Are You Skipping This Key Element of Your Worship Rehearsal?

Worship Team “Dress” Rehearsal

Your individual musicians have practiced…

You’ve sound checked the band and vocals…

Your team has rehearsed each song…

You’ve even taken the time to pray together over the service…

So what are you forgetting?

In the theater world, it’s called the “dress rehearsal.” It’s that last element of preparation where it’s a non-stop performance with full-on lights, costumes, and even an audience.

The dress rehearsal is one part confidence-builder and one part giant mirror. The confidence-building part lets us say, “We’re ready. We can do this. But let’s do it one more time before opening night.” The “giant mirror” part that reflects back any area of the performance that isn’t quite ready.

So what’s the worship team’s dress rehearsal?

It’s the run-through.

The Run-Through

It’s that time we play through a song, or full set, or even the full service just like we’re going to do it in the service. And just like the dress rehearsal, it gives us confidence to know that we know the music and transitions. And it can also reflect back to us that there are moments that aren’t prepared as well as we think.

My team is currently running staggered rehearsals. The band comes in on Thursdays at 6:30pm and rehearses till 8pm. The vocalists join us then, and we do a full run-through of the songs. After that, the band leaves and the singers work out any parts that they didn’t get figured out during the run-through.*

So we essentially get two run-throughs. Besides our run-through at the end of the Thursday night rehearsal, we also do run-through after Sunday morning sound-check.

The Thursday night run-through is about making sure each song is ready. The Sunday morning run-through makes sure the whole set is ready: we practice transitions, scripture readings, prayer, etc.

When It’s Skipped

For a particular service few weeks ago, we had fewer songs. At the Thursday night rehearsal, the band had finished rehearsing all the songs by 7:30. I didn’t anticipate this. So rather than make them wait 30 minutes for the vocalists, I dismissed the band and just ran a vocal rehearsal when they arrived.

Our first service that Sunday was a mess.

The band was forgetting transitions and vocalists were missing cues for when to come in. By the second service, it came finally together. Why is that?

We missed our run-throughs.

Our Sunday morning warm-up became the run-through we missed Thursday night. So instead of working out cues and transitions and other service elements, we were making sure the songs were right.

Because of that, our first service essentially became a “run-through.” We were practicing all the different elements of the set—in front of the congregation.

Not awesome.

Making The Most Of The Run-Through

So let’s get practical with some tips for run-throughs.

1. Make Time And Hold To It.

It’s easy to keep tweaking and rehearsing your songs to the very end of rehearsal. But if you want a true run-through, you need to carve out time for it.

Remember Parkinson’s Law: “Work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.”

If your rehearsal runs from 7 – 9pm, create a start time for the run-through at 8:25pm. That forces you and your team to tweak what they need to by that time and be ready for the run-through.

2. Define What Needs To Be Accomplished And Who Needs To Be Involved.

I mentioned earlier that we essentially do two run-throughs, but each are different. The Thursday night run-through is to make sure the individual songs are ready. We might run a transition from the end of one song to the beginning of the next one. But it’s mostly focused on the songs themselves.

But our Sunday morning one is where we concentrate on putting all the pieces together. At that point, we want the video, lighting and sound techs all in place running the transitions and different elements with us.

Some churches go so far as to run the whole service. It just depends on the level of production your church has. A high-production/highly attractional church is going to require more during the run-through. In some cases, it’s a full dress rehearsal complete with the sermon.

The bottom-line is this: define what you need to run-through, and who needs to be there.

3. Don’t Let People Interrupt It (Even You).

It’s easy to notice something that needs to be fixed. But don’t stop the song or the full set run-through unless it’s a major issue. If it’s a tweak, try to save it for the end of the run-through.

Teach your team that the power of the run-through is “live” aspect of it. You’re forced to move beyond mistakes and roll with any changes.

4. Let The Holy Spirit Guide.

During the run-through, I often become aware of moments where we could linger, or where I might repeat a chorus. If I feel like it’s a Spirit-inspired thing, I’ll let the team know after the run-through: “Hey gang, during the service, I might just hang out on the four chord at the end of the last chorus…”

I often get ideas that I’m pretty sure came from me, not the Holy Spirit. They might be a sweet idea to change things up or to transition to the next song. But when those ideas hit, I usually tuck them away for another service. I’ve learned the hard way not to change things at the last minute unless I feel the Holy Spirit’s leading.

5. Don’t Make The Run-Through The Only Thing.

At the opposite end of skipping the run-through is using it as your only collective preparation. I know some teams who play through the song once and call it done. The only way that works is if you have the same people on all the time, and you all know the song really well.

So there are a few ideas to make your run-through a success. I’d love to hear from you:

How do you use the run-through as part of the preparation process? Or, what barriers have you had when trying to do run-throughs? (Write your answers in the comment section below.)

*Ideally, it’d be great to have the vocalists rehearse simultaneously and have the parts worked out before the run-through. But the composition of the team (singing instrumentalists & worship leaders who play guitar) make that tough. This staggered rehearsal is a compromise that works for us.

Jon Nicol