The [WM] team just got back from the NAMM show, where I had the privilege of hosting a trio of ‘TEC Track’ panels with friends from Yamaha, CCLI, and OnSong. The night before the panels, I spent the better part of two hours discussing song and set lists with OnSong founder Jason Kichline. Fueled by a previous conversation I had with Jeffrey B. Scott regarding his guitar column in this issue, this month we’ll be covering the impact that the number of ‘active’ songs can have on your worship and tech teams.

Let me once again say that the heart and soul of this column is to help teams find healthy ways to solve global problems. Many of the musicians I know are ‘in process’ when it comes to being selfless servants in the house who keep a sweet spirit when the same mistakes seem to happen over and over. At the core of this conversation is the reality that the stuff that drives me nuts may not bother you at all. By learning to honor our differences, I firmly believe we can find that healthy middle ground – together!

ACTIVE SONGS
I believe that by keeping the number of active songs in your roster somewhere between sixteen and twenty will result in a tighter worship team on the platform, better sound from the front of house and a better worship experience for members of the congregation (who are dependent on your tech team to get the lyrics on the screen too, so they can sing along as you worship together). When I was serving as a worship and creative arts director, I found that this approach worked really well in terms of keeping the congregation singing and the worship team excited about the songs. Another key benefit was the fact that this number allowed me to banish iPads from being on the platform during service. My personal belief is that you can’t take the congregation somewhere in worship where you haven’t been yourself, and I feel this is especially the case when it comes to worship leaders.

THE ONSONG EFFECT
It should come as no surprise that Jason is a core part of his worship team and does not share the bias I have for iPads on the platform during service. That said, he and I are both in agreement that this technology should not become a crutch. As Jason and I chatted about all of this, one of my big takeaways is that the number of songs in active rotation is not “one size fits all’. At Jason’s church they never do a mid-week rehearsal, and never have a setlist before Sunday morning. Noting how much I love to rehearse a team so that Sunday reflects where we have already gone during rehearsal, I have to admit that I love the fact that Jason’s team is free to pull up any song they’ve ever played – even mid-service!

MAKING THE CASE
Noting that most of us serve in small churches, having sixteen to twenty active songs has a lot of practical appeal. Most of us are volunteers and lead busy lives and that includes the sound and tech teams.

THE TRICKLEDOWN EFFECT
One of the things I’ve tried to address in this column is the fact that the sound and tech teams are impacted by the choices we make, and we owe it to them to think about how our decisions impact them. If you want your sound team to master arrangement driven mixing, the smaller the number of active songs, the greater the probability they’ll mix the songs, not just the service. Noting the number of husband and wife teams I’ve seen on sound and projection respectively, if you really want to frustrate your tech peeps, loading on a bunch of new songs at the last minute is a great way to demonstrate that they are not part of your planning process.

ONE SIZE DOESN’T FIT ALL
As I’ve gotten older, one of the most important things I’ve learned is that there is more than one way to skin the proverbial cat. I was really taken by the freedom Jason’s team has to play a song that they’ve never done. I firmly believe that the heart of the matter is to find what is going to work best to serve everyone at your church. I am believing that this month’s installment will fall on fertile ground, and thank you for the privilege of being able to serve you and your team. God Bless!

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Doug is the Editorial Director for Worship Musician and Gear Tech + Recording magazines.

19 COMMENTS

  1. Yes, getting the technology right is important, but not for the reason given: “so they can sing along as you worship together”. It has to be the other way around: so they can worship together as you play along.

    • Hello Warren – I think we’re saying the same thing. Totally agree that the goal is to get the congregation to enter into worship, and being conscious about getting them singing, preferably in the first song is key to getting them to enter in. If the worship team is not worshipping themselves, it can be a roadblock to getting the congregation to enter in. With some teams, the sheer amount of material gets in the way of that happening. in the case of Jason’s church, that’s not the case, and I celebrate the fact that there is more than one way to get “there”. Thanks for taking the time to share your thoughts – appreciated ~ Doug;)

    • I’ll jump in on this too ;). We believe that not only are our techs part of the worship team, but the congregation is too. It’s just those on the stage are tasked with leading the congregation in worship. That means our charge is to know how to get there. We make spiritual preparation as important as musical preparation and the two work hand-in-hand. Music is a tool. Nothing more. We can use music to help guide people, but really it does require them to enter in.

      The technology allows us to not worry so much about the issues of the world and focus on worship. For instance, we don’t have to worry about what song we are doing or the key, transposition, flipping music in music stands… we can just play the music. If we find ourselves a little bit too “lost” in worship, we can glance up quick and get the chords for the bridge. The congregation cues off the worship team. There’s been times where some members of the team will stop playing and kneel down in worship. I’ve had our one bass player literally run of the stage… with his bass… still plugged in… because the Holy Spirit set him free that day! He took laps around the church until an elder “disarmed” the bass from him.

      I’m not claiming that our church is “normal”. I’m not saying everyone should do it that way. All I can do is offer up what seems “normal” to us. What matters is that He who is worthy is worshipped and that lives are changed.

  2. Interesting. So, how does Jason’s worship team function? Are they all top-notch musicians who can play worship music in their sleep? Do they practice longer on Sunday morning? Are they just expected to know the songs? Do they just wing it and not worry about the rough parts?

    More info please. I’m curious how a worship team works that doesn’t have a weeknight rehearsal. I’ve only been in teams that practice midweek.

    • Hey Brad! I’ve reached out to Jason, so I’ll try not to speak for him as I answer your question as best I can:)

      First of all, Jason, is one of the brightest guys I’ve met in a long time, and my guess is that he’s as astute as a musician as he is a programmer. Some teams work fast and need less rehearsal, especially those whose roots go way back. That “type” of team potentially loves the songs, the worship behind them, and with a healthy dose of talent can come back to material with the help of technology and not have it turn into a massive fail…

      I personally LOVE a midweek rehearsal because it brings a team together so that fellowship can blossom into friendship, and as hinted by your comment, you can have time to work things out musically before Sunday. For me, that means looping sections so everyone can feel where the drums and bass are and really build from there…

      That said, studio musicians can walk into a studio and make something happen because of their ability, which means talent does play some role in all of this. Noting that most of us play in churches of 100-200 people, we don’t have a ton of extra peeps, which means that our core teams usually reflect much of the talent pool. And at the end of the day, it is not about talent, but rather a heart for worship. A lot of these songs aren’t super complicated, so having the charts via OnSong can jump start a team that loves the songs, and has played them enough to jump back in. Again, noting that my preference is for tight arrangements including in tune BV parts that actually are part, the Sunday morning only thing is not my personal preference, but I did love the fact that with technology like OnSong they could go where they wanted to on any give Sunday. Certainly gave me cause to think about how much I’ve become entrenched in my own preferences….

      I too look forward to finding out how they pull it off, so thanks for your post ~ Doug;)

  3. With a congregation that already doesn’t want too many repeats in some of the contemporary music, I would think that a 20 song list would be…….boring. Does anyone else think that? I can see the benefit of a team that only does 20 and does them well but we only have one team for our church so that 20 song list seems so restrictive.

    • Hello Ann! As you pointed out, each congregation has a “tolerance” for how much material they want to sing for it to stay fresh. The 20 bit can keep things fresh if you rotate songs in fast enough to keep them fresh, and is for me a reasonable number for a team to memorize so they can focus on worshipping and not their charts. Your use of the word restrictive certainly caught my attention in a good way, so I for one will be pondering that – appreciated ~ Doug;)

  4. Hum, I wonder how you pick a song on the fly and expect the person that puts the lyrics up to get them up. You don’t want distraction because that halts worship. Some people will quit singing if the words aren’t up and you must consider visitors as well.

    I can see how having like 20 go to songs is good. Everyone will know how to play them, but when you want to add a new song I guess the leader would call for a practice during the week?

    • Hey Sue! This is one of the downstream considerations that is super important. The tech peeps seem to get “wagged” the most in terms of being at the tail end of changes. Per one of the previous “episodes”, I made the case that sharing the songs with the tech and worship peeps via PCO well before mid-week rehearsal allows everyone to get on the same page, and also creates a great vehicle to get the sound team engaged in mixing for the songs, not just the service…

      Per the new songs, every congregation has a rhythm, but ultimately, my belief is that the senior pastor should communication their vision for worship to the worship pastor and the congregation, and the amount of new material should reflect that vision. Some senior pastors keep the reins loose, and others don’t, and that’s what’s great about church – it is not a one size fits all. When it comes to smaller churches, I personally believe that the senior pastor has a key role in setting the tone for the number of songs and the frequency of new additions. My *guess* is that Jason’s team is fast on the uptake, and they practice their songs at home, so they can do a Sunday morning rehearsal and have it work for their congregation…

      And yes, the visitors… where to begin on that?! We absolutely want people to be able to see the lyrics and enter into worship as soon as they are comfortable. If a team the errs on too many new songs on a given Sunday, it can get dicey for everyone, and this gets back to the where this article started – my conversation with Jeffrey B. Scott about getting thrown in the deep end…

      Thanks for your post ~ Doug:)

    • Hi Sue! We have had service where we had worshipped the entire time. Totally unplanned (we like things that way). If people are worshipping, sometimes the pastor will just give us the “keep it going” hand motion and away we go.

      So to answer your question… we can do that on-stage using OnSong which means we are completely paperless. The worship leader picks another song while everyone else plays out the last song. There’s a “quick pick” feature that lets you search for a song and add it to the set in a few taps. We have TVs on the stage in wedges that lets us all get the next chart in the set.

      Our tech team practices with the worship team. Sometimes the words don’t come up right away if we are playing a song we don’t know in the back. We have the ability to look up what songs are loaded on the iPad on stage as well, but most of the time we can find the song at least by the time we hit the chorus. We are looking to implement OnSong for lyrics projection too and connect the iPads together to avoid this. But most of the time if we are playing songs that weren’t planned, people are deep into worship anyway and don’t need the words to sing along right way, or they are familiar enough with the song to keep it going.

      It’s also very likely that when we are called to play more songs, we will pick one from a smaller rotation of songs, or ones that are very common to our techs. These are also more familiar with the congregation so they can enter in more readily.

  5. I have the same question as Brad. I’m not sure how Jason’s worship team functions in most of the churches I’ve been in and led in over the last 28 years, unless they’re top-notch musicians and it’s a small pool. Not my experience.

    There are other priorities to consider that shift this advice, like: how experienced are your musicians? How many do you want involved in your ministry? How big is your overall repertoire (which I’ve found to be between 80 and 120 songs for a year, and even that depends upon how many songs you sing in a service.)

    I agree with the idea of 16-20 active songs, unless it is a fixed group. If it’s the same 16-20 songs for… 3 months? 4 months? (to be able to do every song 3 or 4 times in a 5 song service).That’s a bit limiting in worship expression for the flow and direction of a service. I prefer to have some ability to release a few songs and bring a few in.

    If you’re thinking about your tech team, give them a playlist of potential songs to listen to for a month or two before you start using the songs. That will not only speak of your care for their personal worship (who doesn’t like being given a good playlist!) but will also begin to prep their ear for the sound and their eye for the lyric flow.

    This is good stuff to talk about! Thanks for bringing it.

    • Hey Eric – thanks for taking the time to chime in! I think Jason’s team is the exception, but as I mentioned in my reply to Sue, what happens before a mid-week rehearsal or a Sunday-only rehearsal is key, and part of setting culture…

      I loved what you said about how involved you want and need people to be, which also gets back to how much time they have in the first place…

      And YES, if there weren’t a new songs coming in, I’d go bonkers. Also, I’ve been at some churches where they play 6-8 songs each week – that’s a LOT!!! 4-5 has been the norm at most of the churches I’ve served at…

      LOVE the idea of sharing potential songs with the tech team – that’s a GREAT idea!

      Thanks for keeping the convo going and some great food for thought ~ Doug:)

    • Hey Brad! Good points and concerns.

      I’ll be first to admit that the way our team functions is a bit odd and different. Somehow it works for us and seems completely natural. I’m not sure I’d want to do it another way at this point to be honest. But it’s also important to note some of the reasons we do it this way are spiritually lead and not out of laziness or because of technology. If we used paper, we would do it the same way.

      The underlying drive is to “walk by faith and not by sight”. We as musicians have a tendency to drift towards performance and perfection. We want to make sure we can do a specific song a specific way. We don’t like surprises. So we end up practicing a set months in advance. We rely on our human faculties and institutions to create an experience.

      The trouble is that when we do this, we become less attentive and reliant on the Holy Spirit and where God is moving in that moment. We bring our agenda to the table and force it into existence. Again, this is simply the underlying reason why (I’m not condemning anyone here). Maybe this stemmed from how a previous worship leader demanded perfection, but it’s also how I approach situations… wait on the Lord. Be still. Be a Mary and not a Martha… there are a lot of Biblical scriptures we can look at for this approach. Each service is not planned. Everyone brings what they have to offer and we have a wonderful time of worship, word and testimony.

      It’s not that our team doesn’t practice… but we don’t rehearse. We call it “preparation”. In other words, we don’t have a set list before Sunday morning when it’s picked. I know that sounds incredibly weird, but we do it intentionally to listen to the Spirit and where God is headed for that specific time. We can then pull it off because we have prepared ourselves in our talents and spiritually.

      We practice Tuesday night which is when we go over songs (new ones and old ones) and practice playing together as a band. We have seven members (drums, bass, electric guitar, acoustic, lead vocalist, keys, backup vocalists) and are adding a percussion. So soon an eight-piece band. Not exactly small, but a tight knit group that “does life together”. We require everyone on the worship and tech teams to be present for Tuesday practice. That allows those that are coming up through the ranks and the tech team to know about new songs.

      I wouldn’t say that our team are expert musicians. All are volunteer and have day jobs. But I think what allows this to work is that we don’t place an expectation to “do it like the CD”. We are not afraid of failure. We are big believers in having a specific sounds that is uniquely our church’s sound. That means that when we do a new song, we aren’t trying to perform it like Hillsong or Bethel or anyone else. We are trying to play the song to an audience of One to the best of our ability. Second, we use OnSong heavily so we have chords and lyrics available for new songs. We have a repertoire of nearly 300 songs, but in reality only cycle through about 20 at any given time. This pool of music is always evolving (but not really intentionally). For instance, we are likely rotating in Reckless Love tonight at practice. I’m sure we’ve already forgotten about a few other songs we always used to do. Again, the set lists and repertoire are all based on listening to the Holy Spirit and of course the more human aspect of collective human memory and want we like at the moment.

      Sunday our list added two songs we probably haven’t done in about 6 months… You Won’t Relent and No Longer Slaves. Neither was practiced (we didn’t have practice for 2-3 weeks due to weather and travel) and they went off without a hitch, but we had played them quite a bit over the years.

      Now the downside to this is that most of the songs are likely to not be orchestrated. A lot of the songs have the same sound because we aren’t changing things up between songs as much. But people worship and cry out to God. That’s the primary objective…. worship. Everything else is just music.

  6. Hi folks. Curious about Jason’s methods, as well. I play acoustic in our worship band, in a church that averages 500 or more over two services. I’ve been playing almost 20 years, but I started very late, and don’t at all consider myself a “top-notch musician”. I practice daily, but I don’t have the ability to listen to a song and just play it from memory. I need to practice a song repeatedly to cement it in my head and fingers. We have chord charts available, and I work hard to memorize as much of our repertoire as possible, but we have songs that we present only once or twice a year. We do have mid-week rehearsals, and I find them very useful. As you said, Doug, some great food for thought here.

    • Hey Tony! Welcome to the convo! I do have a couple of suggestions that might be a help…

      First of all, while size is not the singular metric of measuring how effective a church is, I want to celebrate the fact that you guys have gotten past the 250 mark and have a second service – hard to get there without a lot of team work and dedication!

      Per the memorization thing, “How do you eat an elephant?… in bite sized pieces!” – right? If you’ve got Garage Band, trying importing one song, and using markers just to loop the verse. Spend some time walking around the house just letting it play in the background which you get a feel for hearing how frequently the chords change. Again, since it is just one section you’re not juggling form, just hearing the chords in that section. Then, with the chord chart in front of you, chart that section on a piece of paper with a pencil. When my Dad was still alive I remember him telling me that one of the best ways he was able to memorize stuff was by writing it down, and I’ve found the same thing is true for me when I start charting the chords in a section. I start by hearing where they are, and then document what I’ve heard. If you try this approach for each section of the song, I’m believing you’ll develop your ear to hear the sections, and not the extended form…

      That said, once you’ve looped each section – and played with it a bunch both looking at the chart and not, then write the form out on a separate page. Intro, Verse 1, Pre-Chorus, Chorus 1 (1x), reIntro, Verse 2, Pre-Chorus, Chorus 2 (2x), Bridge, Chorus 3 (2x), Outro. That little road map is just that. Verse 1 and 2 usually have different lyrics, where the Pre-chorus tends to be the same. By documenting Chorus 1, 2, and 3, and noting how many times they repeat, you’re documenting a short hand way to keep all the stuff I’d *guess* you’re trying to keep track of in your head, and putting it on a piece of paper you created in front of you. I’d suggest listening through a couple of times reaching through you’re roadmap and in turn I’m believing that this methodology will help you keep track externally of what you’re trying to keep track of internally. In turn, you get more and more used the thinking of the form in this kind of a short hand, can refer to your notes and the track. Most charts don’t do a great job of the road map bit, and it may be that little piece that opens the door for you on this. In school there were people who knew how to memorize stuff, and they just had process. This process works really well for me and I hope it has something to offer for you. Charting is something that “top-notch-musicians” do really well that has nothing to do with the skill, but with the process and hence it is part of their skill set. Hope this is a help Tony ~ Doug:)

  7. Hi Folks,
    If it helps to share, our church is a multi-site church, and given that two of our sites meet in rented spaces, Sunday is it for us. A mid-week rehearsal just isn’t practical. Every week, the set list is in PCO at least a week before. In addition to the charts, we also upload a recording of the song, and in most cases, a cue track, or at least a transposed recording of the song. This allows everyone on the team, including the tech team to listen through the songs before hand, and practice on their own during the week to master their individual parts. We then have about two hours before the service on Sunday to rehears together, but by then, we are expected to know our parts. The rehearsal is to build cohesion and to make sure we are working well together. It’s not there to learn the songs. We also have a 40 song repertoire, and that makes it a lot easier to ensure that we have those practice tracks and other resources available, and that the team has a chance to get familiar with the material. We do have an audition process to join a team, so this sets a minimum standard of musicianship, but this by no means limits our teams to “professionals only”. This may not be the norm, but it seems to be working well for us.

    -Tim

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