Planning for a worship service can be a big task. It can be ridiculously stressful and ridiculously rewarding at the same time. After years of planning, I’ve been able to get my own system down to an art form, but I came across many mistakes and time wasters before I got everything in order. Here are seven lessons I learned that revolutionized my planning, scheduling, organizing, and communication system.
- Pray. Always start your process with prayer. Let God speak into you about what the service needs, where it needs to go, what your church wants to do in His name. Listen for the movement of the Spirit in your prayers. God will be at your service, with or without your help, but how do you serve Him through your music, prayer, and words? Let Him guide you each week.
- Talk with your pastor. Your pastor is the vision holder for the church. Their job is to see where God’s people need encouragement, and how that encouragement should be presented. Ask about theme, about key words, about overarching ideas, about major points they want to make. Your music, prayer, and statements should flow into their message, work with their message, and enhance their message. This was one of the biggest improvements in my planning system at my first small church position. When the pastor and I couldn’t sit and talk, we’d write about the themes and make sure we both shared the same vision for the upcoming services.
- Set up Team Communication. It’s easy to simply arrive on Practice Night (or even on Sunday morning) and lead like a rogue agent. But it’s way better to let your team know as early as possible what the service should look like. Talk with them a week or more in advance about song selection, themes and vision, and how your elements of the service work into these concepts. If your communication is clear, consistent, and frequent, your team will feel like they are truly part of the process, not just along for the ride. Use email, social media, texting, or whatever venue your team feels best using. Use all of them if necessary. Don’t leave room for excuses or hurt feelings. Oh, and this also includes your tech team–they are just as important!
- Get organized: Know Your Volunteers. Start an inventory of your volunteers that includes skill sets, musical strengths, musical weaknesses, and personalities. Know who works well together and who struggles to get along. Know which guitar player can keep a steady rhythmic pattern and which can wail on a solo or lead riff. Know which drummer is best for rocking out and which one plays the nicest soft backing rhythms. Does your keyboardist need written music or can they improvise and change plans on short notice? Which singer can belt out with confidence? Which singers need a supporting section to feel comfortable? No two team members are created equal, but all team members serve a purpose in Christ’s body. Know them well, and you will serve them and your church far better. This, once again, also goes for tech and AV team members.
- Get Organized: Know Your Music. Don’t throw songs on a set list and stop there. You’re not making a last-minute workout playlist or background music to a busy work day. You’re putting together a memorial to your God and King. Think about transitions, key signatures, turns, arrangements, and orchestrations. If you have a planning system, put in your thoughts and ideas as you think these out. Run through each song and consider how the song will hit the congregation. How will you encourage them to join you in worship? How do you bring God’s presence into focus and demonstrate to those who may be blind to it that the Spirit is present and working? Be intentional with this planning. Note that the bridge will be quiet to contrast the bold chorus, or that you don’t want keys during the intro. Put it down in your planning system and send it out to your team (or at least make it available to them for viewing at any time). It’ll give your team a head start on the music, and it will point them in the direction you see for the songs. Not much is worse than rehearsing a song incorrectly and only finding out the day it will be put in front of the congregation.
- Set Up a Scheduling and Planning System. I mentioned this a few times above. I feel this is a fairly important thing to get set up. It feeds into a lot of the other points that I’ve made so far, so I think it may be the single most important thing you could do beyond prayer and communication, mostly because it sets you up to have time for the first two points. There are plenty of options out there, and some of them are free. I suggest starting with a free option until you figure out exactly what your team and church needs to run efficiently. My favorite is Planning Center Online (there is a limited free version yet if you dig a bit), because it is specifically tailored to church needs. The company itself now offers an intense number of options, but at its base it provides song cataloging (with CCLI and SongSelect integration), team member communication, scheduling, song arrangement, and collaborative service planning. If you have a small team (think ten or fewer people), you can use this product at no cost. If you’d rather look to a more self-customized option, consider Google Apps. They have a shareable calendar, online document editing, chat, forms, and storage (15GB free with a Gmail account). All cloud based, all free. Use Sheets (like Microsoft Excel) for library management and comments, email for communication, and Calendar for scheduling. Your Drive space can store enough music, PDFs, and documents for your church. The only caveat is that you will want to set up sharing properties with other Gmail addresses, which can be somewhat painful if your team isn’t totally tech-savvy.
- Plan in Blocks. When you get a new sermon series, or at the beginning of a new month, work to get the entire series or month planned out at one time. While you can always come back and make revisions (and almost always need to), getting your plans set up far in advance will allow you to leave room to grow in your skills and familiarity with your music, the scriptures, the themes, and the service flow. Not only that, but this gives you and your team a chance to think creatively about the upcoming weeks (transitions, arrangement tweaks, and cool orchestrative changes) that would otherwise be left untouched because of the rush to “just get it done.”
- BONUS: Leave Space. The job of a leader is seldom contained to the hours you have in your contract. It can overflow and become overwhelming very quickly if you aren’t intentionally working to keep the hours in check. There is certainly great benefit in being there for your team at any time, but don’t let your life be eclipsed by your work. God wants us to live richly, and that doesn’t mean being a slave to an earthly position or title. Set time aside for prayer, for friends, for family, for reflection. Set boundaries for non-emergency communication with team members (also, define the term “emergency” so there isn’t any confusion!). Let team members know that they should do the same. Your physical and mental health are directly proportionate to your spiritual health, so take care of your relationship with God first. All your other relationships will fall in place if you seek His will first. Your team will appreciate it, your family will appreciate it, and your church will appreciate it. And you will too.
What other tips and tricks have you found useful in planning and organizing your services? What tools do you have for keeping your team connected and involved? Comment below and let me know!