Organization and Planning for the Creative Mind

Aaron Stewart

(Originally published in Worship Leader Jan/Feb 2015. For more great articles like this one, subscribe today!)


When people talk about planning or creativity, it seems like they think it’s going to be one or the other. Either you’re going to be 100 percent organized or 100 percent creative.

I’ve heard people say, “I don’t want to plan out my worship service because that doesn’t leave any room for the Holy Spirit, and I don’t want to squelch him out of the occasion.”

Organization and inspiration are not mutually exclusive; planning and hearing from the Holy Spirit goes together. And just because you have a plan doesn’t mean you cannot adjust it. Some times the “spiritual reasons” can in fact be “lazy” reasons. Although now I lead on a volunteer basis, I went from leading a church of 400 to leading a church of 4,000 to leading a church of 18,000 in Las Vegas, and each experience taught me the need for organization. There is no size limit for being organized, and there are intrinsic benefits in finding the balance between efficiency and insanity.

The Benefits of being organized:

Happy Team
Organization makes for a happy team. Your team members are volunteers wanting to use their talents for God. When you’re organized, you keep the team informed, in the know, and part of the vision. They have families and a job and plenty to do; your organization tells them that they, and the time they give, are valued.

No one on a team wants to play mediocre music. When you plan and get music to your team in a timely manner, they can play cohesively.

Happy You
When you’re organized you’re empowered and confident. You’re dependable, rehearsed, you know the words and transitions, and the team knows they can lean on you. You are less stressed and free to be creative. In short you are a much better leader.

There are a lot of apps out there to help you get organized. I use a free App called Trello. With it, I can make weekly checklists and simply move them from a to-do column to a done column; I can even create a color that signifies “done.” Collaborate with others and see which tasks people are working on, and create templates to make sure your weekly tasks aren’t forgotten.

Planning Center Online (as well as other service-planning software):
I can plan far in advance, monitor each service, and notify team members of content, changes, rehearsals, and more. Plus, my team gets access to their chord charts and audio files so they can be prepared.

Siri: When memory fails me, Siri won’t. Reminders to send an email, transfer a package, keep an appointment, and so much more.


Set Up Weekly Service Checklists.
Include choosing songs, special music, scheduling your team, writing charts, setting your song sequence (verse/chorus order), planning transitions, and communicating it all to your team. You might include lyric slides, announcements, and other items if they’re your responsibility. Assign due dates that leave at least one week of prep time for your team. If you have trouble planning ahead, find one light week to plan two weeks at once, then stay one week ahead from then on.

Communicate Well.
If your team gets too many emails from you, they start to ignore them, so consolidate. For example, plan for people’s vacations and schedule the whole summer ahead of time. Then send automatic reminder emails the week of. Also, if you change a song, sequence, or transitions before a service, let your team know. It is very disheartening to frequently spend time working on songs that are eliminated. Help them know their time is valued.

Reach Out to Your Team and Pastor for New Song Ideas.
We each connect with different types of songs than other members of our team. If you do special music, let others in on brainstorming: “We’re doing a series on finances. Anyone have song suggestions?” Create a board where they can submit ideas and even vote. Trello is great for this.

Rehearse Well
Start on time; if you don’t, it can spiral out of control and be very frustrating to half of your team. Help your team come prepared to rehearsals by providing music ahead of time. Remind your team that rehearsals are not for practicing individually, but for rehearsing together. Figuring out who should play which parts and how the instruments sound together? Good. Learning the fingering for that tricky riff? Bad. Also, devote ample time for monitor checks, which can also be organized. Keep your sound tech happy by funneling all communication through you, and remember to check in with your team frequently to make sure they can hear well.

Rehearse Your Congregation
You lead worship, your team leads worship, but did you know your congregation can also be worship leaders? When they know songs, they can be an example to visitors of how to worship. Introducing new congregational songs at a big event can give visitors the impression that music in worship is a spectator sport. Plan new songs well before Christmas and Easter to make them familiar by the time your guests arrive.

Pick a Primary System for Planning
The more you use one system the more you get in the habit. I’d recommend Planning Center Online, but I don’t know, maybe I’m biased.

Aaron Stewart is the co-founder of Planning Center Online. With 15 years in music ministry, he travels as a guest musician and volunteers on his church worship team, as well he teaches at NWLC and other conferences.

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