In conversations I’ve had with worship pastors, the “musician pool” vs “band” method of managing musicians has come up quite a bit. It seems like the pool method is the predominant method in churches today. I’ve chosen the band route and have encouraged other churches to do the same. I’ll explain why, quickly:
It takes a year of playing together before musicians can really gel. The momentum of playing with the same people over and over leads to musical progress and trust. If you’re playing with someone you’ve never played with, or a new combination of musicians, every time you play, you can never build that momentum.
A band can eventually become a safe place to share more than just music. Some people are social butterflies, but the rest of us need to feel totally safe before we share who we really are. Playing music together is an intimate thing already. If it’s different people every time, it’s hard for many people to feel they can be open on an emotional level.
Variety between bands is a good thing. I’ve heard variety from week to week argued as a reason for going with a musician pool. I feel the opposite. No one’s coming to your church because it’s consistent from week to week. They’re coming because they believe something real is happening. Giving each band, and each week, a personality of its own communicates life. It breaks up monotony without having to plan yet another “creative element” to keep things fresh.
Bands lead to greater reached potential. As each band develops its personality, leadership (that’s you) has the opportunity to encourage their strengths. As a leader, that’s a big part of your job. You notice a band gravitates toward a certain personality, so you call that out of them and help them become that even more, however you can. As each band becomes more and more unique, they also become more musically and spiritually affective.
Separate bands means separate band leaders = less you. Unless you try to be the leader of each band (don’t do that), you’ll be forced to find someone to lead each band. This forces you to (a) always be on the lookout for great leaders and (b) give power to the people who are the Church. Yes, starting out you’re probably leading ever week. But if your church reaches 400, 800, 1000+ people and you’re still leading every week, there are several gifted leaders rotting in your pews. Don’t let that happen. Don’t let your insecurity cloud your judgement. Your job is to find those leaders and help them lead. Not to keep them at pawn-status. Someday you’ll be done - who will lead the Church then?
There are some great things about musician pools. My favorite is the chance to work with new people every week. It also makes filling in for sick musicians much easier - just schedule the next guy in line. It creates an infinite amount of slots. You can always add another musician to the pool (although they may not get used much). But most of these positives are positives for you, not for the Church. They’re conveniences, but they may not lead to better outcomes.
Bonus material: Here are two tips for someone thinking of making the switch from musician pool to bands. (1) Don’t look for a band. Look for a leader. Start with the leader, and make it their job to build their band. That way they have a say in how their band turns out - it should be their choice who they play with, not yours. (You can challenge them, of course.) (2) Be okay with some bands being “better” than other bands. You may have a superstar band and a partial band. That’s okay because (a) someone has to be the best. As long as they’re not jerks about it, they can set a benchmark for other bands to work toward. (b) Your church needs to get over their “where’s my favorite band” syndrome. It’s consumerism and it’s ridiculous. The way to resolve the problem isn’t to take away choice. It’s to pastor them toward a more healthy mindset.