We were just out of high school and so cool. Our ride was a pristine cherry red Beetle with a white convertible top. It wasn’t spacious, but we didn’t mind squeezing in. We savored the head turning attention as we played it cool cruising the streets.
As I’ve pondered those joy rides, it occurs to me that they share a lot in common with our Sunday services—besides being enjoyable. Both move people to a destination. Both can be captivating. Both are limited on space. And there’s only so much you can pack into either one if you’re going to have room to breathe.
Every Sunday leaders step up, speak up, and sing out to equip their people to walk with God. In many churches, leaders get scarcely an hour to share this life-changing truth. Our message is great, but space is limited. This means we must continually wrestle with what we put into that hour. Lately, I’ve been pondering these questions: How do we go about filling the limited space we have for worship? What if the scarcity of space served as an opportunity to find clarity?
We all get 168 hours a week. The weekend service gets just one of those hours. That amounts to a minuscule one-half of one percent out of the whole week. This tiny number challenges us to become exceptional decision makers. We can’t do it all, and it is up to us to learn how to play it cool with the space we have. And that doesn’t happen when we make eleventh hour decisions on Friday or Saturday. Last minute changes are like squeezing a dozen people into a Beetle. It’s fun for a little while, but the guys on the bottom will soon suffocate under the pressure. What leader wants that to happen?
We used to feel the pressure of last minute changes. But today it’s different. Today our team enjoys riding in the Beetle with the top down. We have space to breathe. Services run smoothly. And our message, though still limited on time, has more breathing room than ever.
Six years ago we lived in a frustrating blur, rushing from one week to the next. Six years ago we barely carved out five minutes during the service to serve communion to 1,600 people; today we savor it with nearly double the time. We almost always said “yes” to make everyone happy. We had no idea how to play it cool, and the results often left us feeling rushed and dissatisfied.
Six years ago, Tuesday mornings were a whirlwind. We had a mere five days to plan the weekend. We received input on message theme, created the service order, and selected songs. Planning happened, but nothing was a sure thing. Every detail was open to change until services began.
The reality of this weekly cycle drove us to become laser focused. Our seventy-minute time limit was immovable. We had to change. Our weekly service planning needed breathing room. So we began planning services several weeks in advance. Instead of suffocating under a frenzied pace, we chose to learn how to play it cool. So, what does playing it cool look like?
Playing it cool happens when we create space to plan, prioritize, and then implement the plan weeks in advance. Playing it cool happens when we accept that scarcity brings clarity about what to include and exclude, so we have a smooth, flowing worship service.
Leaders who play it cool understand:
- Scarcity is not as much about doing less as it is about getting just enough so that people leave longing for more.
- Scarcity helps us become creative with what we say and do.
- Scarcity challenges us to become intentional decision makers.
So where do you start? We started by adding one additional service to our weekly planning discussion. When you meet to plan your next service, commit to planning the following weekend too. Do that for a few months; then add another week of planning to the discussion. Repeat until several weeks are planned in advance. We plan seven weeks out year round.
Next, select a weekday cutoff for any significant changes. I’m not talking about a tweak like adding a chorus in a song. Significant changes disrupt workflow because they require an hour or more to make them happen. Wednesday is our cutoff day. And yes, this means there have been times when we say “no” to our Senior Minister. *gasp*
I understand the concerns racing through your mind:
“But we want the Spirit to lead us and that requires last minute changes!”
We do too. Having several weeks to seek the Spirit’s leading gives us more time to listen before we act. We have more time to meditate, pray, and seek God when we think six to eight weeks out. Last-minute changes have become the exception rather than the rule.
“But planning more than one service will take too much time!”
It takes us 1.5 hours to review seven services. Not every detail is planned, but we know what needs work and are preparing now for what will happen two months out. By the time we get to four weeks out, few, if any significant changes are needed.
“But we need to have the pastor’s message before we make any plans!”
No you don’t. Does it help? Sure. Is it necessary? No. Trust that God can lead you in preparing the service even if your pastor only plans one week out. Give yourself permission to plan independently of your pastor’s sermon preparation. We do and it works!
Planning the flow of a worship service is an important responsibility that deserves significant forethought. But it’s not just what we do, it’s also what we say in the worship service that requires superior discipline. When we say more than we should, we lose focus and risk rambling on and on. This is why we ask stage personalities to pray about what they will say, write it down, practice each transition within the time allotted, and then stay on script. If space is scarce, shouldn’t we carefully measure the words we use?
It’s curiously consoling doing things the way they have always been done, even when they don’t work. What if we let scarcity move us to do things differently? What if scarcity helped us find room to breathe? We can—if we learn to play it cool by accepting scarcity brings opportunities.