One of the main reasons I started this blog is that other blogs about worship leading didn’t seem to cover the issues that I had dealt with over the years in ‘average’ churches. It makes sense. Most of the guys who put up these blogs have the time to do so because they are on staff at churches that are large enough to have a full time Worship Pastor, which generally means they are large enough to have more than one full band, and quite often have several fully staffed bands.
My background is both in large and small churches. I grew up at a church in Seattle that was around 2,500 people back in the 80’s and 90’s that (not surprisingly for Seattle) had an abundance of talented musicians (some of whom are in nationally known bands today). That church never had trouble putting a band together. Then when I was 18 in 2000 I was asked to leave Seattle and move to the UK to lead worship at a small church of 40 people. I was the only musical person in the church. Since then I’ve lead at churches of all sizes. Even at my last church which was around 800 people with a lot of musicians we often had trouble putting together a full band because of availability with work and we were sharing a lot of musicians with the youth ministry.
We can either see the challenge of staffing a full band as a problem but as an opportunity to think outside the box.
One of the biggest boxes we put ourselves in is that the person playing piano or guitar must be the worship leader. I’ve seen plenty of good folks who are good guitar players or pianists but can’t sing a lick struggle to lead a church in worship. They cover by putting as many other singers as they can around themselves. What if we thought outside of the box and found the best singer to “front” the band. That guitar player can lead the band, choose songs, lead practices, etc, but let a better ‘front man or woman’ be the face of the band on Sunday morning.
At our first Sunday night meetings last November it was just me and my acoustic guitar, playing and singing as loud as I could because we had a packed house and no sound system. We added a band in the next few months as we went to Sunday mornings, but we lacked drums. I kept hearing that “we really need” or “we have to get” a drummer. While I thought it would be great, I kept telling people that we didn’t need anything.
Like I said earlier, I was the only musician at my first church leading worship. My style naturally became very rhythmic. Rhythm can come from more places than just the drums. The acoustic guitar is a rhythm instrument at its core, the bass guitar is part of the rhythm section, even a piano can be rhythmic. The point is that we made do. Too many church bands focus on what they don’t have instead of what they can do! Rhythm and Energy can come from more than one place, it’s our job as worship leaders to find them.
If you don’t have enough players for a full band you can sound a little “thin”. A lot of churches just live with it, but you don’t have to. If you have a Piano and bass, could you have the bass player play higher notes almost as a lead instrument and let the piano handle the low end? If you have an acoustic guitar and a keyboard, have the keys focus on “filling in the sound” in pads, the hard part here is finding ones that don’t sound like 90’s pop (meaning lame). Have an electric guitar player but no keyboard? Using a few simple effects they can easily fill in the sound if they are able to think out of the box of guitar solo and blues rock. If you are thoughtful, intentional and humble you can with only a little effort fill in for the gaps that you’ll often find in the average church band.