Creating A Worship Service
Seven days seems like a long time. A single week is 168 hours, that’s over 10,000 minutes. Factor in eating, sleeping, walking the dog and washing the car and you’ve got plenty of time to create a compelling, worshipful church event right? Sure, me too.
Time is relative, or, rather a relative of stress. The less time you have the more stress you have. No doubt about it, there is stress involved in preparing a church service from week to week. A good time management plan can help relieve some of the tension and will allow you to be more productive in designing a meaningful worship service. Approach each day of the week with a set of goals that lead up to Sunday’s service. The daily meetings suggested here would only take an hour or so out of each day. The payoff for these hours will come in a well planned and presented church service on the following Sunday.
With more and more churches utilizing media in their services, preparation and pre-production must not be overlooked. Video screens and complex lighting systems can add new dimensions to worship services but without proper planning they can add new distractions too. Developing a production/planning schedule and sticking to it will help to alleviate some mistakes.
First off, understand that it takes a team approach. It’s good to start with a small group of church leaders and staff members, we’ll call this group the Planning Team. Each member of the team should be focused on a particular aspect of the service. The pastor is focused on the message, the music minister is planning the songs, the technical staff is focused on the sound and lights and the Sunday school leader is taking care of education curriculum. Your team may be larger or smaller with different titles and areas to consider, but the concept still applies: Teamwork. Even Jesus surrounded himself with other people to help take care of things. The apostles were sent on errands, performed miracles themselves and worked with Jesus to spread the Good News. Our worship services are directed to Him and He deserves the best we can offer. Working together allows us to share the workload and use our unique talents and abilities more effectively.
The Planning Team doesn’t need to be every staff member and deacon and pew stuffer in the church. It should be a small enough group to toss ideas around and get constructive feedback from. The Planning Team should be backed up by Execution or Production Teams. These groups are going to be the musicians that play the music, the camera operators and IMAG graphic producers and the Sunday school teachers. These teams are led by their representative to the Planning Team who presents the ideas and implements them into that particular aspect of the church. Effective teamwork will get each part of the service working together to bring the same points across to the congregation.
The function of the Planning Team begins on Monday. Monday should be review time. If the services are video taped, sit through the entire tape. If your services are not video taped, talk your way through the service together. Make notes on specific parts of the service that could be done differently and parts that were exceptional. Positive and negative feedback are both very helpful. The Planning Team should be able to discuss their impressions of the service with each other freely and openly. This time should be constructive, not fake adoration of the soloists and sermon jokes. Be honest and loving, church services are about worshiping God together, that is the end goal.
Monday’s Planning Team session should wrap up with prayerful consideration for the upcoming service. If the next service continues the theme from the previous week, consider what aspects can be changed to be more effective and what parts were strong and could be utilized again.
Tuesday’s Planning Team meeting begins with new ideas for Sunday’s service. The team needs to be flexible enough to make this time effective. If the pastor’s message is going to be the center of the theme for the service, the music and Sunday school lessons should complement it. The technical aspects of the church should be ready to provide support for the service. If the ability to show images and sermon points is available, the research into obtaining effective illustrations, such as pictures, artwork and videos should begin. If the service is going to center around a particular song or musical performance, the rest of the team should be cooperative with the theme expressed in the music. There could be a video produced to fit the song, or a Sunday school lesson that tells the story of what the song is about. The sermon could break down the song into detailed scriptures and facts that make the song so powerful.
Each member of the Planning Team should be able to lead the service in a different direction. If an appropriate documentary video has been produced by the technical staff, the service should be flexible enough to allow time and focus for that important message. If a Sunday school lesson has a strong impact, the rest of the worship time can reflect on those teachings. Pulling resources together around a central idea or theme can be a very powerful and effective way of presenting the gospel to the congregation who spends the rest of the week thinking about all kinds of other things too.
By the end of the session on Tuesday, a basic idea for the next service should be formulated. Again, prayer and consideration should be the balancing factor in making these ideas work. A truly moving worship experience on Sunday is only going to happen if it is prepared and planned with a worshipful heart.
Wednesdays are a good time for the Production and Execution Team to start their work. Taking the concept from the Planning Team and “running with it” is going to take a few days. The representatives from the different areas of the church meet with their respective Execution Teams. They share the ideas from the Planning Team and get creative feedback from their Production Team members on how to bring the intended ideas into focus for the service.
Generally by Wednesday, pastors have a basic outline and are studying and preparing their message. Music ministers are putting songs together and picking out soloists and practicing with choirs. Sunday school teachers are preparing curriculum and gathering materials needed to illustrate the lesson. The technical team is preparing the sound system for the needs of the upcoming service by replacing batteries, adding extra mics or setting up stage pieces for the planned drama. IMAG graphic production begins, if used, and holds to the theme of the service.
Thursday should have a short amount of time for the Planning Team to get back together. They share the specifics of their Execution and Production Teams’ plans. The pastor gives his sermon points, the music minister gives the songs, the Sunday school leader gives the lesson plan and the technical staff gives the technical abilities and preparations that will bring these aspects together in the facility. Any tweaking to the overall plan should be made final at this time.
By the end of Thursday’s session, the pastor has his sermon points available to the technical staff to produce into IMAG presentation, if used, as well as the song lyrics from the music minister. If printed programs are used, these materials are finalized with the necessary information for that service. The Sunday school leader communicates to the teachers any new information and the pastor continues working on the sermon for the upcoming worship service. Getting the Execution and Production Teams back together can be a way to check progress and discover any problems that might arise before the service.
Friday can be final edit time. If there is a song that is just not working out, or a drama team that is having a hard time with a line or two, it needs to be taken out of the service. This is sink or swim day. Even the simplest mistake or oversight during the service on Sunday could be a distraction to someone in the congregation. We are told in 2 Corinthians 6:3 that “We put no stumbling block in anyone’s path, so that our ministry will not be discredited.” Friday is the “take out the blocks” day. Small changes can be made, but effective planning during the week will keep these to a minimum. An overall run-through or talk-through should take place in the Planning Team. The entire service should be planned out by now and details can be discussed so that everyone knows what to expect.
On Friday, Execution and Production Teams are wrapping up music rehearsals and preparing lessons for each age group in Sunday school. The pastor is finishing the final pieces of the sermon and preparing to deliver the message. The technical staff is making final adjustments to the audio mix for the service, lighting should be complete and IMAG materials like song lyrics and sermon points should be reviewed and checked for errors.
Saturday may get, how do you say it, utilized if necessary. Unexpected events occur, a soloist gets ill, a piece of equipment goes down, you name it and it will happen sooner or later. The entire theme and focus of the service may not have to be abandoned, but sometimes there are some last minute changes that cannot be avoided. This does not mean that the technical staff can come up with a great idea for a video or a new trick with the lights at the last minute and expect to give it a shot. Likewise, a pastor should not expect the music minister to smoothly change out a song or two to fit his last minute sermon additions. Saturday is reserved for emergencies, show stoppers and, as the insurance agency says, “Acts of God.”
Sunday should come off without a hitch. An effective plan will have the entire church focused around a central theme or verse or sermon topic all day long. Gathering the resources of the church together during the week is good stewardship of the talents and abilities he has given to each of us. Allowing for input and feedback from team members gives everyone a chance to experience the blessing of being an effective tool in the worship service. It takes faith in each other to allow a plan to be formed, it takes faith in ourselves to execute that plan and it takes faith in God to expect a blessing through a well-planned church service.