How to Know How Long Your Service Should Go


“I would like to know about the number of songs you choose and the length of time for praise and worship for each service. Does the length of time for praise and worship depend on how the Holy Spirit leads you?”


The question of how long is like a river that flows between two banks. If the senior pastor’s philosophy of ministry for the church is speaker-driven communication, this will result in less time for music. If his philosophy of ministry is experiential, this may result in more music. The congregational worship experience for most churches flows somewhere in between those banks.

The issue of time and the leading of the Holy Spirit is a common struggle in the church. The good news is that the Holy Spirit knows how to work within time and cultural constraints. The Holy Spirit works with great power, but in our humanity we often feel that we need to do more, to go longer. Longer does not necessarily mean more effective. Many times, longer is less effective as we start to lose the attention of parts of the congregation.

Careful preparation starts with the leadership of the Holy Spirit. Many services I plan are done by faith with as much info as I have at the time, asking God to bless it and remembering that flexibility is an essential quality of the servant worship leader. Proverbs 16:1 says, “We humans make plans, but the LORD has the final word,” and Proverbs 16:9 says, “We make our own plans, but the LORD decides where we will go.”

In addition, many times we underestimate how long it takes to do a song. Very few songs are three minutes. I allow five minutes per song as a rule. It’s important to time your songs to find out how long it takes for your team to really do them. Timing the service is the key. Go through the flow, imagining how these songs can help connect the congregation in worship and also reinforce and help people to understand the theme for that weekend, working out natural transitions including keys and song arrangements. Assuming that you don’t talk in-between songs, then three songs in a live situation generally equals about 13-14 minutes MINIMUM (usually 15 min.). For some music styles, three songs could take 30 minutes. Not timing songs out before the services is like going on a vacation not knowing how much you have to spend. Most often we will go longer than we think, and not due to the Holy Spirit. I’ve found that the longer the service, the less prepared my leadership often was.

If my pastor gives me 20 minutes and I feel I’m going to run long, I will cut songs so that I can end on time. It honors God when we keep our word and follow our senior pastor’s leadership.

When doing multiple services, time must be considered! The people coming to the next service have to be cared for. The parking lot needs to be cleared out from the previous service making room for new people to park, drop off their kids and get seated. Blessed are those that teach our children because they often have to improvise and scramble when services go overtime.

Many times at Saddleback if we go long at the first service, I will cut the closing song to save three to five minutes. I think it’s really important to sing the closing song, but it’s even more important that the childcare workers have enough time to change shifts or prepare and for the incoming cars to be able to find parking spots so the people can get to the next service.

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Source: Church Leaders