Should We Pay Church Musicians?

Joshua Weiss offers ideas to help you decide.

If you have spent any amount of time working on a church worship team, you have inevitably encountered the discussion of paying musicians to play. This is a conversation I have had more and more lately. I should preface this blog by explaining I have been leading worship at my local church for over 10 years. We run around 250 people each week. Our team has consisted of gigging musicians, born-and-raised at this church musicians, and relatively young musicians actively growing in their skills. So when is it appropriate to pay musicians in church?

There is not a criteria checklist to go down in order to determine this answer. So let’s begin by asking you some questions.

  • Is your church in a financial position that it is able to pay the musicians?
  • Are the musicians truly professional in their roles? (i.e. Are they on time, have they adequately practiced the songs on their own time and learned the tunes, is their skill worthy of compensation?)
  • Are their alternative options within the church body capable of filling the need?
  • Do you value them?

Because I am pulled a few different directions on this topic, let me first speak in favor of paying the team members followed up with the arguments opposed.

I think it safe to say we can agree that Sunday morning services are the most important service for local churches in America. As such, the efforts and skill of the Sunday morning team should be quality. No doubt there are many “musicians” who think they are great. All they have ever heard their whole life is mom or dad tell them how great they are. Let’s face it, most musicians are not as great as they think they are. Plus, unnecessarily arrogant musicians are kind of annoying – especially when they have a bad attitude as well.

As a worship leader who is also responsible for many other areas at the church, I have a plethora of things on my mind every week. I shouldn’t have to worry about whether the electric guitar player is going to show up or if the drummer has gone over the songs. We should be able to get together for a practice and already have a good baseline to go from. When it comes time for a sound check, there shouldn’t not be a need to constantly ask other musicians to stop playing while we are getting levels or dealing with other issues. I shouldn’t have to identify a poorly tuned instrument early in practice because that musician didn’t see the need to tune before we started. And the question, “will musician X be able to play with the click?” should not ever run through my mind. Nevertheless, these are the types of things that one encounters with unpaid musicians.

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