Interview: Worship Leader Chris Denning

Chris Denning is a worship leader, blogger, and PCO master. Recently, Chris talked to Worship Links about the tensions of managing a team, scriptures about worship, and singing about unicorns.

Thanks so much for taking the time to answer some questions for us. It’s truly appreciated! The first question is an easy one. Tell us a little bit about yourself in five sentences.

I love what I do, but my wife (Abrie) and daughter (Addison – 7 months) are my whole world! I live outside of Charlotte, in the Lake Norman area (LKN) and we love life there. I’m super grateful to be at a church (Journey Church, Huntersville, NC) where I’m not just programming a service, but really serving alongside an incredible community of people. I love the Carolina Panthers and I’m praying that my daughter follows in her Dad’s footsteps (I mean they are, at the writing of this, undefeated in her lifetime). I love to cook, I love to solve problems, I’m a systems nut, and I’m a huge reading nerd and will burn through books you don’t want to read way too quickly.

How did you get started in worship ministry?

I’ve always played music, and I started playing at church around fourteen. I started on drums, but quickly wanted to pick up other stuff, starting with bass, then guitar, then finally singing. I had a few great guys (Jake Sumner, Chad Brewer, Duane Mixon) specifically pouring into me and helping me to learn how to lead worship, no matter what part you were playing.

What’s your basic process for planning a service or worship set?

Let’s assume we all start with the Holy Spirit, shall we? Ok, good.

After that, I’m heavily involved in our series/message planning process at Journey, so for us, it all starts with the message brief for the week. This is a few sentences that gives clear direction on where the message will be heading without having to have the whole transcript in hand. This includes themes, applications, feelings, and anything in between. That message brief gives me a really great direction to head in.

Desert Island Worship Mix: You’re trapped on a desert island, and for reasons too ridiculous to explain, you can only have one CD with five worship songs on it. What are they?

Yeesh. Only worship tunes? Aight, I’ll bite, in no particular order:

  • Scandal of Grace
  • None But Jesus
  • No Longer Slaves
  • This is Amazing Grace
  • It is Well With My Soul

What have you found are some of your greatest challenges in managing a worship team? How do you handle the balance between being a musician and being a manager?

Managing a worship team is like managing any creative endeavor. It takes organization, but flexibility. Structure and direction, but collaboration and cooperation. The difficulty in this is understanding that these things are not problems to be solved, but rather tensions to be managed. I first heard this from Bill Hybels and approaching leadership things like this as tensions to be managed rather than problems to be solved has helped me a lot.

As for handling the balance between being a musician and being a manager, I don’t believe they have to be things on the opposite end of a spectrum. Some of the best musicians I know are INCREDIBLE managers, or maybe rather “music directors.” Embrace the tension in balancing these two roles.

What scriptures speak to you the most about worship?

My brain always goes to scriptures that speak to a lifestyle of worship, like Romans 12:1. I’m also really encouraged by scripture that reminds us of our perspective of God and how we’re to respond to Him, like Deuteronomy 10:12-13,20-21). Honestly, all of scripture is teaching us what it is to worship, in all of life, in every circumstance.

If you could give one piece of advice to up and coming worship leaders, what would it be? Conversely, what’s some advice you wish you’d received earlier on?

This is for both of these questions:

Stay humble, remember you always have more to learn/grow in, and then do the work to honor God and inspire others.

What do you think worship in the church will look like in ten years?

Awesome. I really don’t give a crap how it looks or what the new trends are, as long as we’re truly worshiping him.

However, to be fair and try to answer your question, I think that things will continue to be more segmented and focused. We’ll continue to become more and more diverse, and we’ll all think our way is the best way, especially in the American Church. But we’ll still love each other. 🙂

Any new worship artists on your radar at the moment?

I’m really no good at paying attention to new stuff. If I had to give some names or groups, I’d say that I’m really loving what’s coming out of Aaron Keyes’ 10,000 Fathers and I want to hear more from people like Lauren Daigle (that voice tho) and that last North Point record had some real special moments on it.

What’s the most embarrassing thing you’ve ever done while leading worship (that you’re willing to share)?

This is easy. I remember a time (as do ALL of my buddies who I grew up playing with) where we were introducing Phil Wickham’s “Cannons” to our youth group. As we were playing the intro, I realized I couldn’t remember the words and I had no charts or prompter. I proceeded to make up the entire first verse until we got to the chorus, and it was ROUGH.

I guess I have a history with that tune, because I was playing this song at a church with a buddy and in the second verse, instead of singing “Song of Galaxies” I sang, “Song of Magic Steeds.” No one caught it but us, but it’s great that I encouraged people to sing about Unicorns.

Thanks again for answering our questions. If people want to find you online, what’s the best way?

I write at my site,, about Worship, Leadership, and Technology, and I try to make it helpful and not suck.

I also have run PCOGuru, which is a training and consulting organization for all of your Planning Center Online needs. We love helping you get the help with any PCO products you need or even helping you get THE MOST out of your PCO apps.

I’m on Facebook & Instagram where I post great pics of my cute baby.

I’m on Twitter where I share some hopefully helpful content & the occasional entertaining Live Tweet. I’d love to connect with any of you guys and help in any way I can!

2 thoughts on “Interview: Worship Leader Chris Denning”

  1. My son Dean is Director of music and administration at New Hope Baptist Church in Gastonia. Your grandad,Bill Davis, is my first cousin. Dean loves gospel music and has his first cd coming out shortly. Love to see you guys get together. I have a sister-in-law and two nephews living at Lake Norman.

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