Worship Band Rotation

David Gutekunst —  October 4, 2013

Worship Band Rotation

Have you ever had your pastor or a church leader approach you after a service asking why you have the same people up there every week? Little do they know, the reason everything has flowed so well lately is because the band is finally starting to gel. We all know that leading becomes a lot easier when your band knows what it means when you are stomping your foot for a build or throwing your guitar neck up to signal the end of a song.

I’ve led worship at a variety of churches over the years. At some it was consistently the same group, and at others there was an entirely different band and LEADER week-in and week-out. Most of the time though this was dictated by church size, how many players we had and if the pastor wanted the same person on the platform each week. There are many ways to organize your worship team and the rotation is one aspect that can have a huge impact on the dynamics of the group. It’s important to choose the rotation style that works best with the members of your team as well as the congregation you’re leading.

We’d like to see how you’re handling rotating your team, so here are a few questions for you…

  • Are you flooded with talent or putting up audition fliers at the local coffee shop?
  • How do to you handle rotating your team? Are there members you can’t do without each week?
  • How often do you get to step down and be in the congregation?

Let us know what works best for you as well as the lessons you’ve learned along the way when dealing with rotating band members.

David Gutekunst

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David is the Manager of Interactive Marketing & Strategy at Capitol CMG Publishing and oversees all areas of the online experience for Worship Together. He has been involved in music ministry for over 15 years and serves as a bi-vocational Worship Pastor at Hope Fellowship Church in the Nashville area.

30 responses to Worship Band Rotation

  1. I had the incredible pleasure of being a guitarist/part time vocal at a large church with several members that would rotate. To help build unity amongst each other we would have worship nights together, just as a team and it was great. Now I’m getting ready to leave the small church I’ve been the worship leader at for almost a year where I’ve had a full band twice…Easter and this week where my new college ministry band is joining me. It was shockingly tough to try and recruit players to the church I was leading, but very easy to recruit folks to a ministry that didn’t have any specific church ties, it is definitely a tricky position to be in when you don’t have musicians in a church already, or people that are not willing to use their talents.

  2. I can see there are pros and cons. Consistency versus developing more musicians, paid vs non-paid (a touchy subject), those with gear vs those without.
    A lot depends on the church size I suppose as well. I’ve been playing guitar for years now, I’m thankful we’ve got a good group.

  3. We are somewhere in the middle. I am currently the drummer who once a month rotates to the sound mixer. I enjoy this rotation personally because our band as a whole is made of a unique blend. On one end we have a 70+ year old man who grew up playin blues in bars and now rocks the organ in a way the church has never seen, our Australian lead guitarist has a Masters in music and chooses to warm up to Dream Theater. Our acoustic player is a rapper. Percussionist is a metal head obsessed with Arnold Schwartzeneggar. Our pad/synth player is an incredible piano player who is the only person who has lead at a mega church. And our leader is the blackest white man you will ever hear. So our team definitely has a unique sound but it works. Think Gary Oliver leading the blue man group playing “Sweet, Sweet Sound” with a metal band.

    Back on target now….our rotations are just beginning and one thing I believe is that our consistent sound is something that has made Landmark | Worship what it is today. We have rotations of background vocals every few weeks, but we always have a few key players that remain on stage. Mostly if someone won’t be there then the rotation comes in. The schedule is something that most everyone agrees on. So rotations have helped use new people, but the sound of our band remains very similar but branches out each week. Very cool. The thing that affects the sound and flow of worship is the song style that we choose to implement. For example: the last song we brought in was “Swallow the Ocean” by Newsong, but we just started doing “One Thing Remains” which has been out forever. You never know what will come, BUT whatever song it is, we NEVER do it the same way as the recording. That I believe is what makes a team stand out. Successfully leading a crowd of mixed ages into worship with a song they’ve heard before, but using the sound they’ve come to expect. To God be all the Glory!

    http://landmarkchristiancenter.com/media.php?pageID=9

  4. Our worship leader has not been in the congregation for eight years straight.

  5. There has been the same worship leader for about 7-8, maybe 10 years.
    We’ve had a couple of vocalists come and go.
    We have one bass player, one guitarist, one keyboardist, one drummer (who rarely comes) and a couple of vocalists who have their heart in the right place, not always necessarily on the right key. Oh, and a pianist who set his own schedule, which is totally fine, at least we have him for 2 Sundays out of the month.

    I recently joined the group last year. It had been in my heart to do so for much longer than that, and the worship leader had been asking me long before that. Now that I’m finally on the team, it is exhausting. I’m the one who has to find new songs, and translate them (we do 3 services each week), the leadership is okay, but we have what seems to be a commitment problem with the musicians.

    The worship leader is the one playing guitar, and sometimes, he’s the only one that can be there. Our church used to be very small, but now, it is growing, and I’m seeing new faces each week. I do want to give my very best when I worship up there, and I do… what I’m concerned about is the worship leader. He always is stressed out about something, on some sort of committee in the church, always rushing, never “having the time”, (I can say this because I live with him, he’s my Dad) to do anything, and I just don’t know what to do anymore. It is difficult to see him being stretched to the limit. I try to help him out with whatever I can (finding new songs, etc.), but it just never seems like enough. I know he is being burned out. I thank God that despite his age, he still has the energy to lead, but I don’t want to use him till he’s running on fumes.

    Prayers and suggestions are greatly appreciated.

    • Hey Anonymous,

      My heart hurts a little when I read your post. I don’t have a ton of advice but hopefully I can encourage you some.

      1. Remember first that he is your dad. Its simple I know. Just don’t ever project his expectations as a worship leader on you as a son. You’re his son and he will always love you. (I don’t mean to imply you struggle with this but I could see it easily happening. Also my father has been a pastor my entire life. I know what the behind the scenes can look like.)

      2. I would say the best way to help any worship leader from feeling “burnt out” is to not let yourself get burnt out. Excitement is contagious. Be the attitude you would like to see in your worship team. Even in the times the team seems to not be.
      Along the same lines, don’t let others stress stress you out. Letting yourself take it easy allows others to take it easy when they are around you. The way seeing him stressed may stress you out, him seeing you NOT stress gives him the chance to not be stressed.

      Anyways, text don’t always convey attitude or tone very well. I hope I haven’t over dramatized anything.

      Prayers I do have and will keep ya in them today. Much love.

  6. I noticed that Churches favor there Family and Relatives for worship! I think they should rotate some Christian worshipers in! Be fair to all,Amen!

    • I agree, that is the case with our church, the pastor’s wife is the WL and she doesn’t respect musical knowledge/ability really. She has little knowledge of theory not that it’s required but it makes it difficult to communicate with her when you have to tell her that you can’t “capo down” a given song! And her daughter and son in law are also on the team, her other daughter was on the team, and finally withdrew as she realised her abilities and interest in gaining more skill on the guitar wasn’t there. She’s a sweet girl and very personable and is now giving the announcements. The pastor’s son does the media display and nearly every week there’s either a major typo or delay in the display as he does not ever practice nor listen to the team practice before hand. Everyone in the pastor’s family is doing something active and quite visible to the congregation during the service every week, and while there are greeters and ushers who are not family members, the most visible roles go to family.

      I was on the worship team for three years, not only playing every week but also developing all the lead sheets from scratch (and sometimes 100% by ear). That’s my talent and I have developed a skill in doing this over a number of years (with various churches, not just this one). I resigned this summer as I was burned out from trying to get improvement on the team without any cooperation or even interest by the WL. Her lack of respect for me and others not related to her was a major factor.

      We’re not even sure we will continue being part of this church the family control and micromanagement is so pervasive. (The pastor’s wife also took over a Christmas party that was supposed to have been run by the hospitality “team.”)

  7. We are somewhere in the middle. I’m not being flooded with musicians but we do have some talented people. We do not have bands set up for a few reasons.

    -We have the pleasure of having a violinist who majors in performance at UNC. If he is playing, then I wont schedule the lead guitarist. This allows Mic(the violinist) to play the lead lines and gives him freedom in the upper range. Also it gives our guitarist the week off. It works out nicely.
    -Some weeks we lean towards country and some we lean towards rock. Some weeks we are more reflective and some weeks we are more celebratory.But mostly I try to figure out what inst would make for a full sound. If we don’t have a pianist one week then I would be sure to schedule perhaps the mandolin that week to help fill it up. Also we don’t have two drummers so we have that to work with.
    – Ummm and I’ll stop here cause I’ll end up typing forever. There are so many reasons why we schedule how we do :)

    Basically if you’re on our worship team you will be scheduled two Sundays a month. Some are scheduled three times (or perhaps four if the month has five Sundays) if they play more than one inst. I myself play Piano (poorly), Elect, Acoust, Drums, and bass. While I never get a day completely off I try to schedule at least two Wednesday nights a month where I am not the leader. I’ll play drums or another inst then I’ll lead the closing songs myself. This allows us to grow worship leaders!

    As far as being able to gel. Musicians need to be able to gel with anyone. An electric guitarist should be able to be given a song then come back in a week and play his parts, and know when they happen, know whats coming next. If you plan to do something out of the ordinary, or plan on not fallowing the structure of the song as written, then its my(your) responsibility as the leader to communicate that to the team.
    The flip side of the coin – building relationships, discipling your team, knowing each other well enough to improve or be spontaneous when a service could use it, takes time. having different people every week could cause these things to never happen. We are trying to find the happy medium.

  8. Tamarah Montgomery October 4, 2013 at 10:37 am

    We rotate 20 different vocalists and instrumentalists through a two month cycle. I always lead the band each week and rotate two other co-worship leaders to lead with me. I do not have a Team A and Team B. Every member is scheduled strategically with different team members, so that everyone plays/sings with everyone else at some point in the two month schedule. We believe that if someone has the gifting to be on the team and the calling from the Lord, we will do our best to give them an opportunity to operate in their gifts. We rehearse every week with the scheduled team for that week, and if someone can not make rehearsal, they can not play/sing on Sunday. This commitment to rehearsal has increased everyone’s skill level so that every member can play most every song. It means that I have to teach a new song several times, but with practice CDS and charts handed out, the team members learn the songs quickly and correctly. The rotating of team members allows everyone to be in the congregation some, as well as go out of town. Every other month, we have Team Night where the entire worship team and production comes together for worship, prayer and fellowship. It keeps the entire team in unity and united purpose and vision. I am always leading the team unless I go on vacation. It is not a burden to lead every week- but I am tired on Sunday afternoons after sound check and three services! I am so thankful for the team of musicians that we have!

  9. We’re a very small church with a limited pool of ability even within the team. We have multiple leaders for sundays so they rotate along with everyone else in the team. When people’s availability alters it falls back on the main worship leader. Some sundays we just make do without….a drummer, guitar, piano, extra vocalists. My aim is to try and spread the strengths around and get the best balance possible every week.

  10. Howard Sturdevant October 4, 2013 at 9:46 am

    Our churches worship leadership is split between my wife & I. She recruits the vocalists, I recruit and lead the band. Team rotations are on a “when available” basis. We are a small church that does not have the personnel assets to rotate on a regular basis. I am able to be in the congregation, or away from the platform 6-8 times a year.

  11. We don’t have a flood of talent. It is rare that someone approaches me and has the commitment required to join the group. We have had a lot of changes over 10 years, especially in the beginning. However for the past 6-7 years it has mainly been 4 musicians carrying each Sunday. We have become so tight that we only practice when there are new songs on the plate. Each of us have full-time jobs and families so scheduling practice is a challenge. We had a lead electric guitar for a year, but he moved on. Presently, we do have an alternate drummer as needed. So, we are open to new additions, but to learn and play the 140 selections we do requires a longterm serious commitment and no one has stepped forward.

    • and to answer the question about being in the congregation – The band does not get that opportunity.

  12. RIght now I am more volunteer driven every 1st and 3rd Sunday and more contracted on the 2nd and 4th Sunday of the month. This allows my volunteers that aren’t as talented to spend more time with the songs than feeling rushed with material. Song choices are also more challenging those weeks but it is good to know your teams weaknesses as well as strengths and try your best to play to those strengths.

  13. Our church’s talent level is all over the board so it is difficult to manage. I rotate band and media monthly and vocal teams every two weeks. The struggle with rotation is consistency. In particular, finding singers who can harmonize and drummers that can keep a steady beat and know how to be dynamic. It’s all a weekly challenge!

  14. I led a youth band for 4 years, and I am now leading for a church and its been about a year. I am not a fan of the rotation thing. To me, its just added frustration. I guess to me, if your called to music, then your called to music. The only reason you would get tired of it is if you are trying to make it something its not, or if your not called to music. So my suggestion is to find those people who are as passionate about music as you are, and form a tight band. Psalm 33:3 says that we should play ‘skillfully.’ If you have band members who are sold out to the cause, you shouldn’t have any problems. If you come up with people who want to play, but you dont really have room on the team for them – first pray. Then speak the truth in love. There is nothing worse than adding someone to the team that is not sold out, it would be better just not to have that instrument or singer.

  15. We use two different bands. This does two things for us. It allows the bands to gel because they play with pretty much the same people every time they play, but it also gives them two weeks a month that they get to be part of the congregation. I have only been part of the congregation twice in the last year. We are somewhere between an abundance of talent and needing audition posters, finding vocalists and guitarists seem to be the hardest thing for us…

  16. We have had a variety of different needs and and resources but currently it seems like we have 2 of everything except guitarists!! Seems strange to me but its true. I’m praying for more guitarists, bassists and drummers. Everyone wants to sing or play keys. No one seem to want to lead either, or maybe it’s just me. I get to be in the congregation maybe 2-3 times a year….no joke.

  17. 1) I wouldn’t say that we are flooded with talent, but the talent we do have is some of the best I’ve ever had the privilege of working with. I have flirted with the idea of fliers but then you have really be ready when someone comes to you and wants to play or sing and their idea of good or talented doesn’t match up with yours.
    2) We have just begun doing some rotating in the last 6 months or so. Right now we rotate out our drummer and bass player (a month on, then a month off) because those are the instruments that we have players for. Our hope in rotating the band is that in doing so, we will be establishing a second band to do some satelliting in and around our area of central PA.
    We truly need our drummer each week. Without him the band sound just doesn’t happen. If we don’t have a bass player then our keyboard player throws in some extra bass notes to fill in that void. If we don’t have our keyboard player then my lead guitarist fills in his part (lead ins to songs and fills during transitions). If I don’t have my rhythm guitarist then we simply go without and don’t have as many extra fills during songs. We really have a good balance and a great working understanding of each other’s abilities and that is what helps us to gel and adjust to someone’s absence.
    3) I actually have a great situation that was already in place before I arrived a year and a 1/2 ago. The band has the last Sunday of the month off each month and we have one or two other worship leaders who lead on that Sunday. This gives me the opportunity to stay and worship with my congregation or to go visit another local congregation to check out what they’re doing. This also allows me to take in different worship styles (charismatic, gospel, catholic, etc.) in order to keep me from tunnel visioning my idea of what worship is.

  18. 1) Multitudes of guitar players – as far as the eye can see (with varying degrees of experience/talent). We could use another drummer and another keyboard player.
    2) There is the “first string” and the “second string”. The second string comes in when one of the first string can’t make it.
    3) Rarely – maybe 2 or 3 times a year.
    As for “regular rotation” :
    I’ve been leading worship for 10+ years and in my experience rotation is NOT a good thing. Our calling is to be conduits of the Holy Spirit – and you can’t do that effectively if you are a distraction. Bad music – mistakes – are a distraction. The band has to be TIGHT! And you can’t be tight if you don’t play together all the time. When we have guest players it’s just not as smooth.
    Is it more stressful “having” to play (or lead) every week? Maybe, but the gate is narrow! We’ve been given this calling for a reason. The trouble or work required to give this gift is a very small price to pay.
    Blessings to all of your ministries!
    Greg

    • As a fellow Greg you couldn’t be more right, I agree with you fully. I’ve played with people who believe mistakes are okay, and that striving to sound tight, and all together puts the focus onto us and away from God, when in actuality it’s the exact opposite. Striving to sound the best we can facilitate people to interact with the Spirit on a deep connectible level.

      • I agree that the quality of music needs to be practiced and prepared so that mistakes are minimal but at the same time you should not neglect the talents and giftings of others in the congregation (even if they are a “B” team player). We have a policy in place that requires an individual to attend the church for atleast 6 months, be saved, and be active in the church in order to join the worship team. Then we will bring that individual in on a rotating basis. Right now we are struggling with an A vs. B drummer and some conflicts have come up because of this rotation. The A drummer has been there for 30+ years and the B drummer has only been there a year. But to take the opportunity away from the B drummer just because he is new and subpar would be neglecting his opportunity to grow in the giftings that God has blessed him with.

  19. For Paul J.,
    It’s all about timing. I think it’s a blessing to see that God has provided a ministry with many talents with music. But it’s also a curse where egos rise and conflict with others. So I’d say you should do it when it’s under control. You need your head pastor to have a say and make decisions together.

  20. In our ministry, we currently have two teams. We’re still in the look out for another drummer and electric player. So our drummer is doubling up on both and I lead my team while playing electric for the other.
    We rotate on a two week basis. And when there is a special event, I tend to lead because the other guy is still training.
    And the last time I was in the congregation was maybe a year ago.

  21. matt singleterry May 27, 2008 at 2:09 pm

    I have seen the spectrum it feel like in my 5 years in vocational ministry. I have been through the, its just me and an acoustic, and my wife with a keyboard and our two voices. And now we have a full band that really rocks hard, and leads well. I have two drummers and to some degree I love and hate it. You have to teach a new song twice, so that takes some planning and prep, but it allows them to have a little less stress in feeling like they can NEVER miss. So that is good.
    I am not a fan of the rotation on a weekly basis each week of all the members.
    It’s hard to read each other and play well together if you only play together once a month as that specific group.
    (i experienced this growing up in the worship team at my home church)

  22. First let me say that our church actually started as a group of college kids who started a choir about a decade ago, so, at the risk of sounding arrogant, praise and worship is something we’ve kind of always been “good” at. Well, anointed is probably the better word. So, yes, we are kind of flooded with talent. At this point, though, a lot of training has been going forth.
    My pastor feels that no matter what church you’re in, there’s always someone who either has the talent or the heart to do the job. It’s just a matter of finding them. There’s no need to “hire” people to do what someone in your congregation can probably already do.
    For the most part, when it comes to singing, we don’t really rotate yet. Our musicians (2 drummers, 2 keyboard players) will rotate. Our singers have recently arrived at a point where they’ve started gelling, so we don’t practice as much. But at the same time we’re a small church that’s growing, so we’re starting to add singers. And hopefully more musicians.
    As far as stepping down goes, our pastor kind of leaves that up to us. He knows when we’re tired and when we need a break, but he leaves it up to our discretion. If things get really out of hand, then he’ll step in. But, like he says, we’re all grown and we know better than anyone when we need a break. He only asks that we tell him in advance and provide someone to take our place in our absence. It’s all about accountability.

  23. Steve Anderson May 26, 2008 at 1:51 pm

    The goal for me is discipleship and spiritual growth rather than “seemless spirit-led” music. It is more important to develop spiritual gifts of those around us than to wow a crowd of worshippers.
    The example of Christ was to take ordinary unschooled people and tranform them into tools for ministry. Often, worship teams find talent and quickly become comfortable and exclusive which promptly alientates the general church body.
    I have a worship team called “The Backups,” which is a free ministry to churches in the Seattle/Eastside area leading worship Sunday mornings. I have sought churches with leadership gaps struggling with the music/worship end of a service. Let me just say there is no end to these type of churches. Seminaries pump out pastors in great numbers, but music/worship leaders are in very short supply. Anybody with any leadership skills can quickly find a place in music ministry simply by approaching these sorts of churches. I’m overbooked (and it probably helps that we are free).
    But, I never want to get in the way of a church developing their own team members. Also, the team I have is open to new people whose musical gifts are unrefined. Working to develop these gifts is where the hard work is…as well as the spiritual payoff. Church audiences care more about the spiritual delivery than musical excellence. I feel confident that with the right approach, attitude, and solid rehearsal (including vocal and instrumental layering) a “B” team can consistantly be more inspirational than an “A” team.

    • Steve, how did you go about approaching the churches with your “backups” plan? I’m curious! Thanks for the good idea.

  24. Okay, real quick, I’m not THE Jason Ingram from the Jason Ingram band … I’ve been wrestling with this idea of band rotation for a while now, and was wondering if anyone here had good resources on the pros/cons? I think it would benefit my band sometimes (they’re great musicians, and want to be on every week, but I don’t think that is healthy long-term), but they have soundly rejected the idea when I have suggested it. Thoughts?

  25. 1) We’re flooded with vocalists. We need bass and guitar players…haven’t put up fliers yet, though.
    2) My OPINION is there are members I’d like to have up there every week, but in the interest of giving everyone the opportunity to lead, I have to let the best chops sit out every once in awhile.
    3) In the past twelve months? Once.