Planning a worship service is a big deal. I probably don’t have to convince you about the importance of planning ahead for every worship service. Even if you’re of the “let-the-Spirit-lead” persuasion, you know that planning is crucial. Pardon the cliché, but a failure to plan is a plan to fail, even for worship services.
You’ve got to plan, you’ve got to plan well, and you’ve got to plan well in advance. So, who should be involved in laying these plans for the worship service? What’s their role? How does it all come together?
Who Should Be Involved in Planning a Worship Service?
In the article that follows, I’ve sketched out the two main divisions of planning labor — the core planning team, and the ancillary planning team. Within each division, I’ve discussed the role of each team member. No plans are perfect, but the more streamlined your system for creating worship service plans, the better your planning will be.
The Core Planning Team
Planning begins with leaders. The core planning team includes the people who lead, teach speak, or preach in the worship service.
1. The pastor or teacher.
In contemporary church parlance the term “worship leader” refers to the guy who carries a guitar and sings. However, it’s helpful to think of the pastor as the worship leader, too. Worship isn’t just singing. We worship when listen to the teaching of the word. We worship when we walk in the door. We worship during the entire service. Worship is a way of life, not just the songs before the preaching. The preaching and teaching portion of the service is just as much worship as is the singing. For that reason, it’s important to involve the pastor or teacher in the planning process.
How to be involved: Assist the planning process by suggesting songs, media, and music that match the topic or theme of your message. Share your burden, and remind the team of your goals and objectives for the congregation.
2. The elders, deacons, or church leadership team.
It takes a lot of people to lead a church, and it’s important to get everyone involved. Each leader — from the Sunday School superintendent to the head deacon — has a critical role to play in planning. Although you should have a hierarchy of planning, the input of this group is critical.
How to be involved: Offer suggestions, pray, support, discuss, and provide input as needed.
3. The worship leader.
The key person for worship service planning is the worship leader. It goes without saying that the person in front is the person who needs to be doing the majority of the planning.
How to be involved: Your most obvious tasks are selecting worship songs, and determining the order of service. This can be more complex than you’d expect at first blush. We’ve discussed some tips on selecting worship songs before. There are also the details such as when to close the doors, which lights to turn on or off, who gets which microphones, and how it all comes together.
Worship service planning demands coordination across a lot of levels, as you’re well aware. The worship leader is the core of a smooth operation. It is your responsibility to delineate the schedule and make sure everyone knows and follows that schedule. We recommend printing a handheld schedule for each person involved in the worship service. Make sure that everyone follows this schedule when it’s go time.
The Ancillary Planning Team
The second group of individuals involved in planning is what I’ve called “ancillary planning team,” for lack of a better term. These people form an important part of most church worship services, and their involvement in planning is critical.
1. The musicians.
Musicians need to know what they’re going to play and how they’re going to play it. Most of these talented individuals need sheet music and a practice session or two. Simply put, they need to know the plan. It’s also helpful to gain their input in the planning process. “Can we play this?” is a good question to ask your band as you plan a worship service.
2. Stage managers and stage hands.
Some churches have large stages, lots of props, and a lot of movement. A successfully-planned worship service will be one where as few people as possible trip over wires, knock over guitar stands, and fall off the risers. Your stage personnel need to be involved in choreographing the what, how, and when of stage movement. Allow them to help you determine if any props need to be put into place, instruments removed, pulpit placed onstage, etc.
3. The sound person.
The person who wields the wizardry of the soundboard needs to be involved. Gain the expertise of your sound engineer as you move into the detailed stages of planning.
4. The lights person.
Like sound, lights are important, too. The bigger your stage setup, the more important this individual is.
5. The person preparing the worship presentation.
The worship service gains its coherence when people can read the lyrics on the screen and thereby follow along. Your planning session will be enhanced when “the PowerPoint guy” or media guru joins in. We recommend Sharefaith Presenter for the best approach to worship presentation.
6. The people preparing the worship guide or church bulletin.
If your church uses printed medium to guide the services, the people involved in creating the bulletin should be considered as you prepare and plan for a service.
What is the exact role of these team members? Do they have an active part in suggesting songs, when to pause for prayer, or when the announcements should be placed in the order of service? To an extent, yes. For example, you may have planned a set of two songs followed by a mini drama. However, your stage manager reminds you that he needs at least three minutes to clear the stage of cords and amps, which means that you need to add a two-minute buffer before the drama starts. Thus, your stage manager has some valuable input in the planning process.
Bringing It All Together
So, what does the planning process look like?
First, sketch a preliminary plan with the core planning team.
Second, share these flexible plans with the ancillary team. This can be done informally, such as in an email or verbally in a meeting.
Finally, work through a rehearsal of the service. In this dry run primarily consisting of your ancillary team you’ll have refined approach at the granular level of planning.
Think of these two groups of planners as the aerial perspective and the ground perspective. The core planning team is aerial, allowing you to see the lay of the land — major mountains, rivers, and valleys. In other words, this is the substance of the service — song selection, who speaks, any special announcements, etc. To get a ground perspective, however, your ancillary planning team comes in. They help you plan all the critical details.
By its very definition, “planning” doesn’t happen five minutes before the service. Review and rehearse these plans at least a week in advance so everyone is aware how things are going to work.
Not to get off-topic, but this last bit of advice is important. As you dive into the details of scheduling, planning, emailing, assigning, and chasing deadlines, don’t lose sight of what you’re doing — you’re worshipping.
Planning to worship isn’t some sterile activity divorced from worship itself. It is part of the worship! Planning helps others to engage in worship, and it does not detract from the essence and soulful internalization of true worship.
As you plan, worship. As you pick songs, worship. As you remind the lights guy to turn on the first bank of whites, worship. As you add an extra stanza of “Mighty to Save,” worship. As you close your eyes and enjoy God, worship.
Worship is a glorious and life-consuming reality. Now, let’s do some planning.