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How Often Should Your Worship Design Team Meet?

 

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.

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Are You Bumping the Lamp in your Ministry?

This has been an awesome week! I’ve been speaking at Leadership Nexus‘ “Creativity Conference” in Orlando, Florida and while my main role was that of teacher, I’ve had a blast listening to and learning from the other speakers. The leadership of the conference included a former Disney Vice President, the current Director of Global Events and Strategies, Disney performers, coaches, and entertainers. It’s been fascinating to hear their stories and learn from “The Disney Way”.

Chris Perry, one of the other speakers at the conference, wears so many hats it’s hard to keep track them all. He’s a United Methodist pastor, Disney Institute instructor, book author, seminary professor, and a community theater performer. Chris offered the very last presentation of the conference entitled, “Leadership Lessons from the Magic Kingdom”. He made so many good points, I could barely keep up (especially since my laptop was on the stage where he was speaking, and I didn’t have any other means of taking notes at the time). Check out Chris’ book The Church Mouse here.

As a motion and still graphics guy, I absolutely loved one of his illustrations which conveyed the importance of attention to detail. He cited a Michael Eisner quote (“Bumping the Lamp”) that has become a well-known mantra within Disney.

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Goodbye Steve

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Like so many others, I was shocked at the news of Steve Job’s passing. He’s kind of a hero of ours here at Midnight Oil. All throughout our history, we’ve looked at how Apple has done things and we’ve attempted in our own feeble ways to be our own mini Apple. We even spoke in black mock turtlenecks for a few years.

While it might be an exaggeration to say that our ministry wouldn’t have existed without Steve Jobs, it certainly would have been much harder, and a lot less fun to do what we’ve done without Apple’s hardware and software. We’re forever grateful for Steve’s commitment to creativity, team and excellence. We’ve been and continue to be completely inspired by his accomplishments.

A while back, I collected some of Steve’s quotes about the process of team collaboration. I think the church can learn a ton from his philosophy. Here are two quotes that I really resonated with when thinking about the church:

“You know how many committee’s we have at Apple? Zero. We’re organized like a startup.” [Each person is in charge of their piece] “We all meet 3 hours a week and we talk about everything we’re doing; the whole business. And there’s tremendous teamwork at the top of the company which filters down to tremendous teamwork throughout the company”. -Steve Jobs

and…

“Teamwork is dependent on trusting the other folks to come through with their part without watching them all the time.” -Steve Jobs

Those quotes were going to be a jumping off point for me for another post, but now that Steve has passed away, I’m thinking more about his overall life philosophies and the impact they could have on our ministries if we care to enact them. Here’s something I read last night that I thought was powerful:

“You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something: your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. This approach has never let me down, and has made all the difference in my life.” -Steve Jobs

Steve wouldn’t have named that “something” the Holy Spirit, but I believe his quote is a very accurate description of what I’ve seen the Spirit has do in my life over 10 years at Midnight Oil. It goes back further than that to when I was began ministry as a part-time intern at Ginghamsburg United Methodist Church.

If you connect the dots that the Spirit has laid out in your life, can you see God’s preferred and blessed future out ahead of you? I hope so.

The last 12 months have been some of the most challenging times I’ve lived. I lost sight of the dots a few times. The last 6 months or more I’m seeing those dots pretty clearly and while I love Steve’s thoughts on the matter, I believe with the Spirit’s presence in your life, you can see a few of the dots out ahead of you. If you’re in tune with the Spirit, you don’t have to wait until the thing has passed to figure it all out.

Steve, your passing has so many of us reflecting, me included. Thank you for always living your dream. It allowed so many of us to live our own.

Eternally gratful,

Jason Moore

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How to Avoid “Popcorn Time” in Worship

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Does your worship begin with “popcorn time”?

What is “popcorn time” you ask? Good question.

Before 1955, there was a reoccurring problem at the beginning of feature films. Much like today, films began with credits introducing the cast and eventually the title of each film. The problem was that opening titles were basically devoid of creativity. In fact, audiences and projectionists resented them.

Film producers went so far as to imprint a note on film reels requesting that the projectionist “pull curtains before title”, as they’d often wait until the main title came up to open the curtains to reveal the screen.

As you can imagine, audiences would typically wait until the opening titles were over to pay attention to what was happening on the screen. It created an environment where moviegoers would spend the first several minutes of a film buying and munching away on popcorn, until a film’s title was revealed and the narrative began.

This all changed when “The Man With the Golden Arm” came out in 1955. It began in what was then an unconventional/paradigm-shifting way, where the titles were done not just with text, but with moving graphic elements. Graphic artist Saul Bass created for that film what is now know as “the title sequence”.  You can see it here:

Simple by today’s standards, this title sequence ushered in a whole new method of storytelling that has continued on into today’s summer blockbusters.

Saul believed that the opening titles could be used to set a mood that would invite viewers in to the underlying core of a film’s story.  He saw opening titles as a metaphorical extension of a film’s narrative.

Bass described title sequences like this: “I saw the title as a way of conditioning the audience, so that when the film actually began, viewers would already have an emotional resonance with it.”

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Announcing Stained: A New Thematic Easter Set

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Introducing our newest thematic Easter media set: Stained

This inspiring media collection tells the story of Jesus’ journey to the cross and ultimate resurrection through images of stained glass.

For centuries, broken pieces of colorful glass have been used to portray the stories of Jesus.
Yet for all of its familiarity, stained glass has much to teach us.

The beauty of stained glass is not in the individual pieces. When seen by themselves, these segments do nothing. But when seen as a complete image, with light shining through, they transform into something beautiful.

Check out the full resource here.

Read on for additional creative elements used in the service.
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