A Better Worship Committee
Whether you work in a large church or a small church, whether you are new to liturgical leadership or a seasoned professional, figuring out how best to make a worship committee effective can be a challenge. In some churches, worship committees are little more than Arnie, Beverly, Chad, and Doris giving their two cents on what they do—or particularly don’t—like about what happens in worship. But if your worship committee members have been chosen well, they represent a broad spectrum of the congregation’s life and are made up of those most interested in the church’s liturgy. As worship leaders, it should be our role to empower and encourage the natural spirituality, creativity, and intelligence that our worship committee members bring to the table. Worship committees have the potential to be important sites for thinking about, imagining, and evaluating how our congregations praise God.
In some traditions, worship presiders are called “presidents,” so I suggest extending the metaphor and thinking of the worship committee as the cabinet—those people without whom the church would be a far less vital, worshipful, and interesting place. Here are five suggestions for what your own worship cabinet might do:
1. Encourage your worship committee to become liturgical experts. Learning about liturgy is not difficult, and worship committee members should be encouraged to do so. If your denomination has an established set of liturgical resources (such as the opening section of the United Methodist Hymnal) or a set of rules and regulations regarding worship (such as the Presbyterian Church’s Directory for Worship), make sure your worship committee is familiar with these. This can be as simple as reading through them bit-by-bit at meetings or giving the committee members some “homework” between meetings. Worship committees that are familiar with the ins and outs of why and how worship is done from a theological and traditional (that is, denominational) perspective are already several steps ahead of those who merely “know what they know.”
2. Related to this first tip, ask the worship committee to research new ideas for worship. If you want to consider the possibility of rearranging your worship space, but don’t have the time yourself, send worship committee member Peggy Pewbody on a search for resources, and ask her to be ready to report back at the next meeting. This is the wonderful art of delegation, which can save large amounts of time for those in liturgical leadership roles and can also help worship committee members feel that their work is essential to the worship life of the church (which it should be!). This tip is especially relevant if you have a worship newsletter that explains liturgy to the congregation. Have a worship committee member be a “guest columnist” for the newsletter, explaining a particular worship element about which she or he has become an expert.
3. Let the worship committee be a testing ground for new liturgies. There is, perhaps, nothing worse than the feeling of planning a new service or a new piece of liturgy for Sunday worship, trying it out for the first time in front of the congregation, and realizing as it is taking place that it is not working. One way to avoid this is by trying out new liturgies with your worship committee. Spend the last ten or fifteen minutes of your meeting practicing that Star Wars Eucharist you’ve designed to see whether the committee feels your association of Darth Vader’s redemption with Christian redemption works. (Incidentally, spending the last few minutes of a meeting in worship is a good idea whether or not you are trying out a “new” idea.) A well-informed and honest worship committee can provide a good sampling of whether a particular liturgy truly praises God and how the congregation as a whole will respond to it.
4. Related to tip number three, encourage your worship committee to imagine, write, and plan their own liturgical innovations. Pastors and ministers of music do not have the corner on the market of good worship ideas. Invite a different committee member to come up with a new idea for each month’s meeting, to be tried out or discussed at the end of the next meeting. When Flora comes to February’s meeting with her idea for an Easter litany based on the flowers that will be blooming come March 23, she may be on to something fruitful. When thinking about liturgical innovation, five or six or seven heads are much better than one.
5. Finally, and perhaps most important, let the worship committee be the primary and constant place for worship evaluation. Evaluating worship is the best way to ensure that God is being praised when our congregations meet to worship and that the congregants are engaged and invested in that praise. That said, finding time for evaluating worship is perhaps the most overlooked part of the liturgical process. Making time for evaluating the previous month’s worship (or however long since the committee has met) in every meeting is a simple and convenient way to do the vital work of evaluation. This should not be a gripe session, but rather an insightful look by a knowledgeable group of people at what is and isn’t working in a congregation’s worship.
These five tips for making worship committees effective can empower and encourage the faithful few who have volunteered their time to serve and can help revitalize a congregation’s worship life. Right praise can begin with the worship committee.