How To Tell Someone “NO” In The Audition Process (And Why You NEED To)


There aren’t too many words in the English language that rival this word for brevity, and few rival it in power.

No can be heart-crushing, but also life-liberating. It can save you from immense pain, or start you down a path of destruction.

It all depends on what you’re saying no to.

As a leader of a worship ministry, it’s a word you have to get comfortable with.

Think about how many new songs you have to say No to. Our available slots for songs is limited to the number of sets and services we have. And because we need to repeat our songs (if we want our congregations to know and worship with them), that makes for a lot of NO’s to new songs.

But that No isn’t as difficult as this No:

Team member: “I can’t make it to rehearsal, can I still play on Sunday?”

You: “I’m sorry, but NO.”


That situation doesn’t always call for a no, but if you want to create a culture where personal practice and rehearsals are a true priority, then that situation calls for a No more often than Yes.

Unless You Have A Cyborg Heart

I think the toughest No for us as worship leaders is this one:

Telling No to a person who’s just not qualified for the worship team.

I’ve done it multiple times, and every time it gets easier.

OK, I lied. It sucks. Every. Single. Time.

And unless you have a cyborg heart that pumps vinegar through your veins, this will NEVER be an enjoyable task.

So how do you do it? How do you tell someone no?

How To Tell Someone No

Let’s look at four questions that, once answered, will help you deliver a NO without breaking out in hives or having heart palpitations.

1. What Are You Saying Yes To?

You need to be crystal clear on what you say yes to—that is, the qualities of a healthy worship team member. Here are a few questions to get you thinking of what your standards should be:

What skills and abilities does each instrument/position require?

What level of spiritual maturity does an applicant need?

How hungry should a potential team member be to grow and develop (musically, spiritually and relationally)?

How available does a team member need to be? Is just showing up for the service OK, or do they need to have the availability to attend rehearsals (and practice ahead of time)?

How committed should they be to your church?

Once you have your qualifications (your YES’s) determined AND clearly documented, then you’ll have an easier time arriving at NO.


2. How Do You Prepare People To Hear No?

This concept was revolutionary to me when I learned it: you’ve got to warn worship team applicants that they might hear NO. (I would love to give credit to whoever taught me that, but I don’t remember. Apologies.) 

It won’t fully prepare them for the disappointment of No, but at least it won’t utterly blindside them.

Include this “preparation for NO” in the documents prospective team members read before applying or coming in for an audition. It helps you set the expectation that not everyone who applies for the team makes it.


3. What Are The Consequences Of A “Bad Yes”?

As painful as it is to tell people “No, I’m sorry, you can’t be on the worship team,” it’s exponentially more painful to invite the wrong person in.

Think back to when you started at your current position of leading worship. You probably “inherited” some players, singers or techs that your predecessor shouldn’t have let on the team. But there they were—all yours. And you were then faced with enduring them, growing them, or removing them.

None of which are fun or easy options.

And from experience, I can tell you this: when you make your own “bad yes” and let an unqualified person on the team, it’s actually more painful. You can’t blame someone else.

If you don’t take anything else away from this post, get this:

It’s easier to say NO now, than “Please leave” later.

As painful as rejecting an applicant is (for them and you), it is far more painful for EVERYONE to remove them once they’re on the team.

And the consequences aren’t just for you as the leader and your team, but also for that person.

If you say yes to an unqualified person, you are likely setting him or her up for a frustrating mismatch. A few ways this happens:

God has created and wired a person for potential success in some area, and you’ve invited her to place where she may not be able to succeed.


A person does have the potential to serve with success on the worship team, but not yet. Presently, his musical skill, or spiritual maturity, or some other area of his life doesn’t measure up to the standards of the team.

As that unqualified person serves in a position that’s beyond him, he’s going to sense this and be frustrated or discouraged.


4. What’S Your Plan For Saying No?

This will be a crucial conversation. Don’t walk into it without thinking and praying it through.

Here are some tips when it comes to delivering the NO:

Be direct. Don’t be wishy-washy or beat around the bush. Get to the point gently, but directly.

Be clear. Give them specifics of why they don’t qualify. And here’s where having your qualifications clearly defined is so important.

For example, if you require your background vocalists to sing harmony, make sure that’s spelled out clearly in application materials. That way when a person tries out with a decent voice but can’t harmonize, you have specific reasons for saying No:

“You really do have a nice sounding voice, but you weren’t able to find the harmony parts during your audition. Right now we need vocalists who can sing harmony.”

Offer hope, but only if it’s real. Recognize that No sometimes comes in the form of Not Yet. If a person has potential, challenge them to rise to the qualifications. And give them parameters for re-auditioning. But don’t use the Not Yet answer to make it easier on you.


Be The Shepherd

Saying NO to an unqualified applicant is one of the toughest parts of your job. But it’s also one of the most crucial. You’re a shepherd charged with protecting your flock. That means saying NO to people who don’t fit the qualifications your ministry requires.

But you’re also a part of your local church body—and you’re called to love and serve everyone there. And sometimes the best way to serve someone is speaking the tough truth of NO with love and kindness.

Want to Learn More About Qualifying Team Members?

Discover out tools and training for attracting, identifying, and inviting the right people into your worship ministry. Learn more here.

For comment below: What ways have you approached saying No to people who weren’t qualified?

Comment or ask questions below. I’ll be happy to answer them.

Jon Nicol