The desire for vibrant worship resonates with congregations throughout the church. Community of Christ has a free-form worship tradition with few prescribed words or required actions. We have been free to develop methods and styles that particularly minister to our congregations. During the past decades, we have enjoyed increased creativity in worship planning and a wider base of participation.
People in the church have given themselves and others permission to explore and experience widely varied styles of music, drama, preaching, prayer, and meditation. In-creasingly we realize that, as God lovingly made each of us unique, we relate with and worship God in different ways. As part of a loving community, we value the opinions and creativity of all people. This can make worship planning creatively invigorating and sometimes difficult.
Vibrant worship includes expanded opportunities for people to use their giftedness. Rather than a few ministers being the givers and the rest of the congregation the receivers, all can be givers and receivers. Good worship planning involves recognizing the gifts and potential of each person in the congregation.
Careful planning of each service involves integration of a variety of worship elements into a seamless whole with purposeful integrity. Planning that uses a variety of elements, where worshipers truly participate instead of passively observe, is a vital foundation for vibrant worship.
Worship Planning Basics
Congregational worship planning throughout the church is shared among many people—individuals of all ages, ordained and unordained. This collaboration on the worship-planning task has enriched the services and made them more representative of the entire congregation.
Worship planning takes different forms, depending on the structure of the congregation and worship needs. In most cases, a service planned by two or more persons, in cooperation with the pastorate, produces better results than a service developed by an individual. Including the presider, speaker, a creative worship planner, and the musician in a planning group addresses the major functions frequently found in worship services. The sharing and synergy of the group process enhances worship planning.
Worship planners should give focused attention to the following: first, identify the focus or theme of the service; then, select the elements of worship that best communicate the focus; and finally, choose the people who will provide the needed leadership. Worship participants should be given the parameters of their leadership responsibilities and enabled to share their unique ministry within those parameters. For example, preachers, storytellers, or “pray-ers” need to understand their roles within the context of the complete service, including the time allotted. It is important to select worship leaders after the service elements are planned, but the presider should be identified early in the process and be involved in the planning.
Develop services with the needs, circumstances, and gifts of the congregation in mind. Service outlines may contain familiar elements: hymns, scriptures, prayers, Disciples’ Generous Response, and the spoken word. However, with a little creativity, these traditional elements can become more vibrant. For example, the spoken word is not always a sermon; it may be several brief statements, testimonies, or a dramatic presentation.
When trying new things in worship services, there are bound to be some conflicts. Keep the following suggestions in mind:
Changes need to make sense; use them only if they fit. You need to be able to explain why you are making a change or doing something new. Don’t rush—prepare and practice new things carefully. Hasty, shabby construction guarantees collapse. Overhauling a long-held worship pattern is a long-term effort.
Keep your congregation in mind—prepare the people and be sensitive to the preferences you know exist. Tell people what to expect. No one should be surprised (unless, of course, surprise is the desired effect). If you know an innovation is going to be a problem for a certain person, talk with him or her ahead of time and encourage him or her to worship with an open mind.
Accompany new elements with a generous helping of the familiar. People need the security of the familiar. Do familiar things in different ways. Employ your traditions, but do not be bound to them. Strike a balance by using new in combination with old.
Maximize participation. Worship is not a spectator sport. Participation usually means a higher degree of preparation and investment in the outcome.
Learn from books, classes, and observation, but don’t copy—personalize it. Listen and observe. Visit other congregations and denominations. Learn all you can; then personalize worship. What is God’s calling for your group?
Ask for feedback. Solicit specific, balanced feedback. Don’t just poll your friends and family. Be sure to include a wide variety of people when asking what worked and what did not.