With such a huge Christmas program planned, rehearsals started early. They devoted the whole month of December to rehearsals – for both staff and volunteers. Their rehearsal schedule went like this:
Night 1 – Music Rehearsal
This rehearsal is all about the first portion of the service. This is where they covered the Christmas carols. The tech folks followed along – working on sound check and getting through any tech issues that arose.
Night 2 – Creative Element Rehearsal
This rehearsal is all about the second portion of the service. If there’s a dance, drama, or – in this case – a feature film with a live orchestra, the video directors are watching to know what’s going on. They recorded a wide shot of the whole night for future reference.
Night 3 – Run Through
Now that they had all the elements, they did a run through – cue to cue – starting at the beginning. If the creative director didn’t like a lighting cue, they’d change it. These were the nights they encouraged their folks to bring a book or some sudoku puzzles. It was a very long night.
Night 4 – Dress Rehearsal
This was the first night that Pastor Bill was part of the process. They ran the whole program and even invited their section leaders to be part of the process. This gave the section leaders a taste of the service so they could spread the word to those in their section. They made notes of tweaks and necessary changes along the way.
Night 5 – Last Dress Rehearsal
This was the last rehearsal before the services began. This is when they took those final tweaks and changes and implemented them.
Throughout the rehearsals and run-throughs they adjusted the stage. They had the trim height of a PA system, the huge movie screen, their shard stage design, and a tiered orchestra to deal with. They had to check the sight lines to every seat. Obviously the PA system wasn’t moving, so everything else had to be adjusted accordingly.
They had so many rehearsals because there were so many moving elements. While most churches keep things fairly static, Willow Creek was trying to accomplish three separate elements in an 80-minute service. They wanted things to be seamless without giving away the surprise of the upcoming elements. More importantly, they wanted to send people home whistling Christmas.
Their first night of services the whole team arrived 2 1/2 hours early. They ran the whole program once then opened the doors one hour before the service to let people find their seats.
After that first night of services they only arrived about 1 1/2 hours early to run one song and make sure everything was still working.