One of the most effective ways you can create an atmosphere that encourages worship is to work on song transitions and the flow of service. This is something that isn’t always given the attention it deserves, but it can completely transform a set list when done well. I usually plan time to sit down for at least an hour a day or two before the week’s first rehearsal so I can work through what I want the transitions to be and how I want everything to flow. It is important to take this time to experiment a little without the pressure of the band waiting on instructions from you, and so you can clearly communicate the details to the band. This eliminates confusion during practice, and your band will appreciate that you aren’t wasting their time trying to figure it out.
Here are the usual parts of the songs and worship set that I think through when preparing for Sundays. In no way is this an exhaustive list, just some of the most typical:
1. Song Keys. The first thing I figure out is what key each song is going to be in. If there is a song in the set that I consider to be the key song for the week or requires a large vocal range, I will usually start with that song first. Once I have locked in the key for the first song, I typically play through the other songs using the same key as the first and see if it feels comfortable vocally. If singing each song in the same key still allows for the right dynamics vocally and musically, then I’m done. If not, I will try to raise or lower the keys of the songs that didn’t work by one whole step. I try to keep songs in the same key together in the set when I can, and I try not to use more than a couple of keys throughout the set; it doesn’t always happen, but I try. I also avoid half step key changes when transitioning songs. It just sounds slightly awkward to me when I hear it.
2. Tempo. Next, I consider the tempo of each song and decide how I want to start and end the set. The following examples obviously change slightly depending on the tempo of the songs you will be using, but I find that the song flow usually follows one of these options: Fast – Upbeat – Medium – Slow (typical worship flow), Fast – Upbeat – Medium – Upbeat (ends on a “high note”), Slow – Medium – Medium – Slow (more intimate). There are endless options, but I would stay away from drastic tempo changes from song to song.
3. Be Creative. This is where the fun really starts. Don’t lock yourself into always following the same song structure. Change it up and start a song on the chorus with just an acoustic guitar playing, then transition with the full band into the first verse. If you really want to end on a song with a medium tempo but you feel like you should end on a slower song, just have the band stop playing at the end. Then continue with just a guitar or piano playing lightly as you lead the congregation through the chorus a few times. Using fewer instruments can make the song feel slower than it actually is most of the time.
4. Use The Band. Not every song should include stopping one song and starting a new one. I typically like to keep pads playing underneath every transition when possible and especially if the song is going to stay in the same key. If the next song starts with a specific instrument, I will try to find a way to end the previous song so that musician has time to
come in almost immediately with the next song. When transitioning like this, you just have to be sure your musicians know to leave just a bit of time for the ending of the previous song to actually resolve and breathe a little. Otherwise, the transition will not sound natural and will feel rushed.
5. Talking. I find it hard to do this in a way that feels authentic. It can be used to set the tone for the rest of the worship, but you have to be careful that you do not ramble, and that you clearly make your point in a way that propels people forward in their worship. You should try to stay away from speaking in between songs more than once. I like the flow of service best when announcements, offering, etc. are done before or after the worship set. I know a lot of churches will do announcements after the first song, and that’s okay. I just find it easier to set the tone and create an atmosphere of worship when I can lead straight through a set.
6. Silence. You should avoid too much silence when transitioning songs unless it is being done on purpose. If it’s taking longer for the band to come in because the drummer dropped their sticks, that would be bad silence. If you are creating a time of silence for people to stand in awe and reverence before God, then I’d consider that good silence. The important thing about creating this type of silence is to let people know somehow that it is on purpose. You can do this by simply saying, “Let’s take a moment to just sit in silence and reflect.” Silence also works best after songs that sing about God’s grandeur and His holiness. I wouldn’t try to use it after a song that is a call to worship. Doing that would create a level of contradiction.
Thinking through these should get you started. Putting in the time before rehearsal shows you are respectful of the band’s time and builds trust among those on your team because they see that you are ready. There will be times when what you plan will not work out once you are practicing with the full band, or you may have another idea and decide it will sound better. That’s okay, and this is one of the reasons you prepared ahead. In fact, I typically change something in the first rehearsal because I find that a transition doesn’t work as well as I thought, or once I hear the band playing their parts, it sparks an idea that works even better. Good song transitions and flow of service create a much more natural and freeing time of worship. So, put the time in to work through these, and don’t be afraid to make changes during rehearsal when you need to. You will be amazed at what this can do for your service on Sundays!