Three Reasons to Plan Worship with a Team

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When the worship service I help plan started, one thing I insisted on was that the Sunday morning service elements would be planned by a team of people and never by just one person. Though I couldn’t articulate it clearly at the time, I knew that a team approach was going to enhance the creative process. I now believe that this is only one of several good reasons to plan worship together. The people on our worship planning team may change from time to time, and the planning process may evolve, but a team has given us an effective and consistent approach to planning worship. Here are the three main reasons why:

1: Creating Ownership

One of the greatest gifts of planning worship with a team is the creation of ownership. Ownership in this sense doesn’t suggest that they own the worship service for their own profit or claim rights or privileges in planning worship for themselves. Rather, it suggests that people are invested in what happens in each worship service. They believe worship services are something valid and worthy of spending time and energy on.
When we gather a group of people and hand them the upcoming sermon series or sermon outlines and allow them to have a say in how those sermons are prepared for and presented, they begin caring about each Sunday’s message long before it’s Sunday. And, they buy in to the vision, not just of each individual Sunday, but also of the church as a whole. The worship experience is no longer something the pastor orchestrates by herself with the worship leader filling in slots with songs. When that is the case, worship services run the risk of being seen as something the church staff does to feed the people. A team with ownership of worship services is concerned with creating a space for other people, not themselves.

2: Shared Responsibility

A team of people who feel ownership toward a worship service also feel responsible for making the worship service happen. People who are invested in something and care about its outcome will commit to coming to planning meetings and follow through on assigned tasks. Sharing the responsibility with a team means that no one person is in charge of everything. In our context, some of the responsibilities for our worship services could include choosing graphics, designing art and space for the stage and lobby areas, creating the song set list, producing videos, coordinating volunteers, recruiting communion servers, etc. If one person was responsible for all of these tasks, they will either get done poorly or not at all. Shared responsibility means every person or group who is assigned a task can concentrate on doing one thing with excellence.
A second benefit of sharing the responsibility of worship planning is that no one person takes the blame if something doesn’t come together the way we thought it would, or if a service element isn’t effective like we thought it could be. Since we share the responsibility for planning, we also share the responsibility when something doesn’t work. Nobody has to take a mistake personally when we’re all in together.

3: Increased Creativity

One of the most exciting parts of planning worship as a team is that creativity grows exponentially when you have a team. I’ve found that even if I have a great idea, the idea gets better when other people take my great idea and add to it. Having different kinds of people around the planning table allows us to explore different kinds of ideas. We find that two people will approach the same sermon topic from entirely different angles. They connect to songs differently and have different worship experiences. This means we get to approach worship services from a variety of angles.
Our context is intentionally non-traditional, but even if your context is traditional, you still need creativity. How can you present the same story you tell every week in ways that connect with different kinds of people? This is where a team’s creativity can shine. For example, one year during the Advent season we used Christmas movies to illustrate different aspects of the Christmas story. Our goal was to take something familiar to most people in our congregation, (in this case a classic Christmas movies scene), and give it new meaning (a tie to the birth story of Jesus and the meaning of his birth.) So we took a famous scene from “A Charlie Brown Christmas” and recreated it onstage as our scripture reading. A middle school student carrying a blue blanket stepped into a spotlight and recited a passage from the Gospel of Luke. This three minute element of our worship service was a direct result of different people on our team thinking creatively together. It became one of our most memorable moments in worship.

There are many ways to assemble a worship planning team and tons of ways to structure your meeting. But creating ownership, sharing responsibility, and increasing creativity are three reasons for planning worship as a team that won’t change.

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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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