Checklist for Planning a Worship Service

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Recently I led a seminar for the Columbia Basin Baptist Association on planning a worship service. The following is the handout I used and I thought it might be helpful to others who plan worship services.

A classic and helpful understanding of corporate worship was given by Soren Kierkegaard more than 150 years ago. He said that in a service of worship God is the audience, the congregants are the performers, and the pastor is the prompter. If this is a correct, and I believe that it is, then worship needs to be directed toward God with the intent of pleasing Him. Worship leaders are to lead congregants to “perform” for God, to engage with God, in thought and heart and behavior. Worshippers are not consumers of religious products and the worship leaders are not the suppliers of such products.

This in no way infers that worship leaders should ignore the presence of unbelievers and church guests attending a service of Christian worship. Worship services are a major entry way into churches and into the Kingdom for the unbeliever. As missionaries have identified, unbelievers experience two “conversions” as they come to Christ. First, they are converted to us. Second, they are converted to Christ. They first ask the question, “Do I like/respect these church people?” If they do, then they will listen to what we say about Christ. Worship leaders must guide the congregants with clarity and understanding, much like a Holy Land tour guide explains each step of the pilgrim’s journey through Jerusalem. With this in mind, the following checklist is helpful in worship planning.

1. Prayer

a. For what do we need to pray? What do we need to say to God? What do we need to hear from God? Even as the pastor prepares his sermon, he should prepare to lead the congregation in prayer by making a prayer list as the week passes.
b. When will we pray? Beginning of the service? Pastoral prayer? End of service?
c. Who will lead in prayer? Methods of praying that will be employed?

2. God’s Word, the Bible

a. What passages will we read and when will we read them?
b. Who will we select to read God’s Word? (Pastor/preacher, men, women, children)
c. Is the reading of God’s Word a central act of our worship?

3. Music/singing

a. What do we want to teach through the song(s)? Does the song teach biblical truths?
b. Does the congregation know the song?
c. Is the song singable? Is the music in a range that men and women can sing?
d. Does the song magnify God and exalt Jesus Christ?
e. Do any of the songs mention Jesus? The gospel?
f. Does the music leader engage the congregation and lead them to sing? (eye contact, facial expression, smile, good use of transitions between songs)
g. When using a “praise team,” does each member sing every verse? If not, what does this communicate to the congregation?
h. Caution: worship music can sometimes become performance rather than leading the congregation to participate, making the congregation the audience rather than God.

4. Testimonies

a. Is there someone who can share a testimony that connects to the theme of the message and the Scripture?
b. Has someone experienced God and the church would benefit from hearing their story?
c. New believer testimonies, including young people?
d. Testimonies of sharing Christ with a lost person?

5. Message/sermon

a. What biblical text does God want me to preach/teach?
b. What is the central truth of the text?
c. How and when will I read the text? When I do, how should I hold the Bible?
d. How will the text and its truth be communicated and applied?
e. Big Question for the preacher – Do you believe what you say, or is this just helpful information or good advice?
f. Am I preaching to those present?
g. What do I want the congregation to know, believe or do as a result of the message?
h. Am I aiming for the heart and not just the head?
i. Who attending needs to know Christ as Savior or follow Him in baptism?
j. Is PowerPoint helpful?
k. Is the message internalized?
l. What level of eye contact do I seek to maintain (at least 80 percent)?

6. Opportunity to respond to God’s call

a. How will we give people the opportunity to say “yes” to Christ?
b. Methods of response/invitation? Will we use multiple methods?
c. How will we share with the congregation decisions for Christ that are made in the worship service?
d. How will we welcome new believers and new members into the church?

7. How will you receive the offering (the correct word is “receive,” not “take”)? How can we do stewardship education as we prepare to receive the offering? Is there information we can share about how this offering will be used in God’s work?

8. Is there something we can celebrate or highlight as we worship?

9. Is our worship “indigenous?” i.e. using the gifts and talents of the people God has given us?

10. If a lost person, or a person unfamiliar with our church, attends today, would he know what to do during every aspect of the service? Are we assuming people know how to find a biblical text, have a Bible, or that they know the stories of the Bible, or that they know when to sing, etc.? How can we make everything clear and helpful to a guest?

11. How do we give new people an opportunity to learn about Christ and our church?

12. Are there opportunities to express joy and gratitude as we worship?

The pastor/preacher is the worship leader of the church because he is the church’s theologian by the call of God, spiritual gifting, educational training, and the call of the church. As a part of his calling, therefore, the pastor must give direction as to the content and flow of the worship service. Worship planning can be done as a team, and it’s generally best to do it that way. But the pastor knows what he’s trying to accomplish through the message and the worship service should flow from that.

In addition, wise pastors know that vision transfers through people not paper. The vision that God gives a pastor (the source of the vision must be from God) must be transferred into the hearts of the people in order for it to become the vision of the church. This is a key job of the pastor as servant-leader. The worship service provides the pastor his best opportunity to lead the church into God’s preferred future.

The Offering – An Overlooked Opportunity

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Attending a different church each week (three different churches last Sunday!) has educated me on the variety of ways churches do worship. One aspect of worship that most churches could greatly improve upon is the offering.

Churches use a variety of methods to receive the tithes and offerings of God’s people. Some place offering boxes near the entrances to the worship center. Those who use this method usually mention the offering boxes at the same time they welcome guests. Typically they ask guests to fill out an information card and place it in the offering box. At this time they remind the congregation that they can deposit their offering in the box as well.

Other churches “pass the plate” or a basket at some time during the worship service, giving the congregation an opportunity to place their offering in the plate as it passes before them. When this is done, it should be mentioned that the offering is a part of worship, and that this is the church’s opportunity to give back to God a part of what He has given to them.

Another method of receiving the offering which is becoming increasingly popular is online giving. Giving via the internet is convenient for those who do not attend church regularly because of work or travel schedules. One downside of online giving is that there are fees attached to credit-card-giving.

Perhaps the most troublesome method of giving I have witnessed is that of giving your offering directly to the church treasurer. Yes, I have been in at least one church that did not want guests to feel obligated to give, and because their church was small, and every attender knew and trusted the church treasurer, they simply gave their offering to him! There are number of problems with that method, not the least of which is the offering is not an obvious act of worship, but rather a way to make sure the church has the funds to “pay the bills.”

Methods of giving aside, my overall impression is that most churches are missing two significant opportunities when they receive the offering. The first missed opportunity is failure to make the offering a part of the worship experience of the giver. Whatever method of receiving the offering you use, there should be something said about the offering being a gift to God, that it is something which pleases God, and investing our treasure in God’s work reveals something of what it is in our hearts (Matthew 6:21). In some way, connect the offering to worship.

Secondly, each week educate the church on how their financial gifts are making a difference in Kingdom work. When the offering is received give the church a specific example of how their gifts are being used to bless God and His Kingdom. For example, last Sunday I was in a church that had just completed Vacation Bible School. The decorations were up, and the children sang two VBS songs to begin the worship service. When the offering was received, this provided an opportunity to thank the congregation for their financial gifts and to tell them that through their faithful giving the church was able to provide VBS, giving facts and figures about the children who attended and the decisions for Christ that were made.

Each week tell the church one story about how their offerings are being used. Tell the story of a missionary the church is supporting through the cooperative program. Thank the church for supporting this missionary through their faithful giving. Bible study literature, Bibles that are given away, scholarships for children’s camp, food for needy families, support for a new church plant – these are just some of the things that can be mentioned week-by-week, helping the church attach Kingdom ministry to their financial giving.

Educating a church about biblical stewardship is a challenge. Most pastors preach too little on matters of giving. I know I did. But we don’t have to preach about financial stewardship to educate the church on the matter. We can do a little each week as we receive the tithes and offerings of God’s people. In this way we can keep it positive as we thank the church for investing in these ministries through their giving.