Fire Your Worship Team

Dialing Down the Sonic Madness

when and how to

Last Monday I sent out a text to my worship team. It read as follows: “Hello Worship Team 3. This might excite some of you and bum some of you out, but I sense I am supposed to lead with one guitar and one vocal this Sunday. No band. We will resume the following week. Please come early and sing with vigor as I lead!” One by one, I heard back from my team with texts: “I’m in!”, “Sweet!” “Word” and “Praying for you”.

Our church has loads of musicians and it’s wonderful. We have an overflowing waiting list for every spot on our team! For a sanctuary that holds about 150, we have an amazing sound set up with vintage Rogers drums, Hammond Organ and top of line guitar amps. We pretend we are a much larger church when it comes to a quality live band experience. Most of our worship ministry’s 25+ musicians only play 2 out of 8 weeks. That being said, we often times intentionally dial down the production. Why?

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Our lives are now full of email notification dings, unending music playlists, and constant visual and sonic noise from every angle. For most in the western Church, it’s no longer special that we have drum sets and electric guitars. Our contemporary full band model is a beautiful gift, but can and should be dialed down from time to time. As musicians we know that the silence in between the notes is just as important as the sound we make (see Dan Wilt’s brilliant post on Killing the Music). Visually, a more sparse stage can help direct our attention to the object of our worship.

2. Shock the System 

The Psalmist encourages us to “Sing to the Lord a new song; sing to the Lord, all the earth.” (Psalm 96:1) 

Over the course of a year of worship services, think about approaching God in worship at contrasting velocities. This approach will be “new” and will serve to jolt some to a greater focus. The contemporary church prides itself on not being boring like the liturgical church of our grandparents. It is sobering to realize our modern worship set of popular CCLI songs can become just as rote as the “dead” liturgy we criticize. For those 25 years old and younger, a full, loud band might be the only form they know.  What if our “new song” is a distinct sonic approach from time to time?

3. God (and His Church) Doesn’t Need a Band

The sound of drums, bass, and guitars is only about 65 years old. It’s a rather new experiment in the scope of history. Gathered worship in the historical church has been primarily vocal since availability of instruments is often a luxury in many contexts. Take the opportunity to express corporate praise in this time tested, vocal-centric method! Scripture tells us to “address one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart” (Eph 5:19). Last year our new digital sound board died just minutes before our worship service started. We had no back up plan. Quickly, all the musicians got off the stage and on the floor and we sang our guts out. It was a cathartic and a game changing day for us as a church. From that day on we realized that the “power” was the exchange happening between the people and God, not the exchange between the people and the band.


– Use one guitar or one piano (avoid the temptation to add more!) 
– Use one vocal microphone
– Choose simple songs and keys that sing easy
– Utilize Diamonds (instrumental whole  or half notes on the chord changes) to invite voices of the congregation to rise in place of the instrument 
– Sing A Capella several times through the songs, enjoy the voices 
– Minimize vamp time (the non-vocal parts) of the arrangement, especially in the beginning. Start with singing when it makes sense
– Try tuning your guitar down one full step for more low end response
– Mix in slight reverb and delay to the vocal to add depth, maybe a little more than normal
– EQ your Instrument with more low end than normal, making sure the subwoofers trigger sound
– Encourage your musicians to take the front seats and lead with clapping and singing
– Play “fast” songs with just as much, if not more energy and rhythmic vigor
– Encourage the congregation to be the band. Clap, shout and sing! Let’s do this together!


My name is Mike O’Brien and I am passionate about teaching and mentoring through music. My calling is to use my experience as producer, worship leader, songwriter, and multi-instrumentalist to come alongside musicians, helping them more fully worship God with their instrument and lives. Find out more how I can help your worship leaders and teams HERE.



Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

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3 thoughts on “Fire Your Worship Team

  1. Hi Mike,
    Amen, your heart follows Christ heart to rise up people to serve, BUT LOVE them as you love yourself. Im a Technical Director at 37 years. God is good, and those in our trust MUST see christ through us. Thank you for this great overview…
    As I wind down, as God has other plans for me, diagnosed now with Alzheimers. (All those darn electronics !)lol.

    “Serve and Finish Strong”
    – Joe Cichon

  2. Great article, Mike. I have to admit some of the terminology went over my head e.g. CCLI but it definitely makes sense. For about 5 or 6 years, I had to lead alone at church with no instrument. Singing acapella is/was necessary. I use tracks now but singing acapella is not a stranger to the African American church. I grew up in a Baptist church. We had instrumentation but there were certain songs that just did not need music. One in particular is Ride on King Jesus. Now as I write this, I’m reminded of a few others. These songs had a strong impact. I’m even challenged sometimes to get off of the pulpit and lead while in the midst of the congregation. That does something as well.

    I now don’t remember the point of my comment but I don’t want to erase or reread. Good job writing.