What is Your Return on Investment in Worship Planning?

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As worship leaders, we have the awesome privilege of planning thoughtful and creative worship services for our congregations. Every week we spend hours in planning, preparation and rehearsals. As we enter high points in the Christian year, like Easter, that planning and prep tends to amp up for many of us. We have extra rehearsals for choirs, for dramas, for instrumental ensembles; we spend hours preparing the visual elements: set design, lighting, props, screen graphics, etc…

Unfortunately, many of the worship leaders that I talk to agree that, after these seasons, they are left completely exhausted, relieved that the season is over and we’re left wondering what impact all that work had in the Kingdom. (Does this sound familiar?) Too often we sacrifice our own health and well-being during these high seasons. We can get so caught up in planning the next best and most creative thing that we forgot to consider if it is the best use of the time, energy, and resources God has given us to invest.

Have you considered the return on your investment when it comes to worship planning? While it may seem almost irreverent to use a term reserved for finances in the context of worship, there are some key ideas to consider. For example, many churches pull out all the stops when it comes to Easter (and Christmas). Cantatas, theatrical productions, kids’ musicals, choirs, and orchestras abound! While none of these are bad or wrong (in fact, I love all of them!), sometimes we inadvertently spend the majority of our resources on something that ends up being a production for our own enjoyment rather than being directed toward worship of the Triune God. That’s a high investment for a low return. It is important that we regularly evaluate when, where, and how we invest our resources.

I once spent the better part of my Thanksgiving break creating giant 6-foot-tall advent “candles” for our sanctuary platform. Did they look cool? Perhaps. Did they serve a purpose? Sure. Could our creative team have come up with something just as meaningful that would have allowed more time for rest? Absolutely.

On the other hand, one Advent season, we came up with the idea of creating “prayer chains” made from paper bracelets. Each week, we gave the congregation an opportunity to write prayers on these bracelets and link them together with others in their row. At the end of the season, our team took these chains and made a large curtain that was displayed at the front of the sanctuary during the final Sunday of Advent. It took us some time to assemble these chains and create the mechanisms to hang them, but it was worth it! Why? It provided a way for all people to participate in a very tangible, visually unifying way. Many expressed gratitude for the opportunity to pray “together” in this way.

You know your community best. Maybe the best discipleship relationships start in those orchestra seats. Or the Easter cantata you do every year has proven to be a great way to reach out to the community. I would simply encourage you and your team to ask these questions, especially this Lenten/Easter season:

“What is the motivation for doing this?”

“Does this fit into the mission of the church?”

“What is reasonable to ask of our volunteers?”

“What is reasonable to ask of myself and/or my family?”

“Is there a simpler way to convey the same message just as powerfully?”

“Are we being good stewards of our resources?”

And of course…

“What is the return on our investment?”

As our planning team began to consider this, we came up with a few ideas to shift towards a different approach. For example, rather than choosing a brand new, challenging choir piece, I chose an arrangement of a popular worship song that many people already knew to cut down on the number of rehearsals we would need. Another time, instead of doing the elaborate skit with all the costumes and sets, we opted for a reader’s theatre style reading with some creative visuals on the screen. On the tech side, we opted for purchasing the occasional video rather than creating our own every time. We also encouraged live testimonies as opposed to pre-recorded both because it saved on video editing, and because there is power in hearing a story live (even if it might be risky!).

These are just a few suggestions for simplifying. I encourage you to be creative and plan to make these high celebration Sundays special! But our ultimate goal in worship is to respond to and glorify the Triune God. Sometimes we just need to be reminded that it’s not about doing the “next big thing,” but rather telling the powerful story of Jesus and inviting others to participate in that great story. I know that I needed to give myself permission to take a break. Maybe you do too.

Image attribution: IvelinRadkov / Thinkstock

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Kristen Pence is a worship leader, consultant, and teacher. She most recently served as Director of Music and Worship Arts at Greenville Free Methodist Church. Kristen earned a Bachelor of Music Education from Greenville College and is finishing her masters degree from the Robert Webber Institute of Worship Studies. Kristen was an adjunct professor for Worship Ensemble classes and has also had the privilege of leading worship at a variety of conferences, schools, and churches. She and her husband, Kory, live in Indianapolis, IN.

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