by Lee Ann Alexander
Legendary coach Bear Bryant is reputed to have said, “It’s not the will to win, but the will to prepare to win that makes the difference.” Everyone has the will to win, but the discipline to prepare is another matter. Perhaps it is uncouth to think of a winning church service, but with the value of souls in the pews being inestimable, service success in the form of changed lives is critical Imperative for that success is the discipline and sacrifice requisite in thorough presentation.
How do we create a service structure and atmosphere where God is glorified and can move freely to minister to everyone present? The answer lies first in prayer, worship, and a culture of pursuing God’s presence with fervency. Presuming that prerequisite in place, the next step is to prepare for services through planning and programming. Terms like programming and productions make us wary, as well they should. We can never produce a move of God. I frequently serve as producer for various church services and events, and every time I hear my title it makes me cringe. I cannot produce anything save a piece of paper with a plan on it-that alone does nothing for a single person in the congregation. It is healthy to stay aware of how feeble our human efforts are to engineer an effective church service.
Yes, I have witnessed over-programmed church that seemed to inhibit God from moving. But that doesn’t make the corollary true. Lack of organization and planning does not equate to a move of God. While He may be touched by our humility and our dependence on Him for direction in a service, our lack of efforts to prepare a worship-focused service probably does not please the One we show up to worship. When we preach or sing, we pray, study or practice, and create a plan. This doesn’t make the singers or preachers any less anointed or bind God’s hand; in fact, it facilitates in us a sensitivity to follow God’s leading.
In those examples, our preparation and then act of ministry is under submission to and in pursuit of God’s direction. The role of the service coordinator or producer is no different. Someone in the service and in the days or weeks leading up to it needs to pray, plan, and prepare for the service, just as every other service participant does-always keeping our organizational efforts and preparation submitted to whatever God wants to do. The mission of the service coordinator should be to give God-something with which to work. Many times the actual service may not resemble the original plan because the Spirit of the Lord moves in and redirects the service and service leaders. In that event, great! Our planning and preparation helped to create an atmosphere where God could move freely and accomplish His purpose as He saw fit. In the event that God does not re-engineer the service and we follow the service plan, that’s fine too. We still have a structure in place that is strategically designed to help create an atmosphere of worship that moves us into the presence of God and prepares our hearts and minds to receive the Word.
So how does the service coordinator meet such important goals? Preparation, preparation, preparation. There are no big secrets of the trade or special tools that solve all service dilemmas. There will always be surprises, microphones won’t always work, service participants won’t always remember when to sing
which song, and other unplanned developments will occur. Yet many of the distracting things that interrupt the flow of worship in a service can be averted with a person or a team in place prepared and empowered to help coordinate service elements. While every church is different (and it’s important that you are comfortable with who you are and not try to force another church’s worship style and service structure on your church culture), the following suggestions can help. These basic concepts are meant to be scalable so you can adapt them to your church, whether rural, urban, multicultural, growing, multi-campused, or so on.
1. Prayer. It merits stressing again that no amount of service coordination is a substitute for prayer. Your church must be committed to a unified, prayerful pursuit of God. Everyone involved in the service from musicians to sound personnel to singers to computer and camera operators to the preacher will benefit from a few moments of joint focused prayer before the service. In addition, when a pastor or service leader provides these service participants with a prayer focus during the week before the service, it helps everyone prepare prayer-fully and reinforces a team mentality.
2. Planning. Whether a quarter- sized sheet of paper with a simple numbered list of service elements or a detailed plan with cues for sound, lighting, cameras, and computers, everyone must be in harmony with a Single plan for the service. In the act of committing plans to paper, not only do we establish permanence and a sense of security with our team, but we also work out in advance questions or misconceptions among team members we would not have discovered otherwise until too late. Perhaps the sound tech thought she was to cue the track for the special immediately after offering, while the pastor had in mind to share a sensitive announcement with the church. Imagine the reaction when just as the pastor announces the passing of a saint, the track to an upbeat choir song blares through the speakers. These accidents do not derail a service or limit God from moving; we can still refocus and have church. But why not do our best to avert them and offer God our organized best efforts? Committing a plan to paper and sharing it with the entire team- ever how simple-can help remediate areas of confusion and reflects to everyone involved the importance you place on preparing for service.
3. Communication. While a plan on paper can minimize much confusion, meeting as a group to talk through the agenda and allow for questions is still critical. A team meeting before service, during which prayer can be given priority, helps to bring minds into focus and eliminate any assumptions as the service coordinator or service leader articulates the plan. He can also clarify how transitions between service elements should be handled, such as instructing special singers to already be in place at the end of the offering or directing the computer operator to cue special videos or media elements immediately
after a song to avoid lags and to give other teams time to switch places. In addition to a team meeting before service, communicating with the team earlier in the week is helpful. You would rather know on Tuesday night instead of 9:49 AM Sunday that Jim, who was scheduled to run the computer, is attending his niece’s wedding in Jacksonville. Also, communicating the theme of the service or the thesis of the sermon empowers the team to share ways the service can be enhanced.
Preaching a message on Calvary? Let the team know a week out and the music director can choose appropriate songs, the media team may suggest a video clip or song background that ties in, and the service coordinator may volunteer to find a cross to place in a prominent place on the platform. Empowering your team by thoroughly communicating the service plan and details in advance not only minimizes confusion and distractions but also opens the door for enhanced supporting materials. Tools are available to help with your communication needs. Planningcenteronline.com offers a web-based portal for creating a service agenda, confirming service participants’ availability, and sharing media and music for the service.
A free alternative is to use dropbox.com. The service coordinator or service leader can create a folder for each service that contains the service agenda and digital files of music or media. Participants can be invited to share the folder and see the material in advance of service. Preparation and communication, however, does not require elaborate technology and tools. Not a computer user? Make phone calls to the team during the week and go over the agenda verbally. The bottom line is to identify what will help your team in your unique church culture most effectively prepare for church services where God can move and lives can be touched.
The details may change but the only formula for that is prayer and preparation. How we prepare for a service that promotes worship and reception of the Word is an act of worship itself. Lee Ann Alexander is the assistant editor of the United Pentecostal Church International. She assists with planning and productions for conferences and special events and is outreach director of The Sanctuary in Hazelwood, Missouri.