So you want to grow your worship team…You are trying to determine the best way to audition prospective worship team members and to come up with a successful format. Should they come prepared with a song they choose, or will you choose one for them? Will the entire band be included in the audition, or should each audition be done solo – or maybe something in-between? In a previous article I discussed the qualifications for team members (Selecting Members for Your Worship Team) but this discussion will center more on practical tips for conducting auditions.
How to Audition Church Members for your Worship Team
The “why” will help reveal the “how”
There are many good reasons to conduct worship member auditions. Having an open audition provides a way for people to connect with the worship ministry and generates excitement; it gives you an idea of the pool of talent that exists, potentially increases the level of musicianship. Many people don’t feel comfortable promoting themselves so they may not advertise that they grew up playing piano, or that they are an accomplished guitarist, or gifted singer. Maybe they don’t know that the current roster is not set in stone or are unaware that you would like to grow the team. By announcing your intention to conduct auditions, people who may not have even thought about joining the team may feel more at ease coming to a tryout. Going through the audition process can also aid the worship leader in figuring out what works best for your church and help you devise a consistent and helpful method for growing worship ministry personnel in the future.
Determine what level of music performance is expected
Before you get started you should have in mind the level of musicianship you want or need. You should determine up front what you are willing to accept –and be realistic, considering the size of your church. If you are part of a small church, you may need to be more flexible as far as your standards, compared to a larger church with a vast pool of talent. Also, the size of your church will most likely dictate how formal or informal the auditions will be. I would suggest that with a very small church you’d be better off foregoing formal auditions and simply spend time with people who are musically inclined in a casual setting. Observe their gifting, interests and character over time without any expectation that they will join the team, then when you are ready you can ask those who you feel will be a good fit if they would consider coming on board. For the medium-sized to larger congregations more formal auditions are in order.
It is a privilege not a right
No matter what the size of your church, you need to communicate to prospective members that it is a privilege (not a right) to serve on the worship team. Tell them up front that no one is guaranteed a spot, and some may be designated as back-ups or serve for a season before moving on to something else. Musical skill is very important but so is character and what we are a part of is more important than the part we play. A wise worship leader once told me that “hiring” new members is always easier than “firing” them. So, be diligent, prayerful and wise when choosing members.
Set aside a Saturday or Sunday afternoon for the audition. Make sure to coordinate with pastors and administrators to get approval and reserve the facility. Ask for the help of sound engineers and technicians who will be needed to set up mics, cords, amplifiers and other equipment needed. Most musicians who are auditioning should be instructed to bring their own instruments, but it’s a good idea to at least provide keyboards and drums; you don’t want everyone to have to wait around while a prospective drummer spends 20 minutes setting up their own kit. The particular vocalists and musicians who sign up will give you an idea how to prepare for the audition and how much time you will need.
Announcements and Applications
Start posting announcements in the church bulletin well in advance of the date(s) you choose to let people know that auditions are coming and they can sign up for a 15 minute slot. They can fill out a general information form when they sign up and provide basic information such as their name, previous musical experience, training, how long they have been a member of the church, and where they’d like to serve (provide a list of possible options). The answers on the form will also let you know whether they are a vocalist or instrumentalist, which instrument they play, or if they sing tenor, bass, alto, or soprano. You will collect the forms they fill out, but make sure to give them a flyer to take with them which includes the date, times, location, and other details of how they can prepare. Let them know they will be required to sing/play a song of their choosing with a backing track or accompanied by an existing team musician.
Set up an evaluation team
Enlist the support of two or three other musically minded people to help you evaluate during the auditions. At least one person should be a vocalist who can help assess the singers, and another should be a musician who can evaluate more than one instrument. Current team members may be ideal as helpers, but if you don’t have a qualified evaluator in your church, ask an instrumentalist or vocalist from another church to help. Once you have chosen those who are going to assist you, use written evaluation forms that you prepare in advance –some agreed upon form where evaluators can rate the performance and jot down notes. Have each of your helpers fill out an evaluation form during each person’s audition. Remember not to share these evaluations with the person trying out until you and your colleagues have had a chance to confer, share impressions, tally scores, and pray about who God would have you choose.
Watch and Pray
On the day of the audition you should not only pay attention to how they play or sing, but watch how they behave and carry themselves; as important as musical skill is there are many other things to consider. Personality, character, having a heart to worship are extremely important factors. Do they gel well with the rest of the team? Are they humble or prideful? Can they receive constructive criticism or are they abrasive and argumentative? At the audition, observe details that reveal character and work ethic, like whether they show up on time and are prepared. I should emphasize that prayer should not be an after thought; the entire process, from initial brain-storming to choosing a new member, should be bathed in prayer.
Encourage vocalists to warm up before they come. If they don’t already know their range, have a pianist run through scales to find out. After they have performed their chosen song, have them sing along with another vocalist and listen to how well they blend. Ask if they know how to harmonize and if they read music or sing by ear. Have them sing with instrumentation and then again acapella. This will reveal a lot about how good their ear is. Listen for singing dynamics, control and take note how they annunciate and breathe. The most crucial thing about a singer is whether or not they have good pitch. You can usually get a read by observing how they do with key changes and singing acapella. Some folks may be totally intimidated, so don’t push them if they are especially nervous. With other more gifted or experienced vocalists you might want to ask them if they can improvise and not just sing what’s on the lyric sheet.
Have musicians warm up in front of you by playing scales. After they perform the song they chose, ask them to try it again in different musical styles (R&B, gospel, country, rock, etc.) and observe their timing and rhythm. Have them play along with other band members and ask them to play a solo. Change the dynamics of the song or try a modulation and observe if they are able to watch you for the changes and keep up. It’s fine if they make mistakes along the way, what’s important is how they react; do they recover and keep on going or stop playing in frustration?
Thank everyone who auditions and let them know you will follow up with them after a decision is made. Sit down with the evaluation team after everyone else leaves, finish your eval sheets and have each helper share their observations. The leader will make the final decision but it is wise to get as much feedback as possible from the other evaluators. Be sure to end this time in prayer and ask God for direction.
Final decision and follow up
Communicate with your lead pastor about who you would like to add to the team. Follow up with each person who auditioned and communicate the results in person if at all possible. Be kind but very honest and specific with your observations. There may be those who have potential but need further training. Others may not be ready for the Sunday morning worship team but encourage them to pursue serving in men’s ministry, women’s ministry, youth ministry or in their small group worship. The auditions may not yield any new members, and that’s okay; do not feel the pressure to add anyone, but if there are those who are ready to serve on the worship team as a regular or back-up, don’t hesitate to invite them to join the team.
I’d be interested in hearing from others about any practical ideas for worship team auditions that you may employ in your church.