Worship Ministry: Balancing Volunteer and Paid Musicians
There are several churches that rely entirely on volunteer worship teams, while others rely 100% on a paid contract musician structure. It’s pretty easy to keep everyone’s expectations similar when the whole team is comprised of all volunteers or all paid musicians, but once you start mixing them together, the balance can get difficult.
Who should be paid and who should be a volunteer? Should expectations be the same for everyone or higher for those who are paid? Should you have more paid musicians than volunteers or vice versa? These are tough questions to consider as you build your worship team and introduce contractors into the mix, but they are incredibly important to explore.
Worship Team: Balancing Paid Musicians and Volunteer Musicians
As worship team members, we are responsible for leading our congregation in a time of worship and providing a space where they feel comfortable encountering God. Scripture makes it clear that leaders are to be held to a higher standard, and that absolutely applies to the worship team.
So, as you continue growing your worship team and entertain the idea of bringing in contract worship musicians, here are some things to consider:
Hire Based on Need
Don’t just start hiring musicians because it’s something you feel pressure to do or something you think will instantly make the music quality better. While contract players may be better at their instruments than many of your volunteers, the quality of the worship experience needs to come from the planning, preparation, and vigilance of the worship pastor. It starts from the top so the musicians can help in executing the vision.
Hire musicians based on need. If you are attempting to introduce tracks to the mix, want someone to speak into chord changes or transitions, or are trying to elevate the musical awareness of team members, bring in contract musicians based on those needs. Perhaps contracting someone to serve as an MD or drummer may be a great place to start – start with cornerstone roles that the rest of the band hinges on.
Hire Based on Involvement
This certainly is not a “rule”, but something you probably want to consider is paying those who are not involved at your church that come in to help. For example, if you’re always short on drummers and need to ask people who are not a part of your congregation to come in and play, strongly consider compensating them for their time.
Most people understand that coming into a church that’s not your own, learning songs, and dedicating a Sunday (or entire weekend) to helping out is work, and it’s perfectly fair for those people to be compensated amongst a team of volunteers.
If you’re planning on paying some musicians but not everyone, consider giving additional responsibilities to those who are being compensated. These can be responsibilities such as creating and/or preparing tracks, running tracks on Sunday, leading rehearsal, organizing music, organizing PCO, contacting the band mid-week with setlist notes, or music directing the rehearsal and Sunday.
This type of model does a few great things for worship ministries:
Firstly, it creates a clear distinction as to why certain musicians are paid and others are not – those who are devoting extra time and effort towards preparing details beyond just the performance are compensated for their time.
Secondly, it creates accountability and an expectation that those who are compensated will bring their best to the table. They know they aren’t just being paid to be there – they are being paid to bring something extra to the table, and that trust brings with it a greater sense of accountability and responsibility.
And lastly, this type of compensation model creates a culture of involvement and excellence. Volunteers who don’t want to commit to more than they’re already doing are fine to continue their current involvement, but those who want to grow in their craftsmanship, excellence, and commitment to the worship team have a system that encourages them to do so.
Someone who wants to learn how to use Ableton and run tracks now has a reason to learn how to. And if the opportunity to be compensated for that pursuit exists, that extra investment on your part as a worship pastor will encourage your team to flourish and grow. People will grow into their strengths and commitment to excellence on the team, which contributes to a better experience for everyone – on the stage and in the congregation.
About the Author
Chris Fleming is a professional musician from Minneapolis, MN who has played with artists such as Big Daddy Weave and Jason Gray. He is actively involved with the CCM worship scene and has contributed as a drummer, music director, song writer, and producer for various worship artists and churches locally and nationally. Chris serves as the Creative Director at Motion Worship, helping to write various blog posts and tutorials on production, stage, Ableton, music, design, and tons of other topics.