Church Communications resources and tips from Justin Dean

Planning Worship

Matt Lundgren and Aaron Niequist were responsible for the worship music segment in last year’s Willow Creek Christmas services. They got together in September and asked, ?How do we take people on a 30-minute journey ? telling them the Christmas story through a worship experience??

The big creative element ? the feature film ? wasn?t the traditional Christmas story. Much of the story took place outside Christmas time. And they wanted to send folks home feeling like they?d been to a Christmas service. So they approached it a bit differently than three fast songs and two slow. Instead, they did a number of readings from the birth account. They mixed those in with various styles and musical experiences. They approached it a bit more liturgically.

Combine the liturgical readings and various musical styles with a 24-piece orchestra, and you have quite an epic service. You also have a serious feat of planning and execution. Steve Meyer, their music director, had his work cut out for him planning the orchestrations and directing the choir and orchestra.

If you think the twelve identical Christmas services in one week were grueling, imagine the rehearsals. They had more than six rehearsals and run throughs before their first service.?They actually got bored with their own set list by the time the first service rolled around.?But they survived rehearsals.

Then came the services. The band began and ended each service. And the orchestra scored the creative element live. So because of timing, logistics, and the fifty band and orchestra members, they stayed on stage during the whole service. This led to some pretty exhausting evenings.


One of the things that helped them overcome the fatigue was a string of practical jokes on stage before, during, and after the services. You can’t exactly program this sort of thing into your services, but they’ve created a relaxed atmosphere among the band members. This sort of culture comes from the leadership and the way you deal with your band members.

Because they created a fun environment, Aaron sat down at his piano to begin the fifth service. As he was organizing his stuff he noticed a very creepy puppet reaching out for him from under one of the stage risers. The whole service he was trying not to look at the murderous doll that had escaped from their prop room. And while this didn’t make the service any shorter, it made the service more fun.

Lessons Learned

Most worship leaders, when they prepare for a service, figure out most of the music and arrangements, and leave the last 5 or 10 percent to work out with the band during rehearsal. That works well with a 10-piece band. Unfortunately, when you have 50 band members ? including a massive orchestra ? you end up with half your people sitting around for 15 minutes while you?re figuring things out.

Aaron and Matt had never worked with such a huge orchestra before. So they resolved that next time, they?ll do 100% of the planning first. They?ll go over the top with their preparation to help rehearsals run more smoothly and efficiently.

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