I’ve been kicking this post around in my head for about three years now. That’s a long time to stew on a topic, but it’s one that I couldn’t come to a definitive conclusion on, mainly because I think it’s so multifaceted. The origins of this topic go back several years to Christmas rehearsal week. I got talking with someone in leadership about why we rehearsed so much. That person, as I recall, thought we really didn’t need all that time, and by rehearsing too much, we turned the Christmas Eve service into a show.
Later, I got talking with some of the musicians about the idea. Interestingly, they were divided. Some felt the best services we had done were ones where the band—and thus, the tech team—basically winged it. Others felt when we really spent the time to get it very dialed in, where the music was completely internalized, everyone was free to have fun and do a great service. I think there is validity to both concepts, but I have so opinions (shocking, I know).
I agree we did some great services that were much less prepared than normal. Usually it was due to some outside circumstance; last minute changes, cancellations or a world event that led to the scrapping of the original plan and a short run up to a service.
However, correlation often doesn’t equal causation. Those free-flowing services were typically staffed by our A-team of musicians. Theses were professionals who had played together for years, both inside and outside the church. We were doing songs and arrangements that were familiar. The tech team knew the songs, and the overall service structure was similar.
And, often there was a point of inflection that caused everyone to be a little more sensitive to the Spirit that weekend. Add all those elements together and you get a “great service.” However, I’ve also been part of services where everyone winged it because no one bothered to plan and those were a train wreck. Sadly, for some churches, that’s the norm.
The other option is to rehearse to the point where everyone is waking up dreaming of the songs. Each musician knows not only their own part inside and out, but everyone else’s as well. The tech team knows every chord change, every solo, every nuance and crescendo.
I’ve done services that way, too—mostly big weekends like Christmas or Easter—and I can say that personally, I prefer this. Once I know exactly what is supposed to happen, I’m freed up to really enjoy the experience. I can be fully present in the moment, without worrying about what comes next.
Watching musicians in this mode is great fun. They too are freed up to just play. No one is stressed anymore, it’s just a great opportunity to minister to the congregation through music. No one is thinking of it as a show, it’s a chance to be free musically.
As is often the case, it depends. I think for most churches, a normal weekend service doesn’t (or at least shouldn’t) require 8-10 hours of rehearsal timeUnless you’re doing a new song, running each one once or twice to make sure everyone has it is typically sufficient.
But for big weekends, I can see putting in some extra time. In fact, I think we should. I’m totally willing to spend an entire day in virtual soundcheck for a Christmas Eve service because it will make the entire day better. I’m willing to deal with multiple rehearsals for the band and for a tech rehearsal because I know it’s going to make the experience better for everyone.
Big weekends typically have a lot more going on, and much of it is outside the norm, which means more preparation. How much outside the norm is a whole different discussion, and one I may take up after New Years. But I think if we’re going to do a big production for Christmas, we owe it to ourselves and our congregation and visitors to know it inside and out so we can make it great.
Can we rehearse too much? Maybe. But I doubt many every truly do.