Preparing Worship Sets
I wanted to write about my process in coming up with worship sets. My process has evolved over the roughly 20 years that I’ve been leading worship and the following process is something that I’ve followed for a couple of years now.
About a week before I’m scheduled to lead worship, I will start my worship set creation process by emailing whoever is scheduled to preach at the upcoming service and ask for a high-level sermon information–usually no more than a paragraph in length. Once in awhile I’m able to get this information 2+ weeks ahead of time, which makes me real happy. Once I receive the sermon information, I spend some time thinking over the sermon (especially the main theme(s) of the sermon) and try to pick out some possible songs–usually starting with the closing set (post-sermon). I think that there’s a lot of value in making the closing worship set be highly relevant to the sermon, which is why I spend a lot of time trying to pick highly relevant songs for the closing set.
Once I have my potential list of songs for the closing set, I spend time coming up with a list of potential songs for the opening set (pre-sermon), which is almost always easier than doing this for the closing set.
Here’s a list of things I think about when I’m picking songs:
- How familiar is the congregation with the songs? I don’t want to have more than 1 or 2 songs that the congregation isn’t familiar with. (At the same time, I don’t want to only pick songs that the congregation is familiar with)
- How familiar is the band with the songs? I don’t want there to be more than 1 or 2 songs that the band isn’t very familiar with. I play with people of different skill levels and I want to make sure that everyone on the team can pull off the song.
- How familiar am I with the song? As the worship leader, I should be 100% comfortable with playing & singing the song. I’m a big believer that as the worship leader, I should be able to play and sing the song effortlessly.
- How many times have we sung it in the recent past? I don’t want to sing the same song too many times. There’s such an abundance of good worship songs out there and I don’t want the congregation to become weary of singing certain songs. My very rough rule of thumb is no more than 6 times in the last 6 months (I definitely break this rule from time to time).
- What key is the song in? If I’m singing 2 songs back-to-back with no break in between whatsoever (which I do often), it makes the transition smoother when both songs are in the same key. Not a must-have for me, though.
- Is it a good song? By “good” I mean things like good & biblical lyrical content & the singability of the song.
Once I have my possible list of songs, I keep pruning my list until I have my finalized list of songs–which at my church, is usually comprised of 3 songs before the sermon, 2 songs after the sermon, and 1 song after the benediction. FWIW, it normally takes me about an hour to put together my finalized list of the songs.
Once I have the songs finalized, I will then (usually on a different day of the week) pray & think about what I want to say when I’m not actively singing & playing the songs. Usually these are things like sharing a few passages from the Bible (usually from the Psalms but not always), a general call-to-worship/welcome statement (eg, “Good morning, everyone! It’s great to have you join us for service this morning…”), and sharing brief (BRIEF!) & relevant thoughts/insights/stories. I’ve gotten into the habit of actually typing this stuff out word-for-word, which I’ve found to be helpful. I want what I’m sharing during worship to be brief & right to the point and I’ve found that if I don’t write stuff down beforehand, I will say a lot of useless stuff. :) I must admit that figuring what to say in between songs is usually pretty difficult for me and hasn’t gotten any easier over the years.
Once all of the above has been completed, I will create a new set list in the OnSong app on my iPad Mini & add the chord charts as well as things that I want to say in-between songs word-for-word.
I then make some updates in Planning Center (like, attaching chord chart PDFs & noting which songs we’ll be singing) as well as a Google Sheet that tracks every song we’ve sung at church on Sunday mornings since 2014. And lastly, I email everyone who is scheduled to serve with me at the upcoming Sunday’s service with the following information:
- Link to the Sunday service itinerary in Planning Center
- Link to the public Spotify playlist I create with all the songs we’ll be singing
- Basic song arrangement information (like, “Keyboard should start the song”)