Worship Planning


6 Resources
For The CRG Created For The CRG
Talking About Racism

Many congregations are looking for resources to help them talk about racism. White congregations want to prepare for dialogue with their multi-cultural neighbors. They want to learn more about the historical roots of racism and how it has become ingrained through social and economic structures.

Among the many fine books available, there is one curriculum that stands out as practical, accessible, and free. White Privilege: Let’s Talk – a Resource for Transformational Dialogue is a free, downloadable curriculum from the United Church of Christ.

It is designed to engage participants in “safe, meaningful, substantive, and bold” conversations on race. The curriculum contains background reading, webinars, and a conversation guide.

To get a feel for the material, it may be helpful to watch one of the five accompanying webinars, such as Whiteness as the Norm. For congregations who want to delve more deeply into racial issues impacting communities of faith, take a look at

For The CRG Created For The CRG
Creating a Good Virtual Worship Experience

I’ve “attended” several synagogue and church worship services over the last weeks and must report my disappointment. That’s a nice way of saying that most really stink. Live streaming a regular worship service just doesn’t work.

Remember that as soon as you put something on a screen, the viewer compares it to everything else they see on their screens. I’m not suggesting you need a full multicamera production, but sticking a laptop in front of the sanctuary does not cut it.

There are lots of churches which offer well done, live services online. Many are megachurches that do this weekly. You don’t have to match the professional productions of megachurches, but think about raising your standards of excellence.

Some things to keep in mind:

  • Is your sanctuary the best place to hold an online worship service? If it’s a large cavernous space, probably not since you’ll likely have audio and lighting issues.
  • Can people hear everything well? The microphone in a laptop or webcam isn’t adequate, especially if it’s not within 3-5 feet from the worship leader. Purchase a simple, inexpensive, USB microphone and move it close to your presenter. Better yet, get several lavalier type mics and a small mixer that feeds your computer.
  • Is the video clear and well lit? Even cheap, high definition webcams are better than most stock cameras in laptops (not necessarily true for some smart phones). And they’re inexpensive. A separate camera allows you to position the camera where it sees the best not where the computer sits best.
  • If you’re using one camera as a catch-all, keep the view tight. Have worship leaders stand close together. Most sanctuaries are too dark for video and lit to focus on certain spots that aren’t optimal for video casting.
  • Don’t ask people to download worship documents beforehand, include them in the experience. This is tougher to do since you’ll need a way to split the screen. If that’s not an option, an alternative is showing just the text during singing and responsive readings. Not only is it easier to view but helps break up the visuals and monotony.
  • If your worship service is boring it will be more boring on video. Consider modifying your normal service. Most importantly, make it shorter, focused and familiar. Remember, your audience is sitting in front of a computer or holding their phones. People want the familiar and the comfortable.
  • Form a team to help. That team may be two people, and that may be enough. Have someone else (not your worship leader) run the computer and handle technical issues.
  • Rehearse! Even if it’s 30 minutes before you go live, practice! You will find things you didn’t think about. Nothing kills the moment worse than congregants watching you mess around trying to fix stuff. Oh, and by the way, start on time!

Resources You Can Use
Here’s a great list of online church resources from PRC-Practical Resources for Churches.  
Using a cell phone and Facebook for livestreaming, check out  
A guide to using Facebook Live can be found here:

This article first appeared at

For The CRG Created For The CRG
Program Planning and Congregational Learning

Your congregation is likely working on something new right now. You may be exploring the possibility of a youth mission trip. Or maybe your finance team wants to take an entirely new approach to the annual fund drive. When your congregation takes on something first-hand, your organization actually engages in learning to do something new.

What is it like to plan a new activity for your congregation?
You instinctively know that you have to learn skills and new ways of thinking to accomplish a new project. That learning process is important. After working with more than 1,000 congregations, I’ve observed how congregations learn. Leaders and members go through discernible passages of learning, what I call the learning journey.

The Learning Journey

When you intentionally embrace the learning journey, program planning and implementation are often more successful. The learning journey helps you do more than a “quick fix” to sustain the congregation’s operations. The learning can help inform and align your congregation’s activities, so you can ultimately impact people’s lives.

For the last five years, I’ve been exploring how congregations learn and how such learning leads to effectively addressing challenges and opportunities. I’m excited that the book on this subject How Your Congregation Learns, published by Rowman and Littlefield, is now available. It will help you walk through the exploration, disappointments, rewards and challenges of your learning journey. Another excellent book on the subject of program planning is Projects That Matter by Kathleen Cahalan.

Let me know your thoughts on congregations as learning communities and the challenges of program planning by emailing me at

For The CRG Created For The CRG
Leadership and Management

Many congregational leaders know the importance of clear mission and vision statements. However, congregational leaders are less capable at enacting plans.

Years ago, Kennon Callahan described this as “calling plays the players can play.” There are lots of visionary congregational leaders, but not so many who can pull off Vacation Bible School. There need to be more leaders who learn to put plans into action. There need to be more who can manage annual festivals, start a small group ministry or spearhead an outreach trip. As a congregational leader, dreaming the big stuff can be seductive. But sometimes leadership means being able to design an operational infrastructure that can support a new Advent program.

After all, what good is a vision if the website hasn’t been updated?

The difference between management and leadership
I know there is a difference between management and leadership. But I also think the difference of the two apply more distinctly to very large organizations. Given the scale of most congregations, the distinction between leadership and management is certainly smaller than for a Fortune 500 company.

The link between leadership and management in the congregation is learning. Effectiveness at both means a commitment to learning how to do something new. Sometimes it is not so much vision that is needed as the ability to learn to accomplish tasks. This dynamic is true for many in the congregational system. The dynamic of learning is not limited to the lead pastor or to the chair of the board.

Flourishing congregations
Congregations that flourish function as a learning community. This is true even if the congregation doesn’t call itself that.

There is an observable pattern among congregations which learn to do new things. This pattern goes beyond the distinctions between leadership and management. The specifics of this pattern differ from congregation to congregation. However, this pattern reveals the importance of plans and behaviors as a congregation moves through:

Is all this not theological enough?
This pattern is interestingly close to the pattern of revelation, identified by James Loder in his book The Transforming Moment. This pattern is at least as important, however less enticing, than having a vision. Sometimes good management is excellent leadership.

In terms of organizational learning, the book Immunity to Change from Kegan and Lahey provides a powerful perspective on how to manage any number of relational and missional challenges while leading and managing a congregation.

Projects That Matter: Successful Planning and Evaluation for Religious Organizations
This book describes a six-step process for designing and implementing a project evaluation, introducing project planning as a mission-related practice.
How Your Congregation Learns: The Learning Journey from Challenge to Achievement
This resource lays out a process for congregational leaders to move from identifying a challenge to solving the issue, a transition that takes form in the learning journey.

About the Contributor

Tim Shapiro

Tim is president of the Indianapolis Center for Congregations – of which the CRG is a program. He began serving the Center in 2003 after 18 years in pastoral ministry. He holds degrees from Purdue University and Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary. Tim’s interest in how congregations learn to do new things is represented in his book How Your Congregation Learns.

Worship Planning Resources

Religious leaders of congregations in the modern era understand the need to keep up with changes taking place in society. People can be seen as sometimes having a shorter attention span, they might also have more pulls on their time, and it can often seem to be nearly impossible for people to completely disconnect from school or work. Because they are always connected, there might never be a good opportunity to sit down and be at peace. With this in mind, if the religious leader would like to keep people interested in what they have to say, then they may need to adjust their worship sessions accordingly. This is where worship planning resources can be helpful.

When looking for a way to make worship planning sessions a little bit more efficient, it might prove to be beneficial to take advantage of worship planning resources. There are plenty of resources available out there, including worship planning books. There are also articles, websites, organizations, and other media to fit the needs of congregations and their leaders in their various traditions. For example, religious leaders will probably want to start with their religious text. Across all sorts of beliefs and denominations, there exist plenty of religious texts that are broken up by the corresponding lesson that they communicate. Therefore, it might be good for these leaders to take a look at some of these sections and then use them to help plan their next worship session, as these can serve to form the foundation of their next sermon.

Naturally, there are other worship planning resources out there, as well. For instance, on the internet, one can find countless videos of religious leaders giving worship sessions on a wide variety of topics. And while religious leaders do not necessarily have to copy these other peoples’ worship sessions specifically, they can still look to them as a source of inspiration. From there, they can take their worship sessions and modify them to meet the specific needs of their own congregation.

Ultimately, there is nothing wrong with religious leaders facing a few challenges on the road to forming their next worship session. If they run into these issues, it may be helpful to just take a few minutes to review some of the resources that are out there. Then, they might consider the needs of their congregation. Perhaps they have had members of the group come to them for assistance with specific issues. This could help guide them, in this case, if they are looking for a topic to cover for their next worship session. Finally, they can also make use of valuable resources, templates, and examples out there that exist to help leaders figure out how they are going to develop their next worship session.

Worship Resources

In addition to using worship ideas to help plan their next worship session, it may also be a good idea for religious leaders to think about some of the worship resources that their congregation might benefit from. For example, a lot of worship sessions today can often tend to involve music. Of course, if a congregation is planning to incorporate music into their worship session, they may need to first make sure that they have the right equipment. To this end, it may be good to have them speak with the band and see if there is anything that they need. For instance, the band may be in need of new instruments, in order to orchestrate the next worship session. Or, the band might be in need of new speakers that can efficiently reach all the members of the congregation while they are playing. They might also need new lights, new microphones, or new sheet music so that they can effectively sing and fill the entire building. In some situations, a congregation might even need to install something called “baffles”, to help protect the structure of the building itself.

In addition, it may be good to think about using video equipment, as a lot of worship sessions today are able to take advantage of videos that are posted on the internet. This can also represent a great chance for the crew to take a few minutes to have a sip of water and moisten their vocal cords. Of course, a congregation is only going to be able to take full advantage of this if they have the appropriate video equipment. Perhaps one of the key pieces of equipment a congregation might want to consider investing in is a video projector. It might be good to also look into getting multiple video projectors, so that video can be displayed on multiple walls throughout the session, allowing everyone to access it.

When it comes to worship services, there are other resources that leadership might want to include, as well. For instance, if they are leading a worship service specifically for children, then they might find themselves needing a way to keep these kids interested. As an example, it might be helpful in this case to distribute pieces of paper with the information for the worship session on it, so that the kids can follow along. Or, they might even want to distribute worksheets and have the kids still come out as a worship session unfolds. No matter what type of congregation they lead, it can be good for religious leaders to ensure that they have the proper resources at their disposal. That way, they will be able to keep their congregation involved. When it comes to worship resources, it can sometimes be helpful to try and plan ahead.

Lectionary Worship Resources

There may simply be no way around it: society has changed significantly over the past few decades - and religious leaders everywhere might sometimes find themselves in need of assistance in finding specific passages or text from sacred books around which they can plan their worship sessions. It can be good for them to know that there is no shame in this and that they are not alone. Fortunately, there are plenty of lectionary worship resources available out there that can help them to find the right text around which they can begin to structure their next worship session.

When it comes to resources for lectionary worship leaders, one of the first places they could consider checking is their mobile device. In fact, there is a good chance that they may even already have one or more sacred texts on their mobile device as-is. Moreover, there also exist all sorts of handy mobile applications that can help them to go through the sacred texts quickly. And while they will probably have the sacred texts just about memorized, these applications can still help to group-specific passages together, allowing them to communicate important messages to the congregation through their sermons. It may be helpful to consider putting these mobile applications to use, in the process of finding the right passages.

Of course, there are other resources available as well. If religious leaders do not like taking advantage of screens, then they can instead use books that have been specifically designed for them. For example, they may want to use sacred texts that have footnotes in them. Then, can take advantage of the footnotes and use them to guide them while they read through the sacred texts. These footnotes can potentially be used to help figure out how they are going to plan their next sermon.

Finally, they can also reach out to other worship leaders for help. If, for instance, they have a topic coming up soon, and they don't really know how to plan a sermon around it, they might be able to talk to other worship leaders and see what they have done. For example, one leader may have a sermon coming up in the near future that focuses on the subject of building relationships with people from different cultures. If they aren't entirely sure how to approach this using sacred texts, they might do well to simply try and reach out to some other religious leaders, use the internet, and watch a few videos. These might be able to serve as a good source of inspiration, enabling them to now plan their next sermon effectively. Perhaps one of the main things they should keep in mind is the fact that they do not have to go through this alone, and that there is always someone out there who can lend a helping hand.

Worship Service Resources

If worship leaders would like to help keep their congregation interested, then it might be a good idea to get creative during their sermon. While there is always going to be a place for a key message, there may also exist a need to keep the congregation interested. Therefore, it can often be helpful to try and think outside the box, when thinking about worship service resources.

When it comes to worship leader resources, it might be worth thinking about the size of the room itself. Remember, the people at the back are likely going to have a hard time hearing the leader speak. If leadership wants to keep them involved, they may have to reach out to them, in this regard. It might be a good idea to think about using surround sound speakers to help bring the session to life, even in the back of the room. If the group uses surround sound speakers, then the people at the back are not likely to have a hard time hearing the sermon. That way, they may be able to keep interested, as well as feel encouraged to come back again in the future.

If the congregation is taking place within a particularly large room, then it may be good to take advantage of TV screens, as well. Audio and video equipment can come in many shapes and forms, and if leadership believes that the people in the back are going to have a hard time seeing the worship leader, then they may want to put up a few TV screens to help with this. Then, they can take advantage of closed-circuit television and allow the people at the back of the room to watch the speaker as they deliver their sermon. This can be yet another key way in which religious groups can work to help bring their worship service to everyone in attendance.

Lastly, there are several other worship resources that can potentially be put to good use as well. For example, the group may want to consider putting numbers of their leadership team to use during the sermon. They could be posted on the sides of the room, as the leader is delivering their sermon. Then, if someone has a question or concern, one of the members of the leadership team can be there, and able to help answer them. This could be a great way to help the religious organization or church stand out from the crowd in a positive way. If the group’s goal is to keep their congregation involved, it may very well serve them to try and make sure that they are truly taking advantage of all of the resources they have at their disposal.

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