The Question of Paid Players in Worship

One of the most misunderstood and misconstrued pieces of the modern church is the payment piece. Who on stage gets paid? And why?
Here are some models that I have observed, and the pros and cons with each:

1)     Completely Volunteer Model

EXPLAINED: Church has a staff member (or a few) who work during the week to prepare everything for the volunteers; volunteers make up all the singers and band, outside of the staff member(s).

PROS: This model saves the money that could be used to pay band and/or singers and uses that money for other things… like, perhaps, a worship team staff.

CONS: If the staff members do not work to build a rotation, and if you’re a church that has multiple services, it is very easy to burn people out and turn into a carousel.

NOTES: I believe that this model works only if the staff team is dedicated to truly pastoring people. Being a part of a worship team IS different than other ministries, for many reasons… a main reason is that if you have multiple services your people are giving far more time than the typical church volunteer. So – it becomes very easy for the worship team to become their small group, their discipleship and their community… so, the staff should truly pastor and disciple, and their hours should be planned accordingly (i.e, to do more than simply prep music), and may mean that a larger staff is needed as the volunteer team grows.


2)     Completely Paid Model

EXPLAINED: Church usually has 1 main worship pastor/leader and perhaps an admin, then all other positions are paid a small stipend – usually it’s band, but in many places it’s also singers. I’ve heard of churches that pay as much as $1500/weekend per player. I’ve heard of other churches that give a “per stage” stipend (say $1500) and that number is divided equally between everyone on stage (5 players, each player gets $300). However, the most common model I’ve run across is a “per-instance” model: they get paid the same amount for every time their on stage – rehearsal and then each service. For instance if a player gets $50 per, and there is a rehearsal + 3 services, they would get paid $200. A music director would typically get paid 1/3 to 1/2 more.

PROS: Churches can up their excellence extremely quickly, if they hire the right teams of players.

CONS: In my experience, this often turns church into another “gig” players get. Many times non-believers are the best players, so many people on stage are unbelievers playing a gig and the spirit of worship suffers.

NOTES: This model works best if there is a worship leader who can lead the band and an admin of some sort who can deal with all the booking of band members. There are some churches who move to this paid model, but only hire people who either A) were once a part of the ministry as a volunteer; or B) only let people join the team as paid member, if they have 1st rose through the ranks as a volunteer (many times being on stage unpaid with other paid players).


3)     The Start-Up Paid Model

EXPLAINED: Similar to #2, but with a start up church, with the vision to use paid players to build excellence that draws other players, but with the goal to move towards volunteers as church members begin to want to be a part of the music program.

PROS: Similar to #2, a church starts up with consistent excellence, which can be a magnet to musicians who want a good church and a place to serve.

CONS: Once you’ve established a precedent for paying players, it’s very hard to break it without building resentment on one end or another. The volunteers serving for free alongside paid players have the opportunity to build resentment; and when you decide to move away from paid players, there can be a lot of frustration by the paid players who are losing a gig.

NOTES: I have seen this used to varying results. I think there’s something to be said for instant excellence. But I also think that there can be a boxing in that happens that may not be worth the cost.


4)     The Partial Paid Model

EXPLAINED: Your church has a pretty good band but can’t find a good drummer. So you find someone who will play, but only for a small amount. In order to help the team, you hire the drummer, but no one else is paid.

PROS: Helps fill in cracks and can help build excellence while still building community.

CONS: Once you start paying, you will need to be able to defend not paying everyone.

NOTES: This can get sticky real quick, or it can work magically – and I have experienced both sides of that. Just enter into this kind of arrangement knowing that it should A) be a short-term solution; and B) you will likely have to do some explaining about why you’re paying an outsider while not paying the people who are from the church.


5)     The Large Staff + Volunteer model

EXPLANATION: This is #1 on steroids, only really possible at a large church. In this model, you have a plethora of volunteers who want to be a part of what’s happening and you in turn staff to take care of the volunteers.

PROS: A large staff allows for staff teams to be strength-based and allow people to really run in their lanes.

CONS: It’s very easy for creatives to fall into laziness and away from actually pastoring people, and focusing solely on the weekend.

NOTES: For a large church, this is a viable model that allows for the most improvement and the most discipleship in volunteers. However, the focus has to be on A) creating space for staff members to focus on what they do well; and B) creating volunteers who are excellent in skill and growing in their faith through the large team actually pastoring them.


6)     The Worship Leader is Lazy and Pays People To Do His Work Model

EXPLANATION: This is more common than we’d all like to admit. Many times worship leaders and creatives know what they’re good at and what they’re not good at and they just decide to do what they’re good at: perform.

PROS: Zero pros.

CONS: All cons.

NOTES: If your worship leader is simply paying people to do the things he doesn’t want to do, this is a huge problem. Performance isn’t leadership. Discipleship and growing people is leadership. That should be the goal of every worship program, in one way or another. If you want to hire players because it’s too hard to build a volunteer base, it’s the wrong reason. If you want to hire an admin because you are irresponsible, it’s the wrong reason. If you want to hire an MD because chord charts take too much time from your video games, it’s the wrong reason. We as worship leaders should work hard and we should be dedicated to pouring into people – that includes pouring into people to make them better singers and players and better disciples.



If I am giving my opinion, I believe that all of these viable options depending on the church size and the situation you’re in. I have used nearly all of them at one point or another and all of them have had their pros and cons.

So – any other models you can think of? Any other pros and cons? What do you think about paying people to play in church?