Paid, Volunteer, Or Both? Best Practices For Managing Your Worship Team
The topic of paid versus volunteer musicians has always been highly debated among the worship community. While most churches deal with this decision at some point, there is no tried-and-true guideline for church leaders to follow. Often, it depends on the context of your church, your ministry philosophy, budget, and sometimes, your access to quality musicians. So where should you start?
Consider first these various factors that significantly affect the decision (and need) to pay musicians for a weekend service. Here are some questions to ask as you evaluate a potential recruits for the worship team:
Is this person already being paid for a similar role in a full-time capacity?
Is this person’s area of expertise at a level that unavailable in your current volunteer core?
Will you asking this person for staff-level responsibility and influence?
Would this person commit the time and responsibility you need and still be a volunteer?
By asking the questions above, it should help you narrow down the unique responsibilities of these potential hires or volunteers for your worship team. Use the considerations below to compare and contrast the expectations of paid staff, volunteers, or a hybrid model where there are some paid roles and some volunteer roles.
This position would be closer to the other full-time positions on your team in terms of employment responsibility and staff engagement.
- Paid staff generally produce the highest quality music programming.
- This is the most costly option for the church, but results in a higher standard for performance and greater responsibility of the team member.
- There is a greater ability to ask for and expect certain deliverables from the team.
- Paid worship staff members may free up other staff to do more big-picture thinking or weekend leadership.
- Could potentially feel more like a “gig” if the hire is not bought into the vision and mission of the church, or designated as a full-time hire.
- It is crucial to have a consistent scale for all paid musicians and define what is expected of them, regarding rehearsals, service attendance, and membership.
- If you begin to pay for a position on your worship team and on occasion need to fill the spot, you may not be able to fill it with a volunteer and meet the same precedent set by the paid staff member.
Recruiting volunteers for your worship team would require a contract and system of scheduling, but is an efficient way to utilize the spiritual gifts of your congregation and volunteer team.
- This is the least costly option.
- Existing volunteers are typically the most bought-into the mission and vision of the church, so they will serve out of their passion and desire to be an integral part of the ministry.
- There is no guarantee that these will be the most skilled musicians or result in the highest quality programming for your weekend services.
- Ask yourself: Is church membership required for serving?
- There is a lower element of commitment when people are volunteering their time. Creating a worship team of strictly volunteers would require an effective process of scheduling and accountability.
Hybrid Model: Some Paid, Some Volunteer
Some churches explore the option of hiring some staff to lead worship consistently in a paid capacity, and recruiting some volunteers to round out the team. The volunteers would naturally have less time commitment and responsibility, but would still be held as accountable for the weekend programming.
- Proceed cautiously with this option. Set clear guidelines on which roles are paid and which roles are on a volunteer basis.
- Disharmony and conflict can arise without valid reason for paying some and not others.
- Utilize a consistent pay scale for all paid staff and set clear expectations for them.
- An effective way to navigate this model is to equip paid staff with extra responsibilities, like leading rehearsals, band communication, creating tracks, and music directing.
- One bonus to this model is that great musicians attract other great musicians. You may find that high quality professionals on stage bring out other experienced musicians in your congregation as volunteers.
- Consider the option of equipping your paid musicians to lead volunteer training and continue to raise the bar of your weekend experience. This could include specific musical instrument training, vocal lessons, or technical arts training (lighting, audio, and video).
Many churches have a set policy on paid versus volunteer positions. While it is important to have guidelines for your team, being too strict can rule out using good judgment for unique circumstances that your church may run into. In the end, always consider what is fair and equitable to your church and the person, and the level of commitment you are asking them to serve.
What are your experiences with this topic? Are there other guidelines to consider?