The Outside-In Planning Strategy for Music

So here’s the strategy. This week, begin planning outside-in. 

Don’t start in your congregation. Go outside. Make a list of all aspiring musicians in your community.  Not just those you think are good enough. Or churchy enough. Or agreeable enough. Or affordable enough. Jesus never waited for those folks. Neither should you. 

Leave your building. Seek out grade school students learning the recorder. Middle and high school students—in band, orchestra, or choir. Returning-home-for-holidays college students ready to remember their love for music. Local guitar or fiddle enthusiasts. Piano teachers with students of all ages preparing for recitals. That local group that piddles around together. Any. All. Really.

Ask each if they could help you celebrate on a Sunday. Encourage and love them into a yes. Then start preparing lavish hospitality for each one. Just like the gospel always does. Let them name the kind of music they could offer. Build worship with and around it. Trust God for the rest. For the feast that shows up among ordinary folks just offering what they have.

If a 5th grader learning the recorder can play “When the Saints Go Marching In,” include it as part of the gathering. If she can play “The Ants Go Marching Two by Two,” sing it before worship as practice. Then ask the congregation to dance out with it as they go into the world after the benediction. 

Create worship with whatever their musical gifts might be. Our faith really is big enough for that. The key is that you’re not offering a performance event. You’re crafting worship centered on hospitality and participation. Outside-in planning isn’t about replacing bad music with excellence. It’s about replacing the expected with a new sense of abundance, wonder and gratitude—Your gifts are welcomed here. No matter what they are. Because you are welcomed here. Wow! Thanks! The kingdom is among us!

One of the holiest worship services I’ve experienced ended with a new third-grade pianist. She’d been working on “Silent Night.” Her fingers were uncertain. The melody was unadorned. But in the stillness and candlelight of that Christmas Eve, it spoke the good news. The High Holy in the Right Here. 

Local blues musicians can help call worshipers into the fullness of prayer. High school trumpet and tuba players can celebrate! High school choir members can share the sheer, God-given beauty of the human voice! Fiddles and tambourines can make a joyful noise!

Find the gifts and celebrate with each one. Try for at least one each month. You’re likely to find that the experience changes the weeks in between. Once we taste an unexpected feast, we start imagining the next one. We see new possibilities. We quit chasing enoughness and participate instead.

The asking, recruiting, and planning-around takes courage. You may be afraid of things not fitting together. Or of being turned down. So here’s another sure thing to remember. Ministry and worship require risk. Just like new relationships, great hope, and the kingdom of God.

So as you prepare for the holy season ahead, call your pastor or lay leader. Start making a list of all those folks in your community who love music. Today.

And begin preparing your congregation to fully welcome, love, encourage, appreciate, celebrate the image of God in each one. Surprise!

Let me know what you experience. I cherish the conversations.

Thanks for your ministry,