I’ve been leading worship since I was seventeen years old. In the fifteen years that have elapsed since then, I have never been through a season quite like the one we’re in now. Of course, this is true for just about everyone just about everywhere. We’ve all been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic and we’ve all had to learn how to adapt our daily lives and our professional workflows to this new rhythm of life.
At VOUS, we’ve had to learn how to move our church into the digital world. Before 2020, we had no live online worship experience. Everything happened in the room and only the sermon was available online on Monday morning. Our worship was designed for an in-person, in-the-room experience. We had worked hard to dial in our preparation, our rehearsals, our mix. We had tailored our approach to the two auditoriums in which we were gathering. When March 2020 hit, all of that changed.
We’ve learned a whole lot in the past eleven months. We’re learning more daily. While this has been one of the most challenging times for our church, it has also been one of the most productive. Everyone says they want to change but our natural tendency as human beings is to settle into the expected and maintain the status quo. Often it takes a crisis, a challenge, something out of our control to force us to adapt. Amidst all the difficulty, here are three things this new season has done for our team.
1. Called Us to a New Level of Preparation and Excellence
Preparation and excellence are two things we have always valued as a team. But we all know that the live experience covers a multitude of sins. There’s a lot you can get away with when people are in the room, the energy is high, and the sound is loud. Church online is much less forgiving. It shines a light on every detail of the worship experience. It exposes the subtle flaws in vocal and instrumental performances. It highlights missed cues and miscommunication.
Leading worship online has called us to a new level of preparation and excellence. It has driven us to be more specific with our planning — dialing in song arrangements, transitions, movement on stage, team style guides. For the first time, we’ve created weekly itineraries for our scheduled teams so they are abundantly clear on call times, schedules, setlists, and all other expectations. Another first for us is running a midweek rehearsal. This is no new insight, but it’s something we hadn’t done until our transition into church online. We knew that we weren’t just running our former play in a new place, we were creating a brand new approach. And our team is better for it.
2. Clarified the Value of Collaboration in the Process
A Sunday service has always been a collaborative endeavor. It took hundreds of volunteers — we call them “servant leaders” — to pull off church in person each week. For us, it took three worship teams to cover the weekend. It was always a group project. But this year has provided powerful object lessons to illustrate this reality.
When our team is leading worship in a studio environment, the screens, cameras, and operators are right in front of them. There are three audio engineers working simultaneously to perfect our house, in-ear, and stream mixes. Our floor producer is more communicative than ever, keeping our worship team, production servant leaders, and attendees in the loop of what’s happening at each moment. We are watching the collaborative effort unfold in real time.
Seeing people play their roles has helped us to appreciate the part they play even more. It provides us with a visual of the functioning of the body of Christ. When something goes wrong, we know who can help us solve it. When something needs to get done, we know who to work with. Now more than ever, we have a clear view of the value of collaboration in the process to make church happen.
3. Challenged Us to Lead Passionately No Matter What Environment We’re In
Church has never been a building. It’s always been a community of people serving God and one another. It’s a truth we’ve known and have shared often, but this time in our world has driven that truth deeper than ever before. We may not value one environment over another in our hearts, but the truth is that often we bring greater passion to the bigger space. Bigger rooms bring greater pressure. They tend to draw more out of us.
Church online has led us to ask ourselves important questions. Can we bring the same level of energy to a room of 10,000, 1,000...or 10? Can we lead passionately even if there’s no one in the room? For the first time ever, I actually found myself in that situation in 2020. At one point, due to COVID restrictions, we were recording four worship sets in an empty room in a single day. It was unlike anything I had ever done before. The question was, could I bring my best to that environment, with no one in the room except a few camera operators, leading people I would never actually see in person?
This season has reminded me that I don’t need many — or maybe any — of the things I think I need to do what God has called me to do. Too often, we lock into the old thing when God is ready to do a new thing. He’s looking ahead. So we can stop looking back. He’s ready to take us forward. We just have to leave where we are. If we’ll step into the future, he’ll meet us there.