Why You Should NOT Lead a Worship Team Without This Document

Wait, what key is this song in?

Umm…I lost my place in the bridge. Well, and in the instrumental. And in the second chorus, too.

Can we listen to this song before running it again?

What do you mean I’m not playing my part? I’m playing the chords written on the chart!

Those are all questions and comments that you’ve probably heard at rehearsal. And they pretty much signify that people haven’t practiced.

I used to get angry when my team came in unprepared:

“Slackers. They’re all a bunch of apathetic slackers.”

Eventually I learned that I was the leader. And I was supposed to lead. And this was an issue that required leadership. (I can be a little slow on the uptake sometimes.)

One of the big issues I discovered was that I really DIDN’T have a team full of slackers. But I had a culture where slacking was acceptable. Changing that culture wasn’t easy. And keeping it from sliding back to that culture isn’t easier, either.

I’ve used a lot of strategies, tactics, and tools to lead my team from semi-committed towards “all in” in the area of preparation. One of the essential tools I used to lead this culture change is my preparation policy.

I’ve written about developing a preparation policy before, but I wanted to revisit it. More on that in a little while.

But first, I want you to give you two things with today’s post:

First, I want to give some practical takeaways for developing your own preparation policy.

Second, I want to give you my preparation policy so you don’t have to start yours from scratch. (Yep, for free.)

Let’s first dive into developing your own preparation policy. First, what is it?

What Is A Preparation Policy

Simply put, a preparation policy is what your practice and rehearsal values look like lived out. The policy spells out my ministry’s expectations for practice and rehearsal. Now, since musicians get twitchy around words like policy, I call our document “Expectations for Preparation.”

So that’s what it is. Why have one?

Why Have A Preparation Policy?

If you don’t have clear expectations, you cannot hold your team members accountable to them.

At one point in those early days of leading what I considered to be a slacker team, I finally saw through the smokescreen of my own whining and started asking the rigth questions. Instead of, “Why are these people slackers? I started asking, “Do they truly know what to practice? Or how to practice? And have I ever clearly told them what I’m expecting in the way of preparation?”

No. So I had to tell myself to quit whining and find a solution. And part of that solution was clearly defined expectations.

Once I clarified my expectations, I now had something to hold my team accountable to. I had finally defined what the value of preparation looked like lived out within our ministry.

So, what’s the process for developing a preparation policy?

Steps To Develop Your Own Preparation Policy

1. Determine what your preparation values are, why they matter, and what they look like in real life.

For me, I wanted less stressful rehearsals and more engaging worship services. When team members prepare ahead of time, our rehearsals are a LOT less stressful. And prepared musicians have more freedom and confidence to worship and engage the congregation.

2. Build core support.

Get support among your leaders and core team members before you go public to your whole team with a finished document.

3. Write the first draft.

And make sure you’re getting input from your core team members. You want them to own this and help champion it when you roll it out.

4. Invite your team to give feedback on the draft.

First, make sure you’re calling it a draft. If your team feels like this is the finished product getting shoved down their throats, they’ll be less likely to accept it. But when team members have a chance to weigh-in on an important document like this, most will buy-in, even if they don’t agree with every single point.

5. Rewrite your first draft and release it as your “Working Draft.”

It’s not your final draft, but your for-now draft. Don’t make it perfect; just make it work. Get it into your team members hands with a reminder that “this document might need some more work in the future. But we’re adopting it as is to help us all be more accountable for our preparation.”

By the way, in the RENOV8 Workshop, EXCELLENCE: Building a Preparation Driven Team, I get into way more detail about the process of writing and getting your team to adopt it that we don’t have time to get into here. You can learn more about that here:

[Learn more about EXCELLENCE: Building a Preparation Driven Team]

I wish I could tell you that once the document is written, the hard work is done. Nope, just ground work. Once you get a working draft of your preparation policy out to your team members, the real building process begins. And that includes:

Nope. You’ve only just laid the groundwork. Once you get a working draft of your preparation policy out to your team members, the real building process begins. And that means you need to…

Model It

You show your team what it looks like by being the most prepared person in the room.

Revisit It

Each rehearsal, look for ways to talk about or demonstrate at least one point from the document.

Celebrate It

Whenever you see great preparation in action, call it out and celebrate it in front of your team. “Jeff, dude! You nailed that intro riff on that last song. You put in some serious work to get that down before rehearsal. Great job.”

One, you just affirmed great behavior for Jeff, which will likely get repeated.

And, two, you just created a healthy internal tension for those who did not prepare before rehearsal. (And just so you know, you don’t have to use the word dude for that to be effective. Or Jeff, especially if the person’s name isn’t Jeff.)

Remember, what gets celebrated gets repeated.

Expect It

And this, my friends, is where it gets tough. Because for every “Jeff, dude!” moment you have, you’ll have at least two more occasions for a crucial conversation. But lead with questions and assume the best:

“Hey Jeff, I noticed you weren’t very prepared for the last few rehearsals. Is everything OK with you?”

You’ll probably hear a lot of “I’m just so busy.” And that’s where you gently point people back to your preparation policy:

“I can appreciate that you’re busy. But one of the things we talked about in our Expectation for Preparation agreement was that part of the commitment to this ministry was preparing before we came in. We’re not looking for perfection at rehearsal. But we do want you to know your part well enough to hang with the team.”

And just so you know, the knot you feel in your stomach at the thought of having that conversation with someone is pretty normal. I don’t think it ever gets “easy,” but it does get easier. Especially when you realize that people on your team really do want to prepare and do well. AND, they’re much more open to loving correction and accountability than we think they are.

So after modeling it, revisiting it, celebrating it, and expecting it for awhile, you need to revise it.

Revise It

I mentioned at the beginning of this article that I just revised my own preparation policy after three years. Just so you know, that was too long to wait. Looking back, I think 12-18 months would’ve been better. Enough had changed with my ministry that some of the policy was obsolete.

For example, at the time I wrote it, we still were floating rehearsals between Thursday nights and Saturday mornings. But shortly after writing this document we locked in Thursday evenings as our rehearsal night. So the language has been out of date (and at odds with other team handbook information) for over two years.

But the biggest change was getting more specific on what we expected and why. I even worked to create a common language to communicate levels of preparation and what levels were expected for both rehearsals and services.

In the EXCELLENCE: Building a Preparation Driven Team workshop, I get into that language and even make available for you a video that you can use to teach your team members.

While we don’t have time to dive into all that now, I do want to give you something that will give you a major leg-up in up creating your own policy. Below you can click to get access to my current preparation policy that I use at my church.

But let me caution you: don’t just adopt this verbatim and dump it on your team. Go through the steps we talked about earlier. Be intentional. Get input and buy-in. Your team won’t own it if you just drop the finished product in their lap.

And with that warning, here you go:

Click Here To Get The Preparation Policy (No sign-in required)

Remember, a preparation policy is a must-have tool for changing the culture of preparation on your worship team, but it’s only one part of a large process. If you find you want more help moving your team from semi-engaged (or complete slackers) to fully committed when it comes to practice and rehearsals, check out the EXCELLENCE: Building a Preparation Driven Team workshop. It’s on-demand so you get full and immediate access to it.

So let me hear from you below:
What are some questions you have when it comes to creating this policy. And also, I’d like to hear about steps you’ve taken to help lead your team towards being more prepared.

Jon Nicol