It is such an awesome responsibility to plan a congregational service of worship so that the people of God can express their praise and thanksgiving to Him through various elements of worship.
I believe that every congregational worship service should be planned carefully and prayerfully to include the following:
1. Worship through prayer, (a musical or verbal prayer) inviting the presence of the Lord to inhabit the praises of His people
2. Worship through musical praise, choosing songs that glorify, exalt, bless, and praise the Lord
3. Worship through musical testimony (and/or verbal testimony), choosing a message of hopefulness that magnifies the Lord through a song or verbal testimony of His faithfulness and His work in the lives of His people.
4. Worship through musical exhortation, choosing a song that exhorts and encourages God’s people in their walk with the Lord and their service to Him
5. Worship through the giving of tithes and offerings
6. Worship through a time of prayer and meditation
7. Worship through the reading or speaking of scriptures (congregationally, or as part of the worship transitions by the worship leader, or by the Pastor in sharing his sermon text)
8. Worship through the proclamation of the word (preaching)
9. Worship through the invitation to respond to the leading of the Spirit of God (for salvation, re-dedication, a calling to vocational ministry, or other commitment)
10. A worship benediction, a sending out of God’s people with a word of exhortation, usually from the Pastor (verbally), but this could also be in a congregational song that emphasizes a key point of the message or is a reminder to continue the focus on glorifying the Lord in every part of life as we go back into the world
Finally, it is important for the worship leader or worship pastor to teach God’s people about what worship really is (in brief statements of exhortation). Worship is not preparing for anything. Worship is worship. The entire congregational service (including the preaching of the word) is worship. The whole “worship service” is (or should be) devoted to bringing God glory in everything that is said, done, and sung. That is worship. We like John Piper’s definition of worship as “intentionally expressing the infinite worth of God’s glory.”
(see link below for the devotion in which this definition appears)**
NOTE: For more information on living out the intentional expression of His infinite worth in all of life, see our page entitled “Lifestyle Worship.” Here is the link for that page:
The concept of bringing God glory through worshipping Him in all that we do can be found in the following scripture verses:
* I Corinthians 10:31 “…whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.”
* Colossians 3:17 “And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.”
* Colossians 3:23 “Whatever your task, work heartily, as serving the Lord and not men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance of your reward; you are serving the Lord Jesus Christ.”
* Romans 12:1 “I appeal to you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.”
* Romans 12:11 “Never flag in zeal, be aglow with the Spirit, serve the Lord.”
STEPS TO WORSHIP PLANNING AND PREPARATION
1. Asking for God’s guidance and inspiration in all of your planning and preparation, wait on the Lord through meditation on His word for His guidance.
2. Work with your Pastor and Ministerial Staff in order to support their ministry needs through worship planning by choosing music or Scripture that support the message or any special emphasis when asked to do so or led to do so in prayer.
3. Consider the capabilities and amount of preparation time you will have and have had for any worship groups who will be sharing a song, skit, or other type of worship message. In this area, it is vital to communicate with your worship leadership personnel about when they will be there for rehearsal as well as which Sundays they will be out of town. If you really need certain personnel there in order to introduce a certain song or present a drama, make sure there is a commitment to the time frame that you have in mind.
4. Consider the technical capabilities of your equipment, the expertise of your tech crew, and the amount of time needed to pull together any technical or media-related aspects of the worship service you are planning. Not having the ideal set-up can be discouraging, but it is vital to work with what you have and seek to prepare with excellence and reverence.
5. Work effectively with your worship ministry teams and groups in preparation for leading in worship. How much time do you need for adequate preparation? Remember to continually emphasize preparation through prayer. Your ministry team should feel comfortable enough with their preparation for worship to have a freedom in personal worship and challenged enough to depend upon the Lord for the outcome.
6. Keeping in mind the make-up of your congregation, strive to be wise in choosing music that is singable, appropriate, worshipful, and within the capabilities of your worship leadership and congregation. Worship music should not be a challenging vocal exercise or frustratingly difficult to learn. Make sure that the vocal range is appropriate for congregational singing…not too low nor too high. If placing a song in the correct vocal range for your congregation will put it into a key that is difficult for your instrumentalists, make sure that you give players plenty of time to master the chords before introducing the song to your congregation. Flexibility from your accompanists, worship band, and orchestra is a great blessing, but be realistic about where your players are. Try not to put them ‘on the spot’ with too little rehearsal time for something that is challenging. Keep tricky rhythms to a minimum in congregational singing. Even if the melody is one that you love, make sure that the lyrics say something that should be meaningful to every Christian. The meaning of the lyrics should never be vague and should be expressed clearly. Remember to use a variety of styles of music as the Lord leads so that there is something familiar and especially meaningful for various age groups and for people who are most comfortable with certain musical styles within your congregation. However, lead your worship teams and congregation to focus on worshipping God rather than focusing on preferences to the extent that worship is hampered by wrongful attitudes. [See our pages on ‘Lifestyle Worship’ and on ‘Extending God’s Grace’ (specifically the “put aside preferences’ section of this page) for more perspective on this challenging aspect of worship planning.]
7. If you have been asked to move toward a more contemporary worship style, feel led to do so, or have been leading a contemporary service for some time, think about the practical aspects of learning new worship songs for your congregation. The people of your church will feel more comfortable participating in singing rather than simply watching the worship team if you will be certain to introduce no more than one new song per service. Keep the arrangement simple when introducing a new song, chorus, or contemporary hymn arrangement so that the melody can be clearly heard. You can add more to the arrangement after the congregation has learned the song. A full new set of songs each week may be musically impressive and even be very meaningful spiritually. However, it can become a weekly performance rather than corporate worship, and the congregation cannot keep up without the benefit of the rehearsal time that your musical groups have invested. Be aware of where your congregation is in terms of musical taste and preferences and the ability to learn new music quickly. Use wisdom in determining how quickly to make changes so that your people can move in this direction along with you. Keep in mind that many contemporary worship leaders are also singing hymns in addition to their worship songs and choruses. Read through the lyrics to some hymns in your own private worship time each week. Remember that the Senior Adults in our churches are part of the gospel’s journey. They represent decades of faithfulness that allowed the message of God’s grace to reach you! They were the Sunday School teachers and servants in the church that have kept the flame burning. Ask the Lord to open your own mind to what He wants to say through the messages of every song that is shared. Your mix may be different each week, and that’s okay. If you model a respect for what has come before and a worshipful blend of old and new, perhaps the worship leaders of tomorrow will remember your generation and be open to the validity of your worship music, teaching their congregations to embrace the heritage of faith. All generations in this media saturated culture are exposed to a wide variety of musical styles and expressions. A contemporary movie score may include some country or bluegrass, some classical, some jazz, songs by Sinatra and Celine Dion, as well as by Alicia Keys, Adele, or Daughtry, some classic rock, and even big band sounds. Even the merchandizing music mix that serves as background music in nearly every store is increasingly eclectic. While it is clearly important to be musically relevant as well as spiritually relevant in order to reach out effectively to young adults who are statistically most likely to make a decision for Christ, remember that “worship is not a church growth tool” (a very true statement from our dear friend, Dr. Jon Duncan). Worship is the intentional expression of the infinite worth of our God.** Nothing less, and nothing more.
8. Be sure to match your arrangements of songs to the lyric content and the building or waning of intensity in a song. Keith and Kristyn Getty’s song, “The Power of the Cross,” is a perfect example of a song that requires some musical moments of simplicity, quietness, and sensitivity, leading into the building of intensity and adding of voices and instruments that supports the victorious declarations about the power of the cross. Everyone does not have to play or sing all the time. There are times when a soloist or praise team only can be very effective in communicating a message through music in such a way that it brings additional focus to worshipping the Lord. A transition from a more acoustic sound to an amplified sound is sometimes called for as well. The addition of choir and orchestra can add an incredible power and emphasis to a message.
Important: do be very aware that anytime your worship plan involves complicating your arrangements by either doing only portions of certain songs or by changing the instrumentation as a song progresses (in order to maximize the effectiveness of the interpretation of lyrics), everyone must be on the same page about what is happening. A simple song list will not be enough. The “expanded update” (as Travis has called it) for worship team members (praise team, rhythm section, orchestra, choir, and Ministerial staff) also lists
(A) measure numbers for any song that will begin at a place other than the beginning, with information about who is in (singing & playing) at that point
(B) information about how you will lead a particular song [Example: verses 1 & 2 before chorus, skip verse 3, use 2nd ending after chorus, modulating in measure 40. sing verse 4, then chorus at letter D, repeat chorus with tag ending]. Team members have the opportunity to arrange their music on stands accordingly, mark changes, etc., when this information is provided in written form.
(C) any transition information that team members will need to know. If a the keyboard player or guitar player only does the intro to a certain worship song, when does everyone else drop out, and when do they re-enter? Will the worship leader be sharing a scripture verse between verses 1 and 2 of a song, requiring a few measures of vamping? Does the worship leader intend to begin the first verse of a new worship song as a solo done by himself or a praise team member, or is it to be sung by everyone on the platform? For your orchestra, do you want woodwinds only in a certain section that leads into the next song, or do you want the orchestra to lay out until verse 2?
(D) any arrangement notes about which players or singers should be in or out during certain sections of each song. Notes such as: ‘Orchestra enters on verse 2’, or ‘Piano only until the chorus’, or ‘Guitar only on this intro’, or ‘Only praise team sings the bridge section’ will tell all of the musicians exactly what they are supposed to do.
Then, at the end of the service, if you are doing a reprise, using only a portion of a worship song, hymn, or choir special as a worship postlude or benediction, what’s the measure number for the spot where you’ll begin? Do you take each repeat or play section(s) only once? Is there any change to the ending for the reprise?
Giving your worship leadership team members as much information as possible will help them to be more effective in their ministry.
9. Pray for the people, pray for the ministry teams, pray for your ministerial leadership, pray that God will remove barriers to fellowship with one another and with Him, pray that His spirit will be present in power and that there will be openness among the people of God to His Spirit. Lead your ministry teams to pray over every aspect of the worship service. Pray for your Pastor as he brings the message, and for any other Ministers or lay leaders who have a crucial role in the worship service. Pray for anyone who has a part in greeting and interacting with others. Pray that the focus will be on the worship of our merciful and loving God. “Sirs, we would see Jesus!”
10. Finally, don’t forget how important the flow of the service is to the overall atmosphere of worship. Transitions are vital. Make sure that there is musical flow in terms of key signatures and any tempo or meter changes. The message of the lyrics of one song should flow into to the message of the next in a way that makes sense. It should be like a continuation of thought and an expansion of thought to include some new content in our worship mindset. In addition, if you can work with others in your ministerial leadership to avoid interruptions in the flow of congregational praise, that will be so beneficial. Announcements and such should really come at the very beginning or very end of a service if they must be made verbally. Having your announcements on slides or in a bulletin, by e-mail, on your church facebook page and/or website, or even having a downloadable cell phone app for your church’s announcements will prevent the distraction that occurs when the focus changes from the eternal (worship) to the daily (who, what, where, when) and back again. Hopefully, your ministerial team will be sensitive enough not to follow a truly holy moment of reverence with a joke. While it is true that humor can unite us in sharing a moment of lightness or levity, sensitivity to a moment of reverence is always welcome. Perhaps a prayer would be a great way to acknowledge our awesome God and the intimacy of His presence during the worship time before moving on with whatever message opener is desired by the speaker. Hopefully, it will be possible for your ministerial staff to partner together in prayer for every element of worship, and in an attitude of awareness about what contributes to a meaningful worship time during which God’s people meet together with Him in praise and
What process do you use
Feel free to comment on the methods and opinions that are expressed here. If you have additional thoughts about the subject of worship or about worship planning and preparation, please add them as a comment.