Team Specific - The Setlist Checklist Series
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Each time I sit down to craft a set list I type two things at the top of my digital document:
1. The Date
2. The Team
Our volunteers that rotate throughout the month. Each Sunday, I lead with a different combination of musicians and singers. Sometimes it's a large band, sometimes it's just a duo.
Whether you have a large volunteer rotation or a small consistent team, it's important to choose songs, keys, and arrangements that play to their strengths. Here's how.
Don't Try To Do Too Much
I spent my early ministry years as a Youth Pastor. One of my favorite jobs was leading our youth worship band. Now this was right around the time Hillsong United and similar artists were blowing up. Suddenly high-octane openers and soaring anthems were all anyone wanted to play. Even with 10 people on stage you were still about 5 people short.
My enthusiasm was on a collision course with my reality. I was leading a team of five beginner musicians with poor timing and crackling falsettos. We'd kick off a song and try to stay on the rails but the train wrecks came fast and hard.
I like to think I know better now but it's still so tempting to overreach. Look honestly at your team and be realistic. Don't allow jealousy or comparison or the compulsion of trends drive your decision making.
Your team does have strengths. What are they? How can you lean into them?
Worship Music has a very specific style. Thunderous drums, sharp synths, and pop progressions are some of its hallmarks. This may sound like you. But it may not. Is this what your team and your community connect with? Where are you in the world? What are your sounds?
Everyone knows the main highway. But you don't have to travel far down a side road to find wonderful worship songs in all kinds of styles. Country, Gospel, Blues, Pop, Grunge. It's all there. Don't feel obligated to drive in the most popular lane.
Okay, let's get specific. Who is singing this Sunday? Most singers are either a strong lead vocalist or strong with harmony. If you have a strong lead vocalist choose a song that allows them to lead out. Choose a key that suits their voice.
Avoid putting a vocalist in the difficult position of singing a song they can't pull off. Be gracious and thoughtful. Lean into their strengths instead of fighting against them.
I like to make a short-list of songs to choose from for my set list. I'll often check if the musicians for that day have led those songs recently.
Because of my rotation structure, there's a good chance that a volunteer may be unfamiliar with a few songs. This can be overcome but I'll need to factor in some extra rehearsal time. Another option is choosing a different song. This takes a little investigative work but it's worth the time.
Choosing a set that is Team Specific is the 5th item on our setlist checklist. It isn't the top priority but giving thought to who is on your team before setting your songs in stone ensure you're playing to their strengths instead of exposing their weaknesses.