We’ve had guitar players before who are professional, studio/session-quality musicians, who could shred hard. And I used to play in a Heavy Metal band, so stylistically even, my guitar playing was very different ten years ago. But we think it’s important for everyone to be on the same page. There are four services at Hillsong NYC every Sunday. If someone comes to the 10:00am service with one worship team, and then comes back to the 7:30pm service where there’s a totally different worship team, they are still going to have the same experience as far as worship goes. Or, if they have the album playing on Spotify and use it to worship during their commute to work, then we want to be respectful to the time and energy that the team has put into the way that those songs sound.

It also keeps the spotlight off of any one person. Suppose we have one guitar player who is a master of sweep picking and can ride these crazy lines over the top of the worship songs, but not all of the guitar players can play that, it pulls focus to that player. And we want to keep the focus on the right things. Like I said before, it’s not necessarily about skill level or ability. There are tons of examples in the bible about where God chose to use people that were very underqualified for what He was asking them to do, but He still made it happen. And that’s how we’re approaching musicianship. We know that not everyone can grow to be a session level musician, but the point is to be faithful with what God has put in your hand. You never know what God can do with that.

So, we do have the training videos, and it’s honestly an invaluable resource for our teams and it keeps everyone on the same page. Not everyone has the same ear training for picking out guitar parts, but they can watch the videos and find out how Nigel is playing the guitar line, or what the delay actually sounds like on a certain song. The other thing that I’ve been encouraging the guitar players to use is MultiTracks.com. It’s not a specific platform to Hillsong, but the Hillsong songs get uploaded to MultiTracks. It’s inexpensive and you can log in and make a rehearsal mix and single out a specific guitar on a song. Sometimes there are four guitars on the recording, and you can solo out each guitar and find out what each guitar is playing. I’ll often send guitar players to the MultiTracks site to help train their ear even more, and to try and replicate the parts through ear-training rather than watching the video.

Obviously, the goal is to get everyone to practice on their own and put enough care in on their own so that they try to get better at their craft. As a guitar player, if I’m going to be serving on a Sunday, then the better that I can train my ear to hear things, the better guitar player I’ll be.

[WM] Dave, you’ve so generous with your time, thanks again for sharing these pearls of wisdom with us!

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