Leading Worship on a Church Plant

Last week, I was talking to Matthew Williams, one of the pastors of Kingsway Community Church in Richmond, VA. They’re sending out a group of folks to plant a church in Fredericksburg, VA this fall. Matthew was asking me how I’d counsel a worship leader that’s starting out on a church plant. In the middle of our conversation I thought he might not be the only guy asking this question. So here are some the things I told Matthew I’d do if I was going to lead worship on a church plant.

1. Because people will be coming from different churches, backgrounds, and experiences, I’d plan to take extra time  to explain our philosophy of worship. Every other Sunday I might take 3-5 minutes to talk about some aspect of what we’re doing. I’d want guests to understand that worship is more than singing our favorite songs. I’d cover topics like  why we sing about Jesus dying for our sins so much, the importance of God’s Word when we sing, why we sing songs with lots of words, the place of physical expressiveness, and how the primary sound we want to hear on Sundays is the congregation.

2. I’d start with a list of about 60 songs that included hymns, meatier songs I thought we’d sing a lot (In Christ Alone, Before the Throne of God Above, etc.), and a few familiar songs (Passion, Paul Baloche, etc.)

3. I’d plan to repeat songs frequently so that we could build a “musical memory” together.  If I was introducing a song most people were unfamiliar with I’d try to sing it 2 or 3 more times in the coming month.

4. I’d build music team membership slowly. I wouldn’t feel pressure to add people to the team because of musical gifting or past experience. Itʼs always easier to wait to add people than to have to remove them later for character reasons.

5. At some point in the first six months I’d invite any interested musicians over to my house for a meal. I’d lay out a vision of what kind of team we’re seeking to build, and then we’d probably jam and spend some time worshiping the Lord in song.

6. In that meeting (and there might be more than one) I’d want to establish a culture of biblical values, including humility, encouragement, servanthood, and excellence, all in the context of wanting to live a life worthy of the gospel. I’d stress that anyone who is front of the church on a regular basis needs more than a musical gift as a reason to be there. I’d also try to encourage every one I could in any way I could without making it sound like they were going to be playing on the team next Sunday.

7. While the church is small, I’d be willing to sacrifice a degree of musical excellence. What I wouldn’t be willing to sacrifice is the pursuit of humility as a group.

8. If I was a pastor planting a church with an inexperienced worship leader, I’d mention all these things, but play a more pronounced role in song selection and what was said between songs, hoping to train my worship leader in the process. I’d also give a message or two to unpack the part congregational singing plays in the broader category of biblical worship. Probably use a passage like Col. 3:16-17 or Ps. 150.

These are some of the things I did or wish I had done when I helped plant a church in 1991. I’m sure there’s plenty I’ve forgotten. What’s your experience?

24 Responses to Leading Worship on a Church Plant

  1. Scott Holthaus April 20, 2009 at 10:29 PM #

    Hi Bob,
    Thanks for the post. I am a worship leader at a church plant and this was very helpful to me. I’m always looking for men who are farther along than I to learn from. Thank you!

  2. Brian Williams April 20, 2009 at 11:07 PM #

    Bob,

    Great post! I am a worship leader at a church plant in Florida and these are things we have tried to do, but many times I forget about bullet #1 as we are now almost 2 years old. It’s so easy to get into a routine and forget that we are still ministering to many not yet Christians and very young Christians. Thank you so much for what you do!

  3. andi rozier April 20, 2009 at 11:29 PM #

    thanks for posting this Bob. So good to read through – and useful to pass onto new leaders who are planting Harvest’s. Looking forward to the conference.

  4. Roy April 21, 2009 at 12:15 AM #

    Thanks for this. It is really helpful. Still working through your book with the music team. Hoping that our leaders will read your book too, but it’s out of stock here in Singapore. :)

  5. Jonathan April 21, 2009 at 12:50 AM #

    Thanks for the ideas, Bob, there’s some good stuff in there.

    We have a weekly music ‘gathering’ (I don’t yet have a better name for it) for anyone interested in coming along to play or listen. We start with a bible study, and also talk about music ranging matters from a fairly general “why/how do we do music” to more specific discussions about particular songs and themes.

    It’s not intended to be a “practice” meeting, nor is it for the music team only – it’s a way of blessing a lot of people who really enjoy music in a way outside the Sunday service – it provides an opportunity to jam with others for all of us – particularly for those who are unable to be part of the Sunday team, and has become a way for us to start discipling some younger musicians in their worship of God through music, as well as being a great opportunity for teaching on the why and how of music in our worship.

    In practice, this has been not just part of the role of being a music leader in the regular service, but has grown into a larger music ministry within our community.

    • Bob Kauflin April 21, 2009 at 7:53 AM #

      Jonathan, the weekly meeting is a GREAT idea. Builds community, imparts values, provides an opportunity to get to know people better. Thanks for commenting.

  6. James April 21, 2009 at 9:57 AM #

    Thanks for this Bob.
    I am currently a worship leader in a new church plant.
    I really liked this “the primary sound we want to hear on Sundays is the congregation”.
    There are times that I have to be reminded, what is my task here? what is most important? That people see God for who he is and worship him with all that they are. Music is one tool we use to accomplish that.
    Thanks for the encouragement!

  7. Ben April 21, 2009 at 10:14 AM #

    Bob, what an encouragement to hear these thoughts on worship leading in a church plant. In the plant where I serve as a worship leader (Quarryville, PA), we have used many of these ideas and I believe we are seeing fruit come of it. I think the dinner idea is a good one… haven’t done that yet.

    Thanks for the consistency this post has to the rest of your teaching on worship as we look to launch ministries in a way that will cause them to grow into the mature, biblical ministries you describe elsewhere in your teaching.

  8. MRHiBiT April 21, 2009 at 1:12 PM #

    Bob,
    I am the music guy at a church plant in Gardner, KS. I appreciate your blog so much and started reading your book last week.

    These are important words, and I’m glad that I apparently did most of these things when I first partnered with my church 4 years ago.

    I wish I would have taken more opportunities to teach on congregational singing, and particularly worshipful expressiveness. Nevertheless, I think I am confident to say that God’s grace to my ministry here has been to keep calling our people back to the meatier songs and to make sure the Band (myself included) are patient to teach the songs and help make them more and more accessible (vocabulary within the lyrics, singability of song, etc).
    I’ve got a long way to go as our music guy, and we’ve got a long way to go as a Band, but I am so glad that I’ve established some patterns of singing the old hymns and making sure that our music is designed & arranged for the people to encounter & give praise to Jesus.

    Thanks again for your ministry to ministers. Anyone reading this post ought to pass it on to every church planter and music minister you know!

    In Christ,
    Mike Hibit
    Edgerton, KS

  9. Ryan James April 21, 2009 at 4:35 PM #

    Hi,

    I’ve been leading corporate worship in church plants for the past 5 years or so and I’ve learned more than I ever thought I would in the process. Most of what I’ve learned has come about through God convicting me of sin, teaching me to repent and reorienting my gaze upon the cross of Jesus. Here are a couple of things I’ve learned:

    1. Lean into the Gospel for all things – Every single issue I’ve encountered as a leader, whether it be in my own sinful heart or in the hearts of the people I lead, has been, at it’s root, a Gospel issue. At one level or another all of my sin exposes a failure to believe the truth of the Gospel in my own life. Constantly remind yourself of the primacy of Christ and his redeeming work as revealed in the scriptures, and sin will be rooted out and hearts will be changed, (especially yours!)

    2. Learn to lead out of character not out of capacity – My initial tendency as a leader was, (and is), to lead based upon my abilities and the things I do instead of a godly character. The problem is that people notice your life more than they do your great musical ability. If you’re not careful, it’s easy to inadvertently begin teaching that skill, rather than godly character, is what qualifies people to lead within the church.

    3. Train new leaders – Especially in the role of a corporate worship leader, it’s easy to neglect the training of new leaders because we enjoy being in the spotlight ourselves. Early on in ministry, God convicted me through Ephesians 4 that the calling of all leaders in the church is to “equip the saints for the work of ministry.” If I simply lead worship every week and don’t give leadership opportunities and responsibilities to up-and-coming leaders, I may grow my own skills and abilities but I will have badly stewarded the people that God has entrusted to my care.

    Those are just a few thoughts. I get really excited whenever I hear about people participating in church plants, whether it be in leading worship or otherwise!

    • Bob Kauflin April 21, 2009 at 6:25 PM #

      Ryan,

      Great thoughts. Thanks for sharing them.

  10. Chris April 21, 2009 at 6:29 PM #

    These are GREAT thoughts Bob. I might also add one small thought. Musically, myself and the other worship leader have discovered the importance of not attempting to do stuff beyond our skill level. Just because an arrangement of a particular song sounds good on a CD doesn’t mean you can pull it off OR that you can pull it off in the way they do it on the CD. All that to say, we’ve learned to attempt to just play songs in the way that we can do them well together. Practically, this sometimes means stripping out creative introductions, song endings etc.. and nailing something simple.

  11. Hein April 24, 2009 at 2:03 PM #

    Very well written post. It is so important that the true biblical value of worship is highlighted and explained in churches. It is not a concert nor a show. It is not entertainment. I always ask the question: “What would you do if there was no electricity or instruments.” Would you still be able to praise and worship the Lord? Would people still attend the service? Once the worship team and congregation understands the nature of biblical worship, God can truly take his place of honor.

  12. Sam Stack April 24, 2009 at 11:26 PM #

    Bob,

    Thanks for this post. These thoughts and ideas are useful for established music ministries in established churches as well as church plants.

  13. Robert Lindblad April 28, 2009 at 5:41 PM #

    Bob,
    Excellent post. I feed hungrily on the crumbs of experienced veteran worship leaders. I’m a brand-new worship leader for a very small year old church plant in St, Joe MI. We run about 30 people sunday morning and I really have no worship team yet. My pastor feels that using soundtracks is better until we have enough people for a band. I dislike this but submit to his authority and experience, (he was a worship leader before God him to pastor). I am very inexperienced and at somewhat of a loss as to how to really incorperate WORSHIP and not just christian music, especially when singing with a cd. Any advice?

  14. Robert Lindblad April 28, 2009 at 5:43 PM #

    God called him to Pastor*

  15. Jim Kang May 13, 2009 at 12:42 PM #

    Hi Bob,

    At the onset, let me just say how much I appreciate your ministry not only to your local church but local churches all over.

    I do have a question. Can you clarify #1, where you said “how the primary sound we want to hear on Sundays is the congregation”? I thought that primary sound we want to hear on the Lord’s Day is theosony or vox dei, meaning “sound of God” or “voice of God,” namely the proclamation of God’s word.

    • Bob Kauflin May 13, 2009 at 1:57 PM #

      Jim, thanks for asking about my statement that “the primary sound we want to hear on Sundays is the congregation.” I was referring to the sound that we hear when we’re singing. Totally agree that we want to hear God speaking to us when we gather, more than us speaking to him. Although in his grace, he delights in hearing us praise him and cry out to him.

  16. Mark Stafford May 21, 2009 at 10:16 PM #

    Bob,

    I am the pastor over worship arts at a Harvest Bible Chapel plant in Prescott, AZ.

    I loved your article about leading worship at a church plant. I passed it on to the other worship leaders at our church.

    We are 3 years old and becoming more established in the community. Please comment on how a church plant music ministry grows into maturity. Thanks…Mark

  17. Titus Mtsweni March 17, 2010 at 10:14 AM #

    Hey Bob

    I dont know much about you or where u come from but I just found your article from a link on google & just read it.

    I must say these are the very tools I need to learn as I am a worship leader at a new church plant in Brakpan, South Africa. I only have one person in my team :-). So far it’s just my guitar and a lady that’s playing keyboard and singing backing vocals as well.

    The plant is only two months old and God is just growing us an extremely rapid rate. We started in January 2010 with about 10 people and in our last service we had almost 30 people and most of them are looking to get plugged into the church.

    I have never lead worship before and to top it off my guitar playing skills aren’t really up to standard yet.I often miss chords and mix them around sometimes but I have realised a significant growth in my life, not just in my music skills but spiritually as well.

    Most Sundays I get good feedback from the guys in church but sometimes worship just feels a bit dry and I have no idea what I’m doing wrong.

    I just want to say that even though I don’t know who you are, you have taught me something. I hope in applying these tips I will only improve in leading the church and my team into a place of oneness with God through worship.

    Thank you for posting this article.

    • Bob Kauflin March 17, 2010 at 11:08 AM #

      Titus, glad that I can serve you in some way even though we’ve never met. I pray God uses you to magnify Christ’s glory in people’s minds and hearts. Thanks for being faithful.

  18. Mark Dunstan May 12, 2012 at 12:42 AM #

    Bob,

    I know this is an old article, but I just came across it. Really helpful! I feel that in a a new church, so much of the congregations identity will come out of the music and ‘liturgy,’ whatever form that takes. Thanks for these thoughts on how to make sure that identity is built around the Cross of Christ and the joyful proclamation of His glory.

    Also Titus, I don’t know if you will read this, but I’m praying for your church and for God’s work in your nation! I’ve had some of my best experiences of singing to God when led only by an acoustic guitar. May Christ be exalted in your worship!

    Mark
    Sydney, Australia

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