One of the most frequent questions asked at a Midnight Oil Seminar is, “How often should a worship design team meet”? The answer usually begins with, “It depends on your team”.
In the book I co-authored with Len Wilson, “Taking Flight With Creativity: Worship Design Teams That Work“, we explored that question in depth. Here’s an excerpt from the book that explores the question in detail:
Many churches already conduct a regular worship planning time. For a large church, it is often a gathering of pastors, musicians, and tech people. For a small church, it is frequently the pastor and the music leader exchanging emails or standing in the hallway together for a few minutes. What can your team do to make your meetings more productive?
Success comes in the details. In worship, as in entrepreneuralism, the first step is to evaluate the process. A weekly worship design team meeting should be more than a calendar-sharing session. Ideally, you are designing a worship event where lives are transformed through the creative presentation of the Gospel. Each worship element is not pre-determined, but developed together as a group.
The first detail to figure out is to determine how often the team meets. While worship styles vary wildly across regions, denominations, and congregational sizes, there seem to be only a few basic models for planning. We’ve outlined 3 popular methods below with some notes. This is not meant to be a comprehensive list, but a starting point for figuring out your church’s own unique solution.
1. Single team meeting weekly
This is perhaps the most common model for designing worship in a team. A weekly worship team can be staff, volunteer, or a mix of the two. There is a set weekly time, either during the workday or in the evening. It is recommended that this design team time and day remain generally the same each week. For example Tuesdays at 2:00pm might work well with an all-staff team. Evenings will probably be better if volunteers are involved.
In some ways, the weekly meeting is an easier model, particularly in terms of facilitating the logistics of planning. Small church planning structures, which are often highly relationship-driven, rely on ongoing communication between the preacher, music leader and other staff or volunteer team members. This communication happens face to face during the meeting, but also, and sometimes to a greater degree, takes place outside the team meeting via email and telephone.
Weekly meetings are also—arguably—easier in terms of managing interpersonal dynamics, because the team has more interaction with each other. This presumably leads to stronger relationships. (Of course, a high level of team interaction can have the opposite effect, but in our experience the more often a team meets the better its member relationships form and maintain.) If team members have sufficiently flexible schedules to do weekly meetings, the overall nearness of the team will likely be much stronger just because of the frequency of the gatherings.
More likely than not, teams that meet weekly are going to be staff. Understand that for many staff members, the idea of “another meeting” isn’t something that will be relished at first. Be proactive about making the meetings uplifting, casual, creative and fun. If done right, “design team day” will become the highlight of the week.
2. Multiple teams meeting weekly or on rotation
Although weekly worship planning has its pros, one of its cons is that it can become exhausting, especially for volunteers who have busy lives outside of the team. Burnout can happen pretty fast. Having multiple teams sharing the worship design burden can be a great solution to this problem.
In this model, several different teams design worship. For example, there may be 4 teams, each meeting once a month with the paid staff (usually a pastor, a music person, and or a media specialist). The paid staff come to every meeting and help to carry out the individual services. Planning could be for the upcoming week, or it may be for several weeks ahead.
Usually this method of planning includes a mix of preacher, music leader and key technical and creative volunteers. It might also be made up of an all-staff team. The worship producer is the link and becomes highly important to keeping continuity between teams. Teams that don’t have a producer in place should add one before moving forward on this method.
The length of these meetings can vary, but ideally they are around 2 to 3 hours. It is not necessary to determine every single song, prayer, and creative element within the group meeting time, but deciding the overall creative (theme/metaphor) direction for the service, and an order of worship should be the goal. Individuals outside the meeting can then carry out specific tasks.
Churches who preach in series, use the Revised Common Lectionary, or follow standard liturgy may find this method particularly useful, since the structure of the church calendar can facilitate planning ahead. However, such a structure is dependant on a preacher who plans ahead.
3. Single team meeting once every few weeks or monthly
If filling one good team – much less a whole bunch of them – seems like an enormous task, consider using one team, but spreading the meetings out to once or twice a month. This third common model may be the most realistic model for small and mostly volunteer-based teams.
The overarching goal in this model is to set the creative direction for several services at one meeting. When teams come together, the view is like a lens kept on wide-angle. Meetings are for brainstorming themes, metaphors, songs, and other creative elements for upcoming services. Only devote an hour or so to each service, hopefully less. Using this model means that more creative decisions are made outside of the meetings by individuals communicating via email, text, and telephone.
As you put your team together or restructure your existing team, keep in mind the things that can deflate the team. One detractor to morale often comes from looking at the way other “successful” teams prepare. At most large church conferences, the official playbook reads: a) worship is the primary event of the congregation, so b) it is due the most resources, and c) if given adequate resources, it will produce a growing church. In other words, act like a big church in the approach to worship design, and eventually you’ll become a big church. This may or may not be true. Examples may be cited either way. Even if it is true, however, not every congregation seeks to become a clone of its most frequently modeled mega-church. Enjoy the freedom you have to discover your own indigenous structure for designing worship!
If your team doesn’t fit into one of these models, what does your model look like?
For more a more complete look at worship design, check out our book Taking Flight With Creativity: Worship Design Teams that Work.