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Planning Center Online Tips: The Value of the Matrix, Templates

While the basic functions are quickly learned by most everyone, it's the array of options that bring out its true power, to where it amazes me today that some worship leaders are not using the software.

I have been a member of the Planning Center Online community for nearly nine years now.

Over the years, Planning Center has partnered with other great products in the worship realm and allowed those of us who use those products to integrate our workflows into Planning Center.

Back then, when it was basically in its infancy, even I did not know what I would do without Planning Center.

It still amazes me today when I meet worship leaders who are not using it for any number of reasons and refuse to take my advice to at least try it out.

If you are reading this, however, I am guessing that you probably are already using Planning Center, and are on the lookout for a few new pointers.

Hopefully in that area, I can be helpful.

If you are not yet a Planning Center user, read the rest of this article, and then quickly proceed to get their 30-day free trial!

Of all the things that the great people at Ministry Centered Technologies (the people behind Planning Center) do well, offering customizability and keeping an ear always bent to their customers, are among their top traits.

While the basic functions are quickly learned by most everyone (I have a wide range of ages and abilities on my team, each of whom has learned this software), it's the array of options that bring out the true power of Planning Center.

First, I want to cover the Matrix. Even if you have been using Planning Center for a while, you may have never traveled to the Matrix.

Perhaps you were concerned about finding the truth of your reality, or perhaps you just liked your current workflow, and never thought about venturing beyond that. The Matrix view, in my opinion, is the most powerful tool in the Planning Center arsenal. From here, you can view numerous services at once, schedule and move anyone or anything, send out scheduling emails for dozens of services simultaneously, even run a simple auto-scheduler.

I rarely see the main page of Planning Center anymore, as the matrix view is in an open browser tab at all times.

At a glance, I can see many weeks ahead, to make sure I am giving our musicians time to learn all the songs, as well as to see instantly if there are holes that need to be filled for certain weeks. All service elements are moved around simply by dragging, and can even be easily copied from one week to another by dragging from one week to the next.

Items or people can be added to any week by pressing the "add an item" or "+ people" button, but I prefer to drag songs or people's names from the sidebar to the week I want to schedule them.

If you have constructed templates (more on that in a moment), you can easily change the template by clicking the "template" button.

If your church uses Planning Center to schedule other ministries outside of the "worship" department, you can also quickly see at a glance who might be a greeter or an usher for a particular week. This can be helpful on Sunday morning, but also while scheduling, especially if you have team members who work in multiple areas of ministry.

Templates are a simple way to set up a particular service with commonly used items without having to recreate them each time you create a service. For instance, we have an invocation, pastoral prayer, sermon, announcements, and a benediction nearly every week. I like to have those items in my plan so I can gauge time properly, but all of those are contained in my standard "Sunday Morning" template so when I create a new service, they are already added.

It is far faster to delete an item than add something, and again, the ease of dragging and dropping items to change the service order makes it simple to move things around as plans change.

To create a template, simply click "templates" from your main dashboard page. From here, you can either edit current templates or create a new one. Basically, any items you put into a template will appear automatically whenever you click "add a plan" and select the appropriate template.

This simple tool is a huge time saver!

Over the years, Planning Center has partnered with other great products in the worship realm and allowed those of us who use those products to integrate our workflows into Planning Center. They have integrations with PraiseCharts, RehearsalMix, SongSelect, and ProPresenter, as well as the ability to quickly import songs or videos from YouTube, Vimeo, iTunes, Spotify, Amazon, Essential Worship, Lifeway Worship, The Worship Initiative, and Worship Together.

Basically, whatever tools you use to provide rehearsal materials (videos, song links, charts, etc.), Planning Center probably offers a simple connection to it. They even offer the ability to upload your own charts or files (make sure you can do this legally!) or link to other websites.

When I first started using Planning Center, I had to download all my files from PraiseCharts, separate out each individual part and key, save them as separate files, then upload them all to Planning Center.

Now, with just a few mouse clicks, everything I need, in the key that I need, magically appears attached to the song file.

This is quite simple to do. Select a song you would like to edit, then select the "arrangement" for the song (it is best to save files into an arrangement, and not the main song page in case you want to do a different version of the song later). From here, click the "+" button and select the service you would like to use.

The ProPresenter integration is actually accessible from ProPresenter's settings. I am still not totally sold on how all of the functions of this integration, for various reasons, but the basic function of downloading a set list and staying linked to Planning Center, in case the order or song selection changes works well, and we use it every week.

The final function I want to touch on, is perhaps more foundational, but I recently met someone very experienced with Planning Center that did not know about this, so I thought I would share, a feature called "Blockout Dates." This is accessed from the main dashboard page, and is located under "My Calendar." Blockout Dates is exactly what it sounds like: the ability to block out dates that you do not want to be scheduled for. This is great if people serve on other ministry teams, have changing work or family schedules, or are simply going on vacation. As the primary scheduler, it is so convenient when that giant warning box pops up during scheduling rather than getting a "decline" email a few days later.

Those of you who are familiar with the software, know that I have just scratched the surface with only a few of my favorite features.

If you have something you particularly like that I have not touched on, please comment below, I would love to learn something new!

If you are not a Planning Center user, hopefully this will be the final push you need to sign up to become one (by the way, Planning Center is not paying me I just love the software)!

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