Posted by: worshipguitarguy | February 6, 2007

Lead Worship or Play in a Small Church?

For an upcoming series, I really want to focus on issues and hurdles WL’s and band members face with playing in small churches (less than 200 in service attendance.)  Truthfully, I spend most of my time playing in a small church environment, so I’m there too. 

So here’s the deal, if you play in a small church setting, fire off some questions/thoughts/or issues you’ve faced in the comments section, and we’ll deal with them in this series.  Hopefully it can be a solid resource with many different perspectives.


Also, before that series, we have two more things coming up.  First thing, on Friday we’ll have one final look at scale patterns…  I’m going to show a trick I use all the time, that makes playing simple ambient lead textures very easy.  It takes alot of the guesswork out of how to do it…  I have a feeling that within a day or two of practicing it, you’ll be doing well with it. 

Second, starting next week, we have the first in the long awaited series on delay.  It was written by Ugur Taner, an awesome guitar player and visitor here.  He’s taught me a ton about the little details of delay in just the past few months, so I’m excited about the series.



  1. Anxiously awaiting here in my small church.

  2. A couple issues I experience is:

    1) Inconsistance sounds issues. We have a run through of our set every sunday before service. We get it set just the way we want it, and then once we start service, Someone’s guitar is over-powering, or we lose the vocals in the monitor. It gets frusterating.

    2) The other issue, is having a small congregation that is a little older crowd, they tend not to be very responsive to songs other than hymns. No that i have a problem with hymns, however our worship band is a younger crowd, and we play a littl more contemporary style.

    Those are a couple issues we face, Our congregation is very good about accepting newer songs, but they don’t seem to react as well during worship.

  3. Worship Leader and sole guitar player at a church with 125-150 attendance. Moving to a new building this spring which will seat 250-300, but I can’t see it happening with current ‘blended’ service and an average age of 50+ most Sundays.

    Current hot topics:

    1) Overcoming a prior leader’s emphasis on performance. Our older crowd doesn’t seem to let themselves get involved with Praise Team songs. We do everything we can to make the songs singable, and openly invite participation (stand and sing with us, etc), HUGE words projected, etc. We also go as far as working acoustic hymns and medleys into ‘Praise Set’.

    2) As a new WL, trying to get our singers (again, a little older crew – I’m 36 and the youngest by 15 years) to hold back – everyone wants to belt out every word, every song. Trying to instill the notion that we need to make the song melody crystal clear to the congregation with one voice on new songs, but it’s been a battle.

    3) As the only guitarist (only other instruments right now are keys and drums), it’s sometimes tough to round out the sound. The keys player is now getting it so that we’re not playing over top of each other. Any ideas to round things out more?

    4) Ditto Dilon’s comments on sound issues. Our sound tech is a nice gal, but she doesn’t have the ear – I have gone as far as suggesting an on-stage mixer for us to tweak instead – the on-stage mixer it worked when my band used to play out at secular gigs – not a best solution, but a workable one.

    Great blog – keep up the awesome work!

  4. I play in a very small church. I play through a Fender Deville (60 watts) and our worship leader plays through a Hot Rod Deville when he plays electric. Stage volume is louder than the volume in the mains a lot of times. The worship leader and I are both thinking of getting a THD hot plate to get a good sound at low volumes. We also are wanting to get in-ear monitors for everybody to eliminate stage volume as much as we can. What do you think about the hot plates and what about a good in-ear monitor system?


  5. I lead worship in a very small but growing! setting. Right now, it’s currently 10 youth on Friday nights, so I lead with my acoustic. That’s it. For Sundays, I’m in an interesting situation. The congregation is Chinese, so occasionally when I do lead, it’s an acoustic, drums, bass, and 3 vocals. We just have a different problem. Singing in English doesn’t always help people who worship in Chinese. However, they like dancing. It’s hilarious seeing adults dance. Trust me. Simply hilarious because it’s so joyful. Oh, for Sundays, the number is about 40-60 people.

    I’ve tried to lead youth with an electric, but it hasn’t worked out….because it just feels strange. Plus, I’ve always played rhythm, and so I am a bit confused for playing lead.

  6. Hey Chris,

    I was playing through a Hot Rod Deville the other night in Jon’s basement, and man those things are loud! I think you’ve hit it right on with your ideas. Having Hot Plates to bring the volume down will be a huge help, as well as having a solid in ear system. The more monitor speakers you eliminate, (and the more isolated your amp sound is,) the clearer your sound will be in the room.

  7. I play in a church of older people as well. The average attendance hovers just below 100.

    I have 2 main issues in my group. First one is easy, second…not so much….

    1) This first one is copied from Dilon’s… “We have a small congregation that is a little older crowd, they tend not to be very responsive to songs other than hymns. No that i have a problem with hymns, however our worship band is a younger crowd, and we play a little more contemporary style.”

    2) Our worship teams heart. (here we go)

    2 of us are incredibly passionate about music and growing. We are actively trying to figure out what it means to live a life of worship. The problem is that other members just don’t have the same heart ….Nor are they actively growing musicians.

    We spend the first 20 minutes or so ‘growing’ together (sharing and praying and discussing what we are ‘supposed’ to be reading), but the other guys either just sit there with a glazed stare or offer only cut-up remarks. Basically, they are there just for the sake of being there…not to ‘lead’ anybody in worship

    When it comes to the music, they have been playing for 3 years. They were ‘recruited’ to play, but had no prior music background. I guess I shouldn’t expect so much musically…after all, they weren’t musicians to begin with.

    The music thing I can look over, but the heart issue is hard to get over. This type of stuff would NOT fly at many places, but due to the size of our church, they are what we’ve got to work with.


  8. I wasnt sure how to contact you but I would love to discuss some ideas on resources. I love what your doing.


  9. As a bit of a spin on ripvanwinkles comments … one of the biggest challenges I faced (recently) was staffing. Not only the team but even the leader. Small churches typically have a smaller budgets. How does the small church recruit and maintain the best musical and worshipping talent available. Do they pay? Do they just wait for God to provide?

    How does a small church pull off a quality worship service that is genuine but also has the parts filled? I know we should be satisfied with just one instrument or one voice but I think many of us here try to lead worship with as near a full band as possible.

    I have also found that some worship leaders in smaller churches don’t take their responsibility very seriously. They probably have a different 9-5 job mid week and the worship leading is a side job or additional responsibility. They can fail in communicating with their team or in preparing. I’m trying not to cast out a blanket statement on all small church worship leaders as I know how hard it is and how much work it takes. Just wanted to add a few comments about my experiences recently.

  10. I’ve never knew churches had ‘paid’ players?! Our WL is the Youth/Music Minister. Our church is very small like I said (The church sometimes struggles to pay bills…let alone non-‘staff’ musicians).

  11. The paid/non-paid thing is an interesting discussion… I was talking with a friend who’s a WL in a small church in Texas a few weeks ago. He was trying to decide whether or not they should pay their musicians as a way to attract them there. Apparently, in his part of the country, paying musicians to play is pretty common, (and one of the few ways to get musicians since so many other churches are doing it.) That’s not even an issue where I’m at, I haven’t seen a church in our area (either small or large) that pays anyone but a WL/Worship Pastor. (Not even our church, and we have weekend attendance of about 2,000.)

  12. I used to play paid worship guitar gigs all the time. There’s a pretty good circuit going in SoCal where I used to live. Apparently I’m fine with the idea since I used to make a decent amount of money doing it… but, if it were my worship team, and I was the WL… I’m not sure I’d open that box up unless I had to.

    Once you get used to the quality that comes with session-calibur musicians – ESPECIALLY if you can find some that also have a heart for worship – it’s tough to go back.

    Only musicians I ever paid on Sunday AMs (when I was a WL) were drummers [insert joke about how drummers are not musicians here].

    No drummer, no band… so, I’d fork out some cash every now and then to the drummer. Usually out of my own pocket…

    I’ve found it funny over the years that there is so much pain out there on this topic. Preachers get paid, janitors get paid, the guy who cuts the grass gets paid, but the musicians… they’re supposed to do it “just for the ministry”, right? 😉

  13. Howdy,

    We have about 250 (between 2 services) on any given Sunday and I lead worship during communion at the later service. We have hymns during the service and P&W during communion.

    I am the worship team. Me, myself and my guitar. My daughter will add some vocal help and my son chimes in with his guitar when he’s home from college.

    My biggest challenges are:

    – Being the only P&W leader. Can you say, “burn out”? Sure you can. 😉
    – Some of the congregation is reluctant to new music.
    – I’m 46 and would like to groom some younger talent, but the pool is very shallow.

    Anyway…looking forward to your series.



  14. As a musician getting into electric guitar playing at church, and as a new owner of a delay pedal, I’m interested in your new posts.

    I play at a campus group meeting of about 50-60. It’s hard for our worship team to stay unified and dedicated as a group putting effort into making the music the best it is with the time and talents we have, and focusing on our purpose of God-centered worship.

  15. Tony, I can understand that… I’m so fortunate here to have a group of guys willing to play consistently because they view the playing and the relationships they form through worship leading to be ministry. There are times though I wish I could pay some of them, especially two friends of mine who drive an hour one way to be with us sometimes.

  16. I try to do all I can to make sure people know I appreciate their efforts. Sometimes a Starbucks card or picking up the check at dinner, whatever… goes a long way with people.

  17. In one of the SoCal mega-churches I played with Tony at, I was the one and only volunteer musician on the team. I had to practically beg for a coffee on-the-house each week. After two years of this routine I told the WL that since the way the church expresses appreciation to musicians is through a paycheck, I wanted to be appreciated that way too. For me it was not about the money but it was about feeling like I was appreciated and valued.

    I know I should have been satisfied helping in ministry for Him and realizing that my reward lies in heaven but my human side got really burned out. The WL told me he couldn’t pay me because I had come from the congregation and it was then that I realized the WL and I had major differences in our philosophies of worship.

    My point : Whether you pay or not, be fair and treat your musicians with the respect and appreciation they deserve. For many it is a sacrifice and a service.

  18. By the sound of it, that becomes a very slippery slope if you’re not careful.

  19. this is a great read from ridgestone church :

    very logical and spiritual in the decision not to pay musicians. it is definitely a toughie and i think most people would say the hard part is a)not wanting people to just show up for a paycheck and b) you don’t want to “feel” like you are having to pay people to do ministry. maybe paying them for service/talent, but not to do ministry or serve, and that can get real blurry for some people if vision casting is not clear. big thing is letting your team know how much they are valued and appreciated.

    the book Worship in Black and White by Yancy the worship leader for the youth group oneighty (church on the move) is an awesome entry level book to go thru with your worship team to develop heart and vision of “why we do what we do” as a worship team. good for people on any track of their spiritual/musical journey.

  20. Good thoughts, Rebekah…

    There’s a ton of different angles on this topic. I’ve been on both sides of the equation, both as the worship leader (WL) and as the hired-gun guitar player. I think I could mount a fairly successful argument in either direction.

    I started to post my thoughts here… but it’s getting too long… so I’ll post it on my little blog… all are welcome to stop by and chime in…

  21. Hello. Things are a little slow at work today, so I googled “worship guitarist” just to see what might come up. Interesting site! I’m an older guy, turning 55 this year (Senior discount at Denny’s – woo-hoo!). I’ve been playing guitar and singing since I was 13, you do the math. Played lead guitar professionally for many years. Began serving on worship teams about 12 years ago. Since then have served on teams on bass, acoustic and lead, always in a volunteer capacity. Currently on team of a VERY small AG congregation. I lead all the upbeat “Praise” songs, staff music minister leads all the mellower “Worship’ songs. I’m using a Peavey Generation EXP Custom ACM guitar that has both magnetic pickups and a piezo-equiped bridge for “acoustic” sounds. Currently the sole guitarist. I’ve also started programming and controlling my drum machine when the drummer can’t make it (there’s a possibility this arrangement could become semi-permanent). I love serving the Lord this way and look forward to each Sunday. Cool part is my wife, a former pro vocalist, serves with me. Glad to find this site. Anyone else out there use a drum machine in worship? I would prefer a real drummer, but this is a good second choice, especially when you need to rock. I sometimes struggle with playing lead solos in worship. Not because of any difficulty with the instrument, though. I actually love playing lead (I’m an old Hendrix/Clapton kinda guy), but I wonder if it takes the focus off of Jesus for that 30 seconds while I rip it up. During worship, the focus should be vertical, right? The music minister loves it though and encourages me. Anyone else think about this?

    • “I actually love playing lead (I’m an old Hendrix/Clapton kinda guy), but I wonder if it takes the focus off of Jesus for that 30 seconds while I rip it up. During worship, the focus should be vertical, right? The music minister loves it though and encourages me. Anyone else think about this?”

      Here is what I think: you are there to help people in the congregation worship. If your playing enhances their ability to connect with God, you are doing it right. So, if it allows 30 seconds for the lyrics they sang to sink in, if it gives a chance to pray, if it moves them in a way they can now connect with the next chorus line, then it is good. If the instrumental goes too long you could lose that. If the music is flat or unskilled, it could distract. If you pull any showy stunts or self-grandiose/phony emotions on stage or are a stinker in real life, it detracts. I think you want quality that inspires and makes the song come to life.

  22. I’m also in a small church. A little over 100 each weekend. The praise “band” is my guitar and a bass player and 3 vocalists (in addition to my voice). I would love to have a keyboard or drum – but we just don’t have the musicians.

    We had a pretty traditional church, sang only hymns on the organ. But the organist moved. So we started with a band. It’s been more than few years, but things are slowly changing. Our music is still fairly mellow, no hard driving rock songs, but I do use distortion on the guitar now and again. 🙂 Over the past couple of years the folks have really started to sing. So that’s very encouraging.

    We had some more musicians, but they moved. So the question I have is can you use a drum machine or other technology to replace the missing drummer? I have no idea how to play drums, but I keep thinking I should be able to buy some software or drum machine and put down a simple beat and record that to use while we play. Maybe even put it on an iPod and just hit play on the iPod before the song. Something like that must be out there somewhere.

    The second question is what type of effects can I use on my guitar that will fatten the sound, make it fuller, with making it muddy. I use chorus and delay sometimes. Could I split the signal and run through two different processors and get two different sounds and make it sound a bit like two guitarist are playing? Or would it just be weird because they be playing the same part?

    Great blog!!!

  23. Hey Bill… let me answer the second part of that in an upcoming post, I do something like that all the time! For part 1, a popular thing happening right now is the use of loops. (It’s like the old vocal tape tracks you’d buy if you were singing a solo at church.) Unfortunately, the software for loops is quite expensive, (either Ableton Live, or Propellerhead’s reason), but the cool thing is there’s a ton of already programmed loops for some popular songs available for free out there. Check out

    A few lower cost solutions include Sony’s Acid or Fruityloops, although you won’t find the same amount of free tracks available for them, so you’d have to program them on your own. You could always use a drum machine, but the cool thing about loops is you can also have other instruments in the track which round your sound out quite a bit.

  24. Hey Bill.
    I started using my old Yamaha RY10 drum machine just when I knew the drummer couldn’t make it. But it was a little dull with the same pattern over and over, just hitting start and stop with thge footpedal. When I found out that the drummer was stepping down from the team for personal reasons, I sterted looking for something better than a static pattern. Because we sometimes repeat a chorus or change up the arrangement on the fly, as the Spirit moves, a pre-programmed song arrangement wouldn’t work for us. Then I found out that the good old Alesis SR-16 has a really cool feature. Besides the all-important start/stop footswitch, you can plug in a second footswitch. When you hit this one, the machine plays a fill and then changes to a variation of the pattern. Hit it again and it plays annother fill and returns to the original version. Perfect for transitioning from verse to churus, for example. So I picked one of thse up last week and tried it out yesterday. Just what we needed! These things go for $150 new and provide a very simple, flexible alternative to a live drummer. If you already have bass and guitar, you’ll have a pretty full sound.

  25. Just as a heads up to those thinking about using loops, drum machines or the like in place of live drummers. While you can create some very cool parts and fills with this kind of technology, you should consider finding a dedicated person to operate it for you in a live setting. It can be VERY tricky to play, sing, lead and trigger patterns all at the same time.

    Also, for those looking at using computer based loop software in a live setting I highly recommend Ableton Live. You can map the patterns to a midi controller and call them on the fly. Yes, foot based midi controllers do exist but see the note about about doing it all 🙂 Better to find someone who can run the computer directly or connect an M-Audio trigger finger to call your loops.

  26. I play acoustic guitar at a small country church (about 80 in attendance) in Northwest Tennessee. I originally intended to just use the guitar to acommpany my singing but the song leader wants to see me and the keyboard player together and we are struggling to do this. We mostly do hymns but I am looking to do some acoustic versions of the P&W. Our worship “band” consists of just me and the keyboard player. Not only do we not have a drummer, our church building is so small we really don’t have room for one! What we do have is a very good PA system.

    First question is what is the best way for a keyboard and guitar to work together? Who should take the lead?

    Second question is about on stage amplication. Neither the keyboard or the guitar are going through an amp. I have plugged my acoustic through the PA but since the KB isn’t amped or plugged into the PA i question if this is a good idea. I have an acoustic amp at home, but I was wonder if it would be better if the church bought a keyboard amp, plugged both instruments into it, then DI it out to the church PA? Anyone have a experience with this kind of setup?

    Finally, neither one of us is paid nor would I ever ask the church to pay me. As a general rule and custom, a rural church music ministry is made up of unpaid volunteers. I play guitar at church because I love it and I consider it as part of my service to the Lord. Having said that I do believe that churches do tend to take their vocalists, musicians, and worship leaders too much for granted and people do need to let them know they are appreciated.

    You got a good website there. Keep up the good work.

  27. Hey Garry, great questions… working in a small church is always a huge committment and a challenge… keep doing what you’re doing!

    Just my .02, but for your first question, I’d suggest that you have the person who is leading vocally also take the lead instrumentally if you can. If both of you split the vocal leading responsibilities, you may want to trade on and off (being “on” on the songs you’re singing.) That way you can dictate the flow on the song to match what’s happening vocally…

    As far as the KB/Acoustic thing…. the thing I’d tell you is it’s really about sound quality and clarity, there’s no right or wrong way to do stuff, do what works for you. Running DI with an acoustic into the PA is a good way to do things, I’d also run the keyboard in a similar fashion, that way you can blend the two of them together. Is your concern more with having a “monitor speaker” on stage and using the amp for that? If you’re fine with what your hearing, I wouldn’t worry too much about that then…

  28. Hey I think that you should play in a bug church that way you get to know the people in that church. Or oyu could play in a small church. ny ways you can make a lot of people happy.

  29. I lead the worship service in a VERY small church (30 to 40 on Sunday morning). My wife plays the piano for the hymns and I play guitar for the praise & worship songs we do. My question is about Praise & Worship practices.
    Currently, our P&W team meets every Wednesday evening after the service (our praise team consists of me on guitar, leading the songs vocally, with an avg. of 8 singers). I basically pick out what songs that we’ll do the following services, and then practice them. I’d like to incorporate some sort of study on the importance of praise and worship during our practices, but not really sure where to start. Any ideas??

  30. I am part of my local church’s music ‘team’ and i play the lead guitar along with a bass and sometimes another guitar. We are finding it hard to get the congregation to sing as we are trying to bring in new songs to boost numbers. The vast majority of congregation don’t know the tune and as we are guitars and bass, we can’t give them the tune.

    Can somebody please advise what to do, should i start playing the melody on the guitar or should we go to more traditional songs that the congregation knows.

    many thanks

  31. Hi Fenderbender, our church will stick to songs we all know but looks new songs to teach the congregation. We will learn one every so often and repeat it every other week to get it. The lead singer will sing it with the band first once through, 1 verse 1 chorus etc then the congregation joins in and they all sing and that way we slowly get to incorporate more into it. Hope this helps, god bless


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