How we plan the songs for our Sunday morning worship services


Hey’s it’s Dave Dolphin at sharing ideas, tips and practical advice for the everyday worship leader. Today we’re in my home office, and I wanted to show you how we pick the songs for our Sunday morning worship sets. Now many of you use Planning Center Online and we do as well and there was a time where I would actually schedule and plan the songs, part of that creative process was done directly into Planning Center. And about a year or so ago I made a switch to using a dry erase board and a dry erase marker, and I have come to find that is such a great intuitive way to plan these sets. Not only just the fact of writing it down and seeing it in a very big scale kind of a way, but we also started planning our set four weeks at a time and that allows us to see flow. If we’re trying to incorporate new songs or the other songs that were using, what’s the rotations? Is it too much? Is it too little? And it allows us to see these sets not just as isolated sets on their own but what is the flow, what’s the story being told from weekend to weekend to weekend? It’s one common thing we’re trying to do versus these 52 isolated sets within the year. So the first thing I do is I list out all the potential songs and I put them into three categories. I’ve got fast songs, I’ve got slow songs and then I have a group specifically of hymns because we generally try to do one hymn every Sunday. New songs that we’re thinking about introducing we’re going to put at the top of those categories and then I just go through Planning Center and I give each song in Planning Center kind of the gut check. If it’s a song we have been doing, do we want to keep doing it or is it time to put it on to the shelf for a little bit? If it’s a song that’s been on the shelf for a while do we want to pull it off the shelf and give it a try? Notice that we put the keys of the songs listed out to the side, because when we start talking about transitions that’s going to be important. If we have a song that’s in B, then we’re going to need to find another song that’s in B or maybe relative to that. But transitions are pretty important. We don’t have set bands. We don’t say that so-and-so plays every fourth Sunday. Instead when we start picking out the sets, that’s going to determine who’s going to play and who’s going to sing. So right now the band slots are empty but those will fill in as the night goes on. And then we also put in block out information. For example Jessica’s one of our singers. She’s not available on the 29th, so I’ve noted that here on the board. And also our All Stars, which is our grade school kids, they’re going to be in service with us so I want to keep that in mind when I’m planning out this particular set. So here we are about midway through, we’re about 45 minutes into our planning session. You can see that we’re starting to kind of get our anchors in place. There’s certain songs we want to make sure that we either end with or start with or group together. We’re also starting to our get our bands formulated here and we’ve got some text messages out making sure people are available because if we’re planning a certain song around a certain person and they’re not available we need to go ahead and make that change here pretty quick. Now one thing I haven’t showed you yet is everyone say hi to Jonathan. Jonathan is one of our worship leaders here at the church, but he also helps me to plan out the sets and so when we are putting this together it’s not just me, it’s Jonathan and in fact we normally have a third person and she’s not here tonight. Jessica’s not here. But I started planning with multiple people about a year or so ago and I noticed that the quality of our sets got so much better when I started planning with other people because they’ll bring other ideas to the table that maybe some things I didn’t think of. And also if I’m kind of going down a bad path, a bad idea they will see it quicker than maybe I will and get those things shut down before they make it to the stage. So after about an hour and a half of planning here is where we landed. Now these songs that got filled in here at the end that kind of completed things, sometimes a song gets picked like that because of the feel that it has, it was missing feel for the set. Sometimes it was the missing part of the story and that’s why it gets picked. Sometimes a song gets picked in a slot for no other reason than it’s the same key as the others and it gets us from point A to point B. But regardless this is where we landed, and you might have noticed there towards the end that we were just kind of kicking back and staring at the board and we’re looking at them as a whole. Do we like what we see? Did we miss anything? How we doing on tempos? Is there too many fast songs? Is there are too many slow songs? What’s the story like? What’s the flow like? One of the goals that we have is that we have one hymn a week. Now that’s not a hard-and-fast rule. How do we do? Let’s see. We have Amazing Grace over here. We’ve got The Old Rugged Cross here. Glorious Day counts as a hymn over here and Be Thou My Vision. So we actually did it. We actually got a hymn a week. Now sometimes we’ve planned and for all four Sunday’s there wasn’t a single hymn but it’s because at the end of the day those weren’t the right songs for those sets and for those messages. So even though it is a goal that we want to have a hymn a week, if we don’t have hymn a week that’s okay. We need to be able to successfully answer the question why. Now probably one thing that goes without saying is that if we are not making a constant effort to be close to God, that we are consistently praying and reading His Word and being in tune with His Spirit, then all of this right here in our own strength is going to fail. And I don’t say that a lot in my videos. I guess I assume that we all know that not only should we be close to God that we are close to God so therefore here’s some tips and some practical advice for the everyday worship leader. But something as important as planning the songs and the sets for our Sunday morning service I figured I would be doing us all a disservice if I didn’t remind all of us that apart from God this and anything else we do is going to fail. Well thank you so much for watching. If this was helpful hit that like button below. That tells YouTube that it was helpful and it gets the information out in front of more and more people. 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12 Responses

  1. sewing1243

    January 17, 2017 11:52 pm

    How do you involve the Senior Pastor or guest speaker in the music selection to align with the expected sermon for a given service?

  2. Jeff Graves

    January 18, 2017 10:11 pm

    Dave, have you ever heard anyone categorize their songs between Horizontal and Vertical worship? I love your method but was wondering. I got to pick Chris Tomlin's brain when he was still doing youth camps back in the early 2000's and he discussed arranging songs so the worship set flowed from vertical (singing about God) to horizontal (singing too God). This would have to do more with the lyrics of the song rather than key or speed. Just curious to hear your thoughts. Love you videos!

  3. Juanmar Tempro

    July 5, 2017 5:34 pm

    but does this leave room for the holy spirit to flow: cause it seem like everything is plan but where is GOD in this whole process? To me this is planning all the sounds in advance for a whole month is like planing how you want God to move.


    August 23, 2017 10:33 pm

    You can do the same in PCO. Using the Matrix you can see as many services as you want at the same time.

  5. pooshlaooo

    January 30, 2019 5:51 pm

    do you try to pick songs that tie in with the sermon? do you know the sermon topics that far in advance? do you just pick one song that fits and the rest are more just about key and tempo?


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