Worship planning in the old days was easy, or so we’ve been led to believe. The pastor picked a Scripture text on Tuesday. The organist selected a few hymns the next day, and the church secretary typed it all up on Friday. No muss, no fuss.
Perhaps those halcyon days seem so unbelievable because worship planning today is a very complex affair. It involves layers and layers of decision-making (themes, Scriptures, prayers, drama, art, and musical options) and schedule coordinating.
Fortunately, the Web, so helpful in supplying raw material for worship planning, also has resources for the macro-planning tasks of organization and communication.
For congregations who follow the church year and plan services based on the Revised Common Lectionary, the gold standard of worship planning software has been LabOra www.labora.pcusa.org). LabOra pulls together the lectionary, hymnals, and a whole library of liturgical books, and makes them available at the click of a mouse. A worship planner can easily plan a service that has internal coherence, flow, and theological integrity. The starting point is a basic order of worship with the biblical texts, theme, and liturgical season. The software then offers a way to track the use of various liturgical elements (including songs and prayers) and lay out the weekly bulletin with minimal effort. If you’re looking for just the right hymn or prayer that makes explicit reference to Jesus’ post-resurrection barbeque on the beach, just type in “John 21” and the software finds it, prepares it, and prints it. The only thing it doesn’t do is pray it. As you might expect, this program is not cheap, and requires annual fees.
Now similar assistance is available online from the ELCA at www.sundayandseasons.com. For a yearly fee (between $200-$400), a worship planner can access and search a host of Lutheran-approved worship planning resources, including the lectionary texts (NRSV), beautifully written prayers and liturgies from the Lutheran Book of Worship, and searchable suggestions from a handful of great musical resources from Augsburg Press: Renewing Worship, With One Voice, This Far by Faith, and Libro de Liturgia y Cantico. Even those not using the paid software can benefit from the searchable calendar and handy summaries of each week’s lectionary texts.
For congregations who don’t follow the lectionary, music is often the primary means for accomplishing the liturgy. Because of the integrative, multimedia character of worship in churches like this, one of the primary challenges in weekly planning is to communicate the vision for the service to all the musicians and technicians who lead the service. With the right software, the Internet can serve as an information hub for all the key players.
Two sites are designed to do precisely this. Both www.servicebuilder.net and ww.worshipplanning. com offer communication clearinghouse software with a user-friendly front end. The worship leader logs on to the system and plans a service, mostly by selecting songs, but also by identifying other key elements in the service. Information about each song is often provided by the software (key, length of song, lyrics). Additional information can be provided by the planner: theme, technical needs, and so on. Others on the worship team can then log on, look at the service plan for the coming week, modify it (if they have security clearance), see the technical requirements for the service, download song charts, even listen to recordings or MIDI files of unfamiliar songs. No more frantic photocopying ten minutes before the service starts. Some additional benefits of using software like this are the centralization of contact info for worship team members and the ease with which CCLI reports on song usage can be assembled.
The service itself and the software are offered for a fee—around $350/year for a medium-sized church. A slightly cheaper option that doesn’t include a secure online server function, but does provide worship planning help and searchable databases of songbooks, hymnals, lectionary texts, and so on, is Service Designer at www.tempomusic.com.
There’s no guarantee that worship services planned with the help of these programs will be better than those planned without; no magic formula digitized on a database for conjuring the presence of God. There’s no way to manufacture the fruits of the Spirit. But Sunday mornings may be marked by a bit more peace, patience, kindness, gentleness, and self-control if those who have planned worship and those who lead it are all on the same page—even if that page is electronic.