Glen Martin & Gary McIntosh
A researcher in Switzerland, long the bastion of watch making excellence and profits, discovered a way to use the vibrating frequency of a piece of quartz crystal to keep incredibly accurate time. When presented to the decision makers of the company, they looked hard for all of the familiar components of past success.
“Of what is the main spring made?” they queried. “Where are the twenty-three jeweled parts that have set the world’s timekeeping standard? Where is the stem to wind the watch or to adjust the time?” This new watch did not fit their rigid expectations of what a watch should be, so they rejected it as an idea that would never catch on.
After the Japanese started mass producing the very watch the Swiss rejected, Swiss market share dropped from near 80 percent to 10 percent. The inability to view the world as it could be instead of as it always has been was indeed costly.1
Worship is changing today as much as watches have changed. Some churches are taking advantage of the new opportunities for creating new worship styles. Others seem to ignore the new trends. Unable to view worship in a new light, some churches are stuck in an older form of worship which attracts fewer and fewer worshipers.
Haddon Robinson pointed out this change when he said,
We live in a day where communication is dominated by television. It is a post-literate age. We are now an oral, musical, visual culture. The use of the narrative story is primary. Gone is the world of Greco-Roman rhetoric (proposition and 3 arguments). People in our culture know nothing of the Bible, don’t take church seriously, and are anti-moral. We must be mission-minded, not professional.2
That was then… This is now…
Hymns Praise songs
Organ/piano Small band
Hymn books Overheads/slides
Song leader Worship leader
Slower pacing Faster pacing
Softer sounds Louder sounds
Longer service Shorter service
Standard format Variable format
Bulletin Worship folder
Soft lighting Bright lighting
Contemplative atmosphere Celebrative atmosphere
Choir Praise team
Audio orientation Visual orientation
Varied talent used Best talent used
Haphazard service Rehearsed service
Little planning Much planning
A joke occasionally heard among pastors is that when Satan fell from heaven he landed in the choir loft. And, true to his character, he has made the most trouble for churches through music and worship ever since. Some church leaders add that it would be easier to add a fourth person to the Trinity than to change hymn books.
We are keenly aware of the emotional attachment people have to particular styles of worship. No other character of a church so clearly defines its identity and philosophy of ministry. However, the times are changing even in worship styles, and effective churches will take note of them. Here are a few trends we’ve observed in the area of worship.
1. Desire to Meet with God
The Reformation and the Great Awakening had an impact upon corporate worship in two distinct ways. Highlighting the need for right thinking, the Reformation influenced worship by focusing on the “content” of worship. The emphasis on knowledge or doctrine led to a more restrained worship style. In contrast, highlighting the need to experience God, the Great Awakening focused on the “feelings” of worship. The emphasis on experiencing God, His power, and personal touch resulted in a more emotional style of worship.
No one could miss the fact that worship is in a transitional phase. Today churches seek worship which is balanced between �content” and “feelings.” We like to say that churches today want worship that is both head-oriented and heart-oriented, where worshipers can learn about God and meet with God and sing about God and sing to God.
2. Seeker-sensitive Services
Church consultants are fond of asking the question “Who is your client?” Churches typically offer only two answers: “Our client is the Christian” or “Our client is the unbeliever.” And the past ten years have seen growth in the number of churches which give the second answer.
These churches are typically described as either “seeker-centered” or “seeker-sensitive.” Seeker-centered churches usually are new church plants which have chosen to target almost exclusively the unchurched. Seeker-sensitive churches include older and newer congregations which have chosen to use a worship style more user-friendly to the unchurched, but not exclusively targeted toward them.
One of the most visible aspects of these seeker churches is the renaming of traditional church concepts to be understandable to the unchurched. Here are a few we’ve discovered. You may be able to think of many more new names for old things:
* program instead of bulletin
* guests instead of visitors
* auditorium instead of sanctuary
* lobby instead of narthex
* application instead of content
* truth instead of doctrine
* principle instead of dogma
* practice instead of tradition
3. Festival Worship Atmosphere
Speaking of the Macintosh Computer team, Apple CEO John Sculley writes in Odyssey: “The Mac team thought of the product every minute they were awake. They often worked through the night, foregoing sleep in a creative frenzy to resolve a technical enigma. When I would visit them, their hair was often mussed, their faces often creased with sleepiness, but their eyes always seemed to glisten with excitement.”3
In a similar way, spirit lives in certain churches. You can see it in the way people act. You can hear it in their singing. You can feel it in the atmosphere. Worship services that are attracting people in our changing times have a festival atmosphere rather than an oppressive one. The general term for this festive feeling is “celebrative worship.” Clearly defining a celebrative worship service is difficult, yet we all seem to know one when we are in one. From a practical point of view, worship is celebrative when:
* People attend�Celebrative services attract people who come because they want to rather than because they have to.
* People bring friends�Celebrative services not only attract people but they also cause worshipers to bring their friends.
* People participate�Celebrative services create an environment where singing, giving, praying, and other areas of worship are entered into with enthusiasm.
* People listen�Celebrative services hold the attention of worshipers throughout the entire time of worship.
* People grow�Celebrative services challenge individuals to make biblical decisions that affect their daily living.
This move toward a festival atmosphere is seen in the use of small bands playing contemporary music, paced in a faster tempo than hymns. It is seen in the change from a contemplative quietness in a softly lit sanctuary to a lively talking together in a brightly lit auditorium before the service. It is seen in the participative clapping and hugging, as contrasted to the sedate and attentive rigidness of older worship styles.
4. Emphasis on Quality
Most of us can remember a time when “Made in Japan” meant poor quality and “Made in the USA’ stood for the highest quality. We may also be able to remember when “church” stood for a higher quality than that found in the world in general. For example, in years gone by, where would you have likely found the most educated people, the best public speakers, the top musicians, the superior music, the finest art? The answer in many cases was the church.
Some, of course, would argue that American products rank with the best. But the buying habits of consumers over the past twenty years certainly illustrate that poor quality standards are unacceptable to the buying public. The availability of direct communication via radio, television, video, and compact discs makes it possible for nearly every person to be exposed to the best products or experiences available. People feel they deserve quality, and they want it.
This demand for higher quality was brought home to us a few years ago when a denominational executive shared that a small congregation of twenty-nine people located in an extremely rural community had lost their pastor. One of the church leaders had called our friend to give him a list of the church’s requirements for a new pastoral candidate. Among the requirements were such items as (1) fluent in Greek and Hebrew, (2) experienced worship leader, and (3) superb communication skills. Tough requirements for the pastor of a church of twenty-nine people!
As we discussed this, our friend commented, “I don’t have any place to hide my poor pastors any more.” He explained that in former years a small, rural church would be pleased to take any pastor who would simply love them. However, with the advent of television, even people in small, rural churches have been exposed to the planned worship services, excellent messages, and superior music of some of the best churches in the United States. They no longer wish to accept anything but the highest quality.
It is no longer easy for churches to ignore the quality control issue. The trend among growing churches is for well-planned, rehearsed worship services using the best in musicians, sound equipment, and communication skills.
5. Use of the Arts
An increased understanding of the nature of spiritual gifts in the 1970s led to a broader acceptance of people’s talents in all areas. Even though the church at large has always been a haven and sponsor for art, crafts, and plays, for the most part such expression by gifted people is just beginning to be understood and highlighted by congregations. An excellent example of the use of the arts for church growth is seen in Victoria Community Church in Riverside, California. An independent church of approximately 150 worshipers associated with the Christian & Missionary Alliance, this congregation called a new pastor gifted in the writing and production of full-length plays.
Over an eleven-year period the church placed an emphasis on developing a complete drama and music ministry which involved people from inside and outside the congregation as artists, actors and actresses, set builders, sound and lighting technicians, and directors. During this eleven-year period the church grew to two thousand worshipers meeting in two services on Sunday morning.
A visible trend involves the use of five-minute dramas4 as introductions and conclusions to sermons, music centers for voice and instrumental training (for the church and the community) and, although not acceptable in most churches, interpretive dance.
6. Relational-styled Worship
Generally speaking, our society has not been good for relationships. The mobility of people has torn apart the natural networks of family, friends, and neighbors. Working farther away from home has created a commuter society where people hold essentially two jobs�their work and driving twenty hours weekly to it. Exposure to too many people, too much information, and too many expectations leads to people resisting relationships even when they want them. The Christian life, of course, is built on relationships: a vertical relationship with God and a horizontal relationship with people (see 1 John 1:3). In response to the need for healthier relationships, churches are designing relational-styled worship services.
The change in church architecture is a good example of how relationships are shaping worship. Originally, church auditoriums were built with straight pews stretching directly back from the platform. People in the rear of the auditorium usually had difficulty in seeing the faces of the people on the platform, and all they saw of other worshipers was the back of each other’s head. Today newer churches take advantage of the growing desire for relational worship by using semicircular seating where people are able to see each other’s faces and the audience is brought closer to the platform.
Another aspect of relational worship is the use of worship leaders rather than song directors and worship teams rather than choirs. The song leader used to be a master of ceremonies of sort during the worship service. Choirs stood far away from the audience and sang anthems beyond the singing ability of most people in the pew. In contrast, today’s worship leader guides the congregation into a relationship with God through the skilled use of music, prayer, words, and timing. The worship team stands close to the congregation, often singing simpler songs in unison with them.
Increasing Worship in Changing Times
Pastor Rick Warren of Saddleback Community Church in Mission Viejo, California, says that “Advertising will bring people to your church one time, but it will not bring them back unless you can deliver the goods.”5 The “goods” that newcomers first notice is the worship service atmosphere and all the surrounding amenities such as child care, friendliness of people, adequate parking, and seating. It is a fact of church life that no one joins a church without attending the worship service. Hence, it is crucial to have a dynamic worship service as the center post of everything else a church does.
1. Plan a Dynamic Worship Service
Look at any recent study on why people do not attend church and you will find that people think church worship services are boring. Today’s information-rich society bombards people with constant images, sales pitches, and other visual stimuli to keep their attention. Then, when people visit a church they typically find a slowly paced service with little visual appeal. Confronted with a lack of stimulus, their minds begin to wander, leading to feelings of boredom.
People who feel worship services are boring do not mean that God is boring nor do they mean the Bible is boring. What they mean is the pace of the service is boring. Today’s effective church seeks to hold people’s attention by developing a dynamic worship service. As one writer says, “The pastors are the artistic overseers of worship. They must be creative, combining the elements of mood, sound, timing, and energy to create an atmosphere where worship can happen.
The aim is to capture the attention and hopefully the imagination, to turn people’s minds to God.”6
Build around one theme. Celebrative worship services have a sense of unity that is best achieved by building the entire service around one basic theme. Identify the broad theme you wish to communicate to your audience. Select and use music that fits your theme. Be sure to relate your introductions, transitional comments, and even your announcements to the theme.
Plan for participation. Celebrative worship services keep people alert by involving them in meaningful ways throughout the service. Allow people to participate by singing, clapping, standing, shaking hands, filling in blanks in a study guide, praying, hugging, talking, laughing, crying, etc.
Develop a sense of flow. Celebrative worship services lead people along so that they sense a clear flow or progression in the service. Think through how each part of the service relates to the whole. Remember: sporadic or disconnected components will cause people to become distracted and disinterested.
Speed up the pace. Celebrative worship services move quickly enough to keep people’s attention focused on the service. Speed up the pace of your worship service by singing and playing music faster. Vary the pace by using upbeat tempos and slower reflective tempos to keep people’s attention.
Eliminate dead time. Celebrative worship services move quickly between parts of the services, allowing for little dead time where people may lose their attentiveness. To enhance your worship service, develop good transitions between its various elements. All movement between people and elements of worship should take place quickly and smoothly.
Use variety. Celebrative worship services use a variety of worship elements to maintain everyone’s interest and enjoyment. Include elements such as drama, interviews, video, a message, the greeting of one another, Scripture reading, an offering and music.
2. Recruit a Worship Team
Worship teams are a key to developing a celebrative worship service as they spread the responsibility among several people and, most importantly, use the creativity of several people rather than only one. A complete worship team will include at least the following people or roles.
The Senior Pastor. The senior pastor must own the worship service and play a major role in its development. As the main speaker at the worship service, the pastor must prepare messages well in advance and be able to present the theme of each service at least eight weeks before the actual service. This will allow the worship team ample time to plan a dynamic service.
Worship Leader. Someone other than the pastor should lead the worship team. This person needs to be a “people” person, with sound musical ability and solid platform presence. Most of all, this person must be able to lead the corporate congregation in worship.
Communication/Coordination Director. The pastor and worship leader need not be responsible for contacting all the parties involved in the worship service. Instead, someone with excellent organizational ability should be involved to pull everything together. The communication director takes responsibility for contacting the ushers, greeters, musicians, parking attendants, and others who may be involved in the service. In smaller churches these three parties will be the entire worship team. Larger churches will need to expand their worship team by adding at least two additional people.
Drama Coordinator. The drama coordinator is responsible for recruiting, training, planning, and producing dramas during the worship services.
Sound and Lighting Technician. This person takes responsibility for coordinating the sound and lights.
The worship team meets weekly to do three things. First, they pray together for the worship services. Second, each week they evaluate the past week’s worship service. Third, they plan for future worship services.
Churches wanting to have the very best worship services schedule a weekly rehearsal or walk-through of the service prior to Sunday morning, or at least early on Sunday morning. Room is left for spontaneity, but most successful worship teams find that practice helps create celebrative services. The more complex the worship service, the greater the need for rehearsal.
3. Begin a Talent Development Process
With the time crunch on our hectic life-styles, some churches find that evening worship services are not as effective as they once were. As a result, churches sometimes either eliminate Sunday evening worship services entirely or restructure them into small groups, Bible studies, or family events.
One of the great advantages of evening worship services over the years was the opportunity for people to practice. Children, youth, and adults found the evening service a good place to practice singing, playing the piano and organ, leading worship, giving announcements, ushering, greeting, and even preaching.
With the gradual demise of the traditional evening worship service, this opportunity to practice and learn has become a missing ingredient in some churches. In many churches it was a tradition to have the youth group lead the entire evening worship service on a regular basis. This was excellent training for future church leaders. Where do people practice and learn the skills necessary for leading Sunday morning worship? To fill in this training gap, we suggest that churches begin a talent development process by doing three things.
First, eliminate permanent volunteer positions. Everyone who has served in a church remembers the lady who played the organ and, in reality, practically owned it. She would lock the organ following the service and take the key home with her! If new people who could play the organ began attending church, they usually never had the opportunity to use their gift because the organ player held a permanent position. By eliminating such permanent positions and rotating the playing of instruments between several talented people, a church accomplishes several important aspects of ministry: more people use their God-given talents and gifts, and new people are prepared and trained for future ministry. This will be crucial when a church adds a second or third worship service.
Second, begin offering music lessons. The loss of tax revenue to public schools has caused some to eliminate programs not considered core courses. Among those programs eliminated or greatly reduced have been choral and instrumental music. The net effect has been a generation lacking the skills needed to contribute to some areas of worship, especially the music areas. This is one of the reasons for the disinterest in choral music and the inability of the younger generation to read music. In many instances they just haven’t had the training.
Creative churches take advantage of this vacuum by offering lessons in music (voice, choral, and instrumental) and in drama. Lessons offered to those outside the church provide an evangelism event as an entry point for the gospel. Lessons offered to people within the church provide a means of discipleship and spiritual gift development. In both cases, new leadership is trained for future ministry.
Third, create forum opportunities. With the demise of the traditional evening worship service, there is a need to create forums for people to practice their music, drama, and speaking talents. One forum which flows naturally out of lessons is the recital. Another forum is a choir or music performance given once or twice a year. Still another forum is a full-length play.
These forums tend to be of higher quality than the traditional Sunday school program put on by many churches at Christmas and Easter. They are well-produced, excellent presentations. Of course, they are advertised to the general public and serve the additional purpose of outreach.
4. Communicate Visually
An interesting difference among the last three generations born in the United States is the contrast in audio and visual orientation. The generation born prior to 1950 read books, played games, and listened to the radio. They were and are a generation that knows how to sit quietly and listen. The next two generations, popularly known as baby boomers and baby busters, were the first generations to be raised with the visual exposure of television and video. They are visually oriented, and the signs indicate that the next generation will be even more tied to visual mediums.
Churches effectively reaching these younger generations take seriously the need to communicate visually. In a simple format, the popular use of overhead projectors for teaching and singing is an example of the effectiveness of visual communication. Community Baptist Church in Manhattan Beach, California, hired a pastor to work part time producing videos to give announcements, promote church events, and introduce the church to visitors. Instead of following up guests in their homes, guests are given a fifteen-minute video which introduces the church to them. Guests can view the video in their own home, on their own schedule, and without the need to entertain visitors from the church.
5. Preach Practical Messages
The flickering images hit the airwaves on April 30, 1939. President Franklin D. Roosevelt gave a short speech declaring open the New York World’s Fair. It was the first public broadcast of an electronic medium called television.
In the fifty-plus years since its formal debut, television has emerged not only as a primary entertainment medium but as a major force for social and cultural change. Here are some ways that television has influenced people as well as some ideas on how to communicate to today’s audience.
Immediate Satisfaction. Products are sold, complex issues are solved, and victory is won within thirty minutes on television. The ideas of delayed gratification and a process of spiritual growth are not well accepted. People want patience, and they want it now!
To communicate to people who want immediate satisfaction, preach character sketches of biblical people, pointing out the process each took to mature in their faith. Share real-life examples of people who waited for prayers to be answered, for personal problems to be solved, and for personal growth to occur.
Increased Boredom. Television gives the impression that life moves at a faster pace than it actually does. People subconsciously compare the real world with the fast-paced, action-oriented pulse of a television series. Life seems slow and mundane in comparison. To communicate to people who are increasingly bored, speed up the pace of worship services and preach sermons no longer than thirty minutes. Get to your point quickly by making your applications the main points of your message.
Short Attention Span. Television commercials have created short attention spans. Chase scenes and rapidly changing action shots have created a climate where people tend to concentrate for only about thirty seconds. Half-hour programs are divided into a series of ten-minute segments, allowing viewers to use the rest room or raid the refrigerator at precise intervals.
To communicate to people with short attention spans, learn to preach without notes and to move away from the pulpit. Vary volume, pitch, and pace of delivery. Organize messages into blocks of seven minutes each, and make a major change for each block.
Personal Touch. Relational aspects of communication are up, and transfer of content is down. Letter writing is diminishing with the phone call and fax machine taking its place. The motto “Reach Out and Touch Someone” typifies this fundamental change in the area of communication. To communicate to people who need a personal touch, deliver sermons from the floor, close to the people, rather than from the platform, removed from the people. Communicate the points of sermons in one-to-one fashion by telling stories that touch the lives of people.
Multiple Story Lines. We no longer live in a sequential world. Television weaves two or three story lines into a thirty-minute episode. People carry on many activities and lines of thought at the same time. To communicate to people used to multiple story lines, try weaving two story lines into one message. Tell two personal stories, one from the Bible and one from a person living today.
In-and-Out Mentality. Television has taught us that we can step into an episode, and it will stand alone. Sitcoms such as the popular series “Cheers” carried us along with regular characters, but each episode was a complete story in and of itself. Viewers could drop in at any time and understand what was going on. To communicate to people who have an in-and-out mentality, keep your sermons short and never use a “to be continued” ending. Make sure each sermon stands alone as a complete unit.
We may not like what television has done to the ability of people to sit and listen to our sermons, but to deny and ignore the changes will lead to an empty auditorium. We may be preaching fine sermons, but fewer people will be there to hear them.
Life-cycles of Worship: Two Models
A celebrative worship service takes more than excellent music, committed people, and a fine sermon. It takes solid understanding of how to use the cycles of energy throughout a worship service to create flow and movement. The many types of worship services fall into two basic styles: traditional and contemporary. Either can be celebrative if proper use is made of the emerging cycles of energy.
Life-cycle of a Traditional Service
Traditional worship services seek to move people through three cycles of energy. Each cycle moves increasingly higher in energy use and allows the worshiper to rest briefly following each movement in preparation for the next surge upward. This movement can be expressed as follows:
Warm-up: People arrive for the worship service and are given an opportunity to warm up by greeting others, listening to a prelude, and quietly preparing their hearts for worship.
Cycle one: A hymn of praise begins the formal service leading up to the reading of Scripture which brings the Word of God to the people.
First rest: Announcements are given to communicate information and, most importantly, allow the worshipers to experience a time of rest in preparation for the second cycle.
Cycle two: A hymn of confession leads the congregation to the pastoral prayer which presents their needs to God.
Second rest: An offering is taken as an act of worship, but in terms of movement and flow gives the congregation another brief rest before the third and final cycle takes place.
Cycle three: A choir anthem or special music presentation prepares the way for the pastor’s message to the congregation. This third cycle challenges the worshipers to change their lives based on the principles of God’s Word.
Wrap-up: Following the final cycle and challenge from God’s Word, the worshipers sing a final song of commitment and leave the service at a higher energy level than at the beginning of the service.
Life-cycle of a Contemporary Service
Contemporary services also seek to move people through cycles of energy and rest but appear to have only two cycles. However, the first cycle may actually contain several cycles of energy and rest. This movement can be expressed as follows:
Warm-up: People arrive for the worship service and are given opportunity to warm up by listening to upbeat contemporary music played by a live band or contemporary music tapes or compact discs played through an excellent sound system. Worshipers focus on their relationships through a wide variety of means which often includes loud talking.
Cycle one: The worship leader and team leads the congregation in a series of four to six upbeat contemporary songs selected to get worshipers participating in the service through clapping and singing. People are encouraged to greet each other while the live band continues playing and the congregation moves in and out of each song with little to no interruption. A personal welcome is given to the congregation within the flow of the music.
Mini rest: With no break, the worship leader begins to guide the congregation into a mini rest of slower paced songs selected to focus the worshipers’ minds and hearts on God. Prayer is a vital aspect of this part of the cycle which allows the worshipers to rest in preparation for the rest of the service.
Cycle two: This is in reality a continuance of the first cycle since no full break may actually take place. The worship leader may lead the congregation in a full cycle of nearly twenty to thirty minutes of worship. Following the mini rest noted above, the worship leader gradually returns the people toward a more upbeat tempo by selecting songs which focus on the believers’ relationship with each other.
Full rest: At the end of this extended period of worship, a break takes place where an offering and communication of important information is shared. This allows people to rest after the extended worship in preparation for the second full cycle.
Cycle three: This final cycle is highlighted by a practical message from the Bible offering specific applications which the worshipers can put into practice immediately. Stories and illustrations bring the message to life while providing models of how the Scripture relates to real life.
Wrap-up: Following the practical message from God’s Word, the worshipers may sing a final song or simply leave the worship service with a higher energy level than at the beginning of the service. The live band continues to play as the people leave, or music may be played through the sound system.
Whatever style of worship a church chooses to use, for it to be celebrative, attention must be given to guiding the worshipers through the cycles of energy and rest, gradually raising the energy level from low to high. With good planning, skilled worship leaders are able to accomplish this with a touch of spontaneity and sensitivity to the movement of the Holy Spirit in the worship service.
Walk into some worship services and sense the enthusiasm in the air. It is hard to define this feeling, yet we instinctively know celebrative worship services have it and others do not. ‘While we certainly don’t want to create a false enthusiasm, if worshipers experience high energy, they will likely view the service as celebrative. If the energy level is low, they may never return.
Church leaders sometimes say, “We don’t want to entertain people.” In reality what they mean is, “We don’t want to amuse people.” Amusement means to “idle away time; to divert attention.” Entertainment means to “hold the attention of.” Worship services should not amuse, but they should hold the attention of worshipers. Celebrative worship services take seriously the mental, spiritual, relational, and emotional nature of the worshipers and include all these aspects in a strategy to properly “entertain” them.
This article �Worship� by Glen Martin & Gary McIntosh was excerpted from the book: The Issachar Factor. Broadman & Holman Publishers, Nashville, TN 1993. It may be used for study & research purposes only.
This article may not be written by an Apostolic author, but it contains many excellent principles and concepts that can be adapted to most churches. As the old saying goes “Eat the meat. Throw away the bones.”
1 Larry A. Schmalback, “How Do You View the World?” The Light (September-October 1991), 1-2.
2 Haddon Robinson, “Preaching Has to Change,” Lifelong Learning 1, No. 5 (October 1990), 1.
3 Quoted by Duncan Maxwell, Anderson and Richard Poe in “A Culture of Achievement” Leadership (June 1992), 31.
4 Willow Creek Community Church is a pioneer in the use of short dramas. See the resource section for information to order these dramas.
5 Rick Warren, The Saddleback Church Growth Manual (Mission Viejo, Calif.: Saddleback Valley Community Church, 1991), 4.
6 Lin Yaeger Sexton, “The Sermon You Don’t Know You’re Preaching,” Leadership (Carol Stream, Ill.: Spring 1983), 55.