Wise is the worship leader who plans ahead!
This may not be a proverb in the Bible, but it is true. As worship leaders and planners, we often have the experience of planning multiple services using multiple musicians, singers, songs, worship themes, and seasons at one time. Add to that the constant adjustments that need to be made for worship, the steady stream of new music coming at us, and the well-meaning (usually) comments of our singers and musicians of what they ‘like’ and ‘don’t like’. What is a worship planner to do?
Here’s something that worked for me. It consists of five things to do BEFORE you start your main ministry season (for many of us that is September). Then I will list the five main benefits to be gained during the ministry season.
- Collect. Invite your team members (musicians and singers) to send you 3-5 song suggestions for worship during the coming year. These should include new and ‘newer’ songs ('newer' songs can be those done within the last year, and not brand new). Add your own songs to the list.
- Look ahead. Think generally through your upcoming year, and ask what will be needed? If you’re fortunate enough to have specific themes planned with your pastor, you can think more specifically.
- List. Go through all of the music suggested and make a compilation list of about 30 songs from all of the suggestions. You probably won’t be able to use everyone’s complete list, but try to include at least one from each team member. When choosing songs for your list, think carefully about songs that will be needed for the different elements of worship – praise, confession, prayer, giving, communion, sending, etc. Try to include at least several songs for each. If there are theological questions with lyrics, ask your pastor or a trusted elder for advice.
- Bind together. Create binders of the music on your compiled list by making copies (using your © licenses), and putting them in 3-ring binders. Make enough binders for each musician and singer plus several extra. Alphabetize the music. This music and these binders will become the foundation of new and ‘newer’ music for the next year. That doesn’t mean you can’t add something during the year that you need. But for the most part, sticking to this binder will provide a shared base of new worship music for the team. And remember, you already have the 150+ songs your congregation knows and loves in your repertoire.
- Sing! Gather all singers and musicians together and sing through the binders. Do this early fall as a kick-off for the worship ministry, and let each team member take a binder home to continue singing and practicing with. Set aside time every month to sing through these binders with the entire group. This could be an hour before the first rehearsal of each month, or another creative regular time that works for your group.
What will this get you?
- Community. Most of us have multiple teams of musicians and singers. This is a time for all of the singers and musicians to come together. I’d suggest sitting in a circle on the stage around the piano or instruments – keep it somewhat informal, but also create an atmosphere of learning and sharing.
- Moments of worship. Singing and playing together in this kind of setting creates an intimate space of worship that can’t always be enjoyed by leaders on a Sunday when leading.
- Learning. Team members learn words and music together, and continue the learning as they take their binders home and enjoy the music there. (Make sure they bring them for each group singing time). This is also an opportunity to weed out the songs that won’t work in your congregation. If a song just doesn’t seem to work after singing together several times with your musicians, it probably won’t work for your congregation.
- Weekly worship leaders in the congregation. Bonus! With this foundation of shared music and learning, you will have worshipers throughout the congregation on a weekly basis who already know the new music being introduced. You will have worship leaders sitting or standing in the congregation leading from ‘within’.
- A solid source of new and newer music. Again, this binder will become the go-to for new music when planning. It will give a sense of ownership and stability to your music teams. It will keep you from feeling like you need to try every good new worship song that comes out during the year (put those in the queue for next year), and it will keep your musicians from feeling like you are throwing new music at them every time they play or sing. The singers will have a chance to become comfortable with the lyrics, and hopefully even memorize many of them.
There’s so much more that can be said. I’d love to hear your ideas. Please share your ideas here on The Network of what’s worked for you–in any aspect of planning, preparing, leading, or evaluating worship.