by Dr. Glenn C. Daman
Developing a dynamic worship service involves the careful interplay between spiritual sensitivity, biblical instruction, congregational understanding and careful planning. Following the prompting and guidance of the Holy Spirit enables the worship leader to move the congregation into the presence of God. However, this is not divorced from biblical truth (John 4:23). A proper theology of worship and a biblical understanding of the character of God are crucial lest the worship director leads the congregation is to a misguided and misdirected experience. Developing a service that guides the people and the congregation to experience the reality of the being of God does not happen haphazardly, it involves careful planning and creative coordination. Yet, such planning is often difficult to achieve in the small church. Often the planning for the worship service fulls upon either the pastor or a lay person, both of whom are already strapped for time because of their many other commitments within the church. The result is that the planning of the service often becomes a mirror of the previous week, the only difference being the new hymn numbers inserted in the bulletin. Nevertheless, by following basic worship principles, the small church can maintain a vibrant and exciting worship service that not only incites people to worship, but draws others into the church as well.
THE ELEMENTS OF A WORSHIP SERVICE
Planning begins with an understanding of the elements that constitutes a worship service. Scripture reveal a minimum of four ingredients that is to mark the assembled body of Christ.
1. Praise and Adoration. David realized that it was when the people of God gather together that the individuals were to recount what God has done for them (Psalms 42:4; 43:4). One of the purposes of the gather together of God's people is so that they might testify to one another of the redemptive and gracious acts of God. Within the small church such declaration occurs naturally. Because the small church revolves around relationships, people are more open and free to share. In the worship service, opportunity should be given for people to publicly praise God, either through personal testimony or through hymns and choruses of praise.
2. Confession. The realization of the being of God always elicits the awareness of one's sinfulness, the need for confession of sin and the prayer for mercy and grace (see Isaiah 6:1-9). When the church assembles, they come together to corporately confess their sins and pray for forgiveness (Nehemiah 9:3; James 5:16). Songs and hymns that acknowledge our dependancy on God and our need for the outpouring of his grace serve to bring us to the point where we open our wills to the reception of God's word.
3. Communion. Worship is what the congregation does in relationship with God. The goal of worship is to draw the people into communion with God, where God speaks and challenges the individual through the ministry of his Word and people respond to him in prayer and petition. Communing with God involves speaking and listening to God. Speaking with God manifests itself in prayer and petition so that when the church gathers, it comes together to pray with and for one another (Acts 2:14). The congregation listens to God as it responds to and interacts with the proclamation of the Bible (1 Timothy 4:13; Colossians 4:15; Acts 20:7).
4. Response. The response is more than just the closing hymn that allows the pastor to leave the platform. The time of response enables the individual to respond to the worship experience through commitment and submission to the will of God. This includes the closing period after the sermon, the giving of tithes and offerings, and the celebration of communion. Worship without a response is merely a diversion from daily life rather than a directive for everyday living. Therefore, the leader of the service needs to determine not only when people should offer a response, but the type of response desired.
7 PRINCIPLES FOR PLANNING A WORSHIP SERVICE
In commenting how the body of Christ gathers together, Paul writes that it is to be done orderly so that all might benefit and be strengthened (1 Corinthians 14:26-33). This necessitates careful planning.
1. Worship should be appropriate for the size. In planning, consideration needs to be given to what the small church does well rather than how it is weaken by its liabilities. Because it is small, the church can have more interaction and participation than its larger counter part. Spontaneous testimonies, involvement of children, and interaction within the sermon can strengthen and highlight the benefits of being small.
2. Make the focus the character and activity of God. Ultimately the final test of all worship services is whether or not people's awareness of God is heightened. Before planning begins, the leader should ask, "What do we desire to communicate about God in this service?" While each individual part may not directly point to God, ultimately the whole should draw attention to specific attributes or activities that God performs.
3. Worship in a form people are comfortable with. A major mistake occurs when the worship leader tries to develop a form that is foreign to the congregation and community. To be an effective worship leader, the person needs to listen well. How do people want to worship and what are the taboos that the congregation has. However, this is not to say that people can not be taught new forms. They can and should (Ephesians 5:19; Colossians 3:16). People who enjoy hymns can broaden their worship experiences by learning to enjoy choruses. But they should not be forced to sacrifice their manner of worship in the process.
4. Plan around a unified theme. Every part of the service should have a purpose and a reason. By being intentional in planning, the leader can avoid disruptive distractions. When the parts are not supportive of the whole, the service becomes like a basketball game that suddenly changes into a football game. The rules suddenly change and no one is sure what is going on or what the objective is.
5. Seek participation rather than just observation. The strength of the small church worship service is that everyone can actively participate rather than merely observe others perform. The worship leader is not the player, rather he or she is the coach who orchestrates the movement of the congregation in the worship experience. This occurs when the leader intentionally plans how the people will be involved in the service. This is especially important with children. Since the small church worships as a family, the service should be sensitive and involve all members of the family. Having a children's sermon, singing choruses the children are familiar with, and having children sing specials are some of the ways to enable children to be and feel a art of the church family.
6. Don't overlook the details. Every element of the service should be viewed in the context of worship, from the announcements to the sermon. Worship does not just naturally happen within the congregation, it requires continuity of all the parts. Planned spontaneity and formalized informality can be effective means of facilitating an atmosphere of praise.
7. Alter the minors but maintain the majors. Some variety is helpful in worship, but too much can become a distraction at best, and a source of division and conflict at worst. Before making major changes in the form, prepare the people and obtain their approval. Surprises will usually cause a negative reaction by the congregation.
PLANNING THE SERVICE
While planning is essential for effective worship, there is not just one right way to formulate the program. Since each church is governed by different sociological frameworks, cultural norms and theological perspectives, each one will approach the service differently. What works in one church will be ineffective in another. However, there are guidelines that can help the worship leader navigate the process.
1. Determine the overall purpose. The purpose is the goal and objective that the service has in the lives of the worshipers. This determines the mood and flow of the program. Some services are celebrative, while others are more solemn and reflective. Some are focus upon praise while others draw the individuals into repentance and self-abasement before God. A reading of the Psalms, for example, reveals a variety of moods, focal points, and objectives that characterized the worship of Israel. The objective serves to give the worship program continuity, coherence, and harmony. It answers the question, "What should the worshipers experience and realize in this service.
2. Develop the outline. Once the purpose is identified, the next step is to determine what will happen within the service. While the small church often follows an established pattern, some elements can be altered to enhance the service. Any significant change should be discussed by the board before it occurs. Developing an outline is determining what will occur and when. For example, how many songs will be song? When will the special music be sung? When will the offering be taken? What will be the focal point of the prayer?
3. Utilize available resources. Often the small church has more resources at its disposal that it realizes. It may not have a choir, but it can have children sing. It may not have an orchestra, but it can utilize a cassette tape. Having just the men sing a song on Mother's Day can replace a choral number. Meeting outdoors on a hot summer day can not only be more comfortable, but add another dimension that enhances the awareness of God's creation or the churches obligation to reach beyond the walls of the building.
4. Identify the specifics. Once the purpose and outline is identified, then the worship leader is ready to fill in the details. There are a number of different areas that need to be addressed in developing the service. Some of the questions that need to be asked are: a. What choruses and hymns are to be sung and in what order? b. What is the sermon topic? c. What topic will be addressed by the children's sermon? d. How will the offering be introduced? e. What scripture will be read and when? f. What will be the focus of prayer? Will the pastor lead in prayer or will the congregation pray? g. What sins need to be confessed or behaviors need to be challenged? When will people have opportunity to address these issues? h. How are people being asked to respond to the message and what opportunity is given them to respond, whether it be in a hymn of affirmation, a time of confession or a physical response of dedication? The most critical question in addressing the service is not who will do what and when, but why they are doing it. Only by carefully planning can this question be answered.
Including Children in Worship
Franklin Segler, Christian Worship
1. Know children by their name and seek opportunities to dialogue with children other than on Sunday morning as they exit.
2. Pace the service, varying physical postures and acts of worship which appeal to different senses.
3. Explain worship terms that may not be understood by the children.
4. Use lay leadership often. Children need to see their teachers, parents and peers in leadership roles.
5. Utilize children's literature for sermon illustrations.
6. Include children's concerns in the prayers of worship.
7. Use music in worship that is familiar to children.
8. Remind ushers to give each child a bulletin and other worship materials.
9. Plan occasional children's times within worship.
10. Allow children the privilege of leading in worship.