What If?: Complete System Failure

What If? This series looks at real world situations that come up in worship leading. They may not happen often, but they happen often enough to talk about and plan ahead for. This week we’ll talk about complete system failure.


Complete System Failure (CSF) is when it all breaks down. If you break a string then another instrument could take the lead. If the overhead projector stops working, you can always switch to easy, well known songs. If you forget the words, you can always start over or look up at the screen or let one of the other singers cover for you.

CSF is when things break down so badly that you don’t have a safety net. The power goes out. The sound broad dies. An amplifier catches on fire.

CSF is when something breaks so bad that you have to totally change or potentially cancel a part of your church service.


In the 15 plus years that I’ve been leading worship I’ve had a CSF level situation occur 4 times.

Easter 2001- The power went out. We did our 1st service in the dark. No sound system. Nothing. Admittedly it was the smallest church I’ve served at so that made it easier, but I did have to change up the set list.

Bible College 2001- Showed up for morning chapel and the sound system wouldn’t turn on. Nothing. Everything was plugged in, no fuses blown. It just didn’t work. I forget what the reason was, but we didn’t have time to fix it before the chapel started. So I made the best of it. I didn’t have to change my set list since it didn’t affect the overhead words, but I did address the issue: “Hey guys, there’s no sound system this morning. So I’m gonna sing loud, and you should probably sing loud with me.” It ended up being one of the better worship times I’ve been a part of.

Youth Group 2004- One of the students spill Coke all over the soundboard. Pretty similar to the Bible College Episode.

Church service 2010- The entire sound system blew up. Well, not really, but it made horrible noise then died. We found out later that a cross over point that linked the soundboard with the Front of House speakers had up and died. The solution was two fold. It happened after the first part of worship, so that pastor just talked really loud during the Bible study. But we were supposed to do a few songs at the end, so what now? This wasn’t a small church or a Bible college chapel. There were 400 people in the room, so we went up to the youth room and rounded up a few extra acoustic guitars, then the worship leader, myself and someone else, played the exact same thing, sang the exact same thing. No parts, no harmony, just trying to amplify the sound to be able to lead that many people in worship. It actually worked well and the church appreciated the effort and the “we’re in this together” spirit of the thing.


Not much. You can’t control if the power goes out, and think of all the youth groups across the world, we just happened to be the one where the kid spilled the coke. You can take steps to maintain your gear. But if something is gonna die, then its just gonna up and die on you.

Unlike other “What If” scenarios that we cover here, CSF’s are the oneS that you can’t really avoid. The real question is how you respond to them when they happen.


If you make it a big deal, the people in the congregation will make it a big deal. If you play it cool, then the people will follow your lead. Make a joke about it. “Before we pray that God would raise our sound system from the dead…” or “God said let there be light… but the power company didn’t” or “well, we’ll forgive (insert beloved secretaries name here) cause it looks like someone didn’t pay the light bill.” Yes, those are horrible, lame jokes. I’m hoping you come up with better ones for your CSF, but the point is that even if the jokes are bad, you are making them! You are a worship leader, and this is a great chance to lead. Although, while we are leaders, we are also men and women under authority (Luke 7:8) so what for a cue from you Pastor or the person leading the service in case they want to take the lead.

The other thing that will keep you from freaking out when everything goes down is to remember where you are at. If you think that your success is measured by how great the band sounded or how cool the lights were then you’ll really freak out when those idols things are taken away from you. But if you see a church service as a family gathering then you’ll have a much easier time dealing with the situation because nothing will have changed in the grand scheme of things.

2 thoughts on “What If?: Complete System Failure

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s