July 31, 2013
My initial online blog entry was on a site called ministrymatters.com. The link to that blog is http://www.ministrymatters.com/all/entry/4030/marksummer-worship-innovationsmark . For convenience, the content is posted here.
Summer Worship Innovations
One of the most promising things in the life of a church is innovation in worship. One of the most resisted things in the life of a church is innovation in worship.
Church people are much like everyone else when it comes to experiencing change – we are very uncertain about what it will mean in our lives. The familiar is what we are comfortable with, what we can handle, and to stray very far from that comfort zone raises anxiety and, well, makes us uncomfortable.
Yet, it was on Pentecost that the Holy Spirit blew into the life of the burgeoning church and began to shape it into the forms and traditions that we have inherited. Those same forms and traditions have been honored through the centuries, while also being changed and adapted to welcome new life into the church. The question becomes, “Are we too willing to welcome new life into the church?”
There are certainly a great many creative, innovative congregations out there today. There are also numerous congregations whose vitality and life is ebbing because they are caught up in being who they have always been.
The summer months are an ideal time to experiment with new and innovative approaches to worship. For example, if your service usually culminates with the sermon, try placing it earlier in the service, and allow the prayer time to flow from the sermon. We in Protestant churches, especially, place a heavy emphasis on preaching the Word. But sermons should, in addition to inspiring us, lead us to prayer and action. To encounter God in prayer, in response to the preached Word, can be a powerful experience.
Another opportunity for innovation is to plan a period of silence, either as part of the usual prayer time, or added in at another point. I usually include silent prayer twice a month in our worship, and while twenty to thirty seconds seemed like an eternity to folks at first, they now easily move into it and seldom is there anything but silence. The addition of this dimension of prayer in worship may not only connect with some worshippers’ individual spiritual practices, but may also open a new door for others.
If you celebrate communion weekly or monthly, use the summer months to have fun with trying different types of bread. I remember, growing up in the church, how the little rectangular pieces of something-related-to-bread tasted like cardboard (I know, there are probably people who have a fondness for that product). Honestly, it was a poor representation of the Bread of Life. We often use matzoh crackers now, but also bring in whole loaves of bread for communion (usually then dipping pieces in a common chalice). If you have people in your congregation who love to bake, ask several to bring fresh bread for the summer communion services.
If you observe communion monthly, tell people that during the summer, when so much focus is on eating at picnics and barbeques, you are going to try having communion weekly, and see how eating regularly around these common tables makes a difference for people. If people are worried that this means more work setting up communion trays and having someone wash things up, either try a chalice and platen and dipping the bread in the chalice, or use plastic disposable cups for the extra Sundays (I am aware of the ecological challenge of this, but then choose between what is most important).
As you embark on these innovations in the summer months, let people know that it is an experiment. Then, as September rolls around, do an evaluation of people’s experiences, soliciting input from anyone who will offer it. This will provide you with a rich resource as you look to the months ahead.
I also invite your responses to these ideas, and the sharing of your own innovations. The effective planning of worship should involve dialogue and the discussion of a variety of options. In churches with a worship planning team, dialogue happens naturally. For churches without such a resource, conversations online and in person can provide a spark that will inspire fresh life as we worship God together.
Welcome to my website. I hope you will discover a connection to the life of small churches, and the richness that the arts can bring to these churches.