How to Host a “Night of Worship”

Have you ever wished you could devote an entire service to worshiping God through music, song, and other expressions of worship?  Do you want a special time where you can have a bit more freedom without the constraints of what is required of a typical Sunday morning gathering?

One of my favorite times of ministry in the local church is when I host our “Night of Worship” events.  These are times when we gather as a church and have extended times of music, singing, prayer, and praise.  Our worship nights typically don’t have a sermon or teaching time. They tend to be more expressive, the music tends to be a bit louder and fuller, and the interaction with the congregation seems to increase dramatically.

Granted, we should not limit “worship” to just our music and singing.  We’ve all participated in that debate and the constant struggle over referring to the music portion of our worship services as the “worship time”, as if the sermon or other elements were not worship.  Let’s put that debate aside and just acknowledge that for the sake of this discussion, we’re referring to a “Night of Worship” as a gathering focused around the musical aspects of worship.

I’ve been asked by several people to share how I plan these services.  I can say that no “Night of Worship” is ever really the same.  Each leader and church should prayerfully craft their experience based on the culture of their church family and the purpose and vision of the event.  Below are a few things that have helped us in planning corporate worship nights and executing them successfully.

1.  Pray for a Thematic Flow (click image to see larger  sample of our most recent worship night)

It would be so easy to string a list of our favorite songs together for a big concert.  For a meaningful encounter, pray for a thematic flow.  In the past I’ve crafted nights around things like “the blood”, “gratitude and thanksgiving”, “confession and repentance”, or elements of each.  They key is to identify the theme and how you want to lead your congregations through the sections.  I tend to group our setlist in blocks with subtitles that clearly identify the thematic elements we are singing about.

2.  Choose Songs that Support Your Thematic Flow

After you’ve built a thematic flow … a journey of sorts, choose songs that support the flow.  It’s best to think about how each thematic element will cause people to respond and order them accordingly.  A section of songs on repentance and confession will likely lead to a more intimate, response time.  A section of songs about the Greatness of God will likely lead people in great expressions of praise.

3.  Balance Song Selection

One temptation for many worship leaders who are also songwriters is to load up their worship nights with lots of new, original songs they’ve written or some of the more recent, new songs available.  Let me make this clear – Worship Nights are perfect times to introduce new songs – both originals from within your congregation and from the vast arsenal of new music being published worldwide.   However, we have to be sensitive to our balance of new songs versus familiar.  If the purpose of your night is to introduce new songs, you can accomplish this but may not have as much corporate participation.  If you want your congregation to truly engage with robust singing and expression, load up some of the best-loved songs of your church.  I call them “reservoir” songs.  Every church has a “reservoir”.  Try to diversify the style and instrumentation.  In a set of 10-12 songs, having a classic hymn or two or a unique arrangement with different (or less) instrumentation can make all the difference in bringing the generations together on the same night.

4.  Cast Vision Early in the Event

Typically after the first 1-2 songs I will take 3-5 minutes and cast vision for the night.  I welcome people and begin to setup what our expectations and boundaries are.  I typically cast vision for the flow of the night, and what we wish to accomplish.  I will exhort them with Scripture.  Then, I’ll give some practical instruction, permissions, and boundaries.  Things like “tonight, please feel free to express yourself to God – if you wish to raise your hands, go for it.  If you wish to dance, go for it.  If you wish to shout and clap, go for it.  If you wish to be quiet and still, go for it.  Kneel, pray, stand, sit … give them permission.  Be sure to communicate that each person should be free to respond as God leads them.  At the same time, encourage your congregation to be sensitive that their personal liberty doesn’t become a corporate distraction.  We’ve all been in services where one person’s sincere exuberance became a corporate distraction.

Typically, we will push the boundaries in our use of technology, lighting, and video.  We will push the sound levels a bit.  Make no apologies for it.  I’ll usually say “we like to turn it up a bit on worship nights – if you feel the music is too loud, there are a few places in the room that tend to be quieter”.  I’ve even heard of people offering ear plugs!

5.  Rehearse.  A lot.

Our worship nights are more produced and rehearsed than a typical Sunday morning.  As a result, we schedule numerous rehearsals.  Don’t think that you can properly rehearse 10-12 songs in the same amount of time you use to prepare for 4-5 songs on a Sunday.  I prefer a separate vocal rehearsal, a separate band rehearsal, and then pull all of them together.  Limit rehearsals to about 1-1/1 hours so your team doesn’t get exhausted.

6.  Think Past Songs and Consider Transitions

Even though our worship nights are centered around musical expressions of praise and worship, it’s important to understand that everyone has a different stamina for singing.  Add diversity to your flow with breaks for prayer, video elements, silence, instrumental interludes, or interactive elements such as communion or prayer-stations.   Spend vast amounts of prayer and time considering your transitions, flows, and setups.  These are critical moments of the night that shouldn’t be done without consideration and thought.

7.  End Powerfully.

Your night should climax into a powerful closer that will leave your people encountering God in a powerful way.  Schedule your service with a sincere awareness of your congregation’s stamina.  If they are used to 30 minutes of singing on Sunday mornings, a 2+ hour night of singing will leave them distracted and exhausted in most cases.  End so that they say “when are we doing that again”!?  Our worship nights have typically been between 70-90 minutes.

8.  Get Your Pastor on Board

If your Pastor isn’t interested … I’d almost say don’t even do this.  Your Pastor needs to share the vision.  Without the Pastor’s support, you face a steep, uphill climb.  Have the Pastor share in the planning – but Pastors … you get to preach every Sunday – so relinquish control here and trust your worship leader.  Give input, but back away and let them craft the experience.  Worship Leaders – include the Pastor!   Have him greet the people or share a Scripture or offer a prayer.  Promote this to your congregation as a chance to come and minister TO God, and be ministered to BY God.

These are just a few tips that should help get things moving towards hosting your first corporate “Night of Worship”.  Perhaps you’ve already done this.  Share your own thoughts and tips in the comments section.  And have an awesome time worshiping our God!

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  • http://www.rhynomusic.com Elizabeth Rhyno

    Great post. Excellent encouragement about prayer, planning and rehearsal, as well as vision-casting. I find a congregation relaxes and engages so much better when they know a little bit of what to expect and what is “ok”.

    I’ve changed it up on occasion too. Recently I held a worship night that was all designed around stillness and solitude. We had the entire sanctuary set up with prayer stations and visuals. We used low lighting and lamps in each section, with throw pillows on the floor so people could be comfortable as they contemplated the station where they were.

    Our stations included:
    The Names of God (“Teach Me to Pray”)
    Prayer through Scripture (“Word of God Speak”)
    The Cross (“Love has paved the way for grace”)
    An art station (“Beautiful Things”)
    Prayer for the persecuted church (“Break my heart for what breaks yours”)
    Prayer for missionaries (“Give me Your eyes”)
    A place to contemplate Romans 6 (“My chains are gone”)

    and many more…

    We had interactive things: (Writing out short testimonies, taking their burdens (bricks) and their chains to the foot of the cross, nailing victorious statements onto the cross etc.)

    All the while there was quiet music playing in the background…but we didn’t sing. My challenge was for us all to be still and know that He is God, and to worship Him in the silence. I invited them as they were ending their journey to find a friend or two and come to the low table we had set for communion. There they shared with each other what they learned of the Lord and then broke bread together.

    It was a powerful, profound and intimate evening where we learned to worship in the stillness, without singing.

    • http://www.fredmckinnon.com Fred McKinnon

      Elizabeth,
      that’s awesome – we’ve done something very similar at our prayer nights …
      The lyric/song title examples you used for each station – did you ever actually play or sing those songs, or are those just lyrics/song titles that you used to reinforce the station?

      Specifically, how did you actually incorporate the use of the song title/lyrics above?

      • http://www.rhynomusic.com Elizabeth Rhyno

        Just with simple signage – we didn’t sing a note on that particular evening. Each station had a sign or group of signs using the song lyrics to set the tone of the station. I printed out the words in black in a large attractive font… and then framed many of them. They were simple and to the point, and drew us into each station quickly because our hearts were already resonating with what was to come based on the lyric.

        You can see some of them here: http://tinyurl.com/3kkm9eq

        Elizabeth

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  • Jeff Q

    Great ideas, Fred. We did this yesterday in our Sunday morning service (see the Sunday Setlist post for more details.) It’s a little more risky doing it during a morning service, but our Pastor was on board 100% and we announced it a few times in the weeks leading up to it. That way, those that don’t dig the music as much wouldn’t be surprised.

    This was the second time we’ve done it. Last year, we did about 7-8 songs and it was well received. This year, we decided to shorten the set and make more room for lingering/spontaneous worship time and it went great as well.

    My thought process behind having the extended time of music is for people to reach a “deeper” connection that they normally don’t (for whatever reason) in the normal service. And, after they’ve reached it before, they can more easily reach it during our regular services.

    • http://www.fredmckinnon.com Fred McKinnon

      Jeff,
      Wow, that is awesome to devote a Sunday AM service to it – beautiful!

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  • http://www.davidsantistevan.com David Santistevan

    Fred, great thoughts. I’m planning one of these for next month and may just follow this step by step!

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  • http://dennarr.com Dennis

    Great post Fred! I tried my hand at these with 7 other sister churches in our area last summer and they went pretty well (although we could only get 4 of the 7 interested)! It’s interesting – we pretty much followed each of your points.

    We plan on giving it a try again this summer. They are amazing evenings!

    Blessings and thanks!

    • http://dennarr.com Dennis

      Forgot to share the planning center for one that we did: http://www.planningcenteronline.com/plans/1509134/public

      Also, to expand our concept of worship (outward), we also made it a practice to take a love offering each time we met that benefited an organization or need that is NOT part of the participating churches – a need within the local community. This went over really well. Over the three evenings, we gave offerings to a Catholic charity program for low-income kids, an at-risk teen assistance home, and a local homeless assistance program run by the county.

      Blessings!

  • http://www.michaelhsmith.com Michael H Smith

    Fred,
    We have hosted a night of worship twice a year for the last few years. I agree with all your points with one slight difference. We don’t choose a theme but rather because we have the opportunity to have this extended time of worship we take our outline from a ‘traditional liturgy.’ This gives us the opportunity to tell the whole God story including the celebration of communion. Even though we use a traditional liturgy we do not publicize it as such. For some of our people the word ‘liturgy’ is a turn off. We call our evening “A Night of Hallelujahs.” This generic title also gives us an opportunity to brand these events and also the flexibility to change the format. In two weeks we are moving our spring “A Night of Hallelujahs” to a Sunday morning, and we will still do our best to engage our people in the whole story of God.

    Thanks for the post.

  • http://www.fowlerchristianchurch.com Kevin Logsdon

    Our worship team loves doing nights of worship. They are freeing for many people in our congregation that may not feel as “free” on Sunday mornings. We do between 20 & 25 songs split up between 4 or 5 sets. Usually the second to last set is one where an invitation is given to follow Christ. Then we end the night with a much rocked out set. Each night has a theme, for example our next night will be “kickin it old school”. We will do a set of CCM songs from the 80′s & 90′s. Within each 5 song set we will have a theme so that they all come together. We do a song then I give a welcome, and explain how the night will go much like you talked about. The entire night runs 1.5 to 2 hours total.
    Ideas we found that work well are drinks and snacks in the back that anyone can grab anytime. Especially if they have been rockin out with us for an entire set, or need a little quieter time.
    Our next night will be in the park in June with hotdogs and such sold by the youth group to raise money for their retreat. The community pool will be open later than usual for everyone to swim too. A night of worship is a great way to shake things up a little, and a blast to do.

    • http://www.fowlerchristianchurch.com Kevin Logsdon

      i forgot the biggest help of all. We always use the projector to shoot the mediashout on the screen. We even purchased a projector that we can take on the road. what a difference it makes in getting people to engage in the worship!

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  • http://twitter.com/owensdad4 Matthew Owens

    Wonderful post, Fred. At my former church, we hosted a half dozen of these, and I’d say we adhered to just about all of your points. I’m looking to host one now at my new church, so reading your thoughts has been very helpful — a good refresher.

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  • http://www.spch.org.au/ Bren McLean

    Thanks for sharing your experience. We are planning on having a ‘worship night’ in June, at the end of a music conference and these points will greatly help us to shape the night.

  • Lori Biddle

    We just had a Night of Worship last Sunday night. IT WAS MINISTRY CHANGING!!!

    I began by working with a recent survey we took of our youth/worship/technical staff asking everyone to list the top audience participitory songs that we currently do or have used in the past. I built the first round of song selections from this list by choosing the overlapping songs listed.

    We added newer selections, a time of prayer and reflection in the middle (so they could rest and think and pray), carefully choose color and backgrounds to support the feel of each song and designed the stage layout.

    THE BIGGEST change that affected our night was the work we have poured into our Youth areas for the past year and a half. Our worship staff has worked to identify worship singers and band members within our your areas and they now lead in the main service the 5th weekend of each monty AND then we broke them down into 4 teams that lead one weekend a month in the youth. THEY ALL ATTENDED and took the first few rows of the auditorium.

    They are TEACHING our adults how to worship – THEY ARE THERE TO LEAD us to the thrown when they lead.

    Their involvement has changed our congregation. It was a night I will NEVER forget!!

    Maybe I should write an article for Worship Community about our process. Thanks for sharing Fred!

  • Lori Biddle

    It would help if I could spell…sorry about mistakes in my post! Embarrassing – I got really excited about the topic!!

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  • http://twitter.com/MUMC_LIVE LIVE Worship!

    what night of the week have you felt works best for these?