Great worship leaders tend to make what they do look easy. It can seem as though they effortlessly get up on stage, strap on their instrument, and effectively lead a worship team, as well as an entire congregation, through a set list without breaking a sweat.
Those with limited experience may find themselves frustrated if they try and replicate what they assume is ‘as easy as it looks.’
The thing is, effective worship leaders didn’t just wake up with all of the skills necessary to lead well. Even though there is something to be said for natural gifts and abilities, skill is something that needs to be developed and pursued. Worship ministry has the potential to draw out excellence and harness skill but you will surely have to work at it.
Whether you are looking to grow as a worship leader for a Sunday service, a devotional set, a high school service, or just a small group setting, there are several skills to work through and develop in order to be effective.
In this article I’ll cover:
- What Is A Worship Leader?
- What Does A Worship Leader Do?
- 3 Key Skills For Worship Leaders & How To Build Them
What Is A Worship Leader?
The practical definition of a worship leader is a person who leads a group of people into expressing praise and adoration to God through music and song. Just like the Levites of the Old Testament, worship leaders lead the way into the presence of God through thanksgiving and praise.
What Does A Worship Leader Do?
A worship leader must be skilled musically and vocally, and must be able to communicate clearly to the band, church leaders, and the congregation. They lead by example, using their own voice as a reference for others to sing along with.
They also often teach and direct the congregation in biblical forms of worship and appropriate practice of those forms. An effective worship leader has spent personal time with Jesus, and actively practices worship and discipleship on their own.
The worship that they present in an actual church service is a reflection of their personal connection with God when no one else is around.
3 Key Skills For Worship Leaders & How To Build Them
There are three practical skills that are essential for worship leaders to develop. Intentional patterns of growth in these specific areas will not only raise the level of your worship leading, but will also build your worship team.
This may seem obvious, but great worship leaders are skilled singers. Their voices are pleasing to the ear and tend to bless and inspire those within earshot. They can easily belt out contemporary worship songs and do so while creating an atmosphere free from distraction and unpleasant sounds. Here are three elements of vocal skill and some practical tools for developing these elements.
Singing on pitch
Have you ever sang with someone who has a hard time staying on pitch? Has anyone ever told you that you are off pitch? It can be a difficult thing to notice, but pitch is a skill that every singer should be strengthening and developing. Even the most skilled singers need to work to strengthen their pitch.
Practical tools for developing vocal pitch:
- Repetition of scales: here’s a great vocal warm up
- Training your ear to hear what the notes are meant to sound like: here’s a great ear training exercise
- Building muscle memory in your vocal chords through practice and repetition
Being able to not only sing vocal parts, but to pick them out by ear is a solid skill that will serve more than just yourself. This skill creates confidence around you, as you are able to assist other vocalists in knowing what they are meant to be singing.
Without this skill, the vocals supporting your worship set can tend to be bland and thin. Vocal harmonization adds depth and interest, and allows room for people with many vocal ranges to participate in singing.
Practical tools for developing vocal harmonization:
- Use solfege and basic interval training. Here’s another great resource from YouTube.
- Listen for 3rds and 5ths on top of the root note
There are a variety of different vocal types. Some singers have a beautiful vibrato, while others sing quite cleanly. Some vocalists really attack, using the full force of their diaphragm, while others have a much softer vocal delivery. Developing the skill of blending can be a great asset in worship leadership.
Practical tools for developing vocal blending:
- Listen to the dynamic, and be careful not to over or under sing)
- Belt, falsetto, etc.
- Be aware of your vocal texture. Work on vibrato exercises like this one.
- Be aware of your tone. Are your vowel sounds matching? Are they using closed, nasally, or open ohs?
Although worship leaders do not have to lead from an instrument to be successful, at least possessing a basic understanding of music theory can make a big difference as they lead a band through a worship set. Here are three elements of musical skill and some practical tools for developing these elements:
Proficiently play an instrument
Musical abilities are a doorway to understanding and navigating songs. Not being able to play an instrument and trying to lead worship is like trying to get down a steep ski hill safely when you can’t ski.
You can do it, but it would sure be a lot easier and smoother if you were proficient with tools designed to get you down the mountain. Whether you would consider yourself a part-time or full-time musician, working on your skill with an instrument will serve you well.
Practical tools for developing skill on an instrument:
- Take lessons
- Practice at least 15 to 30 minutes a day
- Play along with other instruments
Play to a metronome
Keeping time and staying on the beat are crucial song navigation skills. Any music director will tell you that playing to a metronome is a sure fire way to keep a band playing through a song together. If this is a struggle for you, make time to practice and develop this skill.
Practical tools for developing tempo and rhythm:
- Download a metronome app on your phone, or use a free online metronome like this one.
- If it is difficult for you to hear whether you are off tempo or not, record yourself playing to a metronome and listen back.
- Repetition is key to developing this skill.
Play parts of arrangement
All of the instruments on the stage play together to create beautiful music, but they are not all playing the exact same thing. Just reading the chords on a chord chart does not produce beautiful music.
Being able to identify the part that your instrument is meant to play, and effectively playing it allows you to be able to relate and communicate with your musicians on a higher level.
Practical tools for developing the ability to play musical parts:
- Watch tutorials online. A great resource is Worshipartistry.com. It is a subscription based resource that has an extensive library of contemporary worship songs, including an ever growing list of new songs, with tutorials for piano, acoustic/electric/bass guitar, and drums.
- Get around seasoned musicians. Don’t be afraid to ask those worship team members who are further along to mentor you. Remember, they have developed their skill through years of worship experience.
At first glance, you wouldn’t think that being a great communicator would have anything to do with leading worship. In fact, from the moment you are scheduled to lead a worship set, you will be called upon to communicate clearly, and filter information into an appropriate worship experience for all stakeholders.
You are responsible to clearly communicate to the worship pastor, the band, production teams, the congregation, church staff, and of course the pastor. Here are five stakeholders that you, as a worship leader, are responsible to communicate to, and some strategies to help you be effective in your communication:
Whether they share the front of the stage with you or are grouped into an ensemble or choir, your vocalists deserve clear communication and a set of expectations to help them prepare.
Strategies for effectively communicating with vocalists:
- Early communication through email or a worship planning software such as Planning Center.
- An all vocal text thread where you can leave voice memos and short cell phone videos with examples of vocal parts for specific sections of songs.
- Clear affirmation, encouragement, and direction during rehearsal.
This group of people is often under-communicated to because the avenue of communication is blocked by inexperience, insecurity, or perhaps an inability to verbalize musical direction.
The worship leader must feel confident in communicating what he or she is expecting of the band as they navigate worship music as a unit.
Strategies for effectively communicating with band members:
- Know what you want to do with the songs. Think through musical dynamics, individual instrument parts, and song transitions. Prior to any rehearsal or band meeting, work out your list in this way, and write down specific musical expectations to share with your band. You don’t have to micromanage the situation, but sharing your expectations and thoughts will set the stage for your band to effectively follow you.
- Take specific sections from song recordings to show individual instruments what you would like them to focus on. You can share these either through voice memos or email.
- Share a playlist with the band at least a week before your rehearsal so they have time to listen and prepare on their own.
- Just like the singers, early communication through email or a worship planning software such as Planning Center.
Ensure that this team has all of the applicable information readily available to them as early as possible, so they can resource their assets and prepare for an epic worship service.
Strategies for effectively communicating with production teams:
- Include this group in any vocal/band communication.
- Connect with the ‘words’ person and walk through the set list, highlighting any specific nuances or changes.
Leading worship isn’t just singing at a congregation. It is drawing them into joining the worship team as they sing and minister to God. You can establish a strong rapport with those you are leading through consistent use of a few key strategies.
Strategies for effectively communicating with the congregation:
- Consistency of worship flow
- Clear vocal direction
- Eye contact
- Confident disposition
You are a part of a team that is working together to get as many people as possible into the presence of God. It is highly beneficial to create open and honest lines of communication so that you are moving in the right direction together.
Strategies for effectively communicating with the leadership team:
- Make sure that you understand the general direction your pastor wants to take the service. Ask questions and offer insight that lends to creating an appropriate atmosphere in the worship service.
- Include your leaders in the band and vocal communication. Invite them to interact in the group chats and email communication. Your leaders can help mentor and guide your team.
- Discuss transitions and atmosphere with the service emcee and pastor. Let them know how you can accommodate their requests and decisions.
As we see, being a worship leader is a role that requires a unique combination of skills, talents, and qualities. Vocal skill, musical skill, and effective communication are three building blocks that must be given attention in order to be an effective worship leader. Worship conferences are one way to build your skills and network with your peers.
Bathe those skills in the presence of God, hunger for His word, and a passion for praise, and you will be a worship leader who blesses God and your local church.