How to Plan a Gospel-Centered Worship Service

Planning a worship service should be more involved than the worship leader picking out his current favorite songs.

Unfortunately, it can oftentimes be just that.  Leading worship must be more intentional than picking out 2 fast songs and 2 slow songs that happen to be your personal favorites.

For years, I have planned worship services around the text of Scripture being preached in that particular service.  I love the concept of setting the table for people to feast on God’s Word.  When worship is planned this way, the sermon is sneaking in throughout every element of the service.  By the time the preacher begins, the message has already started and people are already thinking about the truth at hand.

While I really believe in that approach, I have been leading a different way the last few months.  People at our church may not have realized it, but I have shifted a few things in how I approach leading worship.

Why am I doing this?

  1. It is never good to get stuck in a rut.
  2. The current approach best fits where we are as a church right now.

As our pastor approached preaching through the Book of Romans, he was hesitant about providing a preaching outline.  Some preachers prefer to have a complete outline of a series with defining a start date and an end date.  Others like to play it week to week.  With a series as expansive as Romans, he was unsure of how many verses each sermon could handle until he got deep into the weekly study.

In light of this, I have been planning services that walk through the gospel.  While some call this gospel-centered or liturgical in nature, the concept is simple:

A gospel-centered worship service utilizes every element to help walk worshipers through the gospel message. 

The gospel is the good news of Jesus Christ.  It is the plan and working of salvation to redeem a fallen people.  Since we are working through the Book of Romans, and it is never a bad idea to walk-through the gospel, we have been planning our services accordingly.

Components of a Gospel-Centered Worship Service

So, exactly how does it work?  In utilizing the major points of the gospel narrative, you plan the service around each progressive step.  While there are many ways to break it down, one of my most favorite, simplest approaches is this:

  1. Creation – God is holy.
  2. Fall – We are sinners.
  3. Redemption – Jesus saves us.
  4. Consummation – Jesus sends us.

In summary, the gospel can be proclaimed in 140 characters like this:

God is holy. We rebelled & deserve his wrath. Jesus took our place on the cross and provided salvation. He sends us out until he comes back.

Taking those four major elements, I plan the service accordingly.  In our gatherings, we walk through the gospel story.  While I haven’t made it glaringly obvious (“we are now entering into the fall section of our service”), I have begun to lead in a way that portrays it.

Examples of Gospel Elements

There are certain elements that fit well into each category.  While this isn’t an exact formula (and I think you can be too forceful in nature trying to make things work), these are some of the components that work well in each category.  Notice that due to the service or content of the sermon, things can work in different spots.

  1. Creation – Call to worship, reading of a psalm that declares God’s majesty, worshiping with an adoration song, watching a video that leads us to think upward, worship preparatory moments, etc.
  2. Fall – Song of confession or repentance, prayer time concerning areas of sin in our lives, reading Scripture, reminder of our depravity, responsive reading, lament over personal or corporate sins, etc.
  3. Redemption – testimonies, baptism, songs about salvation, reading Scripture, sermon, prayer times, communion, church updates that remind us of what he has done for us, etc.
  4. Consummation – sermon, prayer time, songs declaring obedience, reading Scripture, altar calls, sending out to live out message, communion, etc.

While there are many great resources on this topic, I encourage worship pastors to read Rhythms of Grace.  The book by Mike Cosper is a great tool on this approach.

Living in these biblically illiterate times, we cannot share the gospel enough.

So whether or not you are the preacher, you still should be a gospel-proclaimer.  As you lead through a service, you have the opportunity to do just that.