Jammin’ your way to a better worship band –

Open Jam Sessions are the best recruiting, training, auditioning tool for small/medium size churches.  At least that’s what I think. :)

Big churches have a completely different set of problems when it comes to worship musicians than your average small/medium sized church.  In a church of thousands, if you let every bass player of decent caliber (that would be allowed to play in a small-medium size church) he might only play a couple times a year.  I made a post about organizing musicians if you have the wonderful problem of too many musicians.  However, most churches I know tend to have the opposite problems: they don’t have enough quality players to fill a full modern worship team every week.

In our church our weekly instrumentation is:

  1. Drums
  2. Bass
  3. Keys
  4. Piano
  5. Electric Guitar (lead parts)
  6. Acoustic Guitar (or rhythm electric)
  7. Vocals (usually me plus the piano player and sometimes one other)

Probably pretty typical for most of what you hear on worship albums, and what you see in most churches.

You can condense it down to just 1 guitar or combine piano/keyboard player if need be, but you are still looking at 4 or 5 musicians every week.

If you are a smaller church having trouble filling your spots, my #1 recommendation is JAM sessions.

When to have JAM sessions:

In a mobile churchplant, you could have them on Sunday afternoons since you have all the equipment set up already, you might as well get all the bang for your buck that you can.  Also, you have the maximum crowd there as people are likely to have Sunday afternoon’s off and you can recruit directly from the congregation which is present.  You might have to feed them a little, but we musicians are usually quite happy to make music for food! It’s a great way to fellowship and get to know each other better: foodowship (like fellowship but with food!)

For those of you with buildings, you might try an open jam session for an hour before your official midweek worship practice.  That way if a musician is good enough, you can invite them.  Same with foodoworship here.

Another reason for one of these time slots is because it reduces the amount of time that your regular worship team members need to invest to be a part.  It’s great to get your mature worship musicians on board with mentoring and training and auditioning the next generation.  They may not be able to participate every time, but it’s much more likely if they just have to show up a little bit early or stay a little afterwards.

We do midweek JAM from 4-5 on Wednesdays then dinner for the worship team followed by worship practice which includes biblestudy and prayer in addition to music practice.  We are helping out a churchplant in Maltby, www.thehighpointchurch.com and are going to experiment with the after church slot for their mobile setup and report on how it goes.

Who can come to a Jam Session?  Who do you advertise to?

Anyone who wants to hang out and play and anyone who is interesting in learning.  We tell people they can bring instruments if they have them, but if not, just come on out anyway.  No instruments or previous experience are required.  Anyone can come 6th grade and up for free jamming and music lessons.  If you are patient enough, you would be surprised how good a 7th grade drummer can be.  Middleschoolers have tons of time to practice and often interest.  Think about the target audience for high school musical, school of rock, camp rock, … I have used 6th graders often before on Sunday mornings.  Don’t look down on them because they are young… isn’t there a scripture that says that;)  (Bonus to the first person who gives the reference in the comment box!)

What is the commitment?

This is the beauty of a jam session. There is no commitment on either side.  If you cancel a jam session, how upset can they get?  (Although I do recommend consistency if you want to grow your own players and get people to show up…)  And if they don’t show up, you work with those that do.  If no one shows up, train the sound man and the volunteer helpers that tear down and clean up.  I am not kidding!  You might be surprised what happens when you take someone who already has a servant’s heart (they are already helping) and ask them to help in this way!

And coming to a jam session once doesn’t mean they every have to come again and it doesn’t mean they are on the worship team and will be scheduled every week from now on.  It’s kind of built into the word “jam session” but if you need to clarify it, you can say it out loud to clarify.  You have the opportunity to feel out potential players to see how good they are, how flexible they are musically, etc. in a relaxed environment, which is SO much better and accurate than a high pressure “audition” situation.

And what musician doesn’t want to jam?  I know I do!

How do I get on the worship team then?

So… if jamming doesn’t get you on the worship team, then how does it happen?  In my church if you come to JAM and prove you have enough musical, social (for the jr highers) and spiritual maturity…. then you’ll be invited to come to worship practice. (which just means staying a little longer!  See the beauty of it!)  And once you’ve come to worship practice for a while and we can see your spiritual maturity in action (pray with you, study the scriptures together, …) and see if you are a good personality fit and musical fit for our team… then I will ask you to become part of the Sunday morning rotation.  And in the meanwhile, at worship practice I’ll give you feedback on the things you need to be working on in order to keep improving in all these areas (especially spiritual and musical maturity).  And we need continual life long learners with servant hearts in all these areas, so if that doesn’t work for you, we can’t really have you on the team.  It’s all born out of relationship and relationship takes time, so I hope you are willing to invest some time to become part of our family of musicians.  We can always use more players.  And if we end up with too many spiritually qualified, talented players with servant hearts… then we will find a churchplant to send you to for a season, to help serve a smaller church in need!  I’m sure you would you be willing to drive a little further from time to time to help out in the Kingdom right?

Then in our practice we let these players in training play on a song or two and see how they do.

Music Lessons

Also, a whole group of us offer private lessons to budding musicians of all ages who want to learn more about music.  We offer our time free at worship practice to train younger musicians and most people see that and are appreciative.

Farming takes time but builds lasting results

This kind of farming and training system takes time, but it has provided me with a steady stream of players at our little church so I have all my slots filled every week and the bar keeps getting raised higher and higher.

When I came to Cedarhome there were 2 pianists and a couple vocalists and that was just about it.  I convinced the church to let me buy a bass guitar and amp even though we didn’t have anyone who knew how to play it.  I grabbed the junior higher who lived next door and he became a great bass player.  If you don’t believe me, check it out:

http://www.myspace.com/jubileeschild I basically used this same system to add keys, electric guitar and drums too over the years: train musicians for free until they get good enough to let them play on Sunday morning.

Another factor for our little church is that we are not in a college town so every graduation really hurts, but I know I have more musicians coming down the pike that are in training and I just move someone up from the training farm as I sense the departure of one of my seasoned veterans.

Anyone else use this method? What troubles have you had?

Feedback is welcome!

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4 Responses to Jammin’ your way to a better worship band

  1. Derek Fekkes says:

    Nice website Jason. I’ve read this article before but just read it again because it’s so helpful. I’ve had jam session going on here at my church in Midland for about 2 months now and it’s going awesome. We got about 10-12 people every week. A good mix of students and adults. I, too, walked into a situation where the worship team consisted of a pianist, a keyboard player, and a couple of singers. I’m training up a bass player, another piano player, and some drummers. I’m excited to see where we’re at in 6 months. Thanks for the great example you’ve set. I’ve learned a lot.

    • jchollar says:

      Thanks Derek! That’s great to hear about! OSL crew is still doing great too from what I hear. You are such an encouragement to me. Thank you for commenting!

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