The difference between a worship service that works and one that doesn’t isn’t only about substance and style—it’s about where participants find themselves at the end of it. Worship is a multi-dimensional activity—it’s something we’re able to do with our body, our soul, and our spirit. Powerful worship experiences engage all three of these parts of the individual.
The most effective worship planners learn how to make a service flow when they put together components and transitions. But making it flow is one thing—making it flow to a particular place is something else entirely. It’s like the difference between a river or stream and a recirculating fountain. Does the water actually go to a specific place or does it become part of a never-ending cycle that continually goes nowhere?
In many churches, the lead pastor is the primary planner of the worship service. Particularly in smaller congregations, there simply isn’t a lot of time to put together a top notch experience. Some planners understand the advantages of having a specific topic or theme for each service. But it’s surprising how many don’t. I’ve worshipped in congregations where I left the service with a good understanding of what I just experienced and how it all fit together, and others that felt like a hodgepodge of disjointed religious activities. Make no mistake, theme is a big deal for setting the intellectual tone of the service.
But just as important are the emotional and spiritual components of worship. For example, services should usually culminate with some type of opportunity for participants to respond. This doesn’t have to be a traditional invitation or “altar call”, nor does it need to be a one-size-fits-all response, but there should be an overall sense of “Where do we go from here?” Much has been written about churches that overdo emotionalism to produce certain outcomes in a worship service. That’s certainly a danger, but downplaying the emotional part of worship altogether is an opposite error of the same magnitude. The same can be said for relying too much on intellectual worship.
After choosing a theme, worship planners should figure out what their desired outcome for a worship service looks like. In other words, what do you want to be happening with participants as they leave the service? This question should be approached with fear and trembling. Here are some caveats to keep in mind:
- This desired outcome can’t be the same for everyone. People are in different places spiritually, and everyone won’t get the same thing out of the worship service or respond in the same way.
- What God wants to happen during a worship service and what we want to happen are often two very different things. And many times, God doesn’t tell us everything (or much of anything!) before everything goes down.
- Planning worship is an unusual animal, because while worship itself should be focused on God, planning worship, by necessity, must consider the human part of the equation.
- The spiritual element of worship is the hardest part to plan for. There’s no way to figure out ahead of time exactly what the spiritual atmosphere of the worship space will be at any given time. This is where consecration, prayer, prayer teams, choosing worship elements (especially invocations and calls to worship), fasting, and even spiritual warfare become very important. Finding someone with a high level of spiritual sensitivity to help with worship planning can be invaluable. You can have an impact on the spiritual atmosphere of a service, but there’s almost always a degree of unpredictability. If there isn’t, you’re either doing it wrong, or your services have slipped into autopilot.
Is your worship service a seamless experience with a sense of direction and purpose or is it more like a punch list of loosely related spiritual content that’s pieced together? Is there a sense that everyone’s checking off items as you move through the order of worship, or are transitions smooth and intentional? These are important questions to consider, especially if your worship attendance or the quality of spiritual life in your church seems to be hitting a wall.