Picture this. A brand new, 20-something worship leader, sitting in his freshly (and ever so “hipsterishly”) decorated office, planning his first Sunday worship service for the church who obviously recognizes mad talent when they
see it.

Taylor 314 in hand…

Planning Center Online open on
his Macbook…

Essential oil diffuser wafting it’s light,
fragrant steam…

His song list pulled up in Google Docs…

His Bible and journal sitting just to the left
of his Venti Caramel Macchiato
from Starbucks…

…mmmm, perfect.

He’ll spend the rest of the afternoon (and most of the next day) meticulously crafting the kind of worship set that will probably later be described as “life-changing.” Nay, Kingdom-altering.

Yeah, so you and I both know how this ends. Sometime, probably from six to nine weeks, this young gun will be smacked with the reality that being a full-time worship leader is about 9% planning, 4% platform, and 87% trying to hold the rest of the ministry together.

I remember those very early days of ministry when ignorance afforded me the luxury of extensive worship service planning. And then I fast forward to see myself plagiarizing my own set list from two months prior.

Whether you’re full-time, part-time, or volunteer, the requirements of your week-after-week ministry eat up much of your discretionary time.

You’re probably at a place where your schedule and the demands of the team don’t allow you to spend hours on planning services. Whether you’re full-time, part-time, or volunteer, the requirements of your week-after-week ministry eat up much of your discretionary time. It becomes just another “get-it-done” thing.

So what do we do? Phone it in? Slap it together? Look at Elevation’s Instagram account and swipe their latest set? Or do we neglect other stuff? Like personal practice, team development, staff meetings, getting charts in the right key, and on and on.

For the last few months, I’ve focused on worship ministry systems in this column. Systems, simply put, are your or your team’s way of getting something done. The way you plan your worship services is a system. And like any system, we can make it better and more efficient.

So I want to give you five tactics that will help you plan your services better and in less time.

Tactic #1:
Use Service & Set Templates

You probably already do this and don’t realize it. As stewards of the weekly worship service, we don’t have the congregation’s best interest at heart when we randomly change up our service order every week. So create one or two templates of your standard service orders. You can even create those in PCO Services, so it’s all laid out for you next time you plan.

And while we don’t have space for details here, the flow of your song sets probably follow a similar pattern week-to-week. Planning from scratch takes a lot of time. So consider determining one or two templates for your song sets to expedite planning.

Tactic #2:
Batch Processing

I talked about this concept in a previous article so I won’t say much about it other than this: planning four sets of music at one time takes less time than planning one set of music four different times.

And there’s a crucial advantage besides saving time: You get the music out to your team members sooner.

Tactic #3:
Anticipate Moments

Too often, we think spontaneous moments of worship and response should just happen. But the reality is, the Holy Spirit who inspires you in the moment can prompt you three weeks before as you plan.

You can prayerfully get a sense of places in the set or service where people will likely be responsive and open. The key is leaving space. So even if you have room for six songs, only do four. Then, anticipate some moments during or in between those songs. (And bonus: your team will have fewer songs to practice.)

Speaking of in between songs…

Tactic #4:
Go-To Transitions

I wrote a book called Worship Flow: 28 Ways To Create Segues. I use about four of those.
Early on in ministry, I spent time crafting creative transitions between every song. I finally realized that a few simple segues were all I needed. Now I have four or five “go-to” transitions that I use, depending on the flow and feel that’s required.

Now, if you need to find four “go-to” transitions that work for you, there just might be a particular book on Amazon that could help.

Tactic #5:
Default Song Forms

I used to put my teams through arrangement hell. I would literally make significant structural changes to the song every time I led it. Finally, a loving team member Chuck-Norris-throat-punched me, and I got the hint.

I now have a default form for every song in our rotation. That way, I’m not spending extra time needlessly rearranging the song. (And my team doesn’t hate me.)

Extravagant Planning

Now, these tactics will help you plan a solid worship service in less time. But they can lull us into autopilot, too. So make sure you do break out of the box occasionally and spend extra time planning. And those creative times will give you ideas and inspiration for the weeks when you need to plan more expediently.

The bottom line: Don’t be afraid of time-saving systems. But occasionally indulge in the luxury of extravagant planning to reward your heart. (An essential oil diffuser is optional.)


Want To Go Deeper?
And if you want to dig even deeper into building all your ministry systems, sign up for the 2018 Worship Leader’s Boot Camp at the Christian Musician Summit. It’s a full-day intensive where you’ll get hands-on training and coaching in all eight of the essential systems your worship ministry needs. Learn more here.

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