How Much Can You Squeeze Into One Worship Service?

Because we have multiple services at SSCC, margin isn’t something we seem to find.  Despite our many efforts, we typically end up with a worship service that is around 1:15 and is FILLED with outflow.


That’s not such a bad thing.  After all, we gather corporately so that we can express ourselves in worship to God (typically, through songs) and be taught and built up (sermons).  Since the body is gathered, it makes sense to do some communication to inform people about what’s going on.  (announcements).

So, let’s think about that.  If you have 5 songs averaging 5 minutes each, that’s 25 minutes.  If you have a sermon averaging 35-40 minutes, now we’re up to 60-65 minutes.  Add in announcements and any kind of transition, you’ve hit your time expiration and there’s no margin.

Now before the zealots start flaming us about the clock, you have to understand — if we don’t try to wrap things up in 1:15 max, we have a logistical nightmare in the parking lots.

This Sunday was one of those rare Sundays where we had “margin”.  Our Discipleship Pastor was preaching and he came to be Sunday AM and said that his sermon would be shorter than he anticipated.  SHORTER?  Are you KIDDING ME?  He even suggested that we have some last-minute planning to allow for more worship at the end of the message.  I was totally cool with that.

The beautiful thing about margin?  You aren’t forced to use it (though we usually do) and you can choose where it comes from.

When I have margin and I know I’m entrusted to steward it, I become a different leader.
It’s not about getting through the setlist on time.
It’s not about avoiding the discussion about going over time.

This past Sunday, as I led through the song we’d selected to happen between the Announcement Break and the Sermon, that margin became invaluable.

We’d just concluded singing a beautiful worship ballad, “Waiting Here For You” from the Passion 2011 album.  Even though it was a brand new tune for our church, I could discern that the people had genuinely engaged in worship.  As the song came to a close, I couldn’t bring myself to just say a snap prayer and move on.  I knew the Holy Spirit was telling me to “wait”.

So I waited.
I prayed.
I played a light, consistent progression slowly.

I took my time.  I asked the congregation to wait.  To pray.  We seldom stop and make time for this.  It wasn’t just a dude on the stage leading a prayer for a quick Amen.  We were waiting in God’s Presence, praying, seeking, crying out.

Knowing we weren’t pressed for time, I took this a step further.  I asked the tech guys (who responded immediately and graciously) to bring up our house lights slowly.

“Who is struggling?  Who just needs a touch?  Who needs prayer?  Slip up your hand – and if you’re around someone raising their hand, just touch them, maybe on the shoulder, to let them know you are there, that you support them, and that you care.  Pray for them.  You don’t even have to ask what it’s about – just lift them up.”

It was beautiful.  I believe we could have stayed in that pause for a long time.  But it was like we stopped the motions for a while and God smiled and said “glad to see you”.

So I took the margin earlier than later.  We concluded our entire service without my adding another song.

In many cases, I’d rather add that waiting time, for prayer, for seeking … instead of yet, another song.

This makes me desperate for margin.  In my life.  In our worship services.  You don’t get it unless you work for it.

How much margin is in your worship services?  Do you feel pressed for time to squeeze everything in, or do you have ample time to wait and see what God may be doing in that moment?

About the Author
Fred McKinnon, Worship Artist, Pianist, Producer. Husband to Joy, Father of Jon Michael, Will, Rebekah, and Andrew. Lives on St. Simons Island, GA.

13 comments on How Much Can You Squeeze Into One Worship Service?

  1. Katie Mullis Hightower says:

    I have seriously been thinking about this exact thing since Sunday’s service. It was so different and refreshing and the anointing was so heavy! Spontaneity is so amazing in the holy spirit. Thank you for listening to what he was saying. And that song is a new fave for sure. 🙂

    1. fmckinnon says:

      Thanks for stopping by Katie.  Glad it was noticed, and yes, I felt the same thing.  FYI, David and I talk OFTEN about our desire for us to have more space like that.  Pray for our wisdom.  We desire it, yet with each week, by the time Sunday rolls around, there are so many requests about what to do, sing, announce, preach, etc … it’s overwhelming.  For the most part, I pretty much need to trim my setlist down to only 3-4 songs max if we’re going to continue to have that much time (the tech guys who run the clock said I took about 8 minutes there, which, at least, for me, was some of the sweetest 8 minutes I’d had in a long time in corporate worship!)

  2. Kathy Fields says:

    I have found that sometimes having too much ‘margin’ can be a problem too, because then we sometimes feel the need to fill it… instead of allowing the Lord to be free among His children. 

    I love when Holy Spirit steps in and just takes over for a while.  Time seems to stand still, and a explainable hush/peace seems to fill the room during those precious moments. I love it when the Lord steps into our agenda/programs etc, and touches hearts. I am always so refreshed afterwards, and thankful for His Grace and Mercy on us. 

    I pray the Lord’s favor over you and your team! :-) 

    1. fmckinnon says:

      Thanks for the comment, and I totally agree. For me, when this happened in the middle of our 9 AM service, i walked away thinking to myself, “that was so awesome, but I have to be very careful not to try and reproduce it in the 11:00 service” …. I did lead us into a time of prayer and waiting, but it wasn’t the same at all ….

  3. Katie Mullis Hightower says:

    I can’t remember if it was Friday night or Sunday, but when you lead us to visualize our worship going up as incense etc… I thought that was awesome and really helped usher in the presence.

    1. fmckinnon says:

      I think that was Sunday AM – before the new song, “Waiting Here For You”.

  4. Anonymous says:

    “You don’t get it unless you work for it.” yep and yep and yep.

    Thankfully, Drew preaches for about 25 minutes (I know, right?) so we have some time to spare. I just don’t rush through the songs as quickly in our response time–giving the people a bit of space to breathe when I can. We also sometimes have an added element like a reflection moment, or creed, or scripture reading, which utilizes our margin. But that’s what the margin is there for, right? No more squeezing! 😉

    1. fmckinnon says:

      Ah, 25 minutes … wow. I think I’d be able to retain his sermon! Try as I may, after about 30-35 minutes of sitting still listening to a lecture/talk/sermon, my mind is wandering and I’m just wanting to get up and do something.

      With the format at the chapel, and having communion weekly, I think that lends itself to a more structured (including margin!) format, perhaps. Time is there … it’s just how we schedule it. We’ve got plenty of time, we just have to decide what we want to give up to make room for the spontaneous … sermon time, announcement time or another song.

  5. Richbenavides says:

    I think that would be amazing. We rent a space and have to be out of there by 1, so we are trying to get ready earlier and earlier in order to have that margin. It gives you time to pray and welcome visitors… but it seems as soon as there is a margin, something wants to take that extra time. How do you protect your margin?

    1. fmckinnon says:

      I wish I could answer that question – so far, we haven’t been do good at protecting it!

  6. Harold Forbis says:

    It’s true that there are times when the schedule has to win out for practical reasons, but I love ‘hang time’ in the presence of God – that place where you just know if you wait, if you linger, if you don’t move ahead just yet, you will be with God. I think He loves it when we prefer Him to our setlist!

  7. Adam Ranck says:

    Amen. I’ve had a lot of experience pushing that margin with as many songs I possibly could. And now that I’m currently not leading every week at much local church, it gives me space to break out of routine to plan fresh every week. What I realized was that when I was leading every week, I kept myself in a standard pattern and rarely branched from what I did every past week. By doing that, I saved time with the planning, because it was already set and ready to go with minor modifications. But since I’m in no pattern, it has become easier to “think outside the box” and plan each set intentionally planning space for things to happen.

    One idea that’s helped me create space is simply to almost always plan one less song than I have time for. That way, whether I use it or not, I have some flex space to listen and lead. Also, with one less song to prepare, I can use the practice time to give the other songs more detail and creativity and have time to rehearse that. It’s a win win situation.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *