Service Planning: Avoiding the Chaos of Last-Minute Service Changes

Service Planning: Avoiding the Chaos of Last-Minute Service Changes

As a technical leader, you need to be able to say "no" on a Sunday morning. While it is never a comfortable position, changes to service should not be done last minute (with a couple of exceptions).

The countdown to service is underway and everything is ready to go, for a great morning of worship. Then, your head pastor hands you a USB thumb drive, asking if you can play a video clip at some point before he preaches. As church techs, be it technical directors, sound engineers, or worship leaders, we have all been put in similar position to this at some point.

Everyone should walk in on Sunday with a clear idea of what's happening.

Here are some ways to change your service planning to avoid the last-minute chaos, and help your entire church focus on what matters: God.

The first critical step is having something in place to help you plan the service from a worker's and volunteer's perspective. Planning Center Online, Worship Planning and Ministry Scheduler Pro are all great tools to schedule and remind the people that are critical to service, what their role is on a particular Sunday. If you're not using one of these tools already, you're probably taking too much time to make a schedule.

Now that you know who will be there and what their role is during service, it's time to work on the details of a particular service. This can seem daunting at first, but work from a larger scale and narrow it down slowly. If you are a church that does sermon series, what series are you in now? As a technical director or worship leader, this will help you with your choices of backgrounds, songs and possibly mini-movies to use during the service itself. This will help the service naturally flow from one element to the other.

There are some other details that should be noted as well. For example, who is the primary vocalist for a song? This will help camera operators be ready to focus on that person, and although that segment of the service has probably already been rehearsed, it will help your sound tech with the correct mix. In addition, what is the mood overall for this song? This information helps lighting choose appropriate colors and the person running slides will then pick an appropriate background for the lyrics.

Don't leave these things until Sunday morning.

Among the things to take into account is that there are often multiple versions of a particular song with the same name. Integration with the Christian Copyright Licensing International, or CCLI, database and making sure you have the correct lyrics is critical in helping people properly enter into a time of worship. Scriptures are another critical aspect of service planning. Cueing those with the proper break points will help people see and retain the Word of God in a more intimate and powerful way.

Knowing what you need, and getting what you need, are two separate things entirely.

In larger churches, if everyone involved in the aspect of service planning is on staff, simply pick a day when everyone is in and take 15-30 minutes to finalize the schedule for that Sunday. It may even be that after you have a good flow, this will simply take five minutes. It cannot be overlooked.

Smaller churches with volunteers that are involved in one or more areas of service planning can be a little bit trickier. First decide on consistent communication form where you can work through the service plan. Email, a chat app (like Slack), Google Hangouts, or a Facebook group or Messenger, are all great ways to work through a service plan. While texting can work, sometimes people can get inadvertently dropped off of group texts.  Communication is the critical factor, so regardless of your staff size, this has to be done.

As a technical leader, you need to be able to say "no" on a Sunday morning. While it is never a comfortable position, changes to service should not be done last minute.  Saying "No, I'm sorry that's not going to work for this week" will go a long way in drawing a clear boundary for what can and cannot happen. At the same time, do not dismiss the person entirely. You may need to at that particular moment, but be sure to follow back up and explain what could and should be done in the future, to ensure that what they want can be done. Continuously allowing last-minute changes is a guaranteed way to keep getting burdened by last-minute requests.

There are a couple of exceptions when it comes to last-minute requests and service planning. If you're having a guest speaker come in, for instance, obtaining information and media from them may happen just an hour before service. Always request the information ahead of time, but realize that with some speakers, this just may not happen. This is where knowing the details around the rest of your service are critical. Ensure those are in place and be prepared to work through things as best you can.

Another exception pertaining to last-minute requests are major productions. Easter and Christmas are often when many churches go well beyond their typical service. Service planning for these should not be done in the week before, but rather be a process that is worked through over the month leading up to the big production.

The last exception is when a major event outside of your church occurs the day before or early morning before a service. Natural disasters or other major newsworthy items may alter the course of your service. Simply handle these the best that you can and have grace on the requests you may get with that. In these cases, there may be many people that would love the freedom to walk in to church and worship on that day.

Once you've gotten all the details of your service worked out, get it fully outlined in writing. This can be an automated report created by software or simply a Word document. Regardless of what you use, be sure that everyone who looks at it knows what everything means and how everything goes together. Train your volunteers to know what to look for if something is out of the ordinary.

You may find you need to tweak the format of your service planning document over time, to suit what your church specifically needs. There is no right or wrong format, so long as the schedule is clear to everyone. Send this document out, ideally on Thursday or Friday, to those that are working the service, including both paid staff and volunteers.

Everyone should walk in on Sunday with a clear idea of what's happening. A clear plan, reasonable boundaries and good communication will help your Sunday mornings flow better and help the congregation focus on God rather than your production.

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