Sarah and I started attending Church Of the City in East Nashville a little over a year ago, and we both immediately felt at home. Church of the City does so much right, that I had to share some of the things I’ve seen/learned in the last year from playing occasionally with them.
If you’re trying to build a really successful worship team, here are 10 things Church Of The City has done that have attracted world class musicians, kept stress levels low, and created a beautiful community of Christ-following musicians:
1. Keep it simple.
From the setlist to the onstage setup, everything is stripped down to the absolute minimum. This allows two amazing things to happen: musicians focus all of their attention on worshipping by playing music, and the quality of the few elements being focused on goes through the roof.
If you want to build quality into your worship set, it’s vital to strip everything that’s not essential out. What’s left will be amazing because you’ll have exponentially more time to focus on it.
2. Pay your musicians/sound techs.
Even though Church of the City East Nashville meets in a gym each week, every member of the worship team is paid. That’s right- every person on the 6-8 person worship team is making a small amount of money for being onstage.
By paying their musicians, the leaders at COTC immediately attract a much more talented set of musicians from ground zero than an unpaid team. Starting with quality musicians onstage saves literally hundreds of hours of headaches, and attracts more quality musicians to both the congregation and the team.
COTC wisely doesn’t pay the musicians too much (if you look at it as only a gig, it’s really poor pay), which keeps musicians who are only in it for the money from wanting to play. This creates a healthy culture of talented musicians playing because they attend the church and love worshipping, while still compensating them for spending the time to work up the set.
3. Plan in advance, but not too far in advance.
I usually get a request from the leader at COTC a week to two week’s in advance, and I know if I can’t do it he won’t be upset and will reach out to another keyboardist on the list. This takes the pressure off of me, and helps to build a healthy no-pressure culture on the worship team.
If you start with paying musicians for their time, the odds are great that you’ll have a large group of talented musicians one call away.
4. Don’t play to tracks.
I’ve never played to tracks COTC, and I’ve been impressed with how full it sounds. Musicians quickly settle in sonically, filling up the frequencies with creative parts. By not doing tracks we also are free to take the song in any musical direction that feel will fit the rest of the songs, creating a more cohesive worship set.
While many worship groups successfully use tracks every sunday, try going without it and see what happens. You might be surprised the direction you take the songs without pre-programmed tracks forcing you down a specific sonic path.
5. Severely limit practice time.
The rehearsal for COTC is almost laughably short- around 30-45 minutes tops on Sunday morning. We show up, do a quick sound check, run all of the songs once, then run over transitions. That’s it.
Why does this work? Because every musician knows that this is how COTC does it, and you better have practiced at home before you come or you’ll be lost musically.
If you set a standard early on and you’re consistent, you’ll be amazed how musicians will adapt and prepare. (Remember, part of the reason this works is because the musicians are making money, which gives them a higher incentive to meet expectations).
6. Use a metronome.
While COTC doesn’t use tracks, we do use a metronome for most songs. This keeps the whole group tight, and speeds up rehearsal time.
If you are using in-ears, using a metronome will help keep everyone focused onstage tempo-wise, and save you a bunch of time.
7. Rotate musicians frequently.
This is a controversial one. If you can rotate through a large group of musicians onstage, it encourages a bunch of great things (avoiding burnout, keeping the sound fresh, etc) while keeping some negative stuff in check (complacency, entitlement, egos, etc).
8. Keep the gear simple.
It’s crazy how simple the equipment is at COTC. We rely on a front of house system with just two speakers and two subs, and everyone has in-ears. Onstage musicians are encouraged to bring the simplest setup possible- I usually play just a single keyboard.
By limiting the gear to the essentials it reduces what can go wrong live, and keeps the focus off the equipment and on the music and making a beautiful worship experience.
9. Keep the songs in the same key, if possible.
I initially thought it was kind of lazy to play every song in the same key, but then I spent a weekend doing it this way and realized it simplifies a host of transition problems (one of the biggest time drains in practice) and allows songs to blend together well. Surprisingly, I didn’t feel like it was too boring to keep the all songs in the same key.
While this isn’t essential, keeping keys the same is a great trick for creating a unified theme to your set.
10. Have a support team that shows up early.
This is the secret sauce of creating a fantastic worship experience- having a dedicated support team. COTC sound and tech staff show up at an incredible 5 AM every morning, and spend the first two hours putting together the sound, light, and set. They test everything, and all we have to do when we get there is plug in and line check our instruments. Without these incredible people, the service would never work.
Treat your support staff like royalty. If they’re great, everything around your worship team will work out amazingly well.
What makes your team tick? Leave a comment below: