How to Plan Engaging Christmas Worship Services

Jason Hatley here . . . Pastor of Worship Arts at The Journey and Founder of Worship Leader Insights.

Have you ever noticed how, when leading worship, you and your team can be totally immersed in the moment, but when you look around the congregation looks like they’re stuck in line at the grocery store?

Arms crossed. Faces stiff. iPhone out. Heart disengaged.

I’m sure that’s never happened to you, right? 🙂

Why can you and I be so “in the moment”, and the congregation be so “out of it”?

The reason is because the congregation doesn’t experience the worship set the way you and I do.

They aren’t hearing what we hear (or should I say feeling what we feel).

We’re actually playing the music, feeling the connection with other musicians, onstage and amplified.  In short . . . we’re fully invested.  Whereas the congregation can oftentimes feel like bystanders, simply observing what’s happening onstage.

If they could somehow “plug” into us like a power cord into an outlet so they feel what we feel, this divide wouldn’t exist.  But we all know that’s not the way it works. And our job is to not only experience worship ourselves, but to lead them to do the same.

For the last two weeks we’ve been talking about how you can create powerful moments in your Christmas worship sets, and the best way to do that is to answer these questions:

  • What do I want them to know?
  • What do I want them to feel?
  • What do I want them to do?

In this series, we’ve already talked about “know” and “do”, so the question for today is:


It’s a matter of planning.  I know — it sounds strange to say that when we’re talking about “feeling”, but go with me on this…

Great moments in worship don’t have to be accidental.  They can be planned and discovered in advance.

With the right spoken transition, the right lighting or the right stage change (just to name a few), your worship set can go from unremarkable to irresistible.  Here’s how:

#1 – Be true to the feeling of the song.  If you’re singing a rockin’ opening worship song, and you want your congregation to move, clap and sing, then you can’t stand onstage like a knot on a log.  You have to move, clap and sing as well (only bigger).  As live music producer Tom Jackson says, “Don’t sing rock songs if you aren’t going to rock.”

#2 – Set the stage for the emotion you want to create.
  Two weeks ago we sang a quiet acoustic version of “He Leadeth Me“.  So to set the stage, we brought down the lights, simplified the arrangement (2 guitars and vocals), and sat on stools.  By changing they way we presented the song, we were able to help the congregation experience the same quiet emotion we were feeling as we performed it.

#3 – Provide context.  You shouldn’t do this for every song (too much talking does not make for a powerful worship set).  But when appropriate use scripture or a short story to create context for a song.

A couple of Sundays ago, we did a message on finding peace this Christmas, and our team did a stirring version “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day” right in the middle of the message. The song alone could have stood by itself, but to help deepen the connection of the congregation to the moment, our pastor briefly told the story of how Henry Wadsworth Longfellow wrote that poem during the Civil War, and how on Christmas Day the fighting would stop and the soldiers (even across battle lines) would declare peace for one day and celebrate Christmas together before fighting resumed the next day.

Just a little bit of context helped it go from “a nice song” to a worship experience that the congregation will remember next time they hear that song while Christmas shopping.

Each week you and I should put ourselves into the shoes of those in our church and ask, “If I were in the congregation, how would I want the worship leader to draw me into the moment of worship?”

Here’s to helping your congregation engage this Christmas!


P.S. Christmas isn’t the only time of year you want to create great moments in your worship service. You can create life transformational moments EVERY Sunday with the Planning Worship Services for Life Transformation Workshop.  Download your copy today.

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About Nelson Searcy

Nelson Searcy is an experienced church growth strategist, pastor, church planter and coach, consulting with churches around the world. As founder of Church Leader Insights and the Renegade Pastors Network, he has personally trained more than 3,500 church leaders in over 45 denominations through live events, seminars and monthly coaching. Nelson is also the Founding and Lead Pastor of The Journey Church, with locations across New York City and in Boca Raton, FL. Nelson and his church routinely appear on lists such as “The 50 Most Influential Churches” and “The 25 Most Innovative Leaders.” He is the author of over 100 church growth resources and 18+ books, including The Renegade Pastor: Abandoning Average in Your Life, Ministry and The Difference Maker: Using Your Everyday Life for Eternal Impact, and At the Cross with the People Who Were There. He and his wife, Kelley, have one son, Alexander.

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