1. Plan early. When you plan in advance, you have time for the idea to marinate, to build, to get better. You have time to plan the musical elements and the speaking transitions. You have time to plan how you will LEAD your church through the worship instead of just playing a list of songs. You have time to do steps 2-6.
2. Stay in the flow of the church. Where does God have your church? What is He leading you into? What has your pastor been preaching on? If you are in the middle of a series on the victory and freedom we have in Christ, Blood Ran Red is probably not the right song for that season.
3. Fit the puzzle together. You have a few songs. You have the guardrails up of where God has your church, rather than just you personally. Now take your song choices and see how they fit together. How does it all work together thematically? How does it flow? (Easter: don’t raise Him from the grave just to crucify Him on the cross during the next song.) How do the tempos and keys flow? You want to remove distractions. Use a speaking transition to help ease a difficult key transition. If you are going to go from a really fast song to a really slow song to another really fast song, make sure it is very purposeful and you know why and how you are going to walk the congregation through that rough transition.
4. Send to the team. Allow your team time to let it marinate in their spirit. Give them time to practice.
5. Practice the set list. This could be before or after your weekly practice, if you have one, but prior to Sunday morning. Spend time with your set list. We can prepare on paper and put together a good worship time, but so much about music is feeling and emotion. If you take the time to play through and worship through your set list, you will see where the transitions need to be worked, where you might want to speak and what you might say, where the Spirit might be falling. The Holy Spirit doesn’t always move just in the moment. He gives us “divine suspicions” early, as Keith Tucci calls them.
6. Hold everything open-handed. It would be better to only get through one song and hang where the Spirit is moving, than to get through all of the plan and miss the moving of the Holy Spirit. We plan. We execute with excellence. We play skillfully. We are presenting worship to the King, so of course we want to put forth our best in all areas. But then we hold it all open-handed because we serve at the bidding of the King.
At the end of the day, we can follow the above steps or our own system for set planning, but none of it matters if we aren’t spending time at the feet of Jesus and in the Word. We can’t lead people somewhere we haven’t been. Song choice is important. Flow is important. But the presence of God is essential. Do your due diligence in planning your set list, but don’t forget the most important step—time with Jesus!