I’ve led worship for a handful of churches that use Planning Center Online, and it’s intriguing how many worship leaders/departments run their PCO pretty fast and loose! Every time I see that, I wonder to myself, “Don’t they know that it takes like 1 extra minute when putting in a song to make a HUGE difference in the long run?” Don’t get me wrong…I’m not the kind of guy who arranges the shirts in my closet by color or anything like that, but I am the kind of guy who wants to a) streamline weekly processes to avoid wasted time/energy, b) increase his work’s effectiveness for the church, and c) leave a clean house to whomever would come after/alongside me in ministry. If you get nothing else from this post, understand that in general the difference between an organized person and a disorganized person is the willingness to take 90 seconds and write details down.
Below are obvious but often-overlooked techniques to make Planning Center Online work better for you and your church. If you have to go back and do this stuff for your whole library, start by editing songs as you use them week to week, and commit to doing 5 extra songs per week in alphabetical order.
Put an accurate BPM for every song. You should already be on click, so having the correct tempo listed for every song is mission critical. Don’t waste precious minutes of practice listening to the recording on your phone and having the drummer tap it in… or worse, just guessing the tempo based on how you’re feeling at the moment. If you didn’t know, bands and producers will fight tooth and nail for 2 or 3 BPM in the studio, so–unless you disagree with the band’s tempo, which I do from time to time–play it at the tempo of the most popular recording. Beyond the benefits already listed, your BPM’s will reveal easy transitions from one song at 100BPM to another song at 100BPM. You’d be surprised how close most song tempo’s are. *A new-ish PCO feature even lets you include the Meter, so do that, too! Why not? It takes 2 seconds.
List a Sequence for every song. The Sequence section is a relatively new addition to PCO, but deserves full adoption into your weekly workflow. Let’s be honest, a given song (say, “10,000 Reasons” by Matt Redman) doesn’t change that much in its sequence from one instance to the next–it’s pretty much the same Sequence both when you play it this week and a month from now. Even though PCO makes it really easy to make a one-time adjustment of a song’s Sequence within a particular plan, I don’t change the Sequence in PCO week to week… I just leave the fullest, longest edition of the song in the Sequence section and then have my players scratch out sections in practice as I decide to scrap the repeated Bridge or add a Tag at the end. (This reflects my leadership style, though, where I come in with a plan but try to let the band members have a say in some of the Sequences). The way I see it, the Sequence should act as an aid and a catalyst for you, not a restriction that has to be updated weekly unless that’s something you want to do. Either way, PCO has you dialed in.
Assign Custom Properties to every song. For some reason, some guys act as if “you can’t limit worship by labeling songs as Fast, Medium, Slow, Rock, Indie, Contemporary, Older, Hymn, etc.,” but I totally disagree. Organization is not only key to good business, it’s also core to the character of God to organize, to structure, label, and classify. At some point you will need a Slow Hymn, and if you didn’t take 5 seconds–LITERALLY 5 seconds–to indicate “Slow” and “Hymn” when you plugged “My Jesus I Love Thee” into PCO, you’re going on a wild goose chase through 300 songs to find that song… and you may not even see it.
Quit using PDF’s and Word DOC’s, and quit using different fonts, sizes, and arrangement terms. You can Google any song and get a relatively accurate chord chart that PCO can transpose to any key you need, so get those non-transposable PDF’s/DOC’s out of here! When you paste/edit a chord chart, be sure to choose the same font, font size, and arrangement terms for every song. Too many people go back and forth between fonts (Courier on Song 1, Times on the next, back to Courier for Song 3), making the band’s experience visually schizophrenic and distracting. Again, take the 2 seconds to change the font to your preferred font, whatever that may be. A quick rant, if I may:
Courier needs to be wiped from the face of the planet. Please, for Heaven’s sake, us Arial or Times. I also recommend using size 13 or 14 so the words/notes are more easily visible from a few feet away. Whatever you do, be consistent …and consider yourself shunned if you actually prefer the great Serif’d monster that is Courier on anything other than a child’s lemonade stand.
Ok, thanks for letting me do that. Back to PCO.
Print and review a 12-month Song Usage chart every quarter. This will expose songs that have been on the fringe of both over- and under-usage, and will indicate which songs you should probably even put in the “No Fly” zone for a few months. This is especially important if you have multiple worship leaders who could potentially do the same song 3 weeks in a row without meaning to. I had to shelf “Forever Reign” for a few months when I got to Voyagers because it had seen a gluttonous amount of air time in 2012. You can see this Song Usage chart by clicking on Plans to take you to your Dashboard, and then clicking on Reports at the bottom of the page. Set the “What” to “Songs” and then set the dates. I recommend looking at this sheet once a quarter, and look at a 12-month period every time… so in April you’ll look at March ’12 through March ’13. This helps you stay fresh and unpredictable, and tells you when it’s time to start bringing in some more new songs to pad the church’s repertoire.
Write in major holidays and important events in the Title section of each plan. This helps you keep track of the “zeitgeist” in the church and in its surrounding culture. For instance, I have St Patrick’s Day, Cinco de Mayo, Mother’s Day, High School Winter Camp, and “Tax Day is tomorrow” listed next to the sermon titles on various Sundays throughout the year. You don’t need to paint the sanctuary green for St Patty’s Day, but it’s low hanging fruit to connect with the every-day life of your people by making mention of major holidays, cultural trends and events, and church happenings. Maybe you already have a system for doing this, but if not this is a really easy way to make sure you don’t lose touch with people whose whole lives don’t revolve around Sunday like yours does.
In Brief: Don’t be a right-brained jackwagon and leave your PCO disorganized. Learn to value what 90 seconds of assigning details gets you in the long run, and people may even start to call you “organized.”
Anything I’ve missed?
Stay on the bus,