How to Effectively Roster Your Worship Team

15 February 2016

Rostering.

*Shudder*

Just kidding. But not really.

Rostering is a part of every worship team. Whether you have 2 people in your team or 200, you schedule a worship team for every service. You might roster a worship leader, musicians and vocals, audio team, etc. If you’ve ever done it, you know that it can sometimes be easy, sometimes a bit frustrating, and sometimes you just can’t see a way through the challenges 🙂

So we thought we’d share some tips about the WHYs, HOWs, and WHATs of how we roster our worship teams.

WHY.

I did rosters for our worship team for more than 5 years. At one point, I was responsible for rostering something like 400 people, across more than 25 services across our church locations. Every week.

I remember some days, wanting to turn off my phone and pretend that everything was sorted, when in reality someone had become sick and couldn’t play the next morning.  This meant they couldn’t give someone else a ride which meant I also needed to replace that person and I knew that the person I would ask to jump in was going to get annoyed at me because they filled in last time and was playing a gig the night before and blah blah blah… sound familiar? 😉

But I also remember other days, when after scheming and strategising for months, after dozens of phone calls and conversations and hard work, I would look up at the platform on a Sunday and see someone leading the church in worship for the first time. And I would think “Wow… they’re doing what they’re called and anointed to do and somehow God used me to help orchestrate it.

I remember having conversations with people thanking me for caring for them when I replaced them a few weeks in a row last minute because their newborn wasn’t sleeping well and they needed to be with their wife at home. They would thank me for being understanding and checking in on them and for not forgetting about them a few months later, and for asking if they were ready to start serving again and what that would look like for their family.

I realised that rostering isn’t just putting names on a spreadsheet, filing gaps, and sending text messages.

No, rostering is how we build and grow our worship team.

It’s how we communicate the heart of our team and our church.

It’s how we invite volunteers to serve and challenge them to bring their best offering to Christ.

It’s how we put the right leaders in front of our church to lead worship on a Sunday but also to lead in their lifestyle of worship as well.

It’s how we interact with our team more than any other way and how we build our team’s culture with every interaction (for better or for worse).

It’s how we show our team that we care about their lives and not just their gift.

It’s often how people’s motives are revealed and can be a gateway to some difficult but necessary conversations.

It’s how we can actively prioritize and value our people and their lives over filling names on a roster.

It’s how we teach our team to be uncomplicated, how we lead our team in having each other’s backs and thinking beyond ourselves.

Rostering can be a springboard for team growth, for pushing the boundaries, for pastoring the team, or it can be a weight dragging you down and creating conflict.

So that’s WHY we take rostering seriously. Let’s move on to…

HOW.

Now, I know that there’s many different approaches to how people roster their worship teams — some teams are made up of volunteers from the church congregation, others might have a rotation of professional artists that they pay to lead worship … some teams have set bands that always serve together, other churches will rotate their team members and have a different collection of people every Sunday … etc.

In our team, we rely primarily on volunteers from our church (more than 94%, to be precise), people who are committed to the vision of our leadership and passionately carry the heart of our church! We rotate them regularly rather than using set teams, so in our team you might serve with completely different people every week.

I know that different models serve better for different contexts, so we’re not saying our model is the best or everyone should do it like us — we just wanted to explain how we do it as we’ve had many people asking about how we do our schedules!

So when looking at how to build a roster, no matter what model you use, here are some good steps to follow.

Start with the bigger picture

Everything we do as a team needs to support the vision of our church and senior leadership! So do your scheduling with the church calendar in mind… for example:

  • If the youth have just been on summer camps, we always have a stronger youth presence on the platform so they can bring the atmosphere and momentum of summer camps into church life.
  • If you want to introduce a brand new song to the church, we typically entrust that to an experienced leader that the church trusts… how you introduce a new song really matters, and even a great new song can flop with a poor delivery. Thankfully, the opposite is also true — if you introduce a new song with conviction and strength, it can bring such new life and revelation to your church as the congregation rallies around it.
  • Easter and Christmas are a time when we have the greatest influx of visitors and non-Christians coming to church, so we always roster our strongest and most trusted leaders on these services. For a lot of people, that’s the only time they’ll ever come to church so the stakes are higher than a normal Sunday and we need to put our best foot forward! It’s not the time to take a risk on a new person or ‘give someone a go’… do that in your services that have more of your regular congregation, who will be more forgiving and gracious to a new leader 🙂
  • What type of service are we scheduling for? Does it require extra instrumentation? Less instrumentation? If we have an early morning acoustic service, who in our team has been excellent in this regard? If it’s a youth service, are we rostering our youth, etc?

Plan ahead

Do your rosters a few months ahead of time. Give your volunteers enough time to plan their schedules and prepare and bring their best! If you’re only giving your team a few days notice, don’t be surprised if your lack of planning reflects in your team’s preparation on a Sunday! Looking ahead gives you a chance to see if there’s enough variety and diversity in your rosters — you can see if you’ve scheduled anyone too much or too little, or if you’ve got the same person on every Sunday morning for a month, but not on Sunday nights.

Roster for growth and strength!

Our pastor Brian always says that “there’s only 52 Sundays in a year!” Every Sunday counts. Every time we gather to worship Jesus, we want to bring our very best  — don’t take it lightly! Make sure that’s reflected in the way you roster — there’s never a throw-away service.

Roster for Strength

  • Who are the ‘pillars’ on the team? (people you would trust with anything). Balance the use of these pillars with bringing new people through. This helps us ground a roster and create a strong foundation. Build your roster around these ‘pillars’.
  • Be mindful of each person’s strengths — three areas to look at here: Experience, Skill, and Leadership (including their attitude, heart, etc). All of these contribute in different ways to the strength of your roster. You might have a team who is very skilled, but if they lack the experience to flow and adapt to changes, your service may be held back from going where it needs to go. Don’t underestimate the ‘intangibles’ of a roster — leadership on the platform is just as important as skill, even if it’s harder to measure.
  • Roster for Growth
  • This is both growth in numbers as well as individual skill for our established team members. Create opportunities for your team to grow, to stretch, to step up! You might be the only worship leader right now, but don’t let it stay that way!!! (stay tuned for a separate blog post about this topic, coming soon!)
  • Mixing up the teams gives people a chance to grow in their musicianship and adaptability, rather than getting used to playing/singing with the same people and becoming very one-dimensional and limited in what they bring to the platform. I know there’s different approaches to this, as I mentioned before, but for us the benefits far outweigh the challenges.
  • Using the previous principles, plan the right times and services to be bringing through new people.
  • Always pair a new person with strong support… if you have a new worship leader, make sure your band and vocals are experienced and your music director has done everything they can to help safeguard and prepare the setlist. If you have a new drummer, pair them with your most experienced bass player, so they can help ground and balance the rhythm section that is  so foundational to the music.

SEE ALSO: 10 Practical Ways to Grow Your Worship Team

Can I also take this opportunity to give you a few extra tips? (and please read them with the heart that they’re given. We are meant to care for our people, so all these tips must first have that value at the forefront.)

  • If you need to change a roster and replace someone, an email or text message isn’t enough! They deserve a phone call, and don’t try to make up a reason why they’ve been taken off… people aren’t stupid and can tell if we’re treating them like they are. Don’t shy away from awkward conversations, but tell the truth, with grace :). This helps build the godly culture that opportunity isn’t everything, and you can pastor your people through changes that might hurt a bit.
  • Don’t let someone fall off the roster without an explanation… if they’re struggling with their skill, or their availability is becoming an issue, then have the conversation with them, and explain what their choices are doing. Give appropriate feedback, and give them the opportunity to improve, even if it means taking them off roster for now and giving them two months to work on the songs (but don’t forget about them in 2 months!).
  • If you need to ask someone to serve, don’t grovel. It’s a privilege to serve and you can help reinforce that culture. We need to appreciate people’s effort and sacrifice, and affirm it, but people aren’t doing you a favour by serving God. If people want to be a part of the team, they need to be willing to serve. (that doesn’t give us permission to be tyrants, but it means that we can set the expectations for what it means to be part of the team and let people rise to the challenge!)

SEE ALSO: Worship Team Tips for Everyone

And finally, that leads us to:

WHAT.

We use a program called Planning Centre for all our worship team rosters. To be honest, it’s the best software we’ve found.

Here are a few screenshots of what a typical service roster looks like for us.

Screen Shot 2016-01-28 at 12.40.51 pm

Make sure your rosters are confirmed, that your setlists, calltimes, etc are up there for your team to prepare. We expect our team to be checking that for themselves, but we also let them know directly when there’s changes or things out of the ordinary (earlier calltime, extra rehearsal, new song, etc). We also email our team every week with details for Team Night, some upcoming events they should be aware of, and some highlights and creative inspiration (videos, new music and art, etc).

Screen Shot 2016-01-28 at 12.41.12 pm

We utilize the songs and media sections in Planning Centre as a central place for all our resources and training tools for our team… we’ll attach mp3’s, lyrics, charts, demos (with vocal parts, etc) with each song, and the media section is great for sharing tracks, making video playlists of our Instrument Parts, links to our training blogs and sharing masterclasses and Team Night messages.

These are just some principles and tools I’ve learned along the way. Hope it helps, and feel free to add any tips you want to share or questions you might have in the comments section below.

JP Starra
Hillsong Creative Training & Development