Worship Design: A Good Plan is Worth a Lot

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I was reading the blog of another colleague who is in the midst of finalizing his worship plans. I can certainly resonate with where he is at the moment. Being the person who assembles the weekly worship liturgy and worship actions for the traditional worship services, I take what the Senior Pastor has planned for the upcoming months and match this with music, prayers, worship acts, visuals, videos and screens for this time. It isn’t easy but it’s very important.

So, this is my gift to you — a glimpse into the mind of a worship designer.

It’s certainly more than “plug-n-play” when it comes to worship. Fifty years ago, you could count on everyone know The Apostle’s Creed, the Lord’s Prayer, and the Gloria Patri. Now, all bets are off as the Southern Baptist husband and father assemble with his Catholic wife in our Methodist church. It’s a delicate balance of trying to connect with those historical traditionalists as well as progressive traditionalists and an even newer crowd with no expectations of tradition.

Here’s how the process starts and ends for me:

Step 1: Scripture – This is where worship for the day begins. It’s sets the tone and theme for all that will be apart of the connection with the Holy. I spend time reading a couple of different translations to see if I can have a deeper understanding of God’s word proclaimed.

Step 2: Theme – I spend time with the pastor for the day and try to get an idea of where the message (sermon) will be directed. This will give a great deal of focus on the design for the day. Sometimes, I try to boil it down to it’s essence words – grace, hope, love, etc. Sometimes, I will wait and talk with the pastor after I’ve completed the liturgical design. This may help them see the choice they made with fresh eyes.

Step 3: Visual – We are a visual people and the first thing that people will experience when they walk into our Sanctuary or Chapel is the visual art. We notice the environment and the ambience of every place that we ever enter into. So, what images come to my mind when I reflect on scripture and sermon? I spend time searching for an image that will go with the theme. What image will best convey the message of the day? This is where the essence words truly come into play.

Step 4: Music – I am a musician by training and a visual designer by the seat of my pants, so I go back and forth between steps 3 and 4. A song or anthem speaks to me through text and tune and must be measured with it’s function during the worship service. I try to be careful and not offer and anthem for performance sake but for God’s sake and the congregation’s edification.

Step 5: Liturgy – Liturgy must affirm, pronounce, and foster the lessons of the faith. The words we use mean something — not just rote recitation. Each sentence has to be carefully reviewed and prepared so that there is an economy of thought and clarity of purpose. Some of the work has been done for me, such as using affirmed creeds and denominational rituals. But more often than not, I’m spending time on crafting the perfect sentence in a prayer or editing a litany that gives the worshipper pause . . . something makes them ponder their own actions in reference to the scripture teachings. I look for many things on the internet and some I create. But, make no mistake, doing this is certainly more art than science. Also, there must be time for silence to hear God speak to you in some way.

Step 6: Tighten Up — I give time to the flow of worship — transition between elements and such. The enemy of silence is a pause in the action. I hate having to wait for someone to walk up to a microphone or travel to a pulpit while all sit and watch. I attempt to plan for stage movement and give responses or videos that allow for this time.

Step 7: Review and Proof – This is the hardest part as I try to find someone who has a good eye to review what’s been written. I need this to be someone who is very detailed in their life and who reads very well. This is where I fall down — I’m a terrible proofreader. I don’t think it’s worth a crucifixion for a misspelled word or a wrong hymn number, but it’s best if it doesn’t happen.

Step 8: Spirit Movement – The final things is allow for the spirit to move and change your best plans. Let’s face it it happens . . . someone interjects before the scripture reading or a prayer is spoken aloud. Often those unexpected moments of divinity can create a whole new place of connectedness with God. I try to remain calm when these “grace acts” happen and they do fairly often but this is something you can’t plan for. Just relax your type A and roll with it. Let go and let God . . .

How does worship planning and execution work for you?

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