Tech Saturday (on a Sunday!): Planning Center Online


Hello friends! 


Sorry I haven't been on schedule around here on the J-Blog. It's been a busy season with a final paper and a new language to learn down at the seminary, as well as the kickoff of a few things at Westminster that need my attention. But, happy happy news is coming to the J-Blog, and I'm hoping to make that announcement next week! In the meantime, accept as my apology a late Tech Saturday offering, and we'll see you all again on Tuesday!


To quote Rob Bell, I would screw up a one car parade. My administrative abilities are negligible at best, and disastrous at worst. Before the advent of iCloud, and the ability to keep all of my calendars and to-do lists in a single space, my desk, car, refrigerator, backpack, and palm were covered in sticky notes and reminders, about half of which I ever remembered to follow through on. My arrival at Westminster forced me to change my habits when it comes to planning and personal discipline, because the mistakes you might be able to get away with in a smaller church can be devastating in a larger environment.


One of the hardest things to keep straight and going was planning for our Bridge worship service. The way we've always put it that makes sense to me is that the Bridge is made up of many moving parts, each of which are changing from week to week. There are two primary worship leaders, who are both sometimes out of town. There are (at the moment anyway) 5 regular preachers. There are dozens and dozens of skilled and talented musicians who have cycled through our doors in the last 5 years, almost none of whom work for the church. And so we have to keep it all straight, some how we have to manage this monster of a thing called the Bridge, and in a perfect world, do so in such a way that to the congregation it seems seamless and smooth. 


This is not an easy task! 


Enter Planning Center Online. This outstanding web based service has helped us to keep track of what's going on from week to week and keep everybody in the loop. There are any number of excellent features on this site, and truth be told I still don't think I have figured out how to use it to its full advantage yet. But here for the sake of a blog post are a few of the features that have changed our worship service, and that I think could help you organize yours:


1. PDF downloads with YouTube Videos. We are forced because of the temporary nature of our worship space to run the no huddle worship team, meaning we do not have a weekly rehearsal time to get things ready for the Sunday to come. So one of the challenges we faced early on was how can we best equip our musicians to be ready to play when they walk in the door for a quick hour long sound-check that doubled as rehearsal? 


In Planning Center, you are able to upload PDF files of your chord charts. Our habit is to simply download the chart directly from CCLI when we can, and upload the PDF to planning center. That way each musician has the ability to download the music on their own when they're scheduled for worship. You can also attach a youtube video to the song in question, so that musicians can listen to the song and maybe even practice along with it with the chord charts. A few of our musicians show up to practice on Sunday mornings with their charts all marked up and highlighted, so they know what to expect when they walk in the door. 


2. When did we use that song last? We try our best to limit the number of times we repeat a song in worship, because we don't want to get bogged down singing "How Great is Our God" for ten weeks in a row. But because we have several different worship leaders sharing the workload, it's hard to keep track of what we do from week to week. Planning Center offers us a Matrix view, where we can see how each of the last few services shaped up, and what songs we might need to step away from, or what songs we haven't done in a while that could use re-introducing. 


This feature is also great when it comes to be our turn to participate in CCLI reporting. Planning Center can communicate directly with your CCLI account and report the songs we're doing from week to week, to make sure that the goofy worship leader doesn't forget to do so on Tuesday morning after staff meeting! One less thing to worry about in a busy week.


3. Scheduling. This is the biggest help for us. Once we know who's leading worship on a particular week, they can sign into planning center and set a schedule for each of our musicians. The musicians themselves can even help things along by letting us know which weeks they are unavailable, so that we can avoid scheduling them or schedule someone else. When someone declines an invitation, Planning Center can help suggest people who might be able to fill that role. 


Planning Center is a monthly subscription service. The cheapest package is zero dollars a month, so you really owe it to yourself to at least give it a shot! Plus, they do an incredible job with their video tutorials so that you know your way around the service. Stop on by and check it out today!