If you’re visiting a new church this weekend, chances are you might find yourself awkwardly standing off in a corner somewhere pretending to be really busy on your phone, after the church greeters have done their obligatory greeting script of ‘what’s your name,’ ‘is this your first time,’ and, if it’s a college, ‘GenX’, Kaleo, young adult, or post-’anything’ service, ‘how’s your purity.’ (By the way, I think generation X is technically 40 years old now.) Well, stand awkwardly in the corner by the bookstore pretending to decide what coffee to order no longer! I’ve got the game for you. It’s called ‘Worship Musician Safari Bingo’, and it’s the perfect cure for awkward standing because you have to walk around purposefully to play it, and everyone knows that the best cure for awkwardness is appearing to have something to do. Hey, that’s why most of us started serving at the church anyway…so that we weren’t standing around awkwardly anymore. Stick us into a new church where we’re not ‘on staff’, and just watch the awkwardness (and a little bit of terror) immediately overtake us. ;)

So here’s how to play Worship Musician Safari Bingo. Turn your bulletin over and make yourself a little 3×3 panel of square boxes. Sometimes you don’t even have to draw one, you can just use the church’s giving chart. You place one of the following categories into each box, and then search around the church like you’re the volunteer security looking for unruly youths, all the while making check marks on your bingo sheet when you discover the following:

1. Center Square: The Keyboardist

The keyboardist goes in the center square because this member is the most difficult one to spot. It may be a male or a female, and of any age. Most often, you will not even remember having seen a keyboardist on stage. They’re like the phantom pad-holders. Sometimes, even their own fellow worship team members will not even know they exist. If the team is a young-looking, rock-sounding team that plays mostly Hillsong, Jesus Culture, and Coldplay, whether or not the songs are singable or even worship songs to begin with, you may be in luck. In these instances, the keyboardist will most likely be the hipster-est of the hipsters. You’ll need to try to search out the worship team first. They usually refer to themselves and are referred to as ‘the band’, so as you pass huddled groups of parishioners, see if you can catch conversation fragments referring to them as such. As you get closer, start looking for the trail of pastry droppings too top shelf to be the church’s own refreshment offerings. Follow the Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf trail until you get to the first group of people showing an exorbitant amount of collective chest hair and shoes that look like an elf would wear them. If they are truly the worship band, their pants will usually be rolled up above the ankle so that you can read the name ‘Tom’ on their shoes. Don’t worry about what this means. Now, slowly train your eyes from that group to the nearby surrounding shadows close to the stage. If you’re lucky, you may spot the keyboardist. He will be the only one too cool for Toms shoes, instead wearing something that you think you once saw your grandfather wear to take his morning constitutional. If he is speaking (on the phone, never to anyone actually in the room), he may even use phrases like ‘morning constitutional.’ If you venture closer, you may be lucky enough to make out some of the causes printed on his seventeen bracelets. Don’t worry, he can’t see you through his hair. If you could see his eyes, they would be looking off into the distance somewhere, as he maintains his aloof yet possibly slightly wounded somewhere in the past persona. And then if he is subconsciously murmuring Mumford & Sons lyrics, or some band you’ve probably never heard of, you’ve got him.

If the worship team is a more traditional team, you may just want to go ahead and leave this square blank. The only time you’ll ever have a chance to find him, is if he is actually on the stage, playing his keyboards with none of the other band around, as this is more than likely the only time during the service that he or she has actually been able to hear themselves play.

2. The Electric Guitarist

He is usually the reason the keyboardist cannot hear himself play. The loudness of his amp is usually only matched by the loudness of his voice. If he is being quiet at the moment, simply wait for someone to mention that tone is in the hands not in the gear, and that should take care of the quietness. It is often a male, and he will usually be the most gregarious of the group, so you may be able to spot him talking with actual members of the church. If he is, look for the loudest member of any conversation pontificating on any and all subjects. There is something about knowing tone and diminished chords (or at least listening to Hammock and John Mayer) that also makes guitarists think they know everything else.

If per chance he is not in any group, merely wait for any other instrumentalist to start practicing or for the house music to come on, and then listen for sounds of an amp cranked enough to be heard in stadium, as the electric guitarist shows the 4 people waiting in the worship center that he can solo over anything.

As a last resort for filling this spot in on your bingo card, stand in the middle of a crowded area and yell, ‘The sound guy’s right! You should plug straight into the direct box!’ and then run. The man chasing you is the electric guitarist.

3. The Drummer

The drummer takes the role of comic levity in the band, whether he actually is or not. He may be sarcastic or goofy, or take turns between the two. You can find him by listening for the guy quoting off-color movies or jokingly putting down other members on the team, but then getting instantly serious and giving hour-long ‘I-know-theology’ prayers as soon as the worship leader says it’s time for the pre-service meeting. More than likely, he will be wearing a low-riding beanie, a rastafarian dread cap, or some sort of head covering.

Often times you can spot him or her wandering around the church as if lost, as they usually need new direction every 4 to 5 minutes.

4. The Background Vocalist

This is the only member of the worship team who will predominantly be female on the majority of teams. This bingo spot is almost worth double if it’s a younger team. On these teams, if you find the background vocalist, you will almost always find one or more male members of the team in her presence. She will be the prize of all the unmarried members. Just look for the young girl wearing a scarf no matter the outside temperature next to guys also wearing scarves and/or mustaches doing the worst job in the world of trying to be near her will still acting aloof. This is the most fun to look for.

If it is an older, more mature-aged worship team, this can be one of the most difficult bingo card positions to fill, as she will more than likely be involved with conversations with others from the congregation due to the fact that the rest of the male musicians have no idea how to include someone in a conversation who isn’t interested in the lack of artistry in current Christian music, the best boutique oil for their car, or their early days touring with White Snake.

5. The Bassist

Many have tried. Few have succeeded. He may be the peering eyes from behind the door to the church kitchen. He may be hidden behind a giant stack of speakers bigger than him. He may even be posing as the guy handing you your coffee. You’ll never notice when he’s there, but should he leave, you will suddenly feel a lacking in the overall presence of the room, and everyone else will start to feel slightly emptier. He is the phantom, the hero, the presence…he is the bass player.

6. The Worship Leader

The worship leader can be a difficult one to spot. Worship leaders may be male or female. They may be up in the sound booth discussing their need for more high end reverb on their vocal channel with the sound guy, because they developed a slight feeling of discomfort in their throat the night before. They may be in the church kitchen, asking a volunteer to warm up some water to 83.5 degrees for their voice. They are often on what they describe as ‘the front lines’ of the battle for people’s souls. You might look for this front line of the battle by looking for someone talking with people about their real life issues, or out front serving coffee and smiles to people who may not have had one all week, or serving in children’s ministry. But you would be wrong. The worship leader is on the front line of playing their guitar in their office, preparing for the service to start. You may be able to be tipped off to them by looking for the person with in-ear heaphones dangling from their shoulders, or a wireless guitar pack in their back pocket. They will often have a very somber look on their face that you might recall seeing on the faces of bands in Rolling Stone magazine who believe that the charity to which they donate is changing the world due to their music. The logic doesn’t make sense, but that’s okay. They are the one member of the team who you can be sure is somewhere around the church, due to their facebook artist upcoming show page listing them as having a gig at this church, at this time.

Find the guy or gal who looks as if the have worked very hard at dressing to make it look like they have not worked very hard at dressing, and you may have found your worship leader. If their eyes look like they could break into calculated Sunday stage tears at any moment, you can just go ahead and check the box right then and there. (And no, I’ve never fake cried while playing worship; but I have thought to myself how nice it would be if some tears were to happen to fall at this moment. ;) )

7. The ‘Electric Guitarist 2′

‘Electric Guitarist 2′ is supposed to mean the same thing as ‘Electric Guitarist.’ But everyone knows better. The ‘Electric Guiatrist 2′ is the guy who gets stuck with all the rhythm parts to support ‘Electric Guitar 1.’ This member can usually be found by following the sound of soft crying into one of the bathroom stalls. Quietly check your bingo card and move on.

8. The Sound Guy

Long hair. New Balance cross-trainers. Aerosmith t-shirt. Bingo.

9. Acoustic Guitarist

Just follow the smile. This is the one guy or gal who really isn’t sure why they’re there, as the worship leader never, ever, ever, stops strumming their own acoustic. But they’re happy to be there nonetheless. So happy sometimes, especially for no one hearing them, that you have to wonder whether they know something the worship leader doesn’t. As in, the pastor has assigned them to shadow the worship leader and learn all the names of everyone on the team so that he is able to step in when the current worship pastor is…uh…’led in another direction.’ Because every lead pastor can only take so much hair gel and worship songs ‘off my latest cd.’ But by the time the worship leader has been ‘called to another ministry’, rest assured that the acoustic guitarist has spent so much time shadowing him that on that first Sunday, in steps a Toms-clad, Brewster fo-hawked, Taylor-playing new worship leader who leads off the set with a song from his just recently recorded album. And so the cycle continues.

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The point, of course, is that the cycle doesn’t have to continue. This is an exaggerated, and unfortunately sometimes not-so-exaggerated, version of my experiences playing at various churches over the last 7 or 8 years. This is not necessarily indicative of any one church or any one person. I hope we’re all able to have a sense of humour about ourselves, find a little piece of ourselves in here, and hopefully then use that mirror to clean some stuff up. I’ve seen these folks, I’ve been these folks, I am these folks. But we don’t have to be. Church can be more than a stage with people like us who believe themselves to be there simply to serve God and serve the congregation, but if we’re honest with ourselves, would be mortified if the pastor or elder board ever let us know that the church would be taking a year off from worship bands and instead singing accapella hymns led by no one. Mortified, or maybe we’d be at a different church within the year. Church can be, and should be, more than just a worship band and a preacher. Those things are fine and good and often times necessary; but they can become the focus. Our only focus. And God is more than that.

Splendid.
Karl.