Editor's Note: The following is a report on the practical applications of Nelson Searcy, Jennifer Dykes Henson, & Jason Hatley's book, Engage: A Guide to Creating Life-Transforming Worship Services, (Baker Books, 2011).

Are your church’s worship services less than the best they could be, due to the pressure of pulling them together at the last minute? Do your worship services seem to rush together in a blur as you struggle to produce them week after week? Is creating the services a stressful grind, rather than a joyful experience?

If so, one key practice will help you create better worship services: planning ahead. Advance planning is a powerful tool in the process of creating the kind of worship services God wants you to plan – those that help change people’s lives. Here’s how you can do that:

Cooperate with the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is present in your church during every worship service, ready to change the lives of the people who encounter Him there. You can either cooperate with the Spirit by prayerfully creating an excellent worship service, or hinder His work by pulling together something uninspired just to meet your weekly deadlines. Decide to work with the Holy Spirit by seeking His guidance well in advance for every worship service you plan. Make your goal much more than just presenting information; aim instead to help people encounter God in ways that change their lives.

Recognize the value of a planning system. It’s much better to use a planning system to create worship services than it is to create them spontaneously, since everything functions best in a system. God chose to organize the universe with systems, and the church is a system that functions best when all of its different parts work together well.

Determine your philosophy of worship. Consider why you do things the way you do right now when putting together your worship services. Don’t make decisions simply out of tradition; instead be open to receiving new insights and fresh guidance from God. Keep in mind that your worship philosophy will drive the way you plan your worship services and help you measure how successful they are.

Keep the goal of repentance in mind. Remember that everything that happens during your church’s worship services should be designed to call people to repentance before God.

Work as a team. Invite other leaders in your church to offer their ideas during the worship service planning process. Working together, you all will be able to create better services than you ever could while working alone.

Strive for excellence every single Sunday. Every Sunday matters a great deal to the spiritual growth of the people who attend your worship services. Give your very best effort to producing each week’s worship service; offering anything less is a sin.

Start planning by setting the preaching calendar. Each worship service hinges on what your church’s pastor will be preaching on that particular week. So first decide on the topic to preach every week, and then develop the rest of the service around that theme. Plan your preaching calendar one year in advance, and pray for inspiration about which topics God wants you to cover in different sermon series of about four to six weeks long over the course of a year. Plan three different types of series: attraction series (those that attract new people to your church), growth series (those that help people grow to become more like Jesus), and balance series (those that balance out your calendar by covering important topics that don’t fit into either the attraction or growth series). Then plan to preach those various series at appropriate times during your church’s year (such as planning an attraction series for times like February, Easter, and after a new school year starts, when people who are new to your church often visit).