I usually write about leadership or spiritual issues. I also do book reviews on books I have read. Today is different – I will give you part of the introduction to a book I recently published. Here it is.
CRAFTING A WORSHIP EXPERIENCE
It is possible to create worship services that your church will hate to miss. Every week pastors and church leaders around the world prepare for the Main Event at their church, hoping it will impact their congregation in some way. Whatever it is called locally, and whatever day it takes place, every church has a Main Event where the whole congregation comes together to worship Jesus and to encourage each other. This is often the key means through which a church disciples their people. Most have other programs as well, but this is the one event that most people attend and engage with. We need to make it the best event it can be. I believe this requires creativity to help the congregation feel more involved and connected to what happens during the service. Churches need to find ways of making their Main Event less of a performance and more of an experience.
Each church has their own expression of worship. These vary greatly from one church to another. Each church has a certain expectation of what will take place and how it will be done. Some are quite somber; some are extremely exuberant. Some are very strict about the time; others are very flexible. Some have a clearly laid out agenda that rarely changes, while others change formats frequently. Some churches have services that are fine-tuned performances, where everything is practiced or even performed by professionals, and the agenda is planned out to the precise minute. In other churches, the agenda is loosely put together. They may start late and run late, but no one minds. In others, congregations have expectations of when the service has to conclude. In one church I served there was an older couple who just got up and walked out at 12:00, whether the service was done or not.
Though much of a service varies from church to church, most churches share some common characteristics when it comes to their Main Event. Typically, the experience of the congregation is more like that of an audience with very little participation. The congregation is invited to sing along with the worship songs, or maybe participate in responsive readings or prayers when prompted, but in many cases the congregation does little more than sit and watch the performance at the front.
When I was a young pastor in the 90’s, the big push was to have “seeker sensitive” worship services, and it was very effective for some. Seeker services often were designed and performed with a high level of excellence. Some churches hired professional musicians. Others made sure they had only the best speakers. The seeker service was something that people attended to enjoy, a little like going to the opera or even a sporting event, where the audience is there to watch, and maybe cheer occasionally. They may be invited to sing along to some songs but not many, as the emphasis was more on a great performance, than on participatory worship. This was appropriate for the time as there were still many people who had a bit of a church background and were just looking for something “better,” or more “real.” They were truly “seeking.” While many people came to know Jesus through this style of worship service, times have changed where people are looking for an experience and not just a performance.
I believe the time has come for us to move to a more experiential worship event. Churches need to find ways to invite people to participate in the worship service. This may mean including more volunteers in the actual creation and leadership of the event instead of just staff, or it may mean finding ways to invite the congregation to participate more during the event.
Those who are entrusted with the task of creating meaningful worship experiences need to realize that the next generation wants to be more involved in the service. Gary Collins, shares some research about the values of the younger emerging generation, and I believe what he says has great impact for churches and pastors as they craft the weekly Main Event in a way that will reach the next generation. Here are a few of his key concepts to consider:
- Values and experiences are more important than vision casting and reaching goals;
- Images and stories are more valued than words and facts;
- Active participation and ownership are preferred over passive submission to authority and professional expertise; and
- Spirituality is valued, religion is not.[i]
It is time to evaluate why we create our worship services the way we do. It is time we determine to find ways of inviting people to enter into the whole worship experience from start to finish. Young people are less impressed with excellence than previous generations were. They would rather see authenticity and be invited to participate in the experience. I want to help you create participatory and multisensory worship experiences.
If you are looking for ways to invite your congregation into an experience every worship service, then you are in the right place. This book will encourage you to create your service in such a way that those in attendance feel they are part of what is going on instead of watching a performance. Each chapter will look at one specific aspect of a worship service. We will look at how to invite more participation where those in attendance are invited to an experience they can engage with.
When I arrived as a new pastor at one church, I discovered that the church had used the same general service agenda for the last five years with little or no change. I, personally, have a hard time with that. While there may be something comforting about knowing exactly what to expect and when, I love to be creative, and as their pastor, wanted to give them some variety. This desire to be creative impacts my leadership style so much so, that at a different church, a senior commented, “Andy, I never know what to expect when I show up on Sunday.” He meant it as a compliment. He liked the variety. It wasn’t that every Sunday was extremely different, but no two Sundays were the same. I changed the order of service most Sundays. Sometimes the sermon would be earlier in the service, or we would change the number of worship songs. My goal was to allow the theme of the sermon to guide how best to create each service. The idea was to craft each Sunday’s service around a specific text and theme, and to communicate that theme in creative and interactive ways.
I remember taking our two daughters to a creative and interactive experience when they were young; it was a football game. The team ownership had realized that even a football game had to have a larger experience. Our girls were thrilled to watch the mascot. If you were fortunate, you could catch one of the plush footballs they threw up into the stands when the team scored. Cheerleaders were dancing and jumping, some being thrown in the air. Young men and women were running up and down the stairs offering all kinds of drinks, food, and candy. This was an experience beyond just the football game. If you were not a true fan and were just there with family members who were, you could still have an enjoyable experience…
To purchase The Main Event, click here.
[i] Gary R. Collins, Christian Coaching: Helping Others Turn Potential into Reality (Colorado Springs, CO.: Navpress, 2002), 323.