Thursday, February 9, 2012

Planning worship in the smaller church

Smaller churches can never offer all the ministries larger churches provide.  In larger churches there may be various small groups meeting throughout the week, various Bible studies, activities taking place in a Family Life Center, and other ministries designed to reach the unchurched and minister to the faithful.  In comparison, the smaller church primarily has its morning worship service.  This is the one opportunity most smaller churches have to reach out to unchurched people and minister to their members, so it is very important that attention be paid to this service.  Far too often I have been in smaller churches on Sunday morning and watched as the pastor, song leader, and pianist met around the piano before the service to plan their music.  This service is too important for such poor planning, and I believe it is an affront to those who came to worship God.  While a blog post cannot contain everything associated with planning worship, I do want to mention a few things that are important to this task.  If you need help in this area there are numerous books and resources available to assist you.

It's important to determine what you want to do in your worship service.  I believe the purpose of worship is to glorify God and enable people to experience Him in a way that is meaningful to them.  That alone is a challenge in a congregation that may consist of four generations of people who experience worship in different ways which demonstrates once again why it's important to plan our worship services.  The music, the prayers, the message must all come together in a way that allows worship to happen.  I recommend there be a common theme throughout the service.  In other words, the music, Scripture readings, and everything else that is selected should fit with the message that will be presented.   This requires that the pastor must make available to whomever in involved in worship planning his or her message title and text well in advance so they can properly develop the service.  As a pastor I tried to provide that information at least one month in advance to those who developed our worship services.  That gave them sufficient time to develop a theme for our services, and I was never disappointed in their work.  Incidently, if a bivocational pastor can develop a worship planning team it will save him or her a lot of time by allowing them to develop the worship services.   They may need coaching at first, but in time you'll be able to trust them to do this while you focus on other ministry activities.

One thing I've noticed in a lifetime of worshiping in smaller churches is that most of these services need to be speeded up a little.  The worship service can often be helped just by speeding up the tempo of the music.  You can sing out of the hymnbooks if you want, but you don't have to make every song sound like a dirge.  I stopped the singing one Sunday in our church after the first verse.  We were singing "I'm marching to Zion," and I told our folks we would never get to Zion at that pace.  We picked up the tempo a little and the song was much better, but this is a constant struggle in some churches.

Everyone who is scheduled to participate should be sitting down front, at least until they do whatever they are expected to do.  Nothing brings a worship service to a halt faster than to have Brother Joe scheduled to lead a prayer, and Brother Joe is sitting in the back pew.  When he's asked to pray, he walks slowly to the pulpit in front, prays, and then slowly heads back to his seat.  For two or three minutes the entire service comes to a standstill while everyone is waiting on Brother Joe.  It would be much better for him to be sitting in the front pew, step to the pulpit when it's his turn, and then he could return to where his family is sitting, and the church doesn't have to wait for him to sit down before continuing the service.

Announcements must be kept to a minimum.  Announcements seldom have anything to do with worship and serve as a major distraction to worship for many people.  I simply cannot understand why every announcement in the bulletin has to be read exactly like it's printed in the bulletin.  When I ask pastors why they do that it's usually because the people insist on it.   Can they not read?  Can they not be taught that worship is too important to spend time reading announcements?  I have been in services where more time was spent with the announcements than in the sermon.  That should never happen.

These are only a few thoughts about worship planning.  Again, if this is an issue in your church there are many resources available to help.  Purchase a couple of these and share them with the folks who help plan the worship in your church, and if you're doing that by yourself, my final suggestion is to invite some others to assist you in that planning.

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