Back when I was a copy editor at our local paper, I fell into my future calling as a minister by telling our senior minister “I play guitar if you ever need me.”
This one sentence literally changed the course of my life. Because of my on-the-job training, I often seek out those who are doing things differently in worship ministry.
Several years ago, we were a church of a few hundred in a musical and artistic desert. We only had enough people to form one band, so rotating people in and out wasn’t a problem. I thank God for the dedication of that first group. As we grew, we finally had some others with musical gifting that could be put to use for God’s glory in His local church.
That’s when I began to look around for help. Thankfully, there were brothers-in-Christ in a church much larger and more prominent willing to answer questions about different ways to form a worship team.
What I stumbled upon was the concept of forming individual bands instead of a large team of musicians and singers that rotate in and out.
The reason is subtle but very important to understand. Below are some pros and cons to using bands in your church.
- Identity: The use of bands allows for a group of musicians to form a cohesive unit and identity (complete with a band name for scheduling and communication ease).
- Context and Diversity: Bands bring about more dynamic musical styles than a large team would. For instance, a team basically provides a single style of music every single week. Musicians and singers aren’t as able to fully use the gifting God gave them and are instead forced to fit into a mold provided by someone else. The use of bands means we can have several different styles of music worship each month and greater diversity (for example, one band may have the style of classic rock with wailing guitars and pounding drums, while another band may be bluegrass with a banjo and mandolin). For churches, this means the music of the church can be more easily contextualized to their surroundings.
- Inclusion: Too often, the use of a large rotating team means you can’t use musicians who don’t fit a modern worship format delivered to us via Nashville (and often, by church cultures opposed to your church’s doctrine). The use of bands also allows for those in your church who may not be the most talented but can meet a certain level of musicianship, to have a place to learn. It’s also a great way to equip future leaders as they have a consistent place to learn how to lead effectively.
- Fellowship: Bands become de facto small groups in many contexts. Bandmates begin to share eachother'ss burdens, do life together, and grow bonds that could not be replicated if they are around different musicians each time they were on the schedule.
- Creativity: Because of this small group-like atmosphere, many bands elect to begin to write music together that may or may not be used in the larger church gathering. If the right people are in the right places, some great creative works can emerge from a band setting.
- Scheduling: I’ll be upfront about this. Scheduling with bands is a nightmare. A drummer may be available 3 out of 4 Sundays and a guitar player might be available 2 out of 4. This may lead to a whole band only being available one Sunday in a month, severely limiting your options when scheduling.
- Cliques and Competition: The band format, because we are all sinners by nature and choice, can often lead to a cliquish mentality if not carefully watched. This can lead to a host of interpersonal problems among the varying bands. However, a strong leader can usually help diffuse this tendency by shepherding his team well and reminding all of the call of a leader in the body of Christ.
- Replacement Issues: Inevitably, other people in your church body will show up, develop skills, and want to use their gifts for God’s glory through music. With a band system, this often leads to people feeling like they’ve been “kicked out of the band” when new people need to be included. It can help to let your bands know from the outset that they may one day be replaced. However, it is still hard for band members to not feel this way. Again, discipling your bands is key.
This pros and cons list isn’t exhaustive, but it’s a starting point for worship and church leaders when deciding a direction for their worship music. Ultimately, glorifying God through our songs should be our highest priority, but reflection of God’s creativity and design leads to practical methods of leadership in the body.