28 Do’s and Don’ts of Christmas service planning

28 Do’s and Don’ts of Christmas service planning

Planning a Christmas service? Read this first

  1. DO plan well in advance and lock everything down in good time with the leaders
  2. DO choose and circulate your music/key choice well ahead of rehearsals. Christmas is often the one time of year when you have orchestral and brass instruments joining the band. They tend to prefer a musical score (which doesn’t tend to come with instant transposing functionality). CCLI’s Song Select’s Lead Sheets will be helpful here.
  3. DO plan in extra rehearsal time
  4. DO give more than usual time to practice and rehearsal since the songs are infrequently done and not as automatic as the regular repertoire
  5. DO work with younger church members in the band and choir
  6. DO place an ad in the community magazine asking for all-comers to make a scratch choir for a Christmas carol service
  7. DO use orchestral instruments as an addition to the standard worship team (try and get them off the melody line!)
  8. DO use an organ for some carols if you have a good instrument and good organist. Consider arrangements which blend band and organ. For example, start It Came Upon a Midnight Clear with very light acoustic band sound and organ barely perceptible to start and then build band and organ through the verses until the organ’s power bursts through by the end and the band are barely perceptible
  9. DO think about keys that are singable by a congregation (many original carols are far too high)
  10. DO choose well known carols that suit a worship band arrangement not the carols that have a chord change every note (O Little Town, Once in Royal)
  11. DO think about medleys eg God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen fits well to Come People of the Risen King and you can include the Rejoice, Rejoice chorus. Also Tomlin’s Adore transition to O Come all Ye Faithful. At the end of the chorus of Adore, move into the chorus of O Come all Ye Faithful, then start the verse/chorus progression of the traditional.
  12. DO go through the music and simplify the chords for guitarists minimising the number of chord changes required (or use the chord charts from Worship Backing Band!)
  13. DO be prepared to alter plans for weather or other unexpected eventualities
  14. DO check the words and verse/chorus order the band is using is the same as the one being projected to the congregation – carols are notoriously variable.
  15. DO have a read of this article from Tim Martin where he questions whether all the emphasis on Christmas services is really the right thing to be doing
  16. DON’T be afraid to string together back to back carols – there doesn’t have to be a reading between every song.
  17. DON’T use unfamiliar Christmas related or tenuously connected songs or alternate lyrics to non-Christmas songs.
    They tend to disengage the worshippers.
  18. DON’T use word sheets if you have screens. Get people looking up.
  19. DON’T be afraid to use backing tracks to fill out your sound and rescue your less than confident musicians – we’ve lots of MultiTrack carols here plus you get a 20% saving on bulk buys
  20. DON’T bore people with too much singing. Regular church goers are used to lengthy worship sets but those that come only at high days and holidays may well find the 15th verse of The First Noel a bit much. Attention spans aren’t what they used to be and people are looking forward to the coffee and mince pies after the service too – don’t have them standing in the pews for too long.

The old vs new songs debate

  1. DO try to give visitors a flavour of what they’d get if they came on a Sunday. If you’re a band led church use the band. If you’re an organ and choir church use organ and choir. If you have a mix, use both. Also works for the regulars!
  2. DO include some new Christmas songs amongst the older carols but….
  3. DO incorporate contemporary songs but perhaps as a performance piece
  4. DO consider it OK to do a band only song with congregation seated – the modern equivalent of choir anthem.
    But needs to be lyrically rich or powerful and story telling.
    Something like Thorns in the Straw (Graham Kendrick) works well.
  5. DO hold a contemporary carol service for those who would like a change from the traditional
  6. DO look at Paul Baloche’s Christmas songs which combine traditional carols with some of his familiar worship songs rewritten with Christmas words
  7. DO include the Rend Collective version of Ding Dong Merrily on High
  8. DON’T be too contemporary in key services such as Christmas Day or Carols By Candlelight. Many people only come to church at Christmas or with family so don’t alienate them with the latest Tomlin/Redman/Hillsong/Jesus Culture offering. That can turn many people away. They need to feel at home with the traditional carols

Have you any ideas to add? Please comment in the thread below.