Playing in a Church

Does anyone play in a church? How did you get the gig? Do you have to be good at reading/learning new songs on the fly or can you work on them at home? It’s something I’d like to do, but don’t think I’m good enough yet. Just wanted to get some feedback from anyone who has done it. Thanks!


I’ve played at my churches for about 5 years now. My first church closed but when I found a new church I started playing there. At both churches I simply volunteered to play on the worship team and then attended a few practices so that they knew I could actually play. At my first church I’d get the song set on Wednesday or Thursday and would then find chord charts and YouTube videos to practice with. At the one I’m at now we get the set on Tuesday or Wednesday and it includes chord charters and song tracks, which makes it easy to practice.


I’ve played in several churches, and happy to share my experiences:

In one instance, where the entire team was volunteer, I knew the team running the music and they knew that I played bass. When they needed a bassist, they asked me to join.
In another instance, where the entire team was professional, I was called by a musician friend I had met doing studio work and other gigs in the area, and was brought in on rotation for one Sunday per month.

This completely depends on the team you’re working with, the worship leader, and the amount of experience they expect their players to have / rehearsal time together that they schedule.
In the all-volunteer band, there was a 2 hour rehearsal scheduled each week. It was difficult to get people to commit and show up consistently. There was also a brief time before the service to run through things - maybe an additional 30 minutes.
In the all-professional band there was a 1.5 hour rehearsal scheduled immediately before the service.

You would have the music to listen to and practice for at least 5 days before the service, so there is some at-home practice time.
However, sometimes the music arrangements change on the day of the service, sometimes you are supposed to be rehearsing in a key that is different from the recorded version you’re given to practice to - so there are some potential difficulties that can arise, particularly if you’re a beginner.

You’ll need to be able to read a song chart, but different people give different charts.
Sometimes it’s only lyrics and chords.
Sometimes it’s all the music.
Sometimes it’s melody with chords (like a jazz lead sheet).
I’ve seen all the above.
The best way to know if you’re ready and more importantly to become ready faster - would be to approach the worship leader and ask how the band operates.
Bassists are almost always appreciated by band leaders because everyone needs a sub once in a while, and bassists are less common.
Then - ask if you could get copies of the charts that they work with, or ask to rehearse with the band, or sit in on a rehearsal - anything that would give you a clear picture for what’s going on and what would be asked of you.
Once you see how it works and what they all do, you’ll know real quick if you’re ready and, best of all, what specifically to do to become ready.


Slightly off topic,but I’m curious: do you have to be a churchgoer to be able to play in one of these church groups?


I was thinking the same question @PamPurrs Could I hide my atheism in order to play bass?

There aren’t churches like that here. So it’s not a real moral quandary for me.


Yeah, that’s sort of what I was thinking. I’m a pagan (Wiccan) and wonder if the music director would shun me for not being christian, despite my bass playing skill.


You do not, in fact, have to be a church goer or believe in anything the people at the church are singing about in order to be in some church music groups.
This is as strange as it sounds.
Strange for all parties involved, really. In my case, not being a church goer, but being a bassist, it’s been lovely. The people I’ve dealt with have been some of the most tremendous players, and kindest individuals I’ve played with.
There has been (in my experience) no pressure to assimilate, no evangelism, and lots of appreciation and camaraderie as there is in any positive musical experience.

Also, I know there are churches that prefer a volunteer-based band from their own congregation. This makes the most logical and spiritual sense to me, but I have also appreciated a decent paycheck on a Sunday morning (where there are zero other gigs in competition).

It’s a very interesting facet of contemporary worship music.
I imagine the majority of the players are believers - or at least open minded agnostics - with a minority being more cynical pros who love the extra money.


You could also find a Unitarian Universalist congregation. We have pagans, Buddhists, humanists, Christians, atheists and others sharing the same pews in one community, and we love music in services!


@david.addis sounds like AA :fist:


Both of the churches I have served in were all volunteer and you had to be a member of the church. I would imagine that if you were looking at one of the large mega-churches it would be different.


Thank you so much! This was very helpful!


I bet there’s not a lot of Slayer or Cannibal Corpse covers in a church band…

Funny (not bass-related) story (I guess?). I once applied for a position at the Crystal Cathedral in Garden Grove. Huge church with a televangelist dude running it. Anyway, I’m as atheist as they come, so I was a little off about working there anyway, but I knew the (at the time) IT manager. So the interview with the IT manager was pointless, he already knew he wanted to hire me. But he wanted me to interview with HIS boss.

So in that interview, the guy looks over my resume dismissively and says, “hmm… lots of secular experience… you DO believe in God, don’t you?”

Luckily, I’m a good actor, because inside I was horrified and was screaming “I DON’T THINK YOU CAN ASK THAT! I THINK THAT’S AGAINST THE LAW!”

But without missing a beat, I replied, “Yes. Yes I do.” :smiley:

Ultimately, I took another job and didn’t go to work there. And I guess that being a church there’s some legal loophole where you can ask that one question.


I now have this song in my head.


This is the exact reason why I embarked on this journey, to be able to one day join the worship team at Church.

At my Church we have 4 or 5 teams that rotate weekends. We are not big enough that we can afford to pay professional musicians, so it’s on a volunteer basis except for the worship leader who is paid staff. However, these guys play and sound like professionals, and some are professional musicians. For example, our main sound engineer is a pro, that is what he does for a living, and he happens to also be a bass player. You really have to know your stuff to be up there.

My wife is a backup singer in one of the teams. She tells me there is no hard requirement to be a Church member or Christian to play. However the whole point of a worship team is to worship God, and since this is not a paid gig, the only ones who volunteer are Church members.


Does anyone play in a church?

Yes, pre-covid as a keyboard player for 10 years. I have been playing gigs for more than 50 years and I can honestly say it was (and maybe will be again) the best gig I’ve ever had.

How did you get the gig?

Unfortunately the previous player passed away while at around the same time the choir director and I launched into some basic Gospel at an informal event where I was the keyboard player in a klezmer band (look up klezmer and then you’ll see where this is going).

Do you have to be good at reading/learning new songs on the fly or can you work on them at home?

I’d say reading requirements depend on the particular praise band. In my case, even though (or maybe because of) I have a Jazz performance degree, reading stacks of notes is not my strong suit. I got the gig because of my ears and ability to learn things at home and come to rehearsal prepared to play. The same is true of the bass player who doesn’t have anything like my experience but is a true pleasure to play with precisely because he works on the songs at home and comes to rehearsal prepared. There’s a fair number of tunes we do that there aren’t charts for. You have to learn them from YouTube, etc. This is where it may get tricky, but you might go check out some places and see what they are looking for. In a small low-budget (volunteer) setting, the keyboard player might just want someone to lay down some basic roots to free up their left hand. In a nutshell, the playing levels and expectations vary greatly. You might have to try quite a few places before you find one that fits.

Do you have to be a churchgoer to be able to play in one of these church groups.

Again, it depends on the church. In my case, the church choir and the klezmer band had done performances at the same venues and had combined efforts on a few tunes, so the choir director knew who she was getting (Jewish guy who somehow channels some Gospel vibes) and I knew what I was going to be doing at church. The pastor was cool with it, so the rest is history. I will say it’s the mutual respect of our cultures/religions that makes it work. If you don’t have that, it’s not the gig for you. Also, in my case, I just light up when I hear old-school Gospel. I wouldn’t have bothered had it been reading hymns out of a hymnal every week. I get to actually “play”.


Not always the case…i played guitar for the Yokohama International Baptist Church…one of the requirements was to be baptized and another was to become a member of the church which had its own requirements. At first i was a little put off but the choir master explained their reasoning and away we went


I started playing bass about 6 months ago or so, just because my church was hoping that I would play in our worship band (they knew that I messed around on guitar already, just for my enjoyment never in a band). I told them I could not read music, but could learn a song from tabs fairly quickly.
Our leader gives everyone in our group a copy of the lyrics with chords shown; usually on a Wednesday before the Sunday service. Some times I dont even get to practice all of the 5 or 6 songs before we practice together before service on Sunday mornings.
It all comes together for the most part, with me hitting almost all of the notes. My playing is improving immensely and I have to think the pressure of playing in front of the congregation is pushing me that way.
Bottom line - I am enjoying playing with others, for others, and worshiping the Lord in this way more than anything else I have done in decades. I hesitated awhile before committing to do this, for fear of not being good enough.
If you are thinking at all about doing it - don’t wait. Jump in and the Spirit will help.


Thought this might be relevant:

Disclaimer: I didn’t watch it myself :wink:


There should be something relevant in it, its an hour and five minutes long!
Oh wait, its S from SBL.
He actually made a succinct video finally.



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