Worship Team or Songleader?

I received this question from Dennis:

What would you say are the benefits of a “worship team” (several singers leading at the front) as opposed to one “songleader”? From what I can see, at least one major benefit is, to have many voices projecting the volume of a song *AT* the congregation, to help them catch on to it. This has been especially helpful when learning new songs. Are there other benefits of a worship team, in your opinion?

No church ever needs to feel as though their corporate worship is less biblical, authentic, effective, or genuine because they don’t have a “worship team.” God doesn’t give us specific direction in Scripture about who is to lead corporate worship. But I can think of at least five ways a group of vocalists can benefit corporate worship.

1. Modeling Expressiveness. The Psalms encourage an unhindered, genuine, physical response to God in public praise that includes clapping, bowing down, dancing, standing in awe, lifting hands, and singing enthusiastically. None of those activities in themselves mean someone is worshipping God, but at different times they are appropriate expressions of praise to God. Having different vocalists model such expression can be an encouragement to a congregation to do the same. I’ve been affected many times as I’ve glanced up at the singers and noticed their genuine engagement with God as they sing.

2. Unity in Diversity. Three or four people can more effectively models the “one body with many parts” aspect of the church. Of course, your vocal team isn’t the only way to communicate this, but it can be an effective way. It displays the varied grace of God when people walk into your meetings and see singers of all sorts singing God’s praise together: men, women, white, black, Hispanic, Asian, young, old, etc.

3. Musical Harmony. Vocalists can add variety and depth to congregational singing through the purposeful use of harmony and vocal fills. By “purposeful” I mean intentional and for specific reasons. We shouldn’t sing harmony or sing fills simply because “we can.” Harmony can add depth, variety, beauty, and focus to certain lines or sections of a song. Of course, some churches sing everything in 4 part harmony. But since God hasn’t been clear that he prefers unison or harmony, both can be used to proclaim his glory. In a similar way, vocal fills can draw attention to the meaning of certain words or phrases and direct people’s hearts to the truth of what we’re singing.

4. Authenticity. I don’t mean more authentic worship, but a more authentic musical style. For churches that use more contemporary styles of music, a vocal team is able to more accurately capture and communicate the emotional language of that genre. Contemporary singing typically involves using less vibrato, shorter endings to phrases, and a more relaxed enunciation.

5. Greater Involvement. Using a vocal team can make room for more people to serve and bless the church with their musical gifts. That’s assuming, of course, that you’re not already using a choir, which enables even more people to use their gifts in serving God’s people.

If you do use a worship team, make sure they differentiate themselves from the performance-oriented, self-exalting culture of our day through demonstrating humility, joy, and a servant heart. It’s also not a bad idea to mix things up if you’re able to. A single leader has the advantages of flexibility, clear leadership, and making the most of limited resources. We’ve also used different numbers of solo vocalists throughout the years, and sometimes none at all, such as when a choir accompanies the leader.

Hope that’s helpful. If you have any thoughts on advantages of using a worship team, or things to watch out for, let us know.

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9 Responses to Worship Team or Songleader?

  1. Aled Williams February 3, 2007 at 3:53 AM #

    I thank you for a terrific article. I’d like to add a couple of my own thoughts on it though. In our church we have a rota of different worship leaders for each week.They are responsible for organising their musicians. Now, as an example, I’m from a rock genre, so when I’m leading, guess what my worship sound is? Another worship leader is more ‘Folk’ orientated, which becomes evident when she’s leading worship. Now, when I’m leading, I always try to get my ‘folk’ friend on backing vocals, because she is that versatile, she really is able to carry it off. Likewise, when she’s leading, I’m usually invited to play guitar, and I play to her requirements. My point is this, in our church, we are able to enjoy different genres of music (worship style), according to who is leading worship. It is this diversity of personality, that helps in keeping worship fresh week by week, as our diverse personalities are expressed. I did just want to add, I’m not a fan of choir led worship. (This is my ‘Personal’ opinion). I often feel intimidated by choir led worship, and I almost treat it as if it’s a performance. i.e. I’m not required to participate. Some may find it helpful, though I do not.

  2. Ken Boer February 3, 2007 at 12:04 PM #

    Thanks for this post, Bob. Very helpful.

    On point 4, I think a lot of modern bands think just having a lead vocalist (just one) cranked up actually can express even more emotion, or at least fits best into the genre. The passion guys would be a good example of this – generally they’re not using female vocalists, except for maybe one really good one.

    I’m not sure how well that reflects the body of Christ, but it does seem to fit the genre better.

  3. Bob Kauflin February 3, 2007 at 1:28 PM #

    Ken,

    Great point. What constitutes a “contemporary” sound is always changing. That also gives weight to the need for diversity in music leadership. Authenticity to a specific genre, while important, isn’t the only consideration for congregational worship. That’s why we need to be discerning about what aspects of our culture we bring into the church and how we use them. Just because “everyone likes it” doesn’t necessarily mean it’s helping people worship God in spirit and truth.

  4. Jon Walcott February 4, 2007 at 2:15 PM #

    I would like to say at the start that in many cases my preference is a single worship leader not a team so that you know I’m coming at this with a strong bias.

    I wonder if it makes a difference depending on the size of the congregation. Personally, I find it artificial at times( perhaps not the best word to use but I’m finding it hard to express exactly how I feel) when a worship team is leading a small congregation. To clarify, by worship team I mean a group a singers, not just instrumental accompanists. I do think a variety of instruments adds to the worship in the ways you have listed above – I am not yet convinced that vocally it does.

    In response to your points:

    1.Actually I find it very distracting to see a group of people all doing their own thing up on the platform. For some reason I find it more helpful to see my fellow worshippers in the congregation lost in adoration than those up front. I much prefer a song leader who is a worshipper and gifted at leading us to join him or her.

    2. You already admit that a vocal group is not the only way to model diversity. I agree and would say this point is weak at best. The congregation itself is really the best demonstration of this.

    3. For musical harmony I ask you why can’t this be achieved more effectively by having these gifted singers sitting with the congregation so we can hear them singing in our ear and help us harmonize? I’m asking the question because I’ve not been able to figure out why it is superior to harmonize as part of a vocal team rather than as a congregation. I am from the same generation as you so I grew up in an era where everybody had a hymnbook and harmonizing was a normal occurrence in most congregations. I don’t hear the same harmonizing today with worship teams. (Admittedly this may be due to the use of words only with no music so not attributable to worship teams.) I think that “purposeful” fills are far more effective when done FOR the congregation when only the group is singing.eg. When the group is teaching the congregation a new song. As much as I love harmonizing and listening to it, I have to admit that some of my greatest worship moments have come with little or no harmonizing which may mean I have spent far too much time on this point!

    4.Are you saying that a vocal team can bring more authenticity to a song than a single gifted worship leader can? I think a single leader with appropriate accompanists can achieve this equally as well but I am not a musician like yourself so let me know what I’m not understanding here.

    5.As for greater involvement, you may be able to make a case. Personally I feel better served by having these brothers and sisters singing WITH me in the congregation, not AT me from the platform.

    My observation has been that wherever there are worship teams there are more spectators. I may be involved in smaller congregations than you and that may be the difference. I find that the more volume there is coming from the front, the less there is coming from the congregation. Sometimes it is so obvious I look around and see too many people watching and not singing. I realize this does not mean they are not worshipping, but it does seem to me that too often there is less congregational involvement when a worship team is leading.

    Brother, I am not looking for a posting of this, but really wanted to share a perspective quite different from what you posted. I suspect you’ve heard it all before and if you have the time and inclination to respond to sharpen my perspective I’d appreciate it.

    Jon

  5. Carter February 4, 2007 at 3:28 PM #

    Can you think of any negatives to a worship team as opposed to songleader? I agree with all of your arguments for a worship team. However, at my church where there is a worship team, the congregation tends to listen to the singers and consider the service more of a performance than a time of worship. It is rare when the group gets the majority of the congregation to sing.

  6. Bob Kauflin February 5, 2007 at 11:29 PM #

    Jon,

    Thanks for taking the time to share your thoughts so thoroughly. I posted your comment because I thought you may not be the only one who has those questions. I fully agree that the musical leadership is partly dependent on the size of the church. A large music team in a small church can feel very awkward and artificial. Here are some thoughts on your other comments.

    1. Vocalists shouldn’t be “doing their own thing” nor should they necessarily be “lost in adoration.” They should be expressing through their eyes, faces, voices, and bodies that they believe and are affected by the truths they are singing. The only difference between a single leader and a group of vocalists is that you potentially have a greater display of God’s glory.

    2. The people you put in front of the church makes a loud statement about how you view the church and what your vision for the church is. When an African-American walks into our church, they may not see the other African-Americans in the church, but they will definitely see them on stage.

    3. Harmonies on the vocal team or congregation isn’t an either/or proposition, but both/and. Harmonizing from the front isn’t superior to harmonizing in the congregation. However, harmonizing for many modern worship songs is different from harmonizing for hymns, and is often more effectively done by a vocal team than the congregation. For congregations that aren’t trained to sing in harmony, a vocal team (or choir) can add a richness to the sound.

    4. By “authenticity” I’m not referring to a state of heart, but a musical sound. Three part harmony on choruses is a common technique for many songs in the pop-rock genre.

    5. Hopefully, vocalists on a worship team aren’t singing “at” the congregation, but by their example encouraging the church to join them in praising God.

    When worship teams seek to impress rather than serve, the church tends towards becoming spectators. However, music teams composed of humble servants will almost invariably encourage a congregation in heart-felt, soul-stirring, mind-renewing worship in spirit and truth.

    In any case, I’d much rather make a case for variety in leadership than a repeated form, be it a solo leader, a worship team, or something else.

    Let me know if this is helpful Thanks again for expressing your thoughts.

  7. Bob Kauflin February 5, 2007 at 11:38 PM #

    Carter,

    You asked if I can think of any negatives to a worship team as opposed to a song leader. Sure! Worship teams require more work, both personally and musically. You have to know how to pastor musicians and make a variety of people sound good together. Worship teams can think that worshipping God is more about getting a certain “sound” than focusing people’s thoughts and hearts on the glory of God in Christ. Too much time can be spend on the mechanics and not enough time on the purpose behind what we do. Instrumentalists and vocalists can play/sing too much, too loud, or too often, thus making it difficult for the congregation to hear their own voice.

    But let me put it this way. Done poorly, any type of leadership can be counter productive to leading God’s people in worship. Done well, any type of leadership can help the church express and be affected by the who God is and what he has done in redeeming us for his glory. So let’s seek to lead God’s people well! For more thoughts on this, check out the series of posts I did on “What Does a Worship Leader Do?” You can access it on the left side of the blog.

  8. Jon Walcott February 7, 2007 at 12:18 AM #

    Bob,

    Thanks for your clarifying comments – they are indeed helpful. Your summary paragraphs in particular along with the 5 points probably help me to see that my struggle is perhaps not so much with the FORM of leadership but the HEART. We have one individual who leads one worship team that consistently demonstrates heartfelt worship in the selection and playing/singing of music. My heart is invariably lifted to exalt God when that person is leading. Not every worship leader, whether solo or as part of a worship team, that I encounter leads as effectively. Too often I sense that some people are members of the team simply because they are musically gifted not because they are worshippers. (I feel nervous with that last sentence because I know I do not see people’s hearts and do not want to sound as if I am only critical. But when I am conscious of that during a worship service it makes it difficult (though I do try to overcome that) to personally worship.)

    After I posted my previous comments I had the same thoughts as you expressed at the end of your response regarding variety in leadership. This is true in preaching and pastoring also.

    Your comments to Carter helped me too. I look forward to checking out the post referred to.

    “humble servants will almost invariably encourage a congregation in heart-felt, soul-stirring, mind-renewing worship in spirit and truth.” AMEN

    Thanks again.

    Jon

    p.s. For another time if you’d like! Have you dealt somewhere with the selection of worship team members? For example, my twelve year old daughter was asked to join a team. Although she may be mature for her years I am not sure she has a great understanding of what worship is and her role in leading others to worship. What are your thoughts on youth leading worship?

  9. Carla February 7, 2007 at 11:17 PM #

    Great post and great comments. I have been a part of a worship team in times past. I believe the larger the congregation, the more members a team could have. It is kind of pointless to have 8 or 9 folks on stage if you only have 25 or 30 in the audience.

    As far as rotating worship leaders, that’s a good idea. We actually rotated whole worship teams in one church that I attended. This worked really well since several team members were able to interchange with the muscians. Our only hindrance came when we published our schedule of which team was leading which services. We could actually see a shift in attendance related to choice of worship team. Personally, I felt that such occurences reflected the immaturity of the congregation, both older and newer members. Eventually, we just mixed it up all the way through. Preliminary music would be of one type, congregational another, and altar music was often a mix of the two.

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