Discussion: Should a Song’s Verses be Sung by A Soloist or Should Everyone On The Team Sing?

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Hello, folks time for a little discussion topic!

Over on the forums someone asked the question: “How often do you have the praise team sing together vs a soloist during congregational worship?” And there are a number of great responses.

Ultimately, there might be a subtle (yet huge) difference in the way the congregation perceives, responds to, and engages with your team depending on if you have more of vocal ensemble approach versus a soloist and background singer approach.

First, let me just say that whatever suits and serves your congregation is primarily what you should be implementing. Secondly, though, it’s not wrong to experiment and explore these different approaches (even within the parameters of one whole setlist).

Where I’m at it’s not uncommon to have a soloist sing through the first verse of a song, while the other singers continue to sing along (but more “off mic”) then join in on the choruses. Then other times everyone sings verses in unison and split into harmonies during choruses and bridges.

Some questions to think about for the sake of discussion:

1) Is your congregation a large or small congregation?

2) Do you have a lot of “singers” in your congregation? Do they sing out loudly? Or are they more quiet in their expressions of worship?

3) Are you ok with having a song occasionally in your setlist that doesn’t exist necessarily to “get everyone singing along” but exists as more of an environment builder (mood/vibe setter)?

4) Do you have a choir?

5) How skilled are your singers? Soloist AND backup?

One thought I throw into the mix for discussion is this: if all of this becomes more important than creating a time and space where our congregations can truly express their worship in a way that is real and authentic, then the discussion shouldn’t be about this versus that but more about how we can better serve the congregation.

Some ideas for utilizing both the ensemble approach and the soloist approach:

  • Have separate vocal sessions where you work out parts.
  • Make sure the tech/sound team knows who is singing melody on each song and to be sure that part takes more precedence in the sonic space (mix).
  • Have everyone continue to sing (but back off mics) when there is a soloist singing. This creates a visual lead and gives the congregation the ok to sing along (if they need such an ok).
  • Choose a song occasionally that has a male and a female lead in BOTH of their comfort ranges in different parts of the song. This gives an opportunity for a diverse expression of worship during an individual song.
  • Stack and add harmonies as a song builds in intensity. Nothing wrong with singing the first time through in unison and then adding in harmonies as the song begins to soar. Experiment with scaling back (away from 3 parts) to maybe just unison and 2 parts. Or maybe even try a really simple chorus where everyone sings in unison.
  • I’ve had some really sweet moments in worship leading when I verbally cue the congregation to continue singing while the team vocalists back off the mic a little and “join” the room sound. It can be really sweet (maybe tough if you wear in-ears).
  • Try some call and response songs, wear a leader will sing a phrase and then the ensemble will answer. A good example of this is the song Forever (Tomlin, popularized by Michael W. Smith). Another variation is to have females call and males respond.
  • Another interesting technique that we utilized a lot in children and youth environments, that can also work well in adult environments, is layering 2 unique, but complementary parts. We do this with Gungor’s Beautiful Things near the end with the bridge section. The females sing “You make me new…You are making me new” and then after a few times we layer in the guys singing “You make beautiful things, you make beautiful things out of…”

Do you have any tips to increase congregational engagement with your VOCALS? What works where you are? How often do you do songs that are meant solely for meditation and contemplation or response (maybe geared more towards a soloist with backing vocals)? How often do you utilize a choir?



is the Associate Director of Worship & Media at St. Simons Community Church, where he mentors, oversees and helps lead Family and Student worship environments. He is also the content curator and editor here at The Worship Community and at HighestPraise.com.

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