How many singers?

There’s been a question rumbling around in my mind the past few months, and it was brought to the front again last weekend when I attended the Pulse Arts/Worship Conference. It has to do with how many worship team vocalists to include on the team.

We typically have 3-4 worship team vocalists on stage, along with myself leading from the keyboard. We also have a couple singers, usually, in the band singing from guitars.  We also have a worship choir that sings once a month along with the band and WT singers.  The choir has between 20-30 people.

But, lately, as I’ve watched services online, and when I was at the Pulse conference, I’ve noticed that frequently there’s the worship leader plus one other female singer on harmony. That’s it.  I’m guessing this is done to give it a more contemporary sound? (And I thought what we were doing was contemporary, but I guess that was 10 years ago…) I really like the sound that’s created with the 2 singers. It does sound more like what you hear on the radio.

But, we have so many singers on our rotation, that people would not get as much opportunity to sing on the team.  Also, I’d miss the 3 pt. harmony that we’ve developed.

So, I would love to hear what you do at your churches in this area. What’s your reasoning behind it, and what do you think about the current trend to smaller teams?


Published by

Barry Westman

Barry Westman is the Worship Pastor at Bethel Church in Janesville, WI. He is also the Editor In Chief and Event Manager at Worship Team Training and Worship Team Training University. He is married to Tina, and has 3 rapidly growing children. 

9 thoughts on “How many singers?”

  1. Thanks for all of your responses!! I guess there are a lot of views about this. My goal in asking was just to see what other churches use, and to try to understand why some churches choose to have only 1-2 singers. It may be because they don't have enough singers, although I doubt that's the reason. While singing in a contemporary style has a lot to do with vocal technique, I do think that the number of vocal parts also plays in to it. The common SAT tight vocal harmonies that most of our songs employ is not always the sound that you hear when you hear recorded music of today.But, given all that, the question is what's best for our church. I still need to spend more time exploring this before I even think about making any changes to how we do things now, but I really appreciate all of your comments. Thanks for taking the time to think through this question with me. If you have any other thoughts, please reply!


  2. Good topic, interesting responses…. I guess I can speak from my experience (12+ years @ our previous church; a little over a year w/ y'all @ BBC)…. I think it is interesting to see how different churches/ministries approach this. I'm sure there are several factors that feed in to the decisions that are made – how many people are capable/qualified to lead and/or participate on the team as a whole is probably a BIG driver. Though, as you mention, there probably is some thought given to the "sound" they are going after. I'd have to say if there was some legitimate reason to make a wholesale change of approach @ BBC, it would be a hard sell @ this point for some of the reasons that Brenda states. That being said, I could see some value in taking some "chances" in using different approaches/line-ups in the music sets. I can tell you we had a team similar in size to the BBC team @ our previous church. As I've told you, the dynamics were a little different there though. The Director of Worship played piano/keys, but never "led". There were (depending on timing) usually 3-5 individuals who were WLs, and would rotate from week to week on the "leader" role. On top of that – we rarely had musicians mic'd. Most didn't want to be…. Team size on a Sunday varied – sometimes as few as 3, sometimes as many as 8 vocalists mic'd, though typically it was 4-5. We incorporated a choir as well, though it wasn't on a monthly basis. Additionally, we were usually pretty intentional on how and why we used these varying set-ups…. Sometimes doing smaller (2-3 vocals), acoustic (piano and/or guitar only) driven music sets for a more contemplative feel. Sometimes doing 8 vocals w/ choir and HUGE band (multiple guitars, keys, B3, violin, oboe) for a more celebratory service. We didn't want to be stuck in a rut of "this is how we always do things" (vain repetition). We also wanted to keep things "unexpected" – so that there would (hopefully) be a sense of expectation for those coming to the service. Regarding a contemporary sound – I think it has more to do w/ tones of guitar/keyboard and what you're doing vocally (vibrato, diction, annunciation) than with how many people are involved. As far as looking @ Tom Walker or Hillsong/United or even Willow Creek – they do use LARGE ensembles, though they don't usually have everyone singing/playing all the time (during a set). They typically have a leader, but will also have other vocalists lead out for specific sections of songs…I think the key here is just to find the right balance… Just my $.02….. – – jnn


  3. I have received similar comments as from your Brenda. We have to ask at some point, "do we care to be relevant to the culture around us?" If the answer is 'yes' based on a desire to keep a vibrant and fresh faith, and a desire to not let 'church as it used to be' be a stumbling block to those who are seeking Christ, then we should strive to keep current in our style, or a least continuing to move in that direction. It seems to me more of an argument from a self-serving perspective (i.e. "I want to sing up front"), rather than thinking from the mission of the church. What would be the answer if you said that singers would still have opportunity to use their gifts singing in the worship choir? I think I know the answer, and it would stem from a personal desire.I need to confront some of these issues in our worship teams too, so it's not like I've got a handle on this…just thinking about it with you.


  4. In our blended service we use 4 singers, but I'd prefer 3. In our more 'modern' service we use 3, but often just one or two, with the third joining in at the chorus. I've been thinking about this too, and agree with your thoughts. The main reason I still use 4 in the first is to allow for more to have an opportunity to sing, but this may change at some point. When I came to this church they were using 5-6 on the team in the 1st service. All the recordings we listen to have 1-2 singers at most, and that drives the culture of what "sounds right". Our youth have no context for 4 person teams – it just sounds 'old' to them.I'm thinking at some point to move from a 4 person team to a 2-3 team, with a more regular choir to allow participation, but I know it will not be a popular decision among some in our team rotation who'd like to be holding the mic more often.


  5. Here's a comment from one of our worship team singers:At my church and at worship training conferences, we are taught that we are all worship leaders, so I am daring to comment.My first question, is why would you be concerned about this? This is the second time that you have brought this up that I know of. We are not a "band" who goes out on the road and any "non-essential" personnel would be excluded–we are a church where we attempt to include just about everyone at one time or another. We advertise that "there is a place for you" in the worship ministry. If we scale the number down to one "female" who can sing harmony, what about all the non-instrumentalist men or the gifted sopranos who can't hear harmony? Even the men who play can't always sing at the same time. Tommy Walker, Paul Baloche, Gateway, New Life, Saddleback, Hillsong–they all seem to have worship teams, too–some rather large. If a worship choir were implemented every week, that would be a place for the other singers, I suppose, and any special soloist or other special part needed could be plucked from the choir; I think that's what Saddleback does–everyone comes for practice and then just a handfull are put up at the mics.So, what is the "contemporary sound" anyway? Is it what we hear on the radio? Isn't that more of a business than a group of Christians engaged in corporate worship live? I think some people relate to seeing others up front more than others. If we had an all-male band, which we do at times, and only one female singer, the message may be sent that there is no place for women in the worship ministry. Besides, on most Sundays, you can't hear the singers anyway–so we don't necessarily have a non-contemporary sound, do we?As a "female" who sings harmony, I would hope that my participation wouldn't be all that different, but maybe it would as sopranos would be taught to sing harmony or whatever. And why do we get all of this training in worship leading if we would only get a turn a couple of times a year?We are not a professional worship team–we are a specific group at Bethel Baptist Church. We have an absolutely fabulous worship leader, and I love it just like it is–of course, I love it more when I get to sing!!! So that's my 2-cents.Brenda


  6. We generally run one lead and 2 to 3 vocalists in addition. We do not have the problem that you have with so many needing to be in rotation. But there are times when I like to double up on parts to add a fully sound. Sometimes I will allow another guitarist when He is home from college to lead the worship sets instrumentally and vocally yet I will also sing lead with him to give a fuller sound on some songs. It only works if you can match that persons voice and style. Not everyone casn do that. If you cannot, it may sound awkward and disjointed if especially if you tend to sing a slightly different rhythym structure. I think it would be advantageous for you to mix it up a little. Some weeks have throw in a smaller more intimate band to get a slighlt different feel to the worship sets. It is all about keeping it fresh without losing integrity and consistency. Your team should be mature enough to not get offended if you as the Worship Leader decide to go to a smaller formatat times for the sake of the aforementioned. It is all for His glory anyways. I have had situations in the past also where I created 2 teams within one service for 2 different sets. I kept the same lead singer but changed out the background vocalists and felt I never lost integrity to the worship because I had good breaks between sets and transitioned well. This allowed great participation, It was fresh and it worked well. It is not what I would do regularly but just one option. God bless you my brother!


  7. I think it would be ideal to have one male one female and that's it. This is where "recorded worship" is going but keep in mind that you are worship leaders in a church and what sounds good isn't always what is right for your church, because ultimately it's God's church. If these people have the gift of music, suppressing it will only frustrate them and they may go to other churches where their gifts would be more utilized.I think Pete's got the right idea, you can diminish the amount of micd singers by allowing several people to lead which takes a lot of trust and guts, but it will help them to grow as worship leaders – make it a training team. You won't be there forever, if more people have an opportunity to lead, there is more of a chance that transitions would be smooth. With the rest of the singers (not all singers are leaders) I would have them as part of the choir and have the choir on more often. I've realized that choirs help drown out the singing from the congregation in corporate worship and therefore people are less conscious about singing out loud. They don't always have to sing harmony wither, when you sing in church, you're leading the congregation into singing to God. The choir singing just joins you in that role. I find a choir very important. At my current location we don't have a choir and I really am waiting for us to grow where we can have one. (This is a new church start.) Obviously these are my opinions and they may or may not make sense in this setting so I'll finish off with the lamest answer to your question but one that works a lot. Pray about it :)God bless, good luck, and keep us posted on what you decide.


  8. We've been running worship leader plus two (and an occasional third voice when I'm on keys) for awhile. Part of the strategy was that our worship singers have not really been used well. Often they could barely be heard over the band. The move to less was supposed to make them be used more prominently. I've been pushing the sharing of leaders method: The worship leader does not lead every song but allows one of the other singers to step up and lead one here or there while maintaining the overall lead. But I'm not a worship leader and our worship leaders have felt unsure on this step.At Judson the chapel worship is all student lead and they do this job pretty well. There is one leader and 1-2 singers who take turns reading scripture/praying between songs or leading the melody.As to why. I think it makes for a more intimate conection to the congregation. The number of "relationships" is fewer to mentally think about.


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