Have you ever found yourself saying, “We can’t do that”...
…“if only we had more people/resources.”
…“we don’t have enough budget.”
…”that would never work here.”
Bringing big creativity to smaller services is always a challenge. You might think that you don’t have enough people, resources, budget, etc. to achieve what you envision… if so, then you’re just like us! As our Pastor Brian always says, “We’ll always have more vision than resources!”
People often assume that in our worship team at Hillsong Church, these problems don’t exist and every weekend looks like a Hillsong Conference or album recording. We have incredible services and events in our larger campuses every week, and these run alongside many smaller services that carry the same heart and culture on a different scale. Like most worship teams, the challenge we face every week is how to bring thriving creativity and powerful worship to our church services, with much less resources than in a congregation of thousands. Fortunately, this challenge often becomes the breeding ground for ingenuity and resourcefulness.
So what does that look like? We definitely don’t have all the answers, but here are a few practical strategies that might be helpful for you and your team!
1. Work with what you have
What’s in your hand right now?
In Matthew 25, Jesus tells the Parable of the Talents, and teaches us the importance of doing the best we have with what we’ve been given.
“Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much.” (Matt 25:21 ESV)
Looking to larger teams as an example is a great way to set goals and stretch, but there are times when smaller churches simply don’t have the same resources, so the final outcome will look a bit different. It’s in these times that you must consider what’s in your hand at that moment. For example, your team might not have any keyboard players, but you might have a great cellist or violinist. You might not have any electric guitarists, but you might have an incredible banjo player.
All this to say, your smaller team doesn’t need to look exactly the same as a larger one to carry the same level of excellence. When we allow creativity to overcome our desire to simply copy, we can shape unique, God-breathed services that outwork His specific purpose for each of our teams. Take a look at your own team. What are its strengths? Begin to build on those strengths and you will grow a stronger team. It sounds simple, but it is so easy to overlook areas that could be built on because we are trying to have exactly the same look and feel as another team.
Your team is unique, as is any other team. Allow God to work through your uniqueness to build a team that best serves your congregation.
2. Look around
Inspiration is everywhere – are you tapping into it?
This one’s not too complicated. What resources are you using to stay fresh, current, and effective in your creativity? In a smaller team, you might be only person coming up with the ideas, items, and themes that set the tone for each season of church life (Easter, Christmas, etc). Therefore, it’s important to gather inspiration from everywhere you can. Free websites like Pinterest, Designspiration, and Instagram provide picture streams and ideas that can help you shape your own thoughts into Sunday realities. These (and many other websites, books, and magazines) can help you find ideas for sets, props, and dream of creative moments in a service. At the end of the day, if you’re not collecting new ideas regularly, your creativity will start to look repetitive and dull. Make sure to have a look around for what sources you can tap into!
3. Build on good culture
Be brave enough to build into the right people, not just the convenient ones.
Have you ever had a musician that just can’t seem to turn up on time? What about a worship leader that will only choose his favourite songs to sing instead of what’s needed in a service? These kinds of difficulties are part of leading a creative team, and can increase when the team is limited in size — it often comes down to choosing whether that person will play, or having nobody to play. Knowing what you are willing to tolerate is important. I’m all for showing grace, but it is important to confront situations that feed an unhealthy culture and choke your team. Keep a clear vision of what you’re trying to build, and make choices over time to invest in the people that carry that same vision.
This is not an overnight fix. In fact, most quick fixes quickly break again. It probably involves actually sitting down with the team members you’re struggling with and having honest conversations. Try to see their point of view.
In my own team leadership experience, this looked like many years investing into a bunch of youth kids without much experience and skill, but with absolutely willing hearts. Years down the track, these are the people who are leading and shaping the team today. It took a lot — like, a LOT of time, energy and sacrifice. Never underestimate what can be built if you’re willing to sow in the time. Great creative teams don’t just happen quickly. This is about going the distance for your church. Let’s make the commitment to develop great-spirited and servant-hearted people into great-spirited and servant-hearted teams. You’ve got this!
4. Set measurable goals
Know where you are. Know where you are going.
A big temptation when working in a creative environment, is to keep all your goals immeasurable and feelings-based, because that’s often our natural system. We can think “my team just feels disconnected”, or “this area doesn’t seem like it’s working.” It’s important in these times to know where you are and know where you’re going. Then, set measurable goals to work towards. Start by taking stock. Where is your team actually at? How many of each position do you have? Take the areas that ‘feel’ under-developed, and identify where they are actually at.
Once you’ve done this, you can put a system in place where you know what areas need growth, and keep track of it as it happens. For example, you might discover you have only 1 guitarist, and that you actually need 3. Knowing that, you can then find ways to raise them up (not necessarily easy — in fact, it usually isn’t). It might look like meeting with that guy that plays acoustic but needs to improve his skill level, and offering him lessons if he commits to practising. Perhaps ask your team members who would be willing to start from scratch and learn to play an instrument. Dedicate yourself to seeing that growth happen even though it might be hard work to get there. This is how small teams grow bigger in a lasting way.
Setting realistic goals also helps those you lead understand what they need to do. Inspire your leaders to reach achievable targets that will grow the team. On top of that, they will take more ownership of the team and pass that culture on. In my experience, when people raise up others they are less likely to feel threatened and insecure by them because of the relationship they have developed. It’s a win all around.
5. Lead by example
Whatever standard you set personally, is the one your team will meet.
This is probably the most important point. As the leader, you’re trying to achieve excellence within your service and team. Ask yourself, “Am I setting the standard that I’m asking my team to meet?” Basically, you need to meet the requirements that you place on your crew… Are you showing up on time? Praying over your team? Caring for your team? Having honest conversations with them? Building community (and not just saying you are)? Inviting people to dinner? Staying inspired? Honouring leadership in the church? Taking time to worship outside of church? Reading the Bible regularly? Believing in people instead of being threatened by them? Consistently working on your craft? Being committed to learn?… the list goes on and on.
Set an example in the way you lead and inspire your team to follow. Teach them to create moments in a service where people encounter God by actually knowing where He is and what He is up to. Let’s keep this at the forefront as we go out and lead our teams and serve our people. No matter what the size, look, or resources of our churches, we can facilitate excellent worship services that reveal God to those who need Him, honour Him, and put Him first in all things.
(Brennan is on staff overseeing the worship teams for all our ‘extension services’ in Australia, many of which are our smaller ‘satellite’ congregations of a few hundred people or less.)