How do I Run Auditions

Josh wrote in to ask:

As far as an audition goes I was wondering if you had any specific suggestions on the best way to hold an audition. Should it be with the band? A one on one audition? A song that they would like to sing or something you would like them to sing (or play if it’s an instrumentalist)? Just some questions I had about the practical way to do this.

The most important thing to remember about auditions is this: Adding a member to the team is always easier than taking them off. God hasn’t required us to use a specific instrument or vocal part in praising him, so we shouldn’t feel any pressure to add a drummer/guitarist/pianist/alto ASAP to the team.

Auditions will certainly look different depending on the size of the church, the skill of the current musicians, the discernment of the leader, and the makeup of the congregation. Having said that, I’ll address two scenarios: a new/small church and a larger, established church.

For a new church, I’d recommend more casual auditions. You could invite any interested musicians over to your house to play and sing on a regular basis. That way you get to know their gifts, interest, and character without any expectations of inclusion on a Sunday morning. Be sure you’re listening while you’re playing through songs. While the standards will be lower in a new or smaller church, I’d make sure that everyone on the team was skilled enough not to be a distraction. I’d also make sure you knew enough about their personal and/or family life to know that people wouldn’t wonder why they were being used in a leadership position. Finally, I’d look for people who were eager to support your leadership, not people who felt they need to display their gifts. Unchecked pride on the team will only cause problems later, and worse, is a contradiction to our intentions to bring glory to God, not ourselves.

For a more established church, I’d recommend individual auditions. We’ve found it helpful to have more than one person listen to give a broader perspective. I’ve tried to have a skilled instrumentalist and vocalist with me.

We let people know that auditions are coming and they can sign up for a 15 minute slot. They fill out a general information form providing basic information such as their previous musical experience and training, what small group they’re in (a requirement for participation on the team), and where they’d like to serve (we provide a list of possible options). They are responsible to bring their instrument, except a drum set, which we provide. We also have an accompanist available for vocalists. For the audition we let them do whatever they’re comfortable doing – a worship song, a special song, a song they’ve written, etc.

We hold auditions on Saturdays and usually fill up a whole day. During each 15 minute audition we try to gain as much knowledge as we can. For vocalists, we determine their range, if they can read music, and if they can harmonize by ear. For instrumentalists, we find out what instruments they can play, how well they read notes/charts, and how well they pick up changes on the spot. Our goal is to find out what gifts God has given them and form something of a musical “database” for the church. We have a form that is filled out for each person who auditions that gives us all the information we’ll need (range, proficiency, pitch, recommendations, etc.) to make decisions about how to use them. Some people will be asked to serve in the near future, others as we need them, and others will be asked to audition again in the future after they’ve received more training and practice. A few are told (graciously) that music probably isn’t the gift that God has given them. In the long run, people are more grateful that you’ve told them the truth than allowing them to continue in self-deception. If they’re not grateful…well that’s part of what leadership is about. We’re simply applying the Scripture, “Faithful are the wounds of a friend” (Prov. 27:6). Ken Boer, who oversees auditions now at Covenant Life, records all the results of the interview in a Word document, and sends each auditionee a letter that informs them where we think they could best serve. He also sends them a pastoral recommendation form that their small group leader signs. This is useful in a large church, but probably not as necessary in a smaller congregation.

We usually hold auditions four times a year, twice in August/September, and then again in late winter or early spring. For a more detailed description and some great insights, I’d recommend the seminar Ken and Jon Payne did called Auditioning and Developing Musicians at this year’s WorshipGod06 conference.

I’d be interested in hearing from others about any practical ideas for music auditions in the church.

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10 Responses to How do I Run Auditions

  1. Gary Hodges October 20, 2006 at 3:57 PM #

    Thanks Bob for explaining this topic so well. I find it to be something that tends to be a stumbing point for many church leaders. I would add of course, and maybe it goes without saying, that the spiritual state of the individual is of utmost importance. There are churches that I have encountered that treat a musician’s ability as the only criteria for membership on the team. Yikes!

    It’s easy enough, when designing a form to filled out by potential team members, to include space for a short “salvation experience”. I have always then asked, “What, to you, is the importance of worship?” If you get an answer like, “I just love music, you know?” then maybe they aren’t quite ready.

    Blessings

  2. William October 20, 2006 at 4:32 PM #

    Hi Bob, I understand the importance for musical excellence in the “band” and the last comment from Gary made a fair point about the motivation of those who can put a good performance together but are being driven by the wrong things. However, my question concerns the requirements for “raising up” a new worship leader, either from the musicians or as part of a wider call to the congregation. What are the criteria then?
    Peace to you.

  3. Bob Kauflin October 20, 2006 at 5:10 PM #

    William,

    Thanks for asking about raising up new leaders.

    We start by looking for guys who have godly character, are musically gifted, and are already serving in some leadership capacity, usually in a small group. In some cases someone has joined the church who had led in their previous church.

    Each year we offer a Worship Leader Discipleship Group (invite only), which meets for about 13 Saturdays from September through May. The text for the class is Engaging with God by David Peterson. They read a chapter for each time we’re together and write up a page of response to it. During the actual class, one of the guys leads us in song for about 25 minutes, then we take time to evaluate everything – musicianship, content, skill, transitions, countenance, leadership. Those times of evaluation are probably the most effective thing we do to train guys. Everyone learns, especially the person who led. For the remainder of the time together, we discuss what Peterson covered in his chapter.

    We then ask guys from that class to lead in various contexts. As often as we’re able we show up when they’re leading and give them feedback. We (Ken and I) also make ourselves available for questions or counsel to these guys. Some times guys will repeat the class one or two times. We never stop learning, do we?

    I know there are other means of raising leaders up, but I’d suggest they always involve:

    1. theological training
    2. character evaluation and growth
    3. musical evaluation and training
    4. opportunities to lead
    5. consistent feedback

    Hope that’s helpful. Feel free to follow up.

  4. John October 22, 2006 at 7:51 PM #

    This might not be the most practical idea, but we don’t hold auditions. We invite people into the group. And often, we don’t invite based on musical talent, although they should have some, but based on passion.

    I just don’t ever want to be put in a position where I have to say “no, you can’t be on our worship team,” after someone goes through an audition and gives their all… And by saying no, you are saying their not enough. Scripturally, not sure how that flies.

    And as for Jesus, he never held auditions. He just invited those he wanted into his fold. Imagine people auditioning to be one of the twelve apostles.

  5. Bob Kauflin October 23, 2006 at 1:11 PM #

    John,

    Thanks for stopping by. I appreciate your heart to include people. We do want to include everyone we think will be able to serve musically in the church. But there are people who aren’t sufficiently gifted or lack the character to serve in that way.

    But I think you’re missing the distinction between the church (which everyone who has trusted in Christ’s finished work on their behalf is part of), and other qualities that show where a person should serve in the church.

    We don’t just allow anyone to preach God’s Word, because it takes skill, character, calling, and gifting. We don’t allow just anyone to administrate, because it takes skill, character, calling, and gifting. In like manner, we don’t allow just anyone to participate in leading the church in musical congregational worship. Some people are gifted to do it, others aren’t. There are many people who passionately want to serve in ways they aren’t gifted for. 1 Cor. 12 and Romans 12 both make it clear that we’re gifted in different ways and we should serve in the places God has given us faith for.

    To guard against self-deception we need other people to confirm what we sense is our gifting and calling. That’s why we have “auditions.”

    As for the apostles, I’m sure there were others who wanted to be part of the 12. But Jesus didn’t call them.

    I’d welcome any more thoughts you have on this.

  6. Mark Smith October 23, 2006 at 5:04 PM #

    Whenever I think of the word “fool” I think of the old Petra song called “Fool’s Gold” and the line that says, “Some may call me foolish, some may call me odd, but I’d rather be a fool in the eyes of men than a fool in the eyes of God.”

  7. Matthew Westerholm October 26, 2006 at 2:23 PM #

    Here’s a very helpful tip we’ve stumbled accross. When someone auditions and “gives their all”, and isn’t making it, we give them three or four things to work on (vocalizing daily to improve vocal range, or practicing with a metronome to improve rhythm), then ask them to “please reaudition in 9 – 12 months.”

    In almost nine years of doing this, I’ve had only two (of over 300) people reaudition. The vast majority find other places to serve. Very few of them are willing to submit themselves to the discipline required to improve on those specific things.

    This way, if they don’t reaudition, it’s by their own choice, and their (correct) impression is that our worship ministry is a loving place committed to making progress evident to all. (1 Tim. 4:15)

  8. Scot Longyear October 30, 2006 at 3:44 PM #

    Hi, Great stuff here. I just posted an article last week on the audition process that we use. Check it out at http://worshippl.us/2006/10/27/worship-leading-essentials-7-selecting-musicians/

    Scot Longyear

  9. Mark Stout March 12, 2007 at 8:14 PM #

    With auditions it is important to give auditionees a fair go so that they can give the leaders a proper idea of their abilities. For example if a singer’s voice is affected by laryngitis or a cold etc. I would take that into account when making a decision. I would also be inclined to say yes to as many people as possible to maximise involvement or even instead of requiring would be singers/musicions to audition let them have a go at being part of the worship team, and then if their ability is lacking give them an opportunity to rectify this and only stand them down as a last resort. After all a church worship team is not New Zealand/American Idol!

  10. Mark March 17, 2007 at 5:04 AM #

    What happens when one person affirms that someone is a good singer and another contradicts this?

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