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How to Plan a Worship Service

6 steps to prepare to serve the living water of Christ.

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When I was in high school, my father gave me the great opportunity to work for him in the summer for no money. Some of you had a dad like that, interested in building character instead of a bank account. My dad took me to the farm where he was born and grew up.

On one of the hottest days of the summer, we worked when the sun was at its peak. My dad stopped and said, "Hey, Mark, let me show you something." We came to a spot where there were boards on the ground. Dad knelt by the boards and began to move them aside to reveal a hole. When the hole was cleared my father laid on his stomach, with his shoulders and head over the hole. "Mark, this is the spring. When I was your age, after we worked all day, I'd come with my brothers out to this spring." He reached down into the hole and brought up water. He said, "This is the best water I've ever had." I lay on my stomach beside my father, reached down into the hole, and cupped my hands. I drank that same ice-cold water my dad drank years ago, and he was right. It was the best water I've ever had.

In Genesis 26:18, Isaac reopened the wells his father had dug. Isaac went back when he was parched, thirsty, and in need. He went to wells that had satisfied his father, Abraham, and found refreshment.

Our churches aren't trying to create some new thing. When we innovate, we're simply coming back to the same source, the same Jesus, and we're drinking that water. Jesus said, "I'm the living water; come to me, all you who are thirsty." When we plan a worship service, we simply find ways to help people connect with Jesus, the living water.

Here's our six-step planning process for worship services.

1. Select the series

We outline the entire year in blocks, usually from 3 to 6 weeks for each topical series of worship services. Each series has a topic, theme, and agenda. That helps members invite their friends. Your people can tell friends, "We're starting a new series on family (or marriage or finances or parenting or sex)."

Often, the pattern in church is to build up to holidays. But we launch a new series on big holidays, when everyone is here, and say, "Come next week so you can see Part 2." Then we give people a postcard for the important, engaging topic that will be continued the next week. (Related PDF File: Planning process)

2. Determine the themes

About two or three months before we launch a series, our team determines the series name and themes of each service. Themes can tie to a particular church season, such as Christmas or Easter. Or they can be motivated by specific events in the life of the church, such as stewardship campaigns or leadership transitions. Some of the most-popular themes tie to popular culture, such as hit television shows. (Related PDF File: Series outline for "Lost")

3. Pay attention to the titles

About six or eight weeks before we launch a series, our senior leaders brainstorm specific titles for each week's worship service. (Related Video Clip: Senior Management Team Brainstorming Session)

The Arts Team takes what we come up with, and they hold a similar brainstorming meeting without us. They're just as excited as the senior leaders to present Jesus Christ in a relevant way for those who don't go to church. The Arts Team should share the mission, vision, and values of the senior leaders. (Related Video Clip: Arts Team Brainstorming Session)

4. Promote the series

Four weeks before the series starts, a Communications Team designs and produces postcards. The details of the series are featured on our website, our newsletter, and a press release. We mail the cards to neighbors one week in advance. Our congregation receives the cards in the bulletin, and they invite other people. (Related PDF File: Postcard for the "Lost" series)

The media team begins to create video elements, including short teasers on the topic that we promote in the service weeks ahead of time. (Related Video Clip: Sample teaser.)

In your church are high-capacity, talented, and committed people who do things you cannot: create logos, video, media, postcards. If you let people know what you're trying to do, let them use their time and talents for the cause, and give them enough lead time, they can do it.

5. Build and rehearse

Two weeks ahead, we build and rehearse. We build stage sets and rehearse the dramas. The band and vocalists start practicing. We try to keep any set designs covered until the weekend of the event.

Finding elements for the set can be challenging. Our "Lost" series stage design featured a plane crashed on our platform. Someone found a plane, then our stage designer made a trailer to haul the aircraft from Atlanta. (Related Video Clip: Stage design.)

For another series, based on the movie Signs, we transformed the auditorium into a cornfield. The room filled with fog. We bought the movie soundtrack, and positioned lights to penetrate the darkness.

Every week doesn't have to be a huge production, though. Between series, we address specific topics that need only one week, and we rest and build relationships.

6. Launch the series

We emphasize the first week to start strong. When people come, they must feel the series is helpful and that it's more than entertainment. We want to capture and hold people's attention so we can offer people Christ.

(Related Video Clip: How the planning finally comes together.)

I've learned to hand the ball to people. Give them parameters and get out of their way. You don't want under-challenged leaders. If you let them serve without you, you'll be amazed how far they can go.

Start where you are

If you've never had a planning process for your worship services, you can't immediately install a one-year planning process. But start where you are. Take steps in the direction that God is calling you, by building teams and processes to leverage the talents and abilities of God's people. Maximize every gathering, not just to have a great moment or wow experience, but so that people can meet Jesus.

When you lift up Jesus, people will be drawn to him and want to help because they love him. Oswald Chambers explains this in the title of his famous devotional, My Utmost for His Highest. We can't give a little bit of love and devotion to the loftiest mission in the world. We have to live all-out for God because we have only a limited time on earth.

Rating & Reviews

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Displaying 1–5 of 6 comments


February 21, 2012  12:42pm

This has been really helpful :) I'm planning an assembly about God for my school year and this is awesome!

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August 22, 2011  4:00pm

Wish you could re-post with the video's. Thank you for the article.

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Eric Chaffin

August 22, 2011  2:34pm

Great article. Very helpful. A shame that the links to all the video clips were bad, though. :-(

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December 15, 2010  9:44am

I gleaned a lot of helpful information and ideas from this article. Thank you for sharing your experience!

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December 15, 2010  9:37am

You're right- you don't need to innovate- come back to the Catholic Church. We've been the same for almost 2000 years.

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