The Soundtrack of a Service

Luke Barry

July 29, 2021
5 min read

As a worship leader, my guess is that you spend most of your time working on the songs you will sing in your Sunday service and the team that will lead them. That’s probably where your attention and energy go each week. That’s probably what is on your mind and on your to-do list. But how much time and thought do you give to the parts of service that aren’t your direct responsibility? What do you do before the worship set begins or after it ends? At VOUS, we like to use the worship team to support everything that happens in our services. Music is powerful, and its role in service doesn’t have to be limited to a few songs each week.

Our team sees each service as a single, cohesive experience. At least that’s how it should feel if all goes well. Rather than stringing together a series of disjointed moments, our goal is to bring each facet of a service together into one continuous flow. Not only does each individual piece matter, the transition from one piece to the next is critical in maintaining a seamless experience. We don’t want to gain energy in one part of service, only to lose it in the next. A bad transition can suck the life out of one moment and give the next a rocky start. When things are fragmented and disorganized, people are uncomfortable and distracted. When things flow together, there is a sense of ease and simplicity. No one is thinking much about what is happening; they are free to simply experience and enjoy.

There are a few keys to a great transition. If someone is speaking, their words and tone are important. On the technical side, lighting, music, and movement come together to shape the switch from one moment to the next. If these things happen intentionally and in sync with one another, the change will feel natural and, ideally, won’t be noticed at all. For the purpose of this conversation, we’ll focus on music. Of course, the most important function of your worship team is to lead your congregation in worshiping God. Since you already know that, let’s talk about some of the other moments that may be happening in your service.

PRE-/POST-SERVICE

The soundtrack of your service begins before your service starts and continues after it ends. What music is playing as people walk onto your church location or into your auditorium? What atmosphere is that music creating? There is no right or wrong here, but this is an opportunity for intentionality. For us, we want to create a fun, familiar vibe as people make their way into church. Especially for people who are new to church, hearing music they know can set them at ease and make them feel at home. Three times a year (in sync with our church’s seasonal calendar), our team creates a new courtyard playlist to keep things fresh. For special events, we often curate a specific playlist to set an appropriate mood.

WORSHIP INTRO VIDEO

Five minutes before service begins, our team triggers what we call our Worship Intro Video. This is a five-minute video, updated annually, that includes footage from our church and a track created by our team. The goal of the track is to build energy as we get ready for worship. It slowly increases in tempo, eventually leading into a moment when our band joins in, playing live over the last minute of the track. As the video ends, the worship set begins. This is one of my favorite details of our Sunday services. It is a strong example of being intentional with how you get from one moment to the next. Rather than just starting our worship set, we lead into it in a way that builds anticipation and creates energy.

ANNOUNCEMENTS

When the worship set ends, MCs take the stage to share announcements with our church. Rather than leave the stage, our band supports this moment by playing lightly behind our MCs. Musically, we choose a progression that has enough movement to be interesting but not so much that we distract from what’s being shared. This part of our service is light and fun, so we aim for a groove that matches that energy. Our team has found that 95-105bpm is a good tempo. Slower than that tends to drag, faster tends to feel rushed. If the plan for a given service is to go straight back into worship out of announcements, we will ensure that our jam is in the same key as our upcoming song.

OFFERING

On a standard Sunday, our announcements lead straight into an opportunity for people to give. Since this is when our MCs transition from a lighter to a more serious tone as they encourage our church, our band transitions with them. Gradually, each instrument plays more lightly until we fade to just keys. As keys take over, our tracks operator cuts the metronome and frees up our keys player to follow the MC on their own timing. Again, the goal is to do enough to support the moment and no more.

SERMON

The sermon is the one part of our service that happens primarily without music. However, our team plays a key role on the front and back end of each message. Typically, speakers will come up directly out of a song. As they do, we swell to support them and stay ready to continue singing. Our vocalists don’t leave the stage until a speaker invites the congregation to take a seat. Before service starts, our speakers provide keys players with a cue for when they can stop playing. Typically, this happens after prayer or after the sermon title is shared. The same is true for the end of a sermon. Our team receives a cue for when to head backstage and when to begin playing. Keys sound first, then other instruments follow the MD’s cues for when to join in. Our team supports the speaker, flowing up and down as their energy shifts, eventually leading back into worship.

As always, this is not a template for you. Our hope is that what we do will get you thinking about what you want to do. What kind of atmosphere do you want to create in your church? How can you improve the flow from one moment of your service to the next? How can you sharpen your transitions and minimize distractions? How can your worship team better support each aspect of your Sunday worship experience? Ultimately, what matters most is that you are leading your church in worship in a way that is authentic to you and aligned with the vision of your pastors. But we believe that thinking beyond the boundaries of your worship set can open up opportunities for your team to create an even more engaging and impactful worship experience for the people who attend your church.

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