Planning the Worship Service
In a part-time worship leader position, the planning, rehearsal, and implementation of the worship service is generally your primary task. All the preparation for the worship service grows out of the worship plan. This week we will look at what is involved in planning corporate worship as you order your week. This is by no means a handbook to worship planning. In this post, I will only hit some highlights related to planning.
- Meet with the pastor. In planning worship, it can be much more meaningful for some of the non-sermonic parts of the worship to support the sermon material. For this reason, beginning with sermon information several weeks ahead of time will greatly facilitate the planning process since some elements of worship take more time to prepare (presentational music such as choir selections, locally-created video, drama, etc.). Pastors should see the great benefit of providing that information weeks ahead as the times of corporate worship become more engaging and meaningful. Pastors, give your worship leader sermon information minimally 2 months ahead, if possible. Three months is a hallelujah goal!
- Choose choir songs and other presentational music. Preparing a choir, ensemble, or even a soloist is best done with advance notice. As I will describe in a later post, I prefer beginning a new choir anthem 6-8 weeks ahead of the target Sunday. Meditate on the sermon information your pastor has provided and prayerfully search for some presentational music that will support the direction of the message. Of course there are times you will not make that connection or that you will prefer to go a different direction, but you need to plan out the presentational music 6-8 weeks ahead for appropriate preparation that will yield excellence.
- Use a worship planning tool to help you stay organized and streamline your work. I personally find that WorshipPlanning.com has revolutionized my life in the areas of planning worship and working the plan from conception to “delivery.” [In it, I am able to plan all worship services, maintain my song library that will share all files with musicians assigned to a service for their preparation, manage my worship teams, schedule my volunteers including tech teams, and communicate with everyone as needed.] Another online possibility that is also widely used is PlanningCenter. Before I began using WorshipPlanning (WP), I used Word, Excel, email, Dropbox, and a variety of other great applications. [The only advantage I found in the variety of applications was that I did not need to make a further financial investment in these. Finding all I need in one place is a great time saver and organizational wonder. WorshipPlanning.com is a partner of NC Baptists and does offer NC Baptist Churches a significant discount.] Within WP, at this stage, I enter all the sermon information, notes, possible creative elements (more later), possible presentational music ideas, and much more. It then provides a canvas upon which I can plan the worship service.
- Consider appropriate congregational songs from your song list. Every church should have a song list from which they plan worship. You can find more on this concept HERE. As you prayerfully consider the sermon information, begin to think of a song or two that may fit that well. Do not feel like everything has to mirror the sermon. In a thematic tradition, planners attempt to have every part of the worship serve the sermon. That often misses out on vital parts of worship if our focus becomes too narrow. Spend some time praising the attributes of God. Have times of prayer, confession, celebration, and more. Choose songs that help your congregation voice their worship. Always be sure the songs you select are in appropriate keys for congregational singing (read this).
- Introduce new songs with repetition. The church must sing new songs. Find excellent ones that work for your church and help your congregation sing them. In order for a new song to become one that is embraced by the congregation, there must be repetition. Plan to sing the song on two or three successive Sundays, lay off a Sunday, then sing it again for best reinforcement. As you plan worship, remember new songs that have been introduced recently so you can repeat them in your current worship plan.
- Discover creative elements of worship. What are some ways that you can make this service become more alive for the church? Consider videos, drama, dance, readings, art, and other creative arts. There are hundreds of resources online that are detailed at www.Resources4Worship.org. You can also utilize creative people in your church to create and provide these elements for worship.
- Be aware of special inclusions in the service. On a given Sunday, you may have the Lord’s Supper, baptism, parent-child dedication, graduate recognition, etc. These all can take a significant portion of the service. Many of these things should be central in your worship rather than a service tag-on. Treat them accordingly.
- Collaborate with the pastor. More than two weeks out, I want to have a rough draft to share with the pastor. Ideally you will be communicating along the way as the service comes together. At this time you share what you have designed to be the final plan to get a green light or perhaps make a modification before publishing to other worship leadership.
- Finalize the service two weeks out. It is best to have your planning done a couple of weeks out so that all the preparation can fall into place. The creative elements (if produced in-house) and the presentational music needs to be planned 6-8 weeks at least ahead for best results. Now you will have added congregational music and developed the best flow for the order of worship. In WorshipPlanning, I will send out communication from within the app to the people scheduled for that service so that they can begin to prepare.
For full time worship leaders, there is much that can be expanded here. I would greatly encourage collaborative worship planning (can also work in a part time arrangement) with a Creative Worship Arts Team. Check out this post for more information.A Week in the Life of a Worship Leader, part 2 Click To Tweet
Here’s an overview of this series (see the intro here):
- Planning the worship service. We will look at everything from sitting down with your pastor and exploring upcoming sermon concepts to choosing appropriate congregational and presentational music. We discuss how to find creative elements to infuse in the service and ways to organize your plan for best implementation.
- Preparing the choir. Once songs are selected, how do we get the most out of our choirs/vocal teams to prepare them to be amazing worship leaders? How can we help them be successful? We talk about rehearsal planning and implementation, practice tracks, discipleship, and much more.
- Preparing the band. We will deal with scheduling issues, technologies to assist you, band charts, mp3s, rehearsals, and more.
- Preparing the media. How can our media enhance the worship service? How do we conceptualize and implement what will show on the screens in our church?
- Preparing the congregation. This part is so often overlooked. How do we help our congregations personally prepare for our times of corporate worship? This can be a huge benefit for corporate worship when our people are adequately prepared.
- Preparing personally for worship. How do you as a worship leader personally prepare for the corporate worship service? This can make a powerful impact on your leadership.
- Corporate worship! How do we implement all that we have prepared for?
In many of the situations I have served, I have not had the luxury of knowing what the Pastor’s message is before arriving on Sunday morning. I have adapted by centering worship music around the themes present in the choir anthem or another piece of special music. Doing so creates a secondary theme that can often speak to a segment of the congregation that the sermon theme may not have in that week.
Great comment, Chris. Yes, unfortunately not having any sermon information is often the case. I have seen that often pastors find that their sermon can be more impacting if they plan ahead for more worship coordination and then begin to provide that information. You are right, when you don’t have it, you can certainly provide a great worship environment for the congregation in other ways. Thanks for the comment!