As a pastor, you’ve probably put a great deal of time and effort into learning how to preach an effective sermon. It makes sense, as some might argue that the sermon is the most important aspect of a Sunday morning worship service.
Yet, while preparing an impactful sermon is important, it’s only one part of planning a church service. You’ll also want to consider how each of the other elements – worship, offering, prayer, and announcements, for example – all fit together to help you fulfill the purpose of your service.
That’s why in this season of the podcast, we’re discussing best practices for planning a service with intention.
It isn’t about having the coolest worship service, and it’s not about planning a Sunday morning service down to the last detail.
Our goal is simply to help you create a worship service (or gathering or Sunday service, depending on what you call it) that is better or more conducive to preaching the gospel within the context of your community of believers.
The Importance of Planning a Church Service
Dwight D. Eisenhower once famously said, “In preparing for battle I have always found that plans are useless, but planning is indispensable.” The same is true for planning a church service.
Whether you come from a more liturgical denomination, a very hip, cool church, or somewhere in between, the importance of intentionally planning a service is universal.
Here are three reasons why intentionally planning a worship service is so important.
- Planning gives you focus.
- Planning allows you to be flexible with that focus.
- Planning allows you to be creative without losing that focus.
Of course, this doesn’t mean that the plans can’t change. We never want to put God in a box, and there’s no need to start planning a service down to the minute or second.
However, planning the service helps us focus our theme and our efforts in one direction as a team. The point is to prepare so we aren’t disorganized and can avoid some of the common pitfalls.
To give an analogy, consider long-distance or triathlon runners. These athletes have to have a plan. Otherwise, if they get to the starting line and the adrenaline takes over, they might go out too fast, bonk out at mile 24, and have to crawl the rest of the way.
Now inevitably, something won’t go to plan. There may be more hills than the runner anticipated, the runner might lose a gel packet, or they simply might not feel great that day.
It doesn’t mean you shouldn’t plan. It just means things are going to happen.
The same concept applies to planning a Sunday morning service. When you and your team get together to plan your worship service, it’s probably not going to go exactly as you planned, so it’s important to be flexible.
Yet, planning a service can help you avoid some pitfalls or common mistakes you might otherwise run into.
4 Common Reasons People Avoid Planning a Church Service
According to John Maxwell, there are four common reasons people avoid planning.
While John Maxwell wasn’t speaking about pastors specifically, these four reasons also explain why many pastors will avoid planning a church service.
1. They Don’t Possess Planning Skills Or Knowledge.
While some pastors prefer a more relaxed, informal, or “fly by the seat of their pants” approach, others have simply never learned the art or science of planning a Sunday morning service. Alternatively, maybe they never realized planning a church service was that important.
2. They’re Caught In The Tyranny Of The Urgent.
On the other hand, some pastors know that planning a service is important, but they never seem to have the time. They’re so caught in the tyranny of the urgent that they don’t have (or don’t intentionally set aside) time for planning a Sunday morning service.
For example, maybe they want to plan for a guest speaker to come in so they can take a day off, but they don’t yet know what sermon topic they’ll be preaching on two weeks from now. There are too many immediate details vying for their attention that they don’t have the time, space, or mental bandwidth to even consider preparing for a service more than a week or two in advance.
3. They Think Planning A Church Service Is Too Much Work.
Similarly, preparing for a service can simply feel like too much work. In fact, it’s common for pastors to become so overwhelmed by the day-to-day decision-making that the idea of intentionally planning a worship service feels like just another item on an already overflowing to-do list.
4. Their Plans Always Change Anyway.
Finally, the last reason many pastors avoid planning a church service is that their plans always change anyway. It is especially common if the pastor has a boss, board, or fellow church staff member who isn’t a planner and is constantly changing details or making new decisions at the last minute.
Choose Your Focus Before Planning a Service
What’s the most important part of the service? Often, it depends on the church.
- If you’re planning a church service for a seeker-sensitive mega-church, you might focus on the worship music.
- If you’re planning a service for a Bible church, you may want to emphasize the sermon.
- If you’re at a more liturgical church, your focus in planning a Sunday Morning service might be the Eucharist or communion at the end.
Whichever part you want to emphasize or draw attention to by intentionally planning a church service, you can use the various elements to draw your congregation’s focus to that part.
It’s why it’s so important to decide where you want to focus your church’s attention before you start planning a Sunday morning service.
Ask Others to Help When Preparing for a Service
As the pastor, you likely have a great deal of influence when it comes to planning a Sunday morning service. However, you must ask for insights, advice, and hands-on help from your team.
Bring others to the table and give them ownership. They may have thoughts, ideas, or a perspective you hadn’t considered that could make planning a service far more effective.
Additionally, it can be incredibly helpful to have a service director or coordinator who can take care of last-minute details and decision-making. If you can delegate any last-minute planning or preparation for a service to a dedicated service director, it frees you up to greet people, spend time in prayer, mentally prepare for your sermon, or whatever else you may need to do.
If you have a media booth or a media room and there’s a production element to your service, in addition to having someone pushing the lyrics to the screen and adjusting the sound, a dedicated service coordinator can also serve as a helpful go-between to facilitate the plan.
7 Questions to Help Plan a Church Service
Ready to start planning a church service? Here are 7 questions to ask yourself.
1. What is the Theme of the Sermon or Service?
We talked a lot already (in seasons one and two of the podcast) about the importance of planning your sermon series for the year at least six months in advance, but it’s worth repeating.
Planning your sermon series allows you to zoom out and see what your people are working through on a content level, as well as books of the Bible, felt needs, and topics you’ll cover throughout each series.
This question is a great one to start with when planning a church service because oftentimes, the sermon topic you choose will directly inform many of the other elements you’ll want to include when planning a Sunday morning service. (For example, the sermon topic can inform the lighting, the song choice, the schedule, and more.)
Pro tip: If you need help planning out your sermon series in advance, these sermon calendars can help you get (and stay!) ahead.
2. What Songs Can We Use to Support the Theme of the Sermon?
When planning a worship service, you want to be sure the songs your worship team chooses support (not detract or distract from) the theme of that week’s sermon.
If you are speaking about the reality of sin in the world and the hope of the gospel, use songs to reinforce those concepts. If you’re preaching on a particular Scripture, you might want to find songs that utilize some imagery or wording from that passage.
For example, if you’re preaching on the Wise and Foolish Builder (Matthew 7:24-27), you might want to sing the hymn, “My Hope Is Built on Nothing Less,” which contains the repeated phrase, “on Christ the solid rock I stand.”
3. What Videos or Illustrations Can We Use Related to the Theme?
If your church has multimedia capabilities, are there any videos you can show that relate to the theme? Alternatively, are there any physical objects you could bring as an object lesson to better convey the meaning you’re hoping to share?
Tip: Be Careful not to Switch Emotional States Too Quickly
There should be an ebb and flow to every service. Be careful not to place an upbeat, joyful song immediately after a sermon message on a sad or serious topic, for example.
When planning a Sunday morning service, you want to make sure the dynamics of each element agree with each other or at least don’t shift too dramatically.
4. Where Should the Generosity (the Offering) Go in the Service?
Not every church takes an offering each week, but if yours does, you’ll want to think about where to place it while preparing for a service.
You don’t always have to have the offering at the same time each week, but you may want to put some thought into when and how you have it if you do.
Money and generosity can be a serious issue or a taboo for some people in your congregation; you may want to prepare in advance so the moment is efficient and effective without needlessly stirring up negative feelings among your congregation due to a lack of planning or forethought.
5. Where Should You Place the Announcements?
Similarly to how you plan the offering, the announcements do not have to go in the same spot every service. When planning a worship service you can decide where they fit best, depending on the ebb and flow of the service.
6. When Should the Greeting Happen?
As you’re preparing for a service, think through each of the elements and how they’ll fit together. Will someone pray after each part? That’s not a bad thing, but it can get a bit repetitive if the prayers are all off-the-cuff and not intentional in nature. Look at your service flow and plan the greeting early in the service where it most naturally fits. This might be before announcements, or after worship, before starting the sermon.
7. How Do You Want to Close the Service?
When planning a church service, there are many ways you could plan to end your time together.
For example, you could end with a call-to-action, with people coming up to receive prayer, a takeaway, or even homework. You could also focus on a feeling you want people to have as they prepare to leave.
In conclusion, planning a church service in advance allows you to take some time to intentionally think through each of the elements of your service, the implications of each, and how they fit together to tell one cohesive story.