Contemporary Worship Leader
Michael Rafferty, The Church at Woodforest’s worship leader, grew up surrounded by music in Irving, Texas as the son of a violinist father and a singer-songwriter mother.
“My mom taught me how to sing before I could probably talk,” he says, laughing.
Throughout high school, he continued singing in high school and church choirs, even participating in the church’s handbell choir. Michael loved the experience so much that he set his sights on becoming a high school choir director, eventually earning a degree in Music Education from Centenary College in Shreveport, Louisiana.
One summer during high school, though, a new experience began to steer his life in a another direction.
“Before I started leading worship, I remember going on a mission trip,” he says. “The last night of the mission trip we had communion outdoors on the edge of this mountain. We were singing ‘Better Is One Day.’ I closed my eyes and just started singing this song to God — not in a technical, musical way, but in a spiritual way — and it was this totally different experience for me. The beauty of music plus the beauty of the presence of God and surrendering to God in singing...it was the most powerful thing for me that night. I feel like that’s when I learned what worship really is.”
Before his junior year of high school, he got his first chance to lead worship on a youth mission trip. He says he’s been doing it every week of his life since. During his time at college in Shreveport, he began playing electric guitar with a worship leader who’s very familiar to The Woodlands UMC family — our very own Harvest Lead Pastor, Mark Sorensen. Michael eventually formed his own band and wound up signed to the same record label as Mark’s band. The two grew close as the bands toured together and went on mission trips to places like Haiti, where Michael has been nine times and counting.
After teaching middle school choir in Shreveport for a year, Michael moved to The Woodlands area in 2011 to help plant and lead worship at Covenant United Methodist Church. Little did he know that his time there would prepare him to be the perfect candidate for his next position. After about five years at Covenant, Michael and his wife, Allison, began to feel that God was calling them into a new season of ministry. Soon after, Michael’s friend Mark Swayze, The Woodlands UMC’s Director of Contemporary Music, made it clear that he wanted Michael to lead worship at The Church at Woodforest, which The Woodlands UMC had planted the year before.
As someone with a heart for teaching and a heart for young people, Michael loved Mark’s vision for The Woodlands UMC, which included the church starting a worship school and becoming a leading resource for the United Methodist denomination when it comes to contemporary worship music.
Since coming on board in June 2017, Michael and Woodforest Lead Pastor Brent Parker have worked hard to craft an intimate worship experience that mirrors Brent’s desire for Woodforest to have a “living-room feel.”
“Everyone’s kind of in a big horseshoe, and I think that really adds to the community-like, family, intimate setting,” Michael says. “The church is circled up because it’s not really about what we’re doing on the stage, it’s about what we’re doing as a church. I love the vibe.”
Due to many of the members coming from a traditional background, the worship team has been implementing contemporary versions of classic hymns to make the transition to a new way of worshipping a bit easier.
“Beyond physical expression, my vision is for people’s hearts to be opened to the Holy Spirit’s movement through worship,” Michael says.
A large part of that is surrounding himself with a regular band who work as a team and are invested in the church beyond Sunday mornings.
“If our band is on the same page, if our band is Spirit-filled, we’re going to be able to lead the congregation,” Michael says. “Typically, your congregation won’t go deeper than its pastor or its worship team, so I want our team to be one that goes deep — and not just in songs, but in life and spirit.”
In his spare time, Michael also leads a band called The Homestead, which is composed of worship leaders from other churches. You can find more about them at their Facebook page.
Michael is married to Allison, and their son is due in January 2018.