Preparing your worship set – a practical guide

As I’ve grown in experience as a worship leader one of the growing joys of the role is helping to bring others into not just the worship team, but leading worship too.

The way we do that at King’s Church is initially through a process of co-leading with them. Planning together, and then sharing the leading too, taking point on different songs, sharing the talkback mic to the rest of the band (we use in ear monitors) and coordinating with the meeting leader and speaker.

I had no idea there was so much admin!

One of the biggest learning points in that process is just how much practical work is involved in actually preparing for a meeting. ‘I had no idea!’ is the usual response, even from band members.

To aid that I’ve put together a list of the stages I go through when preparing to lead a meeting and specifically putting the song list together. The reality is I don’t stick to this rigidly. Meetings vary, leaders vary, sometimes it’s quite last minute. But starting with an ideal scenario, getting comfortable with that, and then reducing it from there isn’t a bad way to develop your skills.

1. Theming your set

Personally I think it’s very powerful to try and tie the theme of the worship with the word being brought. A lot of worship leaders are less focused on that, although most of us agree on trying to make a response time (if you have one) pick up on where the speaker left the congregation.

Our pattern at King’s Church is most often to have four or five songs at the beginning of a meeting and one or two at the end, so the notes below reflect that framework.

Thanks to our fabulous church and worship administrator (and leader), Jen Swallow, who typed up and added to my original notes on this.

2. Gather information

Gather the following information from the following people:

  • Meeting Leader – anything notable in timing or structure, e.g. breaking bread, specific response, shorter response time, key notices
  • Band – who’s available, double check, agree rehearsal plan
  • Speaker – notes or highlights of what they’re speaking on – scripture, key points and any themes
    Their plan for where they intend to end up and any response is the key thing you need to know if nothing else.

3. Preparation

  1. Read passage
  2. Pray about it
  3. For the first set try and tie the last song most strongly to the theme – where do I want to lead people to?
  4. Where is/has congregation been/at/going? (Time of year, celebration, mourning, for example)
  5. What tone for meeting – other factors – meeting content, context, which band members (drums or no drums is a biggie)
  6. Intuition/prayer on what the objective is – celebration, repentance, the cross, worship, etc

4. Picking songs

  1. Look back at what I and other worship leaders have done recently (we all copy the other leaders into what we’re using), previous week’s set, what others have introduced or sung recently, notes and activity report (we keep a list for CCLI of the songs we’ve been singing recently)
  2. SongSelect (CCLI’s very handy online system): use favourites, search for theme and sort by popularity
  3. Natural progression of songs – call to worship – praise – worship
  4. New song/ old song in mix, revisit new songs (try it twice, have other leaders’s picked it up?)

Narrow them down:

  • Fist set (5-6 songs)

Theme related songs:
New song? (second slot is often a good place)
What else in that key? (search folder)


  • Respose(1-2 song)
  • Spares (2-3 songs)

 5. Forming your set list

  1. Think about progression of worship  (think about the tabernacle model – ‘enter his gates with thanksgiving and praise, leading to Jesus’ sacrifice, reflection/confession, and then worship at the holy of holies)
  2. Mentally go from song to song, think about the journey it takes people on
  3. Look for chances for different instruments to lead
  4. Keys (continuity) – first three especially and beats per minute especially if you’re using click tracks
  5. Are backing tracks available for some, or all of them
  6. Transitions – how are you going to move between songs
  7. Check keys on SongSelect sheet music tool – you can play through the notes and make sure it’s in a usable range for the congregation and for you!
  8. Listen to arrangements of performed songs – live is best as studio recordings are a different environment
  9. Talk through with meeting leader to agree direction taken
  10. Make arrangement notes on sheet music (as in chords) (not capo’d) and distribute (we share them as PDFs)

6. Rehearsal

My band has a rehearsal during the week to go over the nuts and bolts of the songs, and work out arrangements, especially if we are bringing a new one. We review beginnings, ends and transitions on the Sunday morning playthrough too.

Preapring-for-leading-worship7. Sunday morning

  1. Sound check and ‘top and tail’ each song to confirm beginnings, ends and transitions
  2. Talk to meeting leader
    • Do they have something specific to bring? Will they pray at start or you? How will the response be handled (them, the speaker, you)?
  3. Talk to the speaker if possible
    • Tell them the response song you have in mind, they can often tie into it
    • Let them know if considering reading their scripture to avoid repetition
  4. Review afterwards, what worked, what didn’t, songs, keys, transitions, to work on next time

8. Timing

In an ideal world I like to be gathering information and thinking about songs the end of the preceding week, so I’m ready for our rehearsal (the Monday before). In reality many speakers aren’t ready by then, so what often happens is I’ll work off the scripture and theme, get most of a proposed set list together to work at with the band, and then confirm it later in the week once I hear more. But we live in hope!

More help on worship leading

The Musicademy Practical Worship Leading Skills course covers all the above and a lot more. You can download or stream the whole course. Watch the info video about it here.


Simon-Patrick-Worship-LeadingSimon Patrick is a worship leader at King’s Church, High Wycombe, and has led at a variety of churches and organisations for 25 years. A long-time friend of the Musicademy team, he helped get the original site set up. He runs a home education tuition business with his wife, Clare – as well as working in marketing and copywriting.