How A Church Successfully Downsized Their Praise Team?

Abbie Stancato of Rockin' God's HouseWhile most churches are inflating the size of their praise teams, New Life Church in Sullivan, Illinois is down-sizing, yet strengthening their technology, music, and worship support teams. I’ve interviewed many Music Directors and ALL OF THEM when asked about large member praise teams stated they would never remove team members. Although most of them admit to leveraging better players over weaker ones or asking the sound booth to bury bad singers in the mix. I think that method works, assuming your team members are not complacent with mediocrity.

Liz Dolan, Music Director at New Life Church, has the most innovative approach to this dilemma. New Life is embedded in a scarcely populated area. Although church membership exceeds eight hundred, approximately four hundred attend weekly services. Most directors in her shoes would take anyone they could get and deal with it. Liz is a true child of God and wanted more from her team. She successfully reduced a very large team into a consolidated powerhouse.

Tell us about your praise team?

I have a versatile team, and although I no longer rotate singers as teams, I can rotate within the band. All the members are able to play and cover other instruments. If one’s out for the week, I’ll rotate members within the band to cover the positions needed. Additionally, I have backups from the youth band.”

Is the style of team you constructed by design?

“Yes, early this year I streamlined the worship team. When I took over six years ago, we had a band and choir, but everything felt mediocre. It didn’t feel like there was much structure; no requirement to practice and excel. I had over twenty members, but no one was being challenged. I wanted to make changes, but I am a people pleaser; it is difficult for me to hurt someone’s feelings. But I knew changes needed to take place. Although the Bible says to make a joyful noise and worship the Lord, I don’t believe everyone is called to lead worship.

“So I began to raise the standard. I explained to everyone what was required of them. I wanted them to know their material, practice, come in prepared, and be on time. That immediately weeded out a lot of people. If someone didn’t show up on time, I didn’t have a problem telling them they couldn’t sing or play that week. I would sit out team members I technically needed, but the principle was more important than that week’s set list or the worship service sounding perfected.

“Next I removed the choir and migrated to backup style vocals. Many of them were not strong enough singers to put on microphones. If I have to tell my sound guy to turn singers down to almost nothing, what’s the point of them being there? It’s really not fair to everyone involved. This upset a lot of people. I reduced them to three rotating teams. Many singers began to feel the extra weight and pressure to know their stuff. More began to leave.

“At the end of every year I pray, ‘God, what is Your direction for the music and the team, so I can lay it out for them.’ I always ask them each year to raise their level. I ask them to practice more and know the material better, so they don’t rely on sheet music and notes. I offer vocal warm-up CDs which I expect them to use on their own. I record all three harmonies on MP3s for them to nail their parts. With all those tools, I encourage them to walk in prepared.

“At the beginning of 2013, I decided to reduce the entire team down to five. I consulted the pastor, prayed and cried throughout the entire process. I didn’t want to do it. I was afraid of hurting people’s feeling. I was afraid of having people leave the church and no longer like me. However, I just knew in my heart we needed to streamline and not make all of it such a big production. I let people go who had been with the team for many years. I loved every single one of them, but I sat down individually with each one of them, and shared my heart. I felt many of them were not serving in their passion area. And that they were possibly continuing to serve out of duty. I asked each of them what they really wanted to do, and what could I do to help them. I really wanted them to get involved in areas of ministry that they were passionate about. It was difficult, and most of them were very sad, but understanding. Some were actually relieved. It’s interesting that if someone says, ‘Hey you’re really not a good usher, how about serving in another area?’ nobody really gets offended. But if you tell someone that singing is not their thing, they take it very personal. It is a difficult line to walk.

“The downsized team and increased effort is working. Some members of our congregation travel to our service from more than an hour away; some are passing twenty other churches just to come here. I use that as a reminder to myself and my team there are people making a big sacrifice to attend this church. God has his purpose and reason.”