"Best Practice"
Worship Leader Course

3 Secrets to Make Preparation a (REAL) Priority for Your Team


Hey Worship Leader!

Let’s STOP the excuses inside your worship team:

  • "I didn’t have time to practice."
  • "I didn’t know I was suppose to learn that part."
  • "I was just playing what’s on the chart."
  • "Can we stop rehearsal for second and listen to this song?" (Read: "Because I didn't learn it at home.")

Thanks for jumping in on Part 2 of BEST PRACTICE: 3 Secrets to Make Preparation a (REAL) Priority for Your Team.

Secret #2 to a make practice and rehearsal a true priority is this:

Eliminate excuses.

Easy to say. Hard to do. So today, I'm going to give you some tactics that will help you eliminate excuses that your team has for…

  • Not practicing enough…or,
  • Not practicing at all…or,
  • Showing up late to rehearsal…or,
  • Not showing up at all…or,
  • Not learning their part and just hacking through the chart.

Now, maybe your team is solid and you’re beyond that kind of uncommitted behavior.

For you, "better preparation" might be moving them to a higher musical standard. As you try to do that, you’re getting pushback hearing excuses like this:

  • I don’t have time to memorize the song.
  • Playing with a click takes all the “feel” out of the music. (And quenches the Holy Spirit.)
  • You want us to learn Nashville numbers?!?

Let me first give you three practical tactics to start to eliminate excuses. These are changes you can start making now. After that, I'll tell you how to make long-term transformation to your culture of preparation.

That sound good?


Practical Tactic #1:
Plan your songs at least a month ahead.

When you plan your music at least a month in advance, you’ve all but removed the “I didn’t have time” excuse—especially for those who aren’t scheduled every week.

Encourage your team to “triage” the setlist as soon as you post it:

Step 1: Is there a brand new song or a song I’ve never played before? Start learning it now.

Step 2: Are there are less familiar songs that I’ll need some time to relearn? Schedule time to practice those before rehearsal.

Step 3: Which songs do I know well and will only need to review the day before rehearsal? Prioritize those last.

NOTE: For some worship leaders, they are required to craft a set that fits the message. And they don’t get the message title or theme until the week of. If that’s you, read this article and then share it with your senior pastor.

Most of worship leaders aren't held hostage to that extreme. But some leaders are required to plan a closing song or other piece of music that fits the message. So work with your senior pastor to get that theme as soon as possible.

We had that situation at my last church. And I rarely got the theme or title before Wednesday.

To deal with that, I conditioned my team to expect one ‘wild card’ song every week. The wild card was a closer or special song that we added to fit the message. Best case, my team found out about it one day before rehearsal.

But I did two things to try to mitigate excuses:

One: I made sure my team knew that all the other songs had to be solid by rehearsal. That allowed us more time to work on the wild card song.

Two: I tried, whenever possible, to choose a wild card song that was familiar, or something we could simplify and learn quickly.

Now, just having your songs picked out doesn’t eliminate excuses. Besides planning your set, you need this practical tactic.

Practical Tactic #2:
Clarify your arrangement expectations.

You need to make sure the charts and reference recordings you use clearly communicate the arrangement you want for the song.

(Do I even need to tell you that your charts and mp3s should be in the same key? Probably not...)

Twenty-five years ago when I first started leading worship, worship leaders had to work hard to find or create good charts.

Today, there are ZERO excuses for bad charts.

And if you need to transpose an mp3 to match the key you’re playing on Sunday, there’s an app for that (inside PCO in fact).

Now, what If you need to stray from the original recording or chart? That’s OK. In fact, that’s probably a good idea in many cases. (We’re not all Elevation or Hillsong, right?)

So when you do stray from the original arrangement, create notes that clearly spell out...

  • What you want from each instrument...
  • What you want them to approximate from the recording, and what you want them to ignore, and...
  • Where and how you’re deviating from the chart arrangement.

In Part 1, I talked about briefly about default arrangements. The more you create default arrangements for your regularly rotated songs, the more your team will be without excuse for learning their part.

(Did you miss part 1? Shoot me an email back and I'll resend it to you.)

Now, one of the easiest excuses for your team NOT to practice is if YOU aren’t modeling what fantastic prep looks like.

Practical Tactic #3:
Be the most prepared person in the room.

If you, the leader, come to rehearsal 50% prepared, guess what level your team your team will prepare to?

45%—at best.

You may have an outlier who practices his/her tail off. But most of your team will take their cue from you. You’re modeling the standard.

For too long, I trusted my experience as a guitarist and my ability to site read a chart. In other words, I was winging it.

When I got serious about leveling-up the preparation standards for my team, I had to start with ME. And here’s something critical I learned:

During rehearsal, when I didn't know my stuff, I couldn't pay attention to their stuff.

That is, if I’m fright-reading a chart during rehearsal, that’s all I can focus on.

  • I’m not paying attention to how the others in the team are doing.
  • I’m not listening for blend.
  • Or for complementing parts.
  • Or for dynamics.

Why? I’m in musical survival mode.

But if I know my stuff, I can focus on my team’s stuff.

That is, I’m confident to play and sing my own part while keeping an eye and ear out for what the band and vocalists are doing.

Does that make sense?

And another thing with being the most prepared person in the room:

When you have a bad week and don’t practice enough, don’t make excuses.

Excuses from the leader breed like rabbits among the team members.

Lots and lots of rabbits (Rabbids)

My 8-year-old LOVES this show.

Your excuse, “I didn’t have time this week” gives your team permission to make the same excuse.

(And believe me, they will.)

So instead, own it.

On the inevitable week you don't practice enough, say something like, "Hey guys, I didn’t live up to our standard that we set for this team. I didn’t allow enough time to practice; that was my fault."

That sort of vulnerability and ownership will be contagious on the team.

Long-Term Transformation

So those are some right-now changes you can make. But I told you I was going to tell you how to work towards long-term transformation. To do that, I need to share some shocking news with you. Here it is:

You can’t control your team members.



OK, so not really an earth-shaking revelation. If you’ve led a worship team for more than 8 minutes, you already know this.

To have long-term culture transformation for your worship team, you have to focus on the two things you can control:

Yourself and your systems.

Your systems are the processes that run your ministry. Long-term, if you hope to have a worship team that prioritizes practice and rehearsal, you have to create systems and processes that...

  • Encourage committed personal practice
  • Make rehearsals both efficient and fun
  • Shape the culture of preparation on your team

Now, you already have the systems in place right now.

But instead of moving towards a healthy team culture, those systems may...

  • Enable team members to coast
  • Produce stressful rehearsals
  • Allow excuses for not practicing

Part of creating a culture of preparation is Secret #1 that we talked about in part 1: you have to teach your team preparation.

But there other processes that affect your culture. One big one is how you run your rehearsal.

  • Do you run your rehearsal in a way that requires your team to learn the songs or feel left behind?
  • Do you start rehearsals on-time with whoever’s there rather than accommodate latecomers?
  • Do you tell your team member NO when he asks to stop rehearsal and listen to the part of the song he’s forgotten?

All that might seem harsh. But your rehearsal is a system, and you can run that system in one of two ways:

1) in a way that either reinforces your high preparation standards.


2) In a way that enables (and even rewards) poor preparation and lowers your standard.

So think about how you run your rehearsals. Are your rehearsals moving your team closer to the standards you want? Or is it moving your team further away?

Now, before I give you your "homework", let me tell you what's happening in Part 3.

In Part 3, the secret I’m going to share is how to change a “system” in your ministry that will allow your team to cut their practice time in half.


AND, there’s a bonus side-effect with this system change: your church will sing more.

What kind of voodoo magic are you going to show us to make that happen??? (No voodoo. No magic. Just a good system.)

You'll have to stay tuned for that. It’ll be arriving Tuesday morning.

“UGH! You’re gonna make me wait till Tuesday??!?” you ask.


In the meantime here’s your "homework" to make the most of today's training:

1. Write the three practical tactics I talked about above on a sheet of paper. Underneath each tactic, write what you’re doing right, and where you can improve. Create a list of ways that you can improve that area of preparation.

2. Think about your rehearsals. What are some ways your rehearsals are encouraging poor preparation or uncommitted behavior? Write a list of things you can change and when you’ll make those changes.

3. Email me one thing that you want to change in your worship ministry after reading this lesson. (Click here to email me.)


Talk soon!




Jon Nicol
Creator of the course Practice Matters |


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