Back in the mid-90’s, our youth worship team was nothing glamorous. We had an overhead projector, a 1980’s drum pad, and a Yamaha DX7 keyboard. Still, week after week, we set up our makeshift equipment in one of the church’s Sunday school rooms and sang “Lord I Lift Your Name on High” and “Awesome God” at the top of our lungs.
Expectations have changed a bit in the last twenty years. The bands have grown bigger in number, the technology is light years away from an overhead projector, and both the quality and quantity of music we have access to have skyrocketed. If you’re considering starting a youth worship band from scratch, the idea can be seriously intimidating! But it doesn’t have to be. You’ve got the youth, you’ve got the support, and you’ve got the desire to teach kids about worship.
So…where to begin?
While some high schoolers have the maturity to gather a team of people and take charge, the wisest thing to do is have an adult serve as leader of the team. This person could be the main worship leader or a skilled member of the worship team. Let them take the lead initially in forming a team and song choice. As you identify students stepping up, slowly hand over parts of leadership to them.
When it comes to youth teams, I give an open invitation to everyone in the group. This is a great opportunity to get teens involved in something they love and is an awesome place for discipleship to happen!
Work with what you have! If you have 3 pianists, 1 acoustic guitar, 8 vocalists, and a flautist…great! Take that one vocalist that has great rhythm and put them on a cajon or a djembe and see what happens! Kids this age are often up for the challenge of trying new things. Encourage them to learn a new style of music or even a new instrument.
Have a training meeting/fun retreat night. Eat pizza, play some games, and get to know each other! You can use this time to both explain the purpose of the worship team as well as introduce them to the songs you’ll be leading.
Limit your repertoire. It’s so easy to want to pounce on the latest Hillsong Young and Free song, but start with familiar stuff. Gather together 6-8 songs that are theologically sound, and simple enough for most kids to play without a lot of rehearsal. Put them in keys that are easy to play and easy to sing.
Remember that song lyrics inform our theology, so be picky!
Limit the number of songs per night to just two or three. They will feel less overwhelmed at all that needs to be practiced. Better to play fewer songs well rather than five songs poorly. Let them know what songs they’ll be leading several days ahead of time, so they can be prepared. It’s also beneficial to center your set around a scripture text.
Create a rotation schedule based on their availability – and then hold them to it. High school is busy with practices, clubs, and rehearsals. Letting them set their time commitment gives them ownership of it.
Choose a rehearsal time that is consistent each week. Planning a three hour rehearsal each week is unrealistic, so do what works for your kids. It may be meeting for 45 minutes prior to youth group, or a 2-hour rehearsal every few weeks.
And last, but certainly not least…
What an awesome opportunity to teach teens about worship week after week! Take advantage of every possible teaching moment to lead them spiritually. Musically speaking, be sure to match up students that are more skilled and have more leadership abilities with those that are less experienced. This will instill a confidence in those that aren’t as experienced.