I can remember when I noticed it. I can remember sitting in service with my parents and my brother. It happened to be one of those days where I was paying attention to what was going on at church. I was listening to the songs (definitely not singing though, because singing’s for girls). Then the pastor started speaking, and during the last song I had a thought:

The music before and after the message was about the same stuff that the message was about.

It just made sense. Everything seemed to be working together to say the same thing. To support an idea that they were trying to communicate to everyone that morning. In that moment, I started to understand how the worship around the message could do more than just take up time, but actually support the message in ways a sermon can’t.

You’ve likely had a similar moment, and if you’re designing gatherings, you likely understand this like you understand breathing. Matching songs to fit the message is the very tip of this iceberg, but I’d like to take some time to talk about some practical ways that we can help our worship in a gathering support the message.

Let me note that when I say worship, I don’t always mean music. This is a whole other post, but know that worship means many other things besides music, and I hope that I can help to expand our understanding of that with these ideas.

Worship means many other things besides music.

Match Songs to the Theme

While this is the simplest expression of this idea, I still think it warrants some conversation. The important thing to remember when it comes to building a set list to support the message is to go beyond the name of the song.

For instance, we just did a 3-week series on love. We can fall into the trap of just finding a bunch of songs that have “love” in their title and call it a day, but there are a lot of different kinds of love. Are you talking about God’s love? Human love within a relationship? Parental love?

With that in mind, think about what the lyrics of the song are trying to say. In a song like “How He Loves,” the words are painting a picture of the love God has for us. In a song like “How Great is the Love,” the words are expressing gratitude for the love Jesus displayed and expresses for us. This is a subtle difference, but paying attention to these subtleties can support the message better.

Paying attention to subtleties can support the message better.

When in doubt, be specific rather than general. Determine what the message is about (bottom lines/main points will help), and steer toward that, all while balancing the theological diet of the songs your church is singing. I never said it’d be easy.

Make Responsive Elements Natural

Whenever you decide to use responsive elements, make sure they feel organic. I don’t mean that they come from Whole Foods, but rather that they make sense when/where they happen and that the response is something that people can connect with.

Whenever you decide to use responsive elements, make sure they feel organic.

These responsive elements, like having people write the names of people they are praying for, having people write their sin issues on a card and nail them to the cross, or even communion, need to connect with the message both logically and emotionally.

Be sure that it makes sense why they’re doing what they’re doing. Also, be sure that it can be explained simply and easily and that whoever is explaining it (pastor, worship leader, etc.) knows the why and can explain the expression simply. Don’t take people out of a moment to explain a complicated response when a simpler response might serve the moment better.

When designing these responses, ask yourself a few questions in light of the message: Why would I respond this way? How does this help support the message? Will this help people remember? Can this be explained simply?

Pay Attention to Your Walk-In Playlist

Part of helping all of a gathering support the message is ensuring that the feel and vibe of the gathering matches the tone of the message. For instance, you wouldn’t have the top 40 Christian hits playing as people were walking into a funeral. Wrong vibe.

That’s the whole point: Know what vibe/feel you’re going for and help that to thrive. I have a few playlists that we use to help give a different feel to the gathering. One is upbeat and fun; another is instrumental and full of emotional music.

Know what vibe/feel you’re going for and help that to thrive.

The whole point is for you, the designer of the gathering, to know what vibe you’re going for and then use music to help mold that. I think that Church on the Move does a great job of this, especially for their events and special days. Here’s a post where they show a few playlists they use for their events.

Think Like a Normal Person

This last one is probably the most overlooked by people like us, and I’m definitely including myself in the “us”. Sometimes, we can get so wrapped up in a cool idea or something that another church did that we can forget about our people, our church. We may have seen the video or been in the experience where this happened, but everyone else hasn’t.

We can get so wrapped up in a cool idea that we can forget about our people, our church.

We have to make sure we’re not carrying extra emotional baggage that makes whatever idea feel more awesome than it is for this situation. To put it simply, we have to remember to not think like a church staffer or insider, but rather like a normal person.

What would a person who’s never seen this awesome thing pulled off before think about it? Does it make sense? Does it fit this specific message or do we need to tweak it?

Asking questions like this will help you mold the worship (music, responses, prayer, etc.) in your service to better support the message in a holistic way. Take the time to get out of your own head and see your ideas through the eyes of a normal person to help these moments better support the message.