Facilitating the Audition Process
Whether you serve at a megachurch or a brand new plant, you likely have at least one worship team serving your body each week. An element to serving your church family and equipping your body with trusted volunteers is establishing a well-run system for musical auditions and assimilation of new volunteers. Having a system in place to onboard volunteers helps keep people from "falling through the cracks", and lets your worship team continue to grow in size and in skill. I have the immense privilege of serving as a worship leader at Watermark Community Church in Dallas, Texas, where we have, after much trial and error, landed with four steps that we have found most effective in our audition process:
- Pre-Audition Screening
- Live Audition
- Continued Shepherding/Development
As worship leaders, we are responsible for the care and correction of those on our team. Discerning whether or not someone’s heart is in a healthy posture for being up on stage is a part of that responsibility. Worship leadership is a unique ministry, in that it is public and visible to the congregation. We must be careful and diligent with who we trust to help shepherd the body in that way. The first step in an audition process should be some form of a preliminary conversation or a "get to know you." It’s important that you don’t just place anyone on stage who can sing or play an instrument, without first hearing their story and why they want to get involved.
At a large church with lots of members wanting to be involved, it would be difficult to meet one-on-one with every new applicant. At our church, we have an online Formstack with intentional questions like, "When did you come to know Christ", "How long have you been playing music in a worship context?" and "Why do you want to be involved with our ministry?". These questions serve as a way to help vet the skill level and intentions of potential volunteers. Sometimes answers to those questions are good indicators of someone not being ready to serve in an "up-front" capacity, or if they are wanting to get involved for the wrong reasons. Additionally, we have found that asking for a video of them playing will help you give them initial feedback and a general idea of what their skill level and abilities are before they come to play live.
If you serve at a smaller church, I find it best for those conversations to happen over a coffee or a meal. As a worship leader, it’s a privilege to shepherd members of the body, and intentional time with potential volunteers builds trust and can be an encouragement to them! After that, you can have them send in a video or even have a mini-live audition by playing along to a song with them in your office or at your church.
Once you have gone through this step with one or more potential volunteers, you can pick a date to hold a live audition and send a song or two for them to prepare. Live Auditions
Having a potential volunteer come in for a live audition is a crucial part of the screening process. Live auditions can look drastically different depending on your church’s context and size. It could be a big event that takes time and resources, where a whole crop of new volunteers audition. It could be a new vocalist sitting down with you and an acoustic guitar to sing a song or some harmonies. Whether you have multiple full bands running each Sunday or a single small acoustic set, making sure that your volunteers have the skills needed for your specific context is the aim of the live audition.
Here at Watermark, we hold auditions on certain Sundays immediately following the morning services. Whatever band members were serving that morning will stick around to help. We want to set up whoever is auditioning for success so, one at a time, we have them get up and play with our Sunday morning band. This process allows them to play along with excellent musicians and allows us to see them playing in a band context. For example, if someone is auditioning for bass, the bassist from the morning band will step out and the auditionee will step in and take their place. We find that this gives whoever is auditioning greater confidence and comfort, because they’re not just on stage alone, "under the spotlight". It also helps us see how they fit in with the band in regards to tone, stage presence, timing, etc... Once they have played through the prepared song(s) we sit down with them and offer encouragement and some practical feedback.
If after the live audition it is obvious that the potential volunteer is not yet ready to serve (for whatever reason; lack of skill, heart issue, etc.), we have an opportunity to decline them kindly and expound on why they are not the right fit for the team at that time. Along with this, some practical feedback on how to improve and what to work on will go a long way in shepherding them well. Here at Watermark (and I truly don’t mean this as a plug), we give all of our volunteers a login to use The Worship Initiative as a resource to grow. Even after we decline someone, we usually give login information to those who are not quite ready so they can improve and try again at the next audition. Some of our current volunteers were not quite ready to serve at first, but through The Worship Initiative training, as well as continued feedback, they were able to be plugged in to serve after coming back a second or third time. "Matchmaking"
The third step that we have seen success with is what we coined the "matchmaking" phase. At our church, there are a variety of drastically different ministries that have worship each week. Instead of auditioning people for specific ministries, we make it clear through our audition process that they may be placed at any ministry big or small, according to the needs of the church. Our approach has not necessarily been the typical formula for having new volunteers––children’s ministry, to student ministry, to Sunday mornings. We take into account skill level, what different ministry needs are, where they are currently serving/attending, and a number of other things to matchmake them with the ministry that suits them, and whose needs they can meet.
We have found that it helps to build trust between the congregation and worship leader/band members if they are in a similar life stage, or have been a part of that ministry as an attendee. For example, it would not serve a marriage ministry well to have a high-school student leading them or to have an all-male band at a women’s event. Your process of getting new volunteers to start serving may look a little different than this, but we have found great success in spreading our volunteers out like this so certain ministries are not always given less skilled musicians and worship leaders. Shepherding/Development
The final piece of a healthy audition process is continued shepherding and development once paired with a ministry. It would be a complete miss to not include this step because our roles are not to just fill stages with volunteers but to help continue to equip them to grow! This may look different from church to church but a few things you can always do is to regularly check up on your newer volunteers consistently, attend a service in which they are serving, have them serve with you, and to hold team building and development nights. This will allow you to give them feedback and advice on how to continue to learn and grow as opposed to them having to figure it out themselves. Team Building Nights
One practical way to serve your volunteers after auditions is by holding "Team Building" nights. Whether you are at a large church with hundreds of volunteers or a small church with one volunteer per instrument, a night to encourage them and serve them dinner goes a long way in building your team after auditions. This is a great opportunity to get all of your volunteers together and create time for new volunteers to spend time with more seasoned ones. Most of the time at our church, one person per instrument is serving at each service so it is very rare that volunteers of the same instrument get to spend time together. A lot of times when volunteers of the same instrument meet they hit it off because of their love for their instrument and because most of the time they are learning/growing in the same things. These nights (be them quarterly, every six months, etc) will help create a sense of cohesiveness among the team and help foster a healthy culture among all the volunteers. Development Nights
Along with building relational equity between your teams, it is helpful to build your team practically as well. This may look different depending on the makeup of your team but we have found success by holding development nights on the third Thursday of every month. Each development night looks different, but will always have some worship, a small devo, and some vision casting with the collective group at the beginning. Sometimes we have instrument-specific training, sometimes we practice improvising as a band, other times we just jam out and use the time to grow in our ability to work as a group.
If this style of development night does not work for your team or make sense in your context, another way to grow your team is to go through the learning paths on The Worship Initiative website or host a smaller gathering to discuss ways your team can improve. Sunday mornings can feel rushed, and these nights are a great time to talk through methods or give practical training.
Either way, whatever you can do to help integrate your new volunteers and develop them after their audition will go a long way in helping your team improve both relationally and practically. Conclusions
In the end, a healthy and efficient audition process will equip your team to serve your body well at each ministry, big or small. By getting to know them first, seeing them audition in a full band context, pairing them with a ministry, and continuing to walk alongside them in their growth, you will see so much improvement in your team morale and team cohesiveness. Whatever your church context is, any opportunity to get volunteers plugged in and serving is a win for your body and ministry!