My Worship-Planning Spreadsheet (and a little about planning worship services)Posted: May 23, 2016
In the last several months I’ve had four or five different people ask me for this, and I’ve shared it with other over the years, so I thought I would post this today. This is a copy of a spreadsheet I use for all my worship service planning. It has schedules from all the way back to the end of 2006 and also includes various conferences and concerts. So there must be around 500 worship sets on here. (Don’t try to print it!) Every Sunday I copy the set of what we are doing out of this spreadsheet and paste it onto a blank page for that week’s schedule. I like doing it this way because I can easily click on the tab from a previous year and see what we did last Mother’s Day, or the year before. I can scroll back and forth and see several weeks at a glance really quickly (much more easily than in Planning Center – although that is also a great tool).
A few things you might notice as you look through this.
1. We try to keep the list of songs we are singing fairly restricted. I’ve seen situations where the introduction of too many varied songs hinders the church from really connecting. As I mention many times to worship leaders, we tire of songs long before the congregation does. For every one time they hear/ sing the song we have probably heard or sung it a half a dozen times, with all the prep and rehearsal that we do. Plus musicians tend to have shorter attention spans musically. So while I enjoy lots of other songs, we keep a pretty tight repertoire of songs that we keep recycling.
2. We sometimes retire songs we love for a while. So even given what I said above, there comes a time when you just a sense a song is done for a while. So there are many songs that I have even written personally (like “Be with Me Lord” or “I Need Your Love”, even “Praises Heard Around the World” or lately, “Anchor for the Soul”) that right now we aren’t singing. Doesn’t mean we won’t bring them back. I don’t mind “Sanctuary” any more, after we took about a decade off of singing it 🙂
3. We like a mix of types of songs. Every group is different, and different groups work for every group. My local congregation, the South Bay Church (part of the greater LA Church of Christ) has a little under 300 in attendance on Sundays. We are pretty diverse group in age, ethnicity, economic class, and spiritual age. We try to have a little gospel, a little contemporary Christian, some of our own songs, some hymns, and even some country once in a while. Other congregations may like one genre and stick to it. There is no right way to do it! I would imagine if we were to hear a worship service from the time of David circa 1000BC, even though the messages of the psalms are amazing – we wouldn’t understand them and the music might sound awful to our western-music-ears. I used to get a bit tripped up by trying to do it just right. But it’s like parenting: just when you think you have it figured out, everything changes and you have to try to figure it out again. Anyway, we like a mix. And we still try to make it flow.
4. When we intro a new song, we keep singing it. If it’s brand new, we might sing it a couple weeks in a row. Later, maybe once a month. There’s no rule to it, you just feel it out with your team. I make decisions but get lots of feedback. We talk in rehearsals about what is working and what is not. While I’d like to be democratic with the song choices, I think one person has to be making the final decisions as far as the service flow and overall objectives, and it’s just too hard if it becomes “committee based.” What I do is have people send me suggestions, I put them in my planning document, and sometimes we end up doing them at some point and sometimes we don’t. So you might see some suggestions or notes scattered through there. Finally, we almost never use new songs to open or close a worship time. We usually sandwich those in between familiar songs. Even catchy ones.
If you look at the last few Sundays you’ll see we are working on some of the stuff we are doing at the Reach Conference coming up in a few weeks. We have been trying out the flow of moving into some songs from others and things like that. Kind of test-driving a few things. If it works with my local worship team and my church of 300 it will probably work with the house band at Reach, the singers from around the North American churches, and the huge group of 20K people!
Finally I’ll say as I share this, that I’ve been feeling lately the desire to do more simple songs. The space that we are currently in is pretty dry acoustically, so it’s best suited for full band stuff. But I don’t want to lose some of the simple hymns and stripped-down singing. So I’m gonna probably work on writing more of those and incorporating more that others have written. It seems like we’ve been doing a lot of contemporary Christian songs lately, which is cool but I just want to keep a balance. I also want to do more to support the congregation singing in harmony. We do a midweek about once a year where we teach parts. I want to do more with that – there is something so powerful about hearing the congregation (not just the part-singers) sing in harmony!
So, without further ado, here it is – my planning spreadsheet! (I use Numbers, but I’ve posted it here in Excel form, hoping everyone will be able to open it that would like to.)