How to Organize a Church Service

Alongside the Whanganui River
See (*) below for details
This article describes the process of organising a church-service, the decisions that need to be made and the jobs that need to be done.

It's aimed at lay people, ie "non church professionals" - although ministers  or pastors may find the "event management" sections are helpful.

The Template for Organising a Church Service goes with this article.


Overview

Most people think that organising a church-service is something that only ministers need to worry about - until they find themselves responsible for making one happen!   But if you follow a few simple guidelines, and it's not as daunting as it sounds.

Firstly you need to plan:
  • Understand why, what and who it's for
  • Find a location
  • Find a person to lead the service
  • Plan the format of the service, and who will do what
  • Plan the "event management" things that need to happen before the service, or at the same time

Once you've done all the planning, you need to put it into action.

And throughout the process, use whatever spiritual preparation practices (eg prayer, meditation, contemplation) are appropriate given the people involved and the expectations of the church.


Planning


Why, What and Who

These factors influence every other decision you need to make.   Clearly understanding:
  • Why you are having the service
  • What should happen at it, and 
  • Who (might) attend 
is a big help in getting the details right.  If there are several people involved in the planning and organising, spend time with then discussing the options, and agreeing these three basic objectives.

Find a Location

You need a place where the service can be held.  Make sure it's suitable for what you're doing, and acceptable to the people who might attend.

Make sure it's available, and that whoever manages it is happy to hold the service you are planning.

Book it -   remember to allow time for preparation / practises beforehand, as well as the actual service.


Find a Presider / Minister / Leader

Find a person (or a team) who can lead the service - depending on the church, they may be called a vicar, reverend, pastor, worship leader, etc.  This may happen before or after you find the location, depending on the type of service you need and the churches in your area.

Make sure they have the authority to do the job:  some churches have rules about who can lead what, and if it's also a legal ceremony (eg a wedding) there may be some extra regulations.   This is not a job for someone with no relevant training or experience.

Check that they're willing to be involved, available at a suitable time, and book them.   Be very clear about their role: do they just have to turn up on the day, are they working as part of the planning team, or do you want them to do all the rest of the planning too?

What will happen during the service

Agree on the form-of-service to be used.   Depending on your circumstances, this may be the hardest and most sensitive thing you need to do.   People can have very different expectations about what "church" is like, and sometimes they don't even realize that other ways are possible.

In some cases, the format of the service will be obvious:  minister or the church that runs the location may have standard worship formats or guidelines for specific types of services.  But if there is no standard format, the organisers and the leader may have to work out the order of worship themselves.  

Also, even if there is a format to follow, you need to work out the details, eg what specific readings and music, and who will carry them out.   It's a very good idea to have a planning sheet listing exactly what will happen, when, and by whom.

Think about music and audio-visual needs:  some churches have professional organists who have the right to play for every service held there, though they will mostly stand aside if organ music isn't what is needed (but you many need to pay them a "bench fee" anyway).  Some churches have volunteer or staff musicians and sound-technicians who will be happy to help you.   Find out who is available, and book them.    None of these people like last-minute surprises, but if you involve them early, and keep them informed, and they are usually extremely helpful.


What happens outside the service

Minneapolis Traffic Police
A church-service is just like any other event:  there are some "event management" things that need to be done so that everything goes smoothly.  This includes "church specific" tasks and other things that are needed simply because you have a large group of people together.  

This part of your plan may be one sentence long, or it might be incredibly detailed and see you talking to caterers, cleaners, the police and the local council.  It all depends on the "what" and "who" of your service.  But there are some basics:



Things that need to be done before the service

  • This always includes communications ie  telling people about the service.
  • It always includes health-and-safety:  at very least you need a fire evacuation plan for the venue.
  • It may include preparing booklets, leaflets, slideshows, hymnbooks, vestments, flowers, communion-wafters, baptismal font, sound-system - or many other things that will be needed in the service..

Things that need to happen at the same time as the service, could include:

  • Childcare, 
  • Traffic-management and parking, 
  • First-aid
  • Catering / hospitality
  • Clean-up 
and much more, depending on the size of the service and who is attending.   What's important is that you think about what you will need, and make plans to deal with any problems before they happen.


Putting the plan into action

Some people think that once the plans are made, everything will be fine.   For simple church-services this is true.   But in most cases you need to stay involved, checking on progress until the service is over:
  • Check that any necessary spiritual preparation is continuing.   
  • Make sure that people are working together as needed, and doing what they said they would do.
  • Organise a practice (just like a dress-rehearsal for a play or concert):  sometimes this won't be needed, but for a one-off service in an unfamiliar place with people who aren't used to working together, it can be vital.
  • Monitor progress:   make sure that everything is happening as planned.   Look out for things that might go wrong, and make a Plan B.   Solve problems.   Check that the preparation has been done
  • After the service, thank the people who helped, and do any follow-up work (eg pay invoices, issue press releases, clean up the church, etc )

Template:

The Template for Organising a Church Servcce is a one-page template that may be helpful for keeping track of your plans.

Use it if it's suitable, ignore it if not.   Or turn it into a 100-page project plan if that's what your service needs.




Picture Attribution:  
Alongside the Whanganui - Adapted from a  work by by Markus Koljonen (Dilaudid) (Own work) [GFDL (www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html), CC-BY-SA-3.0 (www.creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/) or CC-BY-SA-2.5-2.0-1.0 (www.creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.5-2.0-1.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Minneapolis Traffic Police - Adapted from a picture by Calebrw (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (www.creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Organist:   By Greenshed (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Checklist:  By Ckepper (Own work) [GFDL (www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC-BY-SA-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0 (www.creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

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