I may not know your church or the challenges that you face each week in putting together a worship experience. However, I do know, from decades of leading churches, being a guest in churches, sometimes more than once a week, and going to church conferences, what is done well and what needs improvement in a church’s worship service.
If you are like me, you are always looking for ways to improve your church’s worship experience. You want them to have a true encounter with the Lord God. After all, isn’t that the goal of worship, elevating and experiencing God? No matter what you do, it just won’t matter that much if they leave the service not having an encounter with God. If they do have that encounter, then anything else that happened pales by comparison.
So, the big question is: How could I plan the worship service so that there is a greater likelihood of those attending having an encounter with God? It’s an important question. Certainly, we want to be seeker sensitive. We want to be relevant in our language and culture to those who attend. But that is secondary to the primary focus of exalting and experiencing God.
I also realize that we cannot manufacture an experience with God. You can create an emotional experience. You can foster an educational setting, but only by God’s initiative will he manifest himself in a tangible way. With that said, there are things we can do which will prove helpful to open the receptivity of people to the Eternal and welcome the presence of the Holy Spirit in our gatherings.
Before I move into the six ways, I want to call your attention to two glaring omissions to the six: The sermon and music. I have not included the sermon in this list because it deserves its own list. The same could be said for the music. In future posts I hope to treat both sermon and music with their own five or six things to improve their effectiveness. For now, here are six general ways to improve your church’s worship service.
1. Plan the flow of the service with one overall theme
Every church has a liturgy, some are more pronounced than others. Generally, we sing, perhaps have some special music or testimony, take an offering, practice communion and baptism, and of course have a sermon and invitation. One of the things to consider in your worship gathering is to look not only at the elements of the service but of the flow of the service.
Having one overal theme will tell you where you want to take them, but the flow determines how and when they get there. If you don’t have a specific theme, it is likely that the service will not take them anywhere specific either. For example, perhaps your congregation has been going through a very hard time. Maybe some have wavered in their faithfulness or are growing tired and uncertain about the future. You want them to have hope. So, you may design a worship experience around the theme of “Hope.” Maybe you even decide to focus on a period in the life of David where he needed hope. You find plenty of material from David’s life and in the Psalms of David for this emphasis. With this theme, you would work with your song leader to provide a flow of songs that may start out with doubt or trouble but then the last song before your message would be one of anticipation. Your message would bring the “Hope” theme to fruition and climax, ending with the invitation to “hope” in God and his goodness. The same God who helped David is the God who helps us in our helplessness. We only need to reach out to him.
The elements in this service are the very elements that God has used to move in people’s hearts and minds, bringing hope and salvation. They are prayer, Scripture, testimony (David’s and perhaps other testimonies), and the offer of a response. You believe that God wanted you to give hope to his people, so you did. Not a person will walk away from this experience wondering what God’s message was to them. They will all know it was “Hope.” This is flow with one overall theme.
2. Prepare the congregation for worship
Not everyone who shows up in person or online has prepared themselves for worship. This is no surprise. It is hard to shift our minds and hearts and even bodies to a posture of worship in an instant. What can we do? While total preparation for worship is not going to happen, at least you can get those in attendance to move toward a posture of worship.
I recommend that after an opening song and a welcome (I’ll deal with the welcome in the next point) that you take a moment to prepare those present and online for worship. Several things could be mentioned here. You can share that we are here to meet with one another, but more importantly, to meet with God. Share that God desires you to know him, and he wants to speak to you today. Share the theme for the morning. You could even give some examples on how this is relevant to them today. Create a focus and build anticipation that God is moving and working right now in our midst. Then have someone come (someone you have prepared ahead of time on what to pray) and lead in prayer as the service continues.
3. Have a scripted time of welcome
There should be a specific outline that everyone who does the welcome time follows. It should be a brief as possible, hence the script. It should also accomplish certain goals. I suggest:
A welcome statement and gratitude for spending your Sunday morning with us.
Person’s name, their role and why this church is special to them.
What the church’s unique role is in the community, i.e., what the church is focused on doing that will make a difference.
To first time guests, you want to connect with them. Either fill out a connection card or text “Welcome” to (whatever number you have with a text service) or scan a QR code or have them go to a form on your website.
Tell them why we want them to give their information.
Invite them to stop by the welcome center after service to pick up a gift.
Any more than the above is just rambling and will take away from the theme of the service.
4. Explain the ordinances
If there is going to be communion or baptism, this is a good time to explain their origins, significance, and conditions for participation. We should not assume that everyone in attendance and watching online knows why we are baptizing people or are having communion. This is a great time to share the gospel in the visual and tactile expression of the memorial of the Lord’s Supper and the death, burial, and the resurrection of Jesus and of us with him in baptism.
Explanations could also be taken further for other things in the service that guests may not readily know. Some of our older Christian hymns have terms that are not familiar to today’s ears. A little introduction to the song and its setting is helpful not only for understanding but to engage the congregation into a deeper worship experience.
Every worship experience has a place of prayer, but is prayer used to connect us to God or more for a transition between elements of the service? I urge you to have a set time of prayer in your service that is specially used to focus the participants attention on the theme and on God. If the theme of the service is “forgiveness” then pray the Scriptures that deal with forgiveness. Psalm 51 and Psalm 32 are great Scriptures to use demonstrating the plea for forgiveness and the freeing gratitude that comes from experiencing forgiveness. Then apply it to us today. All that can be done in prayer. You can set the prayer up to help the congregation understand the context and direction. This is a great teaching time for understanding how to pray the Scriptures as well. This keeps prayer fresh for the pastor, but also if other staff are used in this prayer time, it will involve others in the worship experience.
6. Move all announcements to the end of the service
Keeping the announcements and other housekeeping things, other than the welcome, at the close of the service is important for several reasons. First, announcements interrupt the flow of the service. That’s just what they do. By flow, I’m talking about the cadence and timing of the service. Announcements disrupt the steady heartbeat of the service, it’s like having worship arrhythmia.
Second, announcements distract. You work hard to have a great worship theme and experience. Having announcements at the beginning or somewhere in the service time is going to compete with your congregation’s attention and focus.
Third, keeping the announcements to the end will increase the chances that whatever action you are wanting the people present to take will happen. There is nothing else you are going to do or say that will then distract them from this last thing.
Fourth, this is also a good time to remind guests to give their information or to visit the welcome center for a gift. You may also want to remind everyone that pastor and staff are available to visit guest at a designated area.
Fifth, some churches use this last time to take up the offering. Others prefer to keep the offering in a more central role during the service.
We’ve always needed good worship but with all the pressures and stresses today, we need the refreshing presence of the Lord even more. May the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, Jesus himself and the Holy Spirit be with you and lead you as you lead God’s people to worship.