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).
Build the rest of the worship services around the preaching calendar. Plan the creative elements involved in each worship service around the theme of what topic will be preached that particular week. Be as creative as you can about how to include: music, a testimony, media, drama, and other elements (such as Communion, dance, lighting candles, writing prayers, etc.) in ways that will move each service forward well.
Engage people in your worship services. Help people pay attention to the worship and participate it. Give them clear directions, such as when to pray, and when to stand up or sit down. Don’t force them to talk much to people they don’t know; doing so will alienate introverts. Don’t put people on the spot to share their testimony or do anything else that hasn’t been planned in advance; doing so can make people anxious about what may happen next. Hook your listeners by delivering the most interesting part of your message during the first five minutes of preaching. End each service with something upbeat that’s designed to put people in a good mood when they leave the service.
Invite people to take the next steps after leaving your worship service. Determine what next steps you want people to take after each service, inspiring them to do more than just think to themselves, “That’s nice,” and then forget about the service’s message. Consider what you want people to know, feel, and do when they leave each service, and then plan how to encourage them to integrate the theme of each service into their lives.
Conduct a trial run of each worship service. Run through every worship service at least three days before it is scheduled for the weekend, so you can get feedback from others about what still needs to be improved and have time to make those changes.
Evaluate each worship service after it’s over.After every worship service, meet with your church’s leaders who help put worship together and ask yourselves: “What went right?”, “What went wrong?”, “What was missing?” and “What was confusing?" Take notes on the comments people share. Then assign someone to follow up on each change that needs to be made before the next week’s worship service takes place. Constantly keep making improvements so your church’s worship services will always be the best they can be.
Adapted from Engage: A Guide to Creating Life-Transforming Worship Services, copyright 2011 by Nelson Searcy, Jennifer Dykes Henson, and Jason Hatley. Published by Baker Books, a division of Baker Publishing Group, Grand Rapids, Mich., www.bakerbooks.com.
Nelson Searcy served as the director of The Purpose Driven Community at Saddleback Church before starting The Journey Church of the City in New York City in 2002. He and his 2,000-member church appear routinely on lists such as The 50 Most Influential Churches and The 25 Most Innovative Leaders. The Journey is a multi-site church with locations across New York City (http://www.journeymetro.com/) and Boca Raton, Florida (http://bocajourney.com/). His newsletter for pastors and church leaders, Church Leader Insights, now reaches more than 80,000 subscribers and continues to grow by hundreds each month. Searcy lives in New York City.
Jennifer Dykes Henson is a freelance writer based in New York City. She has served as a writer/producer and ministry consultant to organizations across the East Coast. Jennifer also worked with Dr. Charles Stanley as the manager of marketing communications for In Touch Ministries in Atlanta, Georgia.
Jason Hatley is the pastor of worship arts at The Journey Church and has been a worship leader since 1996. Founder of www.WorshipLeaderInsights.com, Jason has spoken at the Willow Creek Arts Conference and The Purpose Driven Worship Conference, as well as seminars around the country. Currently, Jason serves at The Journey's newest location in Boca Raton, Florida.
Whitney Hopler is a freelance writer and editor who serves as both a Crosswalk.com contributing writer and the editor of About.com’s site on angels and miracles (http://angels.about.com/). Contact Whitney at: firstname.lastname@example.org to send in a true story of an angelic encounter or a miraculous experience like an answered prayer.
Publication date: February 8, 2012