The Worship Leader’s Starter Kit For Playing Contemporary Church Songs

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starterkitThere are a lot of different types of readers on this site. If you found this headline attractive I’m willing to guess that leading worship for contemporary services is a little new to you.

Perhaps you have lead worship for traditional services. You’re an experienced worship leader, but your church is going to start a contemporary service and you need a crash course on leading contemporary church songs.

Maybe you’re a young person in a youth group and you’ve been given a chance to play on your worship team. Maybe you’ve been given a chance to lead worship and lead the band.

Here’s a quick starter kit for you. This post includes links, tips and resources to get you started on the right foot.


Most humans on this planet are totally okay with the idea of doing the right thing for the wrong reason. God cares about our motives just as much as our actions. Are you involved in your worship ministry because you want to serve your church or because you want to glorify yourself?

There will be times when you heart isn’t in the right place. God has grace for us during those times. When you catch yourself with the wrong motivations don’t beat yourself up about it. Simply come back to a Christ-like motivation. I wrote a post last year that was meant to be a heart check for myself. Click here to read it. I hope it helps you.


There is a slogan being chanted on a popular movie trailer: “United we stand. Divided we fall.” When Jesus is accused of casting out demons in the name of Beelzebub, he makes the point that a house divided cannot stand.

The relationship between Pastor and Worship Leader is a crucial one. Align yourself with the vision of your pastor.


Planning Center

I wasn’t going to mention this. Then I realized Planning Center Online makes everything I do easier. PCO does a lot. Here’s a quick list of just some of things it can do.

  • Create & transpose chord charts
  • Transpose recordings
  • Make these available to your worship team so they can practice
  • Plan the order of your songs and service
  • Schedule musicians
  • Send automatic emails reminders for you and musicians you’ve scheduled

I cannot imagine being a worship leader in an American church without it. Check it out here.


In my browser, I have a bookmark for CCLI’s top 100 worship songs. Click here to see it. It’s a great way to see what other churches are singing.


Worship Together has a great search function for finding new songs and also allows you to search tempo, themes, and ministries. It’s a great way to discover new songs.

song search


This can be hard and it will take some experimenting. This isn’t a complete list, but here are some elements to think about.

  • TEMPO. Most churches I’ve seen use a combination of slow and fast songs. Pay attention to what your worship culture is like and allow yourself to observe how they respond. Try playing a majority of fast songs one Sunday. Try using mostly slow songs another Sunday. Remember how your church responds. Every church culture is different. Pay attention to yours.
  • RANGE. Like this song, some songs have a four note melody line. Not all songs are like that. Be aware of your range as well as the range your church can tolerate. Two things before I move on. One, every church is different. What works for one church won’t work for another. Two, sometimes a church will accept a song with a wider range if they really like the song. It’s worth testing the limits every once in a while, just to see where your church is at.
  • SUBJECT. A service is more powerful when everything in the service points to one thing. Pay close attention to the songs you choose. As much as possible, try to align your songs with the subject of the sermon and the scripture readings. Work on aligning your songs with the rest of the service every week. Sometimes you won’t be able to, and that’s okay.


There is a learning curve when it comes to getting a band to play with a click track. Click here (pun intended) for more on that.

At first the click feels like a cage. It feels like something that inhibits musical expression and worship. After a while you realize it’s makes you better. Because of the click, you can create a better worship experience for your church. You won’t want to play without it. It’s worth the work.

If your team is having trouble learning to play with a click, then just have the drummer count off the song to a click. Your drummer can stop it soon after you start playing the song.

Nothing is worse than playing the intro to a song and realizing it’s too slow or too fast. It’s hard to recover from that. If your band starts the song on the right tempo, there is a good chance you will stay on the right tempo.

The metronome I’ve used the most is the BOSS DB-90. It allows you to program the tempos to all the songs in your worship set. You can scroll through the worship set with a push of a button (or foot-switch if you prefer). Another metronome that is pretty popular that I have heard a lot of good things about is the Tama Rhrythm Watch 2. I haven’t used it myself, but I have heard from a lot of drummer friends that they really like it.

Make sure to have the song’s BPM (beats per minute) before you start rehearsal. There are two ways I do this. The preferred way is to go to and search for the song. sells the original master tracks of worship songs. This site will list the exact BPM the song was recorded to.

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If the song you are looking for isn’t on (or you just aren’t patient enough for the site to load) you can use a metronome with a tap-tempo function. This will allow you to tap the tempo while the song is playing and it will tell you what the BPM for the song is. It can take a couple tries, but it’s possible to get the exact BPM this way.


This is a screenshot of the metronome app I have on my phone. I use this multiple times a week.

If you want use a physical metronome like the ones mentioned above, go for it. But you probably don’t want to lug one of those around all the time. I have an app called Pro Metronome. I think I paid a couple dollars for it, but there is a free version, too.

Once you find the BPM, you can store it in Planning Center Online and never think about it again.


Say you’re playing an acoustic set. You have an acoustic guitar, cajon and percussion, piano, a couple of vocalists and maybe a violin. In a case like this, musicians tend to play to the acoustic guitar. They respond to the acoustic. They gravitate toward the tempo of the acoustic guitar, they rest when the acoustic rests, and they play loud when the acoustic plays loud.

If you are playing with a full band then everything changes. The acoustic guitar is no longer driving the song, the drummer is. The important thing is to know this.


A good chord chart will reduce confusion among your band and reduce the time you need to rehearse. All chord charts will tell the musicians what chords to play. What most charts forget to do is to build in the order of the song so every measure is accounted for on the chart.

This doesn’t mean you can’t deviate from that order. I actually do that a lot. What I’ve found is that having a chart where every measure is accounted for gives the band a starting place to from where we can deviate. Because we have a clear, spelled out plan, we can change the plan with greater ease.

For a quick but super-helpful guide on creating chord charts, click here. This idea has changed my life as a worship leader. Special thanks to Perry Ross (@perryjross) for developing this and showing it to me. When I see other worship leaders start to use this, they never go back.


Sometimes they are called enhancement tracks, sometimes they are called multitracks, sometimes they are called live tracks. Whatever you call it, playing worship music with tracks has become very popular over the years for a couple reasons. The first reason is that in the last five years, worship music has become much more layered. There are so many different parts, it would be impossible to play them all live.

Second, is that the technology has become more accessible in recent years. If you want, you could run it off of your iPad.

Earlier, I talked about introducing your band to playing live with a metronome. When you play with tracks you have a metronome (or click), but you also have something else. You have what is called a “guide.” The guide is a recorded voice that tells the band what the next section of the song is. For example, a measure before the verse, a computer voice-the guide-will say “VERSE.” A measure before chorus, the guide will say “CHORUS.”

Here’s an example.

There are five ingredients you need to start running enhancement/live/multitracks. They are as follows:

  • Content-Something to play.
  • Playback-A way to play the content.
  • Controllers-A way to control when and what is played.
  • Output- A way to get the content to sound board.
  • In-Ear Monitors-A way for you and your band to hear the click and the guide.

For a more detailed look at these five ingredients, click here. This post also has gear lists for you, too.


When you run your rehearsal well, your volunteers will feel valued.

Here are three elements to a good rehearsal:

  1. CLEAR VISION  This will require some prep time from you. Before you get to the rehearsal, have a clear idea of how you want the songs to turn out. You might be changing some songs because of how it fits with the service. You might have some spontaneous time in your service. Let your band know that spontaneity may or may not happen.
  2. A FEELING OF CONFIDENCE  Your musicians should feel more confident after the rehearsal. If they don’t, then maybe there wasn’t a need for the rehearsal.
  3. EFFICIENCY  If your rehearsals aren’t efficient, then you are wasting your volunteers’ time. Value your volunteers’ time and your volunteers will feel valued. Value your volunteers and your volunteers will value your leadership and your ministry. Being efficient is important.

If you consistently run your rehearsals well, you will go a long way to creating a worship ministry musicians will want to join. For more tips and tricks on running a great rehearsal, click here. I received so much good feedback from that post, it relaunched the blog.

If you have ideas of anything else that should be included in the Worship Leader’s Starter Kit, put it in the comments below.


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