Worship Media Arts

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How Many Cooks in the Kitchen? Worship Design Team Size

Note: This is a the first in a new series of articles called Worship Design Teams That Work. While designing worship in a group is no longer a new concept in many circles, figuring out how to make them work is a greater challenge. Our goal is to look at some specific principles that will help your worship design teams function at a high, sustained level.

One of the hottest shows on cable television is the outlandish international sensation “Iron Chef” and its sister series “Iron Chef: America.” These intense culinary contests pit two top chefs against each other in a race against time to create flavorful and eye-catching recipes in a particular food category. The hook in each episode is a secret ingredient, which is dramatically revealed with no prior knowledge. This ingredient, which can be as radical as fish in the pastry category, must be a part of every item they are assigned to create in the one-hour contest.

Neither of the competing chefs works alone. Each has at his or her disposal a team of trusted assistants called “Sous Chefs” who, under great pressure, must work together to create winning recipes.

Whether on Iron Chef or in your favorite restaurant, even the most talented chef could never do his or her job alone. Individual chefs could never meet the ongoing demands of a hungry restaurant crowd. Working with others encourages experimentation and continued learning opportunities. Good head chefs realize they can learn from their assistants. For example, “Sous chefs” are typically assigned an area of the kitchen where they are empowered to specialize in a particular skill, such as the grill. This affords them to opportunity to participate in the creative process, representing their specialization, while the chef is developing new recipes. A team of people, working together, is a must to achieve success.

On the other hand, maybe you’ve heard the old phrase, “Too many cooks in the kitchen.” It’s a way of saying that too many people making decisions at once will bog down the process and inhibit both creativity and productivity, making the experience miserable for everyone. Those who have prepared a big meal on family holiday gatherings may know the truth behind this saying. Just as it’s necessary for people to work together, it’s also possible to get in each others’ way.

There are a lot of parallels between preparing food and worship. Determining how many should be in the kitchen will effect how well the meal comes out. Too many, and nothing gets done, but not enough and a lot of opportunities are missed.

An ongoing struggle for many congregations concerns the size of the worship design team. What is an ideal number? We have seen teams of all sizes, from 2 to 20 and even more.

Is it possible to design worship in a team of two? Sure. The Wright brothers were a team of two, and they did a pretty good job designing the airplane. We know of one two-person worship design team that was successful for a number of years. But in a team of two, the process is more difficult than it needs to be. One reason is that there are less people to fill the necessary roles each team must have.

This is a key distinction to make. Good worship teams are not driven by specific personalities, but by fulfillment of specific roles. In general, the more team members are capable of fulfilling multiple roles, the better off the team is. (Read more about team roles here.) Cross-train a team to fulfill as many roles as possible. In general, this enables you to decrease the size of the team. Small teams can overcome a lack of bodies in the room if the few that are present can each accomplish many tasks.

Of course, we’d recommend more than two people on a worship design team. Just like in the kitchen, more people on a team make for a greater diversity of viewpoints and evaluations. As we frequently say, alone, a bad idea is a bad idea, and designers doesn’t know it’s a bad idea until it is on stage, when it’s too late. In a team environment, a bad idea is a launching pad to greatness, and the more team members are present, the more likely one suggestion will lead to another, better suggestion.

In our own experience, instead of being too small, the tendency for many congregations regardless of size is to attempt to operate with worship design teams that are simply too big. We have seen this repeatedly.

This was the case in our first worship team environment, which was at a church that averaged weekend attendance in the thousands. When Len joined the team it had been functioning for a few months, at least in name. It had not yet begun to take flight, however, because it suffered from the Knights of the Round Table disease.

This particular malady occurs at many medium and large congregations. When a new team is formed for the purpose of meeting with the senior pastor, whom we’ll call King Arthur, to design worship, every department head, or knight, wants to come to the table as an expression of power in the politics of the kingdom of the congregation. The sickness occurs when the knights don’t lay down their swords?Äîwhich happens more often that not.

The resulting environment is not team like at all, but a succession of talking points. The “Knights of the Round Table” don’t listen, but instead just wait for their turn to speak. Their conversational goal is to shift the agenda toward decisions that favor their own turf.

Big teams skew toward a diversity of viewpoints that have difficulty coming together. Consensus, not compromimse, is vital in a team. Even without the Knights disease, big teams simply have too many opinions. This is to say nothing of the challenge on big teams having enough roles for everyone to serve a purpose.

We consulted with a large church once that had fifteen people on its design team. When we discovered this, we about had a coronary. “How in the world can you design worship with that many people?” we asked. The answer was, they couldn’t. Eight months after the consultation, we received an email that they had restructured their organization. The new worship team has five people.

This is well within the target, as brainstorming studies have shown that the best teams range in size from four to seven.

Less than four puts a greater onus on the skills and gifts of a few people, which makes finding team members very difficult and burnout more likely. More than seven people in a room together makes it difficult for everyone to feel a part of the discussion and ownership of its results.

One last thought about team size: some churches, without acknowledging it, operate with a worship design team numbering in the hundreds or even thousands. While feedback is necessary for teams to stay connected to the congregation, be careful about allowing too many layers of influence.

Congregations of different traditions have varied organizational structures, both staff and lay, but regardless of the environment within which your team operates, it is important to protect the creative process. It is the job of the team, not of vocal naysayers, to design worship. Most churches struggle with more than a few creative opinions in the room at once. Imagine the strain of multiple unseen forces attempting to influence design, as well.

7 Comments so far »

  1. The MO Guys said,

    Wrote on August 9, 2006 @ 9:53 am

    What do you think? Leave a message if you have something to say about this article. No registration is required to post a comment, but we will moderate for spam and obscene language, so your comment will be delayed in posting until we clear it.

  2. Jim Galbreath said,

    Wrote on August 10, 2006 @ 1:31 pm

    Sounds like a very useful series! I hope you will address some of the specific dynamics of team interaction. How does a healthy team interact, compared to the “Knights of the Round Table” model? What are the specific roles that need to be covered? If everyone is cross-trained, why do you need several people on the team? (I have an idea, but I’d like to see your ideas.) If the leader is not “King Arthur,” how should the leader function? What is a realistic planning schedule to enable such a team to function?
    I look forward to future installments!

  3. CHURCH VIDEO IDEAS » What’s new with Midnight Oil Productions? said,

    Wrote on August 22, 2006 @ 11:00 am

    […] How Many Cooks in the Kitchen? Worship Design Team Size http://midnightoilproductions.com/reading/?p=33 […]

  4. Warren Pattison said,

    Wrote on August 23, 2006 @ 5:15 am

    Hey Len and Jason. Looking forward to the rest of the series. We have a small team of 6 (4 staff and 2 non-staff) and sometimes feel like we get stuck in a creative rut, particularly if the non-staff volunteers can’t make a meeting. Any suggestions for overcoming the creative doldrums?

    Also, I’m curious about your comments on feedback. I can see how it can be crippling to have too many voices in the feedback process. However, we also feel that it’s important to get a sense of how the worship experience is connecting or not conencting with the congregation. Perhaps you could consider an article on effective models for worship evaluation – who does it and how.

  5. Mike McDaniel said,

    Wrote on August 24, 2006 @ 9:41 am

    We are organizing, so this is great! I’m curious as to what ages are included on your subscribers’ design teams, particularly, are teenagers involved? How often do you meet? What does a typical meeting consist of?

  6. The MO Guys said,

    Wrote on August 25, 2006 @ 11:33 pm

    Questions, questions! These are all good. We’re hoping to address everything raised here plus more in our next few installments. There’s much to discuss when managing worship design teams.

    Hang tight. Sorry we can’t write an article every day…

  7. osborn4 said,

    Wrote on September 10, 2009 @ 5:31 pm

    I read a comment that the size of a worship team should be such that you can easily feed it with 2 medium pizzas.

    That’s my kind of metric!

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