Do’s and Don’ts for Christmas service planning

Do’s and Don’ts: Christmas service planning

We asked the Musicademy Worship Community (our new Facebook Group) for their tips on Christmas planning and were blown away by a response from Christopher Phillimore that listed some super useful Do’s and Don’ts. We couldn’t agree more with his suggestions.

Here is Christopher’s list:

  • DO plan in advance and lock everything down in good time with the leadership.
  • DO give more than usual time to practice and rehearsal since the songs are infrequently done and not as automatic as the regular repertoire.
  • 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!
  • 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)
  • 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!
    Works great.
  • DO consider it OK to do a band only song with congregation seated – its kind of 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.
  • DON’T be afraid to string together back to back carols – there doesn’t have to be a reading between every song.
  • DON’T use unfamiliar Christmas related or tenuously connected songs or alternate lyrics to non-Christmas songs.
    They tend to disengage the worshippers.
  • DON’T use word sheets if you have screens. Get people looking up.

Christopher also said:

We also have a “Carols and beer” in the pub night in our village. Guitar and a violin and some song sheets. We take a few folk from church but it doesn’t take much to get the whole place singing. Last year was a great craic! A real highlight was We Three Kings with an ever increasing in pitch and volume ooooooooooo-oohhhhhhh before the chorus!

Other UK churches do the same thing and pubs tell them it is one of the busiest nights of the year.

Another useful suggestion (from Ian Pryce) was to:

  • Place an ad in the community magazine asking for all-comers to make a scratch choir for a Christmas carol service

We’ll add a few of our own:

  • DO use simplified chord charts that don’t change chord on every note (we’ve lots here – scroll to the bottom of the list for the carols – and a bundle pack here)
  • 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
  • DO check and communicate the key you are playing each carol in well ahead of time. 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
  • 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
  • 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.

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