Planning centre – review

At my church, TCM Baptist Church in Lincoln, we’ve recently invested in a digital, app-based system for displaying music for our musicians – Planning Center’s ‘Music Stand’.

Getting to this point was not quick and not straight forward, so I thought I’d give my thoughts and insights into how and why we took this step in the hope that, if your church is considering a move to something similar, this might be of some help to you.

As many churches up and down the UK do, we’ve used paper sheet music and chord charts for many years. It’s simple, it’s the most obvious choice and for years i t’s been the mainstay of how we play and lead the sung worship in church .

It does, however, come with an array of problems , all of which we’ve encountered to varying degrees including paper going missing , getting damaged , too many people annotating the same copy and paper being wasted when a song is discounted or re-printed because of key changes. This is less of a problem in a smaller team, but with more than about 3 or 4 musicians/singers this can lead to an awful lot of wasted paper and printer ink. It’s not great for the environment and also soon starts adding up cost wise.

With all this in mind, and having experienced all the above problems on numerous occasions, I was keen to explore other options and, being a lover of technology, naturally gravitated towards looking for an app for use with a tablet/iPad.

A quick internet search brings up a lot of different options – simple PDF viewers, through to church-specific music apps. This is where the hard work really began. I spent a long time downloading apps, trying them out, figuring out what worked and what didn’t, how user- friendly they were etc. Like many church music teams, we have members who are very tech- savvy and those less so, which meant it was crucial to find an app that would be suitable to all.

The key really is being aware of your music team – not just now but in the future too. There are some brilliant apps on the market that are well used by worship leaders around the world, but a handful are only available on one mobile platform. That’s great if you know all your current and future musicians will only and always use, say, iPads, but in reality, there will be a mixture of iOS and Android which I felt was a reason to discount these apps, as good as they were – of course your church may be different.

So our search ended up with Planning Centre’s ‘Music Stand’. Reading the website, this seemed great – it’s available on all mobile platforms, looked good, was reasonably priced and seemed well established. I found out that ‘Music Stand’ is used by a friend’s church and so I was able to seek guidance from them to find out, first hand, how it works practically Sunday by Sunday and the pros and cons. Having this insight made a big difference in coming to a decision and lets you ask lots of questions before committing!

The feedback I got was that it was now an invaluable tool to their church and that it was very simple to use and to navigate – music to my ears!

Many of the available apps allow you to sign up to a trial before committing to the package. This is well worth it. I used ‘Music Stand’ for a couple of months before we committed. This gave me plenty of time train myself in how it all worked and also find any pit-falls. Then, when you introduce it to your team, you’re one step ahead and can train them in using it. ​

Cost is perhaps one of the most important factors when choosing an app. The cheapest solution is to install a PDF reader and scan all your paper music to your tablet. This was originally a plan of mine until I realised what a time consuming task it would be – one that I’d proabably give up on after about the 15th song! My advice is to seek advice from your pastor, elders etc and find out whether the investment will be possible. Weigh up how much you spend on paper and ink each month – would the cost of an app actually save you money?

After all the research, speaking to your church leadership, weighing up the cost, if you get the go-ahead the next step is to roll it out to your team. This is where your time spent trialling the system yourself really pays off as you find yourself armed with answers to most of the questions you’ll face.

In your church, you might find that everyone is immediately on board, but you need to be aware that not everyone is going to be. In my church we haven’t insisted on everyone using it. Why? Well, some may not have a tablet and won’t be able to afford to get one just for this purpose, some don’t embrace new technology. ‘Music Stand’ is geared much more towards chord lead sheets rather than sheet music and so you might find some musicians need or prefer sheet music – for them they may want to stick with paper. For these reasons, we’ve kept some sheet music but only have limited copies. The likelihood is though, that in time, the whole team will move onto the app.

Equally important is listening to your team’s feedback – what do/don’t they like about it, what does the app not do that they wish it did etc. You’ll never please everyone, but, it’s about finding a solution that will best fit the majority. If people don’t like the app – that’s fine, but understanding their reasons will help you to best find the solution for them. Sometimes they just need some reassurance.

Since we introduced the app, only a few team members have decided to stick with paper. The rest have fed back that the app has not only saved them time in setting up, but makes playing and singing easier – the screen is clear, they get the music before the Sunday so they can rehearse and being able to change keys on the fly makes last minute rehearsal changes so much smoother.

If your church is considering moving to an app for music, I would highly recommend it. Hopefully this has helped answer some of your questions and given you some advice for introducing such a system in your church. Take your time, do your research and find the best one for you and your team. As for me, paper is a thing of the past!

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