Recently I posted a blog on song selection for worship in a local church setting. I mentioned an upcoming blog to focus on song selection in terms of each week’s worship set. You know, there is a lot more to it than just plug and play! Some worship leaders get into the trap of just grabbing whatever songs and throwing them onto a set list because they are short on time, pressured to be prioritizing other things, or just plain burned out.
At South Bay Church, we plan our worship sets on Tuesday mornings (usually 3 weeks out) and we do it together in a small team setting. It’s beneficial to have a few heads around the table, but not too many heads! This type of thing is not something you would want to put a new volunteer in charge of, or have too many people involved to get the job done well. I truly believe that the Worship or Creative Arts Pastor should always have the lead role in this process.
So what goes into worship set planning? What are the elements that one should be mindful of when putting it all together? Well, I am not by any means an expert, but I can share with you what I’m learning each week as our team does it together! And FYI, each one of these could be at least one post in itself, if not a whole series! This is just the tip of the iceberg!
- View the worship set as part of a cohesive whole, centered around the theme of the day.
Something we are really striving for at South Bay is curating a service that is not only creative, but is cohesive. Each element has meaning that contributes to the whole. This brings simplicity and focus to the process and is so much more effective in spiritually engaging those who attend. In the past we’ve looked back at a service plan and realized the songs took people on one journey and the message took people on an entirely different journey. For a worship leader to try to take people from point A to Z and then the pastor to come up right after that and take people from A to Z is not the most effective way to do things! Solitary planning creates this mode of operation. It is so worth it to plan far enough in advance that you can collaborate around theme, Scriptures, ideas together and curate the service for a more powerful and meaningful experience.
The worship pastor and his team should work closely with the pastor or speaker around theme and content for the day, and visa versa. Plan out in advance what questions, themes, meanings you want people to be engaging with as they worship. Work together with the pastor or whoever is doing the message to align your content as best you can so there is a definite journey you are working together to take people on. Focus on the heart attitude you want to produce in people. So for example, if the message is on tithing, you aren’t necessarily looking for songs about money, but for songs that provide people with an opportunity to posture themselves in surrender, or generosity, or trusting God, depending on what the main appeal of the message will be.
- Be intentional about content and arrangement.
You can’t afford to lose focus on either of these. The worship leader who focuses too much on content may find themselves choosing a new song every week to fit perfectly with the message. Or they may overlook musical details such as what key a song is in and try to make a seamless transition from the key of C to C#. Rough.
On the flip side, the worship leader who focuses to much on arrangement may choose or order songs totally based on key, or on how much energy is in the intro, or how great their voice sounds when they ad lib during the bridge. Music is an amazing thing that can stir a heart so deep and bring people to tears, even if those same words spoken would fall dead to the ground with no noteworthy response. It can also create moods that fill the largest of venues. The human heart responds to music. So arrangement and style are definitely of great importance in worship, but not at the expense of content.
- Transitions can make or break it.
The flow of your worship set should be meticulously planned, including the transitions between songs and also any transitions involving people or things moving on/off stage. Do whatever it takes to keep the moment going! Do your absolute best not to allow lack of planning to create a distraction that could potentially take someone out of the experience you are working so hard to facilitate.
This includes thinking intentionally through your language between songs. How will you use your words to meet people where they already are and bring them along on a journey. Think through who is likely to be in the room. What questions and emotions do they already have? Find a broad way to relate and engage the most people possible and through your language lead them to a place of possible connection with God. There is a great quote in Andy Stanley’s book Deep and Wide . . . he says don’t tailor the content to unbelievers, tailor the experience to unbelievers. Chew on that one for awhile!
- Be brave and creative!
Resist falling into the plug and play mentality. Routine is not energizing or engaging, so it takes some real intentional effort to keep things fresh. Fight against comfortable. Fight against predictable. Utilize different music styles, instruments, media, haze, lighting, art, space, other languages, silence, participation, the list is endless. Meet with a creative group of people and brainstorm together regularly. Its risky business sometimes and you might do something that flops, but that’s ok! Think outside the box! God is the ultimate creator, so pray for his leadership in this process!