Worship 101: Planning a Worship Service
Whether you’re a minimalist or a full-blown production, planning a worship service flow is a big part of the pastor and worship pastor’s weekly routine. Choosing songs and visuals to go with those songs, deciding on a main point for the message and illustrations, or deciding on what videos to use or stories to tell are only the first stages of putting together a powerful service.
Deciding what should happen in your service each week is one thing, but deciding how to put them together in a powerful sequence is a whole other skill set.
I want to give you my abbreviated list of filters that I have used when planning youth and adult services and maybe you’ll find something of value in there for when you plan yours.
A Personal Vision for a Worship Service
When I was leading a worship team, I tried to keep the goal and purpose of what worship teams do out in front:
We provide tools to meet with God while removing barriers to the Holy Spirit working.
Your vision will need to come from your pastor, not just the worship leader. (See Why Pastors and Worship Pastors Need Identical Vision)
The tools were the songs, the environment, etc. The barriers were mostly things that could be a distraction, such as bad singing/playing, awkward transitions, dead air, poor mixing, painful volumes, and difficult songs/visuals to name a few.
It’s nothing really fancy, but the important stuff rarely is.
Funnel to the Apex
I see worship services as a series of events that lead you to a main event, which I would suggest is the preaching of God’s Word. The apex has to come before the other service elements are decided. I always liked to know the Scripture and at least the one main take-home truth before planning anything else.
My funnel was usually about focus. I would start with upbeat elements, faster music, and games (in youth) and then gradually slow things down to more of an intense worship. Then there would be some sort of video bumper for the transition to speaking and I would deliver God’s Word.
Services lead through the environments you create, so create them intentionally.
Some like to use themes instead of environments like I do; to each his own. My warning about using themes is that the transitions can be awkward if the atmosphere isn’t considered and it could end up taking your people right out of the moment.
If you Fail to Plan, Then Plan to Fail
The Holy Spirit can work in advance, too. Practice transitions that have a lot of moving parts so that they are not distracting. Band members also should have practiced on their own time, not Sunday rehearsal time.
Train volunteers to run their positions well and hire professionals for sound and video if your control room is more complicated than the Millennium Falcon.
Even if you are a more minimalistic service or liturgical tradition, there is value in pulling off elements without incident. Failing to do so could be a huge distraction, so do a quick run through and ALWAYS check videos to make sure they have sound and look right on screen in the rehearsal time.
A Few Worship Service “To Be, or Not to Be’s”
To Announce, or Not to Announce
A very common question is “Where should we put announcements?” The best answer is “It depends.”
If you’re doing video announcements, this can work as a sermon bumper right before the pastor comes up or as a break between the upbeat worship time and the intimate worship time. That is, of course, if your announcement video is upbeat (most are and should be). You should also post that to social media during the week to. Why waste that content?
If you’re going to do live announcements, I would suggest the Welcome-Announcements-Offering sandwich from Subway. Usually, this works best between the fast to slow transition of worship.
If you do them first, lots of people won’t be in the room to hear them (late, much?) and if you do them at the end they’re so ready to go that they are tuned out.
To Pass or Not to Pass
The debate about the plate rages on today. Pass the plate? Bags? Buckets? Viking helmets? Box at the back?
It is my understanding that giving goes down on Sundays with the box at the back. It still really depends on your congregation. Younger, mobile savvy churchgoers give online now more than ever and it is a booming industry. Check out Tithley for a great service.
I’d use bags though if you’re passing something around to collect and probably do it in the Welcome-Announcement-Offering sandwich. Besides, you can’t see what’s in a bag very well and a bare plate is sad to see.
To Bulletin, or Not to Bulletin
This isn’t going to be a “should we even have a bulletin” section. I don’t see them going away in most churches, really, but that’s another blog.
Should you print the worship order in the bulletin? If you are in a liturgical tradition, I say “Yes.” If in a modern situation, I say “No.” Here’s why…
First, in either tradition, your comms team needs the space, plain and simple. If you’re going to insist on printing a 2000 word bulletin on a half sheet every week, kick out the order of worship. But if you need it for your liturgical setting, then you’re going to have to start saying “no” to the women’s aerobics class’ weekly Sweat ‘n’ Groove.
Second, in a liturgical/traditional setting, knowing hymn numbers ahead of time or printing the congregational readings can make your services smooth like jazz. It’s probably necessary for participation.
In a modern sense, things tend to get changed last minute, and if Fact-Check Frank doesn’t know we only sang 2 songs instead of 3 during the invitation, he won’t email your church wondering why the staff has stopped loving Jesus. Modern services want people’s heads up, too, not buried in a hymnal or bulletin. Modern is more hands-free; Traditional is more hands-on.
Bottom line: modern churches don’t really need it; liturgical/traditional churches do. “Blended” worship churches…sorry, you did this to yourselves by riding the fence, so I’ve got nothing for you except a hardy “good luck.”
Again, this is an abbreviated list, so what would you say makes a great service in a traditional or modern service? Let us know in the comments.