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Four Misconceptions about Worship Service Production
By Kyle Dever

Best Practices for Adventist Worship sat down with Kyle Dever to discuss four common misconceptions regarding worship service production and some practical ways all churches could benefit from more intentional production practices. 

Nicholas Zork: I have sensed a resistance at times to a thorough and intentional approach to worship service production. What do you think creates this resistance?

Kyle Dever: I encounter four primary misconceptions that make worship planners skeptical of applying production principles. The first is the assumption that a well produced worship service would need to look like some other highly produced event you have in mind. When you think of event production, if you imagine a huge Coldplay concert, and your church has twenty members, you’ll assume production principles don’t apply to your context. Or maybe you’ll even think they shouldn’t apply because, understandably, you don’t want your worship service to be like a Coldplay concert. The first misconception is that worship service production equates to a certain style of worship. That’s simply not true.

NZ: I’ve heard people resist certain production principles like prioritizing and planning aesthetic details (lighting, layout, sound quality, etc.) because “worship isn’t a show.” It seems as though production is equated not only with a certain style but with entertainment in general.

KD: That’s a response I’ve also heard. The purpose of production is to be more intentional. It may or may not have anything to do with putting on a show. In worship, for example, good production practices might mean planning the sermon themes months in advance. I’ve served in churches where we did this, and it gave the musicians (who were also scheduled in advance) ample time to think and pray about thematically appropriate congregational songs. We were also able to plan which videos we wanted to show in advance. Production doesn’t make worship more of a show; but it does allow team members to more easily and effectively contribute. Try planning your sermon themes at least three months in advance and see what that will do for the rest of your team.

NZ: Can this kind of planning be done at a church with a small staff or that is mostly led by volunteers? 

KD: Definitely. I have worked at both very small and very large churches. One of the churches where we were actually the most intentional about production and advanced planning was one where I was the only staff member.

NZ: Didn’t that create a lot of extra work for you?

KD: No. Quite the opposite! If we hadn’t done that, worship services would have become a recurring burden. Rather than being restful and worshipful, they would have been the least worshipful moment of the week. Not only was the worship service more meaningful for participants, helping us to more readily connect with one another and with God, pre-production also made my life and the lives of our volunteers easier. 

NZ: Making decisions at the last second that could have been made earlier and with more intentionality doesn’t really save time; it’s just a less effective and more stressful use of time.

KD: Yes. That’s the second misconception about worship service production—that it takes a lot of time. It can, depending on what you’re trying to accomplish. But planning details in advance often saves time; and, at the very least, the same amount of time yields better results. Try sitting down once a year and planning the worship calendar for the year—not all the details but, at the very least, who will be responsible for what. You can adapt as schedules change. But in one day of advance planning, you can eliminate days of stress and poorly rushed decisions.

NZ: A third misconception I often encounter is that preparation reflects an unwillingness to be led by the Holy Spirit. If we are too prepared then we won’t attend to God’s leading. In this misconception, production is seen as a distraction from the presence of God. But as a musician, I’ve learned that the more prepared I am, the more I’m able to focus on God and on leading my fellow participants in worship. It’s actually very distracting to be unprepared.

KD: And that’s not just true of music. The Holy Spirit isn’t only active for 90 minutes on Sabbath morning (or 60 or 180 minutes, depending on where you worship!). The Holy Spirit leads in production meetings as well. Advanced planning actually broadens the scope of where you allow God to lead. And when it comes to Sabbath morning, the more prepared you are, the more present you can be during the worship service. 

NZ: There is no way to avoid making production decisions. The question is whether you want to make them in advance or on the fly.

KD: Amen. Outside of my work in church contexts, improvisational theater is my favorite thing in the world. So I’m not against doing things on the fly! I just think that when it comes to a worship service, relying on improvisation almost always hurts the quality of our decision making and connection with the Divine. Try expecting God to show in a palpable way—even a worship inspiring way— during planning meetings. Pray for this to happen at every planning meeting.

NZ: The fourth related misconception I encounter is that artistic excellence is a distraction from focusing on God.

KD. Yes. And, of course, the opposite is true. Whether the service is complex and grand in scale or simple and intimate, excellence allows the gathering to be more worshipful not less.

NZ: I often use the metaphor of a window to explain the importance of artistic excellence in worship. A poorly prepared element of worship is like a dirty window; you see the window. An excellently executed element is like a clean window; you see what’s on the other side. In a well produced worship service, you seek excellence in order to not be noticed, to avoid distraction and allow participants to attend to God through the service.

KD: And life has enough distraction. Living and working in New York City, I’m learning the importance of valuing people’s time. When people gather on Sabbath, this may be the one moment all week that they’re not under the stress, pressure and distraction of work deadlines. I want to do everything in my power to ensure that the experience of worshipping together is conducive to a restful encounter with the Divine. I can’t leave the experience to chance. Ultimately, worship results from God’s willingness to meet us. And we can’t control that. But we can and should do whatever we can to be intentional as we let the Spirit lead.

NZ: Interestingly, although we live in a fast-paced, intense city, we don’t have a fast-paced, intense worship service here at Church of the Advent Hope. We’re pretty laid back, actually. We offer people an intentional Sabbath rest from their work week. 

KD: Yes. And those times that we’re unprepared, the worship experience inadvertently becomes stressful and starts to feel like work. We always have a more relaxed and restful worship experience when we’re prepared. The more well produced the service is, the less produced it actually feels, allowing participants to focus on what matters most: meeting one another and meeting the God who so graciously meets us.