12 Elements Of A Thriving Worship Culture

Every church has a culture, and every worship ministry within a church has a culture as well. Our worship culture determines our long-term effectiveness at loving each other deeply, making beautiful music, creating environments that disciple, mentor, and release others (often to replace us), and building consistent spaces that empower our community in Kingdom worship. I put together the following “Our Worship Culture” statement for our own worship community at the Vineyard Church of Franklin in TN, and am posting it here if it can be helpful in forming your own for your church.

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The following ideas remind us who we are, and where we are going, as a worship tribe.

OUR WORSHIP CULTURE

Every church has a culture, and every worship ministry within a church has a culture as well. The following ideas remind us who we are, and where we are going, as a worship tribe. If we all put apply our hearts to embodying each of these ideas personally, our worship community will thrive over the years.

1. We Are A Worship Tribe First, And A Team Second

We function as a tribe more than a team, carrying our church’s story with us, caring for our personal health and growth, praying for each other, and serving where needed, as needed. We all want to be like Jesus – and that makes us a family more than a team.

2. We Have A Weekly Worship Culture, Not Just A Sunday Event

We serve our family through many worship experiences, not just on Sunday mornings. We see our other events, large and small, with just as much significance as a Sunday morning. We don’t covet stages or platforms – they are just one context in which we lead.

3. We See The Worship Experience As An Invitation To A Table, Not A Service Or Experience

We recognize that people have come to “meet with God” (Ps. 42:2). As worship leaders, musicians, and techs, our posture is one of hospitality – we help set a Table for meeting.

4. We Mentor Others, Rather Than Being Self-Focused

We do not cling to our roles, but rather look for opportunities to develop others and, when they are trained and ready, release them to be involved. We give away stages as others are trained.

5. We Actively Pursue Personal & Musical Growth

We are self-motivated to grow – on every level. We are teachable, even the most professionally skilled among us, and receive input graciously. We model the pursuit of Kingdom greatness. We choose to get better month after month, on our instruments, musicality, leadership, and more by taking consistent, small steps toward growth.

6. We Serve Our Community, And Each Other, With No Competition

We nurture servanthood in word and deed, and champion each other. We have a distinct lack of ambition/competition among us. We trust God with our callings, and find opportunities to serve. Praying for one another keeps us us tender to, and safe for, one another.

7. We Have An Open-Handed Ministry Model

We believe that an Open-Handed Ministry model, where we make room for others to be involved, lead, play, or participate, is vital. For health and growth, we choose to be flexible. We step on an off of stages easily, without fighting for platform. Our hearts and hands are open to all that God may be doing – in us, in others, and our church.

8. We Celebrate Creativity And Excellence, Without Sacrificing Community

We celebrate excellence in all aspects of personal spirituality and music, and yet we are also open to inviting others in and discipling – with all the mess it can bring. Creativity is a high value for us, and while it is always subject to the needs of our community when it comes to worship, we want to fan into flame the the creative passions of one another.

9. We Keep The Bar High On Musicality, Heart, And Skill On Our Team

We believe that excellence in Christlikeness, and excellence in musical skill, are both vital qualities in every worship ministry member. We keep the bar high on both of these for ourselves, all the while working to create environments in which people at all stages of progress can succeed along the way.

10. We Embrace Relational and Interpersonal Purity

We are vitally connected in relationships, in small groups, and in our church family. We pursue accountable relationships, we keep short accounts, and we are teachable. Family wins. Always.

11. We Care For The Poor, And Invite Them Into Our Lives

[While this may seem out of place, for those who practice it, you will understand how this empowers a worship community culture.] We see the poor as “us,” not “them” – and allow this Kingdom perspective to change us. As a church community, and as a church family, we lean toward the poor, building community with them. This community-building includes us as a worship community. Our hearts and attitudes are softened by the felt-needs of the poor. We will continue learning to become like Christ in this as we go, and connection with the poor will shape our songs and ways of leading worship.

12. We Communicate Honestly, But With Grace And A Willingness To Learn

We choose to be very difficult to offend. We don’t do politics or complaining; we serve where we can, honor the direction of leaders, communicate with grace and honesty, assume the best of others, and give grace generously and freely as we bring our best gifts to an imperfect Table.

These are some starter ideas to help you form your own worship culture, and it’s my prayer you find your worship expression growing in richness, quality, passion, intimacy – and a sense of the Lord’s power in your midst.

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Question: What other elements, in your experience, help a worship culture growth in strength over time?

Resources: Ideas on building a Worship Philosophy for your church are covered in the Essentials In Worship Ministry study (part of Essentials).

 

10 Best Practices For Worship Vocalists

The vocals in a worship band are an instrument, and when played well, musically, and in intentional connection with the rest of the music the band is making – can lift the worship experience in a local church to some beautiful heights. Here are 10 Best Practices for Worship Vocalists I’ve gleaned from many effective leaders, arrangers, and producers over the years that will help take the vocal instruments in your band to the next level.

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These best practices are in no particular order, and are not meant to be exhaustive, but all of them are a bit of a “constellation” of good listening and heart habits that work together. They also don’t all focus on singing, as worship has to do with both heart and skill expressed in a band environment.

10 Best Practices For Worship Vocalists

1. Vibrato Is Out – Tight Blend Is In.

When microphones were first put in front of church vocalists back in the day, chorally or folk-bred singers brought their vibrato to the microphone. If you’re the only one singing, or if you’re trying to convey a 1970s sound (almost 50 years ago), you can get away with it. But “buzz” is what we’re after in today’s 21st century worship environments. Aim for a smooth sound, that blends tightly with the other vocalists (see #8 below).

2. Drink Lots Of Water Hours Before Singing.

Hydrated vocal cords sound better, hold pitch better, and hold up longer. Drink lots and lots of water a few hours before you are going to sing. It will help your sound and keep your voice strong for the long haul.

Oh, and warm up on the car ride in. It helps.

3. You Don’t Need To Sing All The Time.

I can’t tell you how many “deer-in-the-headlights” looks I’ve gotten over the years about this one. “I’m in front of a microphone, I practiced, so I need to sing all the time, right?” Nope. You are an instrument. Voices blend, come and go, lay out for extended periods, then come in tastefully – just like instruments. Listen to an All Sons And Daughters video, Bon Iver, or other video (see the Oceans acoustic video). It’s all about applying your “instrument” at the right time.

Sometimes, I ask one singer to join in on the first chorus, then hold back a second singer for when a bigger moment arrives. It adds dynamics.

4. Begin Phrases, And End Phrases, Tightly With The Worship Leader.

This is about concentration and practice. Losing vibrato, and focusing on creating a vocal “buzz,” pay attention to the exact rhythm and phrasing of the worship leader. Match it. Then, vocalists should match each other.

My “Vocal Circle Exercise,” below, helps train this. So does the recording studio, and in-ear monitors.

5. Two Vocals Is Enough; Beyond That Creates Another Sound And Must Be Worked.

Just so we know, today (and my preference), having a lead vocal and just one other vocal is a common, tight sound. (Think Civil Wars, or some other favorite band.) If it’s just you, fine. If it’s just two of you, tastefully apply the second instrument. If it’s more, work out the harmonies. I’m a big fan of a female vocal (if I’m leading) joining me on melody on a big chorus, while the other vocal does a cool harmony (see #7) below.

Some pastors value a higher visual “participation” up front, and vocals are the logical place to put more people. But know that it changes the sound radically, and the more vocals, the less “current” (at least in some contemporary worship sounds) the band may sonically feel. For this reason, if that is a value or request, I encourage using choirs and other complementary groups to enhance the straight-up band sound – rather than putting them all on a mic.

6. Competition Is A Heart Issue; Deal With It Before Jesus.

Just throwing this in. We’re all called to be Jesus. That’s all. Competing with others and being upset when they are asked to lead a verse, or do something special, is just our brokenness talking. Serve, with your instrument, with humility.

[Here's a hot-button I hear about everywhere I've gone the last years. Voices, and sound tastes, change. They do, and it's okay. We must all learn new approaches to ingrained singing habits. Know that if your natural vocal sound is aging, and another sound is desirable, the worship leader or those leading the ministry are not de-valuing you as a person if they emphasize the other sound/voice. Your voice is not the identity equivalent of you (welcome to the struggle of every artist). But you can learn new tricks with practice and intention.

And, as always, find your place, Be there to serve and offer ego to Jesus, be willing to step on or off a stage, and then find a variety of places to serve as needed. I'm not saying that leaders aren't imperfect in how they handle these things, but I am saying that things change and worship leaders have hard calls to make along the way. Find a place that works for you, and leave the competition off of church stages.]

7. Train To Current Recordings And Videos, And Learn Their Harmonies And Entry Points.

This is a big, big deal. Learn fresh harmonies from fresh music that is out there. As I’ve said before, 1970 styles were almost 50 years ago. 1990 was 20+ years ago. Sounds change, and sometimes people sing in ways that they mimicked in their teens and twenties.

Download a bunch of new songs, then, play them all the time. Only sing harmony in the car to every song you listen to. Practice. Try fresh approaches. If not, you will default to the 3rd, the 5th, or some other “this sounds basic and doesn’t work so good” mix. Listen, listen, listen, then mimic, mimic, mimic. Then, when a moment calls for a fresh harmony, you have a mental/vocal toolbox from which to draw.

In those recordings, also notice when vocals enter, and when they recede. Apply those ideas when you’re part of the band. Note the tight phrasing, and lack of vibrato.

8. Aim For A Vocal Buzz – One Voice – Between Vocalists.

I have an exercise I do with myself and vocalists I call the “Vocal Circle.” Off mic, we stand in a tight, tight circle. I sing a chorus, and everyone watches me to match my phrasing and dynamics. Then, we all join in. Our goal is to sound like ONE voice – not many. Vibratos disappear, and a tight “buzz” begins to happen. Then, apply this to the microphone.

When dynamics get big, vocals often get out of control, trying to add to the energy of the band. That’s when “buzz” starts to fall apart and vibratos start coming back in. Resist the urge to let go, and (even if you can’t hear well in your monitor) retain control of the instrument that is your voice. The whole will sound much better.

9. Lower Your Music Stand, Or Get Rid Of It.

Straight up? We can all memorize the songs. There, that’s out of the way. If you use a music stand, or iPad, know that it communicates a message to the congregation. It should never be in front of your face, between you and a wedge monitor (I can’t tell you how often I must move a music stand for a vocalist struggling to hear themselves. It’s a basic sound principle – if an object is between you and the sound, it will block it.

Lower the stand, and move it to the side. OCD pastors or stage techs – no, it doesn’t need to be perfectly centered with the mic. I often use my iPad now for my chord charts (less rehearsal), or I use nothing at all. Music stands are a necessary evil, and fiddling with music and other objects on the stands causes little distractions that aren’t necessary. Watch a favorite music video – where are their music stands?

10. Smile Partially Or Fully (At Least Occasionally), And Worship.

Take this one mildly. It’s not a hard and fast guideline, but I’ve seen truth in it over 20 years. If you have some soft, gentle, pleasant expression on your face up front, people think you want to be there. Then they want to be there. It’s psychological math. Super-smiles feel disingenuous (welcome to the 70s), and no smile or frown is a Debby Downer (or conveys a broody rock star). Even if one person is postured funny, in face or body, it distracts and detracts from the overall sense of worship.

Care for each other, and help make each other happy to be there. Laugh a lot. But if your heart is heavy, psychology/physiology tells us that one of the things God can use to lift your heart is you physically smiling on occasion. As C.S. Lewis said, our physical posture can affect our hearts.

I hope these tips help you in your expression of worship as a community. There are more, and as I said, this list is not exhaustive. I’d love to see more tips from others show up in the comments for everyone to glean from. Bless you as you sing, from the heart, in worship.

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Question: Which of these 10 best practices have you found the most helpful in your world? What others have helped you navigate “vocals as an instrument” in your community?

Resources: I touch many of these general principles in the Essentials In Worship Video Course, and specifically hit them in 7 Steps To Awesome: For Worship Vocalists.

“Healing In Your Wings” (Live Performance Video) – Dan Wilt & Friends

Sometimes we write songs for a moment in time, that then carry us and those we love for a lifetime. The song in the video below, “Healing In Your Wings,” is a prayer song based on Malachi 4:2 and Psalm 62:11-12. It was born in a season years ago when it seemed like almost every family in our church community was facing some major battle –  chronic illness (cancer and other sicknesses), mental or emotional struggles (depression and more), family relational pain, or unemployment, underemployment, and financial difficulty. We just needed to sing the promise of God together.

Here is a very simple video of the song, recorded on our back porch around a Christ Candle (symbolizing the eternal presence of the risen Christ) with some friends and fellow worship leaders from here at the Franklin Vineyard in Tennessee.

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Resources: Video and Chord chart (PDF).

Healing In Your Wings
Dan Wilt

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There is healing in your wings, O Lord,

Healing in your wings,
C2
Healing in your wings O Lord,

Healing in your wings (2x)
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There is one thing you have spoken,

Two things I have heard
C2
That you my God are loving

And my loving God is strong (2x)

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1999 Mercy/Vineyard Publishing
CCLI# 1596342

In-Ear Monitors (IEMs): 10 Best Practices For Worship Musicians

Many churches these days have moved to IEMs (In-Ear Monitors) to reduce stage clutter, tighten up sound, and heighten musicality in the band. The sound and individual control of IEMs is fantastic, but it takes some getting used to – especially because the relational, community environment that is worship is very different from a straight performance. Gleaning from some great friends who have gone before us in the IEM world, here are 10 best practices for using IEMs in your worship environment.

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Image of John Mark MacMillan from www.1964ears.com

It’s going to take time to get used to using IEMs, so decide now that, because you can’t go back, you’re going to keep getting better at using them. There are things to learn about how to wear them, how to keep the relational environment that is worship intact as you do, and how to create a monitor mix that works for you and the overall sound.

10 Best Practices For Using In-Ear Monitors In Worship – Musicians

1. Wear Them Correctly, And “Relationally.”

Take the time to learn how to wrap your IEMs around your ear, and insert them correctly so they stay well. If this hasn’t happened, you won’t hear well. Put cables down the back of your shirt, or at least around your back. The more obvious it is you are wearing headphones, the more clearly you send a message of disconnection (think of a teenager with their headphones in at a family gathering). Be as inobtrusive as possible. (For drummers, especially behind a shield, sometimes using isolating headphone with bigger ear muffs is not so bad. Heck, everyone knows you’re already isolated! But avoid that for the bass player, and everyone else.

[Remember - everything messages on a stage. Like a music stand raised high and between us and the community messages some level of disconnection, so too constant fiddling with our tech can message the same.]

2. Give Yourself Time To Get Used To Them.

Wear them around the house, and use them with your iPhone or Android. When possible, come in early to practice and fiddle with your mix based on some of the ideas here. Over time, using your in-ears will become easy.

3. Take A Few Minutes Before Rehearsal To Set Up Your Mix Correctly.

Take the time during sound check to set up your mix properly. Ask questions if you’re having difficulty. If you get them right from the outset, you’ll have less tweaking and fussing to contend with as you go, and your part in the music will sound better. It’s exactly like getting the gain-structure right as a sound engineer – if you don’t take the time to do it properly, you’ll be fighting the sound for the rest of the morning.

4. Start With The Master Volume Low And Work Up.

Your ears are sensitive, so care for them from the gate. Start with your master volume low, then work up until it’s feeling clear. Then, work with each individual instrument to get only the level you need. This goes with the next one.

5. Only Put What You Need In Your Monitor Mix.

You will have total control of your personal mix, either with a small mini-board (we use Behringer P-16s) or an app. The more cluttered your mix is with instruments, the more muddy and frustrating it will become. Determine what you really need to do your part in the playing, then keep the number of direct instruments to a minimum in your mix. Get those levels right. (Ex. Everyone needs to hear something of the leader’s voice, and lead acoustic for rhythm. Adding in the kick drum helps create energy, and aids timing. Vocalists need to hear the other vocalists well for blend and tightness. Bass players need to hear that drummer, and drummers need to hear the inside rhythm of that lead acoustic).

Try this: Turn your volume down a bit, and try taking things out of the mix (if you are right next to the drums, for example, you might want to not have those in your mix). Then, begin to add in the congregational/room mic to catch everything else. According to some, the sound will be much better for you, and you’ll be able to follow well.

6. Don’t Hyper-Edit Your Mix.

Having said that, having too few items in your monitor (imagine your electric player only having the hi-hat in their mix) will change the music. Keep it pared down, but make sure you have what will help you “fit” into the overall sound.

7. NEVER Use Only One Of Your In-Ears.

Everybody must know this. NEVER use just one of your In-Ears for any extended period of time. Your brain will tell you to turn up the volume, and you’ll damage your ear. You just have to get good at mixing your own monitor mix so it feels good to you. The following one matters for this.

8. Add The Congregation Mic To Your Mix.

Worship is a relational experience, and if you feel isolated from the congregation and the room, you will feel like you’re alone in a studio. Every church should have an ambient mic or two for the congregation, and you will want that in your mix. You’ll feel the connection as soon as you do this.

9. Be Aware Of Your Mix Volume As The Set Begins.

You’ll want to do the least fiddling possible once the actual set begins. You should only be adjusting your master volume during the set, and that very infrequently.

10. Actively Communicate Engagement With The Band And With The Congregation.

Technology is meant to serve our shared community worship experience – not dominate it. Work on getting fluid with your IEMs as quickly as possible so your eyes can be open, and on the congregation and the leader as needed. Used well, the richness of the music will begin to grow as you hear better, and play better, together.

Bless you as you integrate IEMs to enhance your worship experience as a community. Be patient, teachable, and eager to learn. As the music gets better, I think you’ll be glad you did.

Question: What best practices or tips not listed here would you give? Note the system and IEMs you use if you know them.

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Author: Dan Wilt is a worship leader, songwriter, author, and trainer serving with friends and family at the Vineyard Church of Franklin, TN. He is the creator of WorshipTraining’s Essentials In Worship Video Training Course for worship leaders and teams. His worship leadership blog serves up weekly tools and team encouragements at DanWilt.com.

Resources: After much research, Monoprice earbuds are the cheapest (like $10-$12 ea.) and give basic, quality sound. We use them. For more expensive pairs, Shure makes one for around $100, and 1964 Ears would be this writer’s choice for full-on molded in-ears (triple driver has been suggested by many as being ‘plenty’ for a worship context). These can run $500-$600. Ultimate Ears and others are great, too. Add your thoughts in the comments below.

Weekly Worship Team Devotional: Are You Ready To Risk Again?

The Weekly Worship Team Devotional is designed for reading before a rehearsal, forwarding via email to your team, or sharing with your tagged team on Facebook.

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ARE YOU READY TO RISK AGAIN?

From John 6 in The Message. “The Spirit can make life. Sheer muscle and willpower don’t make anything happen. Every word I’ve spoken to you is a Spirit-word, and so it is life-making. But some of you are resisting, refusing to have any part in this.” (Jesus knew from the start that some weren’t going to risk themselves with him…).’”

DEVOTIONAL

What would you risk everything for? Most of us have risked money, reputation, or our future at one time or another. We are compelled to take risks because we believe that something better is waiting on the other side. We take chances because, ultimately, we believe that moving forward is better than just staying where we are.

As we lead others in worship, there are times to do what is familiar, and times to take risks. For example, you are in the middle of a song that the congregation has sung 100 times before. As you near the end of a chorus, you sense that you should play it one more time, only this time, instrumentally. The band engages, the music rises, and a Scripture comes to mind. You begin to sing a phrase from it, and make it a spontaneous, musical prayer. You try something new, something small, and see the results. Then, later, you ask each other and those leading the gathering, “Did that work? Did people get it? Did they respond? If so, what did we learn? If not, what can we learn from taking that risk?”

A worship band that doesn’t take risks here and there may not be learning what it means to listen to the Spirit’s leading in a worship set. I’m not suggesting spontaneity should be the main portion of our sets, but that we can cultivate openness to what God wants to do through the music. The higher the levels of trust in our team, the better we will do at risking together (and debriefing is a good habit to get into). Sure, we can just play the songs, and let the songs lead. We don’t always need to embellish everything. But sometimes God has something to say in the set – and we want to be responsive to it rather than just being locked into only what we’ve always done before.

TEAM PRAYER

Lord, you have something to say to this community as we worship. Help us to be sensitive to what your Spirit is doing as we gather. Teach us to let the songs lead, but also to listen to your voice so we can respond.

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About The Author: Dan Wilt is the creator of WorshipTraining’s Essentials In Worship Video Training Course for worship leaders and teams. His worship leadership blog serves up weekly tools and team encouragements at DanWilt.com.