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!