Music Ministry Benchmarks: The Worship Planner

by vernsanders on March 25, 2011

This is number eight in a sequence about benchmarks that started here, and continued here. We’ve specifically talked about benchmarks for a church’s chief accompanist for congregational singing here, for a worship team member here, a choir member here,  and a choir director here. Last time, we talked about benchmarks for a worship leader here.

Remember that what follows is my opinion, and not the result of a scientific study. It is, however, based upon years of practical experience.

Worship planning is one of those things that comes naturally to some people and not to others. It is not the kind of thing that can be learned quickly, and it is a task that I believe you can never get completely “right.” It is something like the proverbial little girl with the little curl: when it is good, it is great…but when it is bad…look out. All you can do, when it comes right down to it, is listen, pray, study, and be creative (within the confines of a given church’s liturgical structure, of course).

A worship planner’s job is done at a desk, but it plays out in the sanctuary. It is like an offensive or defensive co-ordinator’s position in football: you make your plans, but then, depending upon what happens in real time, everything might go out the window, or it might be one of those special times when it just works.

So let’s look at my list of characteristics of a worship planner:


  • Phones in the hymn/chorus choices and choir/special music early enough to get the music listed in the worship order
  • Understands enough about the liturgy (whether denominationally proscribed, or fiercely free) of the specific congregation to keep everybody engaged


  • Works together with the preaching pastor to design something that suits that pastor
  • Is conversant enough with Scripture to be able to include contextually appropriate music and spoken text for any given service
  • Is organized enough to work ahead, and flexible enough to adapt


  • Spends more time in prayer and contemplation than writing the outline
  • Has enough of an observational worship background memory to draw upon past experiences to plan for just the “right” worship event at just the “right” time
  • Leaves space for the Holy Spirit to work
  • Starts with a clean piece of paper each week, not a “fill-in-the-blanks” template
  • Is creative enough to incorporate “new” things, and sensitive enough to provide continuity over time
  • Plans for a “moment” when people can encounter God, as opposed to a “service” that fills time and space

This one is the toughest to define. My idea is to start conversations, so tell me what you think by leaving a comment below. Is this a good list?

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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Shelley Reel March 26, 2011 at 3:48 am

Excellent list! I agree totally. Too many DoMs just are out there plugging in the holes. I try—when pastors work with me, another story…—-to get my seasons tentatively scheduled twice a year. As I go along, I can add the drama, dance, special art and effects, but I know the basic outline and anthems far ahead and can line up volunteers to make it all happen. I can’t imagine how people work week to week.

vernsanders March 29, 2011 at 9:15 am

Thanks for the comment Shelley.
My experience has been that often it is Pastors who drive this process. If they can’t or don’t want to plan ahead, it is tough for the musician to do so.
I’ve now learned to be proactive, and have a conversation something like this: “OK, is it all right if I plan ahead, even if you don’t want to?”
Then what often happens is that my music planning becomes the springboard for the Pastor’s planning…
it is a delicate thing, obviously, but worth a try…


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