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5 Tips For Leading Worship In An Open Ended Setting

5 Tips For Leading Worship In An Open Ended Setting

Evan Wickham is one of my favorite worship leaders.  I distinctly remember attending a conference session that he and his wife were leading.  After the teaching we had a time of communion, prayer and singing.  

Evan was able to flow from one song to another seamlessly.  Continuing to play as someone came to pray or give instruction and then going into another song at just the right time.  

I realized this was an entirely different skill from leading a pre-designed worship set for 20 minutes.  This was a skill I wanted.

When Is This Useful?

A prayer meeting.  An “afterglow” time.  A night of worship.  There are people speaking, praying, teaching, sharing.  Throughout there is music and singing.  The leader should be ready at any moment to lead the gathering in song.  

In this environment you want to be capable of these things.  

i. Continue to lead songs for an undesignated period of time.  This could be 30 seconds after receiving communion.  Or 20 minutes while people are coming to receive prayer.  

ii. Wrap it up at any time.  Knowing when not to play is as important as knowing when to play. 

iii. Choose appropriate songs that fit the theme of the teaching or prayer.  

How do you get to this point of comfortability?  

Here are 5 tips to get you started.  

1) Memorize As Many Songs As Possible

The more songs you have at your disposal the better equipped you are to lead a time like this.  It’s possible to have a binder or iPad full of charts but this can be clumsy and even disruptive.  Plus there is always the chance you think of a song you’d like to lead but didn’t bring the chart.

Memorizing music a good practice for every worship leader.  For some thoughts on why this important and how to get started, check out the posts below.  

2) Have A Starter Set

At some point you’ll probably lead 2-4 songs in a row.  I’ll normally pull together a set list I could lead for a substantial period of time.  Treat this like any other set.  Consider flow, themes, keys, and tempos.  

Even if you don’t use all of the songs this is a good place to start.

3) Pick A Key And Roll With It

Once I finish a song and settle on a key (E, G, D, ect.) I’ll normally stay there for a while.  I’m thinking through all of the songs I’ve memorized in that key and am ready to jump into one if appropriate.  

After about 15-20 minutes I normally find a moment to switch to another key.  This opens up more song options and also keeps the musical tone from stagnating.  

It can also be helpful to keep a list of songs you have memorized categorized by key.  For example:

Key of B


Our Deliverer

Jesus Paid It All

Come Though Fount

I Will Exalt You 

Key of D

Open Up Our Eyes

I Surrender All


Open Up The Heavens 

4) List Songs By Theme

Another way to prepare is to create a list of songs by theme.  This is something I heard about a few years ago and I have really benefited from this practice.  Depending on where the gathering goes, what is being spoken about or what is being prayed about you want to have a song ready that can continue on that theme.

If the teacher shares about our forgiveness through Christ’s death a song in that theme would be better than a song about the splendor of creation.  

If someone is praying about our surrender and commitment to the Lord a song in that theme may be better than a song of praise.  

Some potential themes are The Cross, Praise, Spirit Filled, Devotion, Submission, Adoration, and Thanksgiving.  

5) Pay Attention To The Leader

It’s important not to tune out as you’re playing along musically while someone is speaking, teaching or praying.  I try to stay engaged by thinking through what songs I could lead to support the gathering at any given point.

A practical tip is to keep your eyes open and attentive to the leader of the meeting.  If they look over and give you nod as if to say “okay, lets sing for a little bit” you don’t want to have your eyes closed.  Off in your own world.  

These five points are just to get you started.  There is no substitute for getting your feet wet and trying new things.  

What are your tips for leading in an environment like this?

Share in the comments below! 

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