With two campuses and five worship experiences each week that reach close to 2,000 people, Freedom Church — barely seven years old — is on a tear in the nearby communities of Acworth and Kennesaw, GA. The church community shares a dynamic culture and vision — tagged the “Freedom Way” — and Freedom Worship sets that vision to music.
Blake Goss has been the worship pastor for Freedom Church since its founding, when an initial group of 50 gathered weekly in an Acworth school. As the church grew, so did the worship team, which now includes 16 to 18 musicians who lead during worship experiences. Expectations are high for the worship team, both current and potential members, as they lead each week.
“Psalm 33:3 says, ‘Sing to Him a new song; play skillfully, and shout for joy,’” Blake said. “And so I created a statement that’s very simple: ‘Elevate the name of Jesus with excellence and energy.’ That’s become the mantra of the worship department. I tell everybody, if any one of those three components is missing, we’ve failed.”
To ensure new members of the team elevate with excellence and energy, Freedom Worship leaders put in place a four step worship team audition process: application, audition, interview, and expectations.
Blake said he will occasionally (that is, once or twice a year) issue a general casting call for people to start the audition process. That call primarily goes out via social media, with band members reposting the announcement to their accounts. Primarily, though, he said new instrumentalists and vocalists get connected through referrals and relationships within the existing band.
“Part of your audition process is to leverage the networks of the excellent musicians you already have on your team,” Blake said. “Your [personal network] only goes so far, so access all of your team members’ [connections] and don’t do it alone.”
Step One: Application
Once potential new worship team members are identified, the first step is completing an application.
“That’s something we email out. They then fill it out and email it back to us,” Blake said. “It asks them questions like what’s your experience, what kind of gear do you have, have you played with a click track, have you taken lessons and would you be open to taking lessons, what are some of your musical influences. And really I can determine a lot by that.”
The application is a great way to initially gauge whether musicians are ready for Freedom Worship. Blake said when musicians indicate on the application they know only one music genre (80s rock, for example) or have no experience or difficulty playing with a click track, he will offer them some practice tools and invite them to reapply in a few months.
Step Two: Audition
Besides the electronic application, initial auditions for Freedom Church’s worship team are online as well.
“If they’re a musician, we give them two songs. If it’s guitar, of course then the song will be guitar heavy. If drums, a song that’s drum heavy. And for vocals, we will give two songs to show their vocal capability,” Blake said.
The songs may be popular Christian anthems or Freedom Church originals. The idea is to showcase the applicant’s musical know-how and ability to learn (and maybe—just maybe—to sample his or her fashion sense and facial expressions while singing or playing). With songs in hand, the applicant makes a video at home, with a smartphone, webcam or traditional video camera. Videos are then uploaded to a YouTube account (“unlisted” so that it’s not available to the public). Once the video is available on YouTube, the applicant sends Blake and the worship team a link.
“I look at the audition as showing me their musical capabilities,” he said. “If everything checks out on their musical capability, then I do the third step which is an interview.”
Step Three: Interview
For the Freedom Church worship team audition process, two important things happen during the third step—the interview. First, Blake meets applicants face to face, and second, he gets to know where they are spiritually and culturally. Applicants may be exceptional musically, but if they’re not spiritually mature or a good fit for the group, they’re still not ready to join the team.
“Yes, everything may check out musically, but that doesn’t mean that everything else is going to check out,” he said.
All members of the band are considered worship leaders in their own right, so having a relationship with Jesus, an active personal faith and a passion for the culture and vision of Freedom Church are musts for new members.
Step Four: Expectations
Blake carries to interviews (discreetly tucked away in his back pocket, so to speak) a list of Freedom Church expectations for worship team members. If the interview goes well, he presents the expectations to applicants. Expectations include rehearsal attendance, being on time for rehearsals and worship times, active church membership and tithing.
“I do that so that, down the road if they’re late and I have to have a conversation with them, they can never say, ‘Oh man, I didn’t know you expected this much of me,’” Blake explained. “So we just lay it all out there.”
New band members sign the expectation statement, which seals a six-month commitment. They are even clear about things like attire.
“Part of the expectations is telling them, even when you’re not playing, we want you to be in attendance. We’re not a stage only church. We want you to buy into the vision, not the position,” he said.
After that initial six month commitment, Blake follows up with a review and evaluation anywhere between six months and a year of service. Part of that review is to ensure band members are excelling and honing their craft.
“As the church grows in excellence, there’s an expectation that they need to grow in excellence as well,” he said. “One of my goals is to have such good musicians that, for instance, one guitar player is challenged by another guitar player’s ability. It causes them to want to get better. Excellence attracts excellence.”
Freedom Worship Extras
Blake challenged worship ministers to never lower standards of excellence or abandon values just to fill a need in the band.
“I would rather stand up there with an acoustic guitar and a djembe with people who are sold out than to fill five positions just for the sake of it,” he said. “I believe excellence is doing the absolute best you can with the resources you have at any given time.”
He also encouraged leaders to rely on God and make the worship team a matter of regular prayer.
“I think our tendency, especially in the social media world, is just ‘let me do this’ and not stop and say ‘God, who do you want to fill this position?’” Blake said.
He cautioned leaders to always seek counsel on new team members.
“There’s wisdom in counsel. Don’t make the decision alone, because that protects you from people accusing you of a biased decision,” he said. “On the flip side, what if you say ‘no’ to somebody but the person who’s that counsel says, ‘Man, actually I think they have potential’? They may talk you into it, and the person winds up being a great fit. So it goes both ways.”
Lastly, Blake says people shouldn't be afraid of change.
“Be willing to change and adapt your audition process through the years. It’s hard to change your own systems, but you may have to,” he said. “You may even need to hand it off to somebody else, depending on your leadership roles—that’s something I just did.”
Worship Team Feedback
Jarryd Prezzano, a vocalist in the band, went through all four steps in the audition and said he believes the process helps Freedom Church achieve outstanding music from mature leaders.
“The process not only allows Blake to determine if the individual is vocally qualified to lead worship but also makes sure the individual is spiritually ready and an overall good fit for our culture at Freedom Church,” Jarryd said.
Jarryd said he submitted two videos—one of him singing melody and one singing harmony. Later, he and Blake met at a Starbucks.
“The entire meeting only lasted 30 minutes, but by the end of it, I had a clear understanding of what was expected of me and I let Blake know I was on board and excited to be part of the team,” he said.
Casey Cooper, who plays drums in the band, said the expectations impressed him most.
“[The expectations step] was definitely much more in-depth, focused on excellence and ‘put together’ than many of the churches I’ve played at,” he said. “This was one of the reasons I was instantly impressed with Freedom. [The band’s] drive to be as awesome as possible is great and can really lead to a more successful and less distracting worship experience.”
Casey encouraged worship leaders considering putting an audition process like Freedom’s in place to be as discerning as possible during the application and audition phases.
“Finding those with the right heart, right talent, and right attitude will save time and issues later [because] those musicians will be more apt to perform and be prepared at the level necessary for the best and most powerful worship,” Casey said.
About the Author: Frank McCormack is a writer and photographer, family chef, aspiring Italian and fair weather sailor living in New Orleans, La. Follow him at frankmc.co.