8 Ground Rules to Run an Effective Worship Rehearsal
Once you’ve established the plan for WHEN you will rehearse, you can begin to implement the plan for HOW you will rehearse.
I highly recommend beginning each worship rehearsal by first gathering the team for some type of spiritual-growth activity. Following this, you’ll want to keep everyone circled up briefly to communicate—or reiterate—the plan for the rehearsal itself.
Make sure to provide an opportunity for the team to ask questions, and then release them to their stations to rehearse. Above all, make sure you’re clear and concise. People typically respond with greater confidence when they know what to expect in a rehearsal.
Of course, you should always aim to start right on time, and I typically ask my team to finish set-up and line check before rehearsal begins. For example, if our rehearsal spans 7:00 to 8:30 p.m., those who need to arrive and set up early should plan accordingly.
As always, make sure you strike a healthy balance between work and fun. It is detrimental to the team when we operate from either extreme.
Here are eight ground rules for the best way to run a rehearsal:
- Start with the least-known song
- Rehearse the extras
- Run the whole set from top to bottom
- Revisit any additional trouble spots
- End on time
- Circle up one last time
- Talk through the entire service
- Pray together
1. Start with the least-known song
Of course, you’ll regularly incorporate new or lesser-known songs into the set (though I wouldn’t introduce more than one every three to four weeks).
Rehearsing your newest song at the beginning of the rehearsal— rather than simply starting with the first song in the set—guarantees you’ll give it the attention it needs, plus you won’t risk running out of time by overemphasizing songs the team already knows.
2. Rehearse the extras
Work through your entire list of “what to rehearse” items. Clarify the plan for the transitions and then run through each of them. Consider any possible spontaneous moments, the known trouble spots, the dynamics, the potential off-script arrangements, and the altar-response song(s) right away.
This will keep you from forgetting to rehearse important elements until the rehearsal is almost over.
3. Run the whole set from top to bottom
Now that you’ve touched on all the extras, answering the team’s questions and working creatively together, it’s time to hit the entire set (assuming everyone has worked through the songs on their own before coming to rehearsal).
Don’t forget to simulate the service countdown (if your church uses one) as well as the speaking moments; a welcome, a Scripture passage, a prayer, or a teaching moment.
Hopefully you’ve thought through these items before your final rehearsal so you can simply say something like, “Talking, talking, talking,” or “Praying, praying, praying” in order to keep the rehearsal moving. Of course, if your church asks that everything be perfectly timed, you’ll need to speak each word as planned.
Then, as you work through the set, hit important “fix it” spots as needed, but do your best to keep things moving.
4. Revisit any additional trouble spots
If there’s still time, make sure you touch on any lingering issues. If not, you can talk through these things (especially your transitions) in your second rehearsal or backstage (if this is your only rehearsal).
If you have extra time, I recommend playing through the individual transitions one more time. This can be done quickly by playing the first eight to sixteen bars of the first song, then stopping to jump to the last eight to sixteen bars of the same song.
Play the specified transition together with the first eight to sixteen bars of the next song and so forth. You should be able to play all three to five transitions in a matter of three to five minutes, boosting everyone’s confidence as you lean toward excellence.
5. End on time
It’s highly important for you to establish a culture of honor where you begin and end on time. Take it from me. This can be difficult, especially if this is your midweek rehearsal. (Oh, how I struggle with ending on time!)
Even so, you must remember that you still have another rehearsal to touch on your missed elements. Just trust the process and leave some things for later. (If this is your Sunday rehearsal, you won’t have much choice, because the countdown won’t wait.)
6. Circle up one last time
If this is your first of two rehearsals for the week, make sure you gather everyone together at the end of your rehearsal to point out what they can and should be working on before Sunday.
You should end with a word of sincere encouragement and thanks and then ask one of your team members to close in prayer. (If this is your Sunday morning rehearsal, make sure to gather everyone backstage for your pre-service walk-through.)
7. Talk through the entire service
Our church does a six- to seven- minute “all-volunteer huddle” forty minutes prior to service. This marks the drop-dead ending time for our rehearsal and provides the perfect space for energizing everyone.
Following this, our entire creative team meets together to quickly talk through the full order of service with our service producer. This keeps us all on the same page with the details and allows for any last-minute questions or clarifications.
8. Pray together
With the five to ten remaining minutes, we gather to refocus our hearts on the Lord one final time before the service begins. This helps to settle our nerves, cultivate unity, and keep from forgetting why we’re doing what we’re doing.
I often take this opportunity to cast vision, quote a scripture, or invite several individual team members to lead us in prayer. This can also be a good moment for a short devotional teaching, depending on the time.
Remember: Always encourage the culture of excellence in your rehearsals, not perfection. (I am a recovering perfectionist myself.)
Be sure to remind everyone to be ready to go with all their gear and music. Encourage team members with similar musical roles to communicate with each other outside rehearsal so they know who’s playing or singing what part.
Above all, foster unity and spiritual growth at every turn. Encourage each person to remember that their individual role is vital to the Kingdom but also to the team.
For perspective on how to steer clear of pride and insecurity, I often remind my teams that our gifts and songs are much like the little boy’s lunch (see John 6:9). They are insignificant yet still precious and useful in the Master’s hands.
Compared to the great hunger of the people, our loaves and fishes will never be enough to meet the need. What can our little songs and talents really do by themselves, anyway?
And yet when placed in the Master’s hands, our humble offering of songs and chords is multiplied to become more than enough to nourish hungry souls.
Other Worship Leadership Articles:
6 Steps for Increasing Worship Team Effectiveness
8 Things for Your Worship Team to Rehearse
Your Guide to Smooth Transitions Between Worship Songs
7 Compelling Reasons to Avoid Chasing Culture and Style When Leading Worship
5 Biblical Reasons for Spontaneous Worship in Your Church
4 Great Ways to Take Your Congregation to the Next Level in Worship
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