5 First Steps for Worship Planning as a Team

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One of my favorite things about planning worship is that I get to be part of a team that plans our weekly worship services.  I lead the discussion at each worship planning meeting and I make sure all the service elements come together to make our services happen.

The worship services we plan have to be completely portable since we meet in a rented space. Our style is intentionally non-traditional.  We have a lot of freedom regarding use of space, and though we follow the same basic template each week, we often incorporate service elements that are particular to a sermon or a series of sermons.  But we believe that no matter your setting, traditional or not, in a sanctuary or an auditorium, that planning as team can help you share the responsibility and privilege of worship planning as well as create ownership over the service for your staff or volunteers.

We gather our “Worship Planning Team” for atwo to three hour meeting every four to six weeks.  Here are five first steps we’ve developed in our meetings that make worship planning as a team work.

1) We create a comfortable and intimate space for meeting.

We hold our worship planning meetings in my home.  We believe that spiritual formation often starts in conversations around a table so we start every meeting with a meal.  Sharing a meal with other people is important and sacred.  Many times we leave the conversations over these meals undirected, but recently we’ve asked people to talk about where they’ve seen God at work in their lives over the previous month.

We also think meeting in a home makes people feel comfortable and at ease in a way that meetingin a church’s fellowship hall, boardroom, or a Sunday School room doesn’t.  Certainly if you’re church has a dedicated meeting space that is furnished with the intent to make people comfortable and free to converse, you should make use of that space.  But for us, there is something about sitting around a real kitchen table or in an actual living room that makes conversation happen in a natural way.

2)  We have different kinds of people on our worship planning team.

Our worship planning team isn’t just made up of our pastor and our worship leader, though they are on the team.  We also have laypersons who represent the other elements of our worship service.  This includes the people who organize our lobby greeters and members of the set design team who carefully consider art and space in worship.  Our children’s ministry coordinator helps us keep kids in mind as we plan.

We have all sorts of skill sets in the room.  We have people who love to organize, people who are great at planning special events, people who can build and craft, and people who can think and question in practical and abstract ways.  All of those different gifts, come together in varied and creative ideas that no one person would have thought of on their own.

3) We cast a vision for worship planning.

After we eat diner together, we begin with a short teaching time, prayer, and reminder of our vision for worship planning.  Our vision statement is: “The Worship Planning Team exists to create an environment for Sunday morning services that helps people experience the depth of God’s love.” 

A set of values helps us follow our vision as we plan worship. “Worship isn’t for us.  Worship is for God.  But, worship doesn’t change God.  Worship changes us.”  These values help us remember to leave our personal tastes and preferences aside, because we know that worship isn’t about what we want, it’s primarily to honor and glorify God. But we also know that the songs we choose, the scripture we read, and the way we order our service elements can have an effect on the people who are worshipping and compel their lives to change.

4) We give the freedom to be creative.

Our pastor presents upcoming series and sermons for our service.  As a team we read through the scriptures for each sermon and ask three questions:

1.  How does this passage make you feel?

2.  What do you wish other people knew about this story/passage?

3.  What are ways we can communicate this so other people can engage with it?

Then we give people the freedom to be creative.  At this point we brainstorm and write down every idea someone has.  This isn’t the time to filter, it’s the time to think outside the box.  We discuss service elements such as what our graphics on the screen and bulletin should look like, how to design art and space, whether or not to include videos, how to open the service in appropriate ways, what songs support the sermon, and how we can respond to what we hear and experience in the message.

5) We edit and assign tasks.

But, we can’t make every idea a reality.  So, we edit our ideas into a list that we can easily execute in our context.  These ideas are ones we think will be effective, but are also feasible and able to be completed in time.  And, we only choose the ideas about which our team is passionate.  When we choose ideas we can execute and ideas we’re passionate about, it’s easy to assign people tasks that ensure we follow through on those ideas.

Image attribution: Rawpixel Ltd. / Thinkstock

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Emily lives in Long Beach, Mississippi with her husband, Ben, and their three kids, Sadie, Joe, and Lizzie. Together they serve at The Well, an offsite service of First United Methodist Church in Long Beach. Ben is the pastor for The Well. Emily volunteers as the leader for the Worship Planning Team and helps with the spiritual formation of The Well's band. Emily graduated from Asbury Theological Seminary in 2006. She loves learning more about planning and leading people in worship. When she's not working on something for The Well, Emily's probably telling her kids stories about growing up in Kentucky. You can find her on Twitter (@emilyhbarlow) but she mostly live tweets University of Kentucky basketball games.

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