25 February 2014

Worship-service style: "Ch-ch-ch-changes," or "I shall not be moved"?

by Dan Phillips

I am particularly interested in hearing from pastors, though any church-member's welcome to chime in. Have you (A) presided over, (B) spearheaded, or (C) adamantly resisted any significant change in the Sunday morning service of the church you serve?

This could touch on number or style of songs, composition of musical accompaniment, length of service, items in the service — anything.

Please tell the how, the what, the why, and the outcome. Full is good.

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Jay C. said...
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Jay C. said...

We're actually rolling out a fairly large change to the order of service now - the pastor/elders/deacons talked about it for a few weeks, then rolled it out to the church last weekend. So far, so good.

Personally, I like it better, because it provides a better flow than what we were doing before.

DJP said...

Jay, "Please tell the how, the what, the why, and the outcome. Full is good."

Michael Coughlin said...

I've watched the attempted changes, but I don't know all the outcomes. May my pastor will supply. Or I'll come back and share what I observed.

Kurt said...

I was a worship leader, and a deacon, before our church split.

During that time we (the worship team and the pastor) went to a Paul Baloche training workshop for worship leaders. He (Paul) presented his theology of worship as "the worship leader's job is to usher people into the presence of God.

As an ex-Pentecostal, I knew what he meant by that, and I objected to the experientialism, and called worshipping your own emotions as God idolatry. This is predicated on the cessationist viewpoint that the Holy Spirit does not "show up" in worship services the way Pentecostals believe, and that all that style of worship really does is tug on your emotions.

The recent Strange Fire conference went a step further and called that kind of worship blasphemy - that is attributing something to the Holy Spirit He has not done. They called it idolatry as well, calling it a golden calf. I feel rather vindicated by that

Our pastor favored the Hillsong style of worship services, and loved Hillsong songs, although he claimed to be reformed. This was one of many disconnects but wasn't directly related to the split (although it is part of the same pattern in my mind). I essentially refused to do this style of worship, and it caused some problems.

I really don't want to share details of the split however, suffice it to say I was on the losing team - there is the outcome.

Allow me to vent some if you don't mind (or delete this part):

When I was a worship leader, I refused to do any doctrinally incorrect songs, or "Jesus is my boyfriend" stuff, or hypnotic music (MacArthur hilariously called them 7-11 songs - 7 words repeated 11 times). Neither would I do the "standard" worship leader exhortations such as "just worship Him now, lose yourself in His presence..." because I believed they encouraged idolatry.

It's kind of funny too, I began my career as a worship leader really loving modern songs that created a high level of emotional energy (I was fresh out of Pentecostalism and that was the only kind of worship I knew), but as I grew I completely changed my viewpoint. I found I liked Hymns and Gospel genres as much if not more. Properly performed they combine God honoring words with great musc, what real worship should be IMHO.

That said there are some modern songs I really like, but if you listen to so-called christian radio it is a wasteland of experiential guff punctuated by some decent God honoring stuff.

"The Positive Alternative" says one radio station. Talk about a vacuous statement devoid of anything but emotionalism. Just like the majority of modern worship songs they play.

Ok, enough venting, thanks for listening. :-)

DJP said...

Kurt, that's exactly what I'm looking for. Thanks. Reserve the right to ask questions later.

DJP said...

Michael, I wish you would share the specifics about the changes: number or style of songs, composition of musical accompaniment, length of service, items in the service — anything. Please tell the how, the what, the why, and the outcome. Full would be great. That's what I'm asking for.

Michael Coughlin said...

Here's a nice long comment with the humor interspersed so you have to read the entire thing.

preface: I am not a pastor or a deacon in my church. But I did stay at a Holiday Inn Express once, and I do regularly serve as part of the service on Sunday morning and evening.

1. When a deaf man began attending and my wife began interpreting for him in 2010, she asked me if I would put the lyrics to the hymns on the screen where pastor's ppt is displayed. After some pushback from the pastor at the time, I was finally allowed to begin typing the lyrics each week to the hymns we would sing and display them as we sing. When the deaf guy missed a week and I didn't type the lyrics, my pastor let me know that he likes it, so now we do it weekly regardless of deaf man attendance. (As a side (and prayer) note, the deaf guy was saved by grace eventually, but we are still waiting on his wife, MIL and 3 boys). I think most people like the lyrics on the wall, and if they still want to use a hymnal they can. We do run into more "technical difficulty" with this approach, and it is a bit more effort.

2. Based upon YOUR blog and sermons, I've suggested to the pastor and deacons that we print a study sheet to go with the sermons each week and give it to people. My hope was to encourage people to use them. Our pastor has basically let people know about the sheets and doesn't really push it. My son used his this week. I was very pleased. He tried it at the beginning of 2013 and it didn't last long. He is trying again. Maybe he's gotten enough positive feedback to make it worth the effort and cost.

3. Pastor has tried to re-order the service, like preach first then do the announcements and prayer and offering after - every time it caused confusion, even to the people who helped plan it. Sometimes he's had the Lord's table in the morning service, but not often. Baptisms (one of which we have this Sunday) are always after the Sunday morning service and well-attended.

4. This week instead of praying after the final song, pastor began singing a little chorus "Praise Him from Whom all Blessings flow." It was unexpected...and from what I could tell just made people uncomfortable. I thought it was a good thing though.

5. Last year a few times, the pastor had us (on Sunday night) get into small groups periodically during the sermon and pray in a specific way in a small group. Then after 5 minutes or so, he'd begin singing a well known chorus and we'd stop praying and join in. Then he'd continue his sermon...rinse, repeat. I thought this was really great. It was intimate and I felt like it immediately reinforced what had just been taught. It's been over a year since. I think some people complained.

6. One week I sat in Jerry's seat and took his parking spot just to see what would happen. Ok, just kidding. I'd never do that.

I think I go to kindof a traditional old-guy we've-always-done-it-this-way church and we're still around but those other guys-who-did-it-another-way are now not a church kind of church. Lot's of advantages, old guys who've walked with the Lord 5 decades teaching guys like me how to do church and family. A mature pastor who understands the Bible and how to manage a group of people at different points in the spiritual walk. But a whole lot of "we've never done it that way" every once in a while whether it is related to the service or to whatever crazy idea I come up with.

It reminds me of the time I went to a deacons' meeting and told them I thought it was time to get a new chandelier for the auditorium (the old one had grown quite old-fashioned). After some discussion, Methuselah, the oldest (and head) deacon piped in and said he was against it. I asked him why and here was his reply "Well first, nobody in the church can spell it. Second, nobody in the church can play it. And third, what this church needs more than anything else is more light!"

Greg Linscott said...

I have overseen some fairly significant changes. In some ways we adopted a more formal liturgy- we now sing a doxology of some sort, and conclude the service with a time of silent reflection followed by a benediction hymn. Later, we also adjusted to the needs of the S'gaw Karen people attending our church, with hymns alternating from English to their language, Scripture readings in both languages... The music style was not as significantly altered, though we have seen some acoustic guitar music more prominent than it had been in the past. The results have been for the most part well received, as I took time to implement carefully over 5-6 years, mirroring increase in church attendance, too (60 or so to around 120).

St. Lee said...

You don't seem to be getting many comments so I'll throw in my 2 cents. About once a year the very small church of which I am a member faces some of these questions (among others)while trying to understand why we stay so small. Do we need a change our Pastor? Do we need to change our music? It is our Pastor asking those questions, which I believe shows his humility.

Our answers so far have always remained the same. The preaching is expositional, well prepared and well delivered. We all can easily agree that is not the problem with lack of growth. Our traditional music has also been often considered. Except for the scowl your graphic is not far from a fair representation of most of our congregation. We have come to the conclusion that "modern" music could very well drive away more current attendees than it would gain. Besides, we old fogeys would look pretty silly with a modern worship band.

Along that vein, we are in a large town. We, along with a small fundamentalist Baptist church are the only Baptist churches. There are a number of "baptistic" churches both large and small which, as far as I know, all have modern "rock band" type worship teams. We have come to the conclusion that there is no reason for us to be just like all the rest of them in the area of worship music. If a band is an essential for some Christians to worship, that need is already being fulfilled in other churches.

As for the length of service, I have encouraged our Pastor not to be so concerned about going slightly long with the sermon on occasion. Since he teaches New Testament History at a Christian college, in the past he has been very conscious of finishing exactly on time (as though the congregation needed to get to another class). Though he is still quite consistent, I have heard no negative feedback about encouraging him to spend a little more time when he sees fit.

Unknown said...

I'm not a leader in my church but will weigh in as the comments are few at the moment.

Over the last ten years our Southern Baptist church has changed many things. The first being the associate pastor. I use that title because that is his title at the church although he does "lead worship" and is also the youth minister. Shortly after he arrived, say 2 years we switched to multiple services at his recommendation to include a contemporary service. First we tried 3 services, traditional, contemporary and mixed.

That didn't last long may be 2 years and attendance went down. During that time our pastor retired due to health reasons. His retirement lasted a couple of years (long story) then we spent a couple more looking for a new pastor.

During the pastor search time we switched to 2 serves with one being traditional and one being contemporary. This is our current "trend".

We have also hired a new pastor who's been here for about 2 years.

Wait there's more ch-ch-ch-changes. In the past 2 years we've changed Sunday evening and Wednesday evening serviced many times as well. Sunday evening we've tried semi open bible studies, a video series on our founding father, and now we are doing what's title "Plugged In" which is focused on the youth. Quote,"If you don't like loud music, bring your ear plugs." Or you have the option to go to a bible study lead by a female member.

Wednesday evening also went from a bible study to what the pastor calls "Storying". He takes a bible story and teaches us how to "tell it in a better way". As he "stories" the story he uses a sort of narrator, animated voice then asks us what the significant parts of the story are and who in the story do we relate to.

"Storying" has also become part of the Sunday morning services as well, although not every Sunday and he doesn't ask for input from the congregation.

Now to the why, as I'm not the one making these decisions I'm not really sure the reason behind the changes but will guess it is to get more involvement.

The outcome. Really no change. The same few people attending the different...stuff. Also, I've seen neither an increase in a real desire for nor the study of scripture.

I hope that's the type of information you're looking for and I apologize if it went long.

DJP said...

It's right in the ballpark, Steve. Thanks.

Steve Lamm said...

I've been he pastor at my church for almost 16 years. We've made some changes in the service which were more obvious to people like: we "retired" the lady who was trying to play the organ (but couldn't!!). It upset a few folks, but I knew it would please a lot more, and it did. Also had to do that with a woman who thought she was a soloist (but was not!!!) I took the full flak for those decisions voluntarily.

There were other changes in the music. We are not any more musically contemporary now than before I took leadership, but I did raise the expectations for excellence among the musicians because I was leading music for quite a while myself (no one else could organize the music).

But the most significant change was accomplished in a more subtle way. When I arrived, the folks were used to 30 to 35 minute sermons. I'm an expositor and some passages just demand more time to develop properly. So, I gradually increased the length of my sermons a few minutes every couple of months (I know about how long a page of notes takes me to get through). Of course, some sermons are shorter than others, but the folks are now used to hearing longer messages. I often preach 50 minutes or more, and there have been a few messages an hour in length. Try not to do that very often!

By the way, I got the idea of gradual increase from a prominent Bible expositor who did the same thing in his church.

We've made some other changes as well that were next to impossible when I arrived at the church like change the Church name; change over to Eldership. I had to wait several years after suggesting those changes until some of the key opinion leaders decided it was time to make the change. But it was worth the wait because those changes caused very little turmoil (to my surprise)!

Here's what I have discovered after pastoring for several decades - if you can get the key congregational opinion leaders (not just the Elders) on board with a change, it's easier to implement. Of course, that takes longer to do than just "ordering the change."

Also, most changes can be "tried as an experiment" for a while. People tend to allow the experiment to go on for a time with less resistance. Often, if given a chance, they come to like the change!

Our Elders are pretty smart men and we know that any change will cause some discomfort. So, we prepare for that and kindly respond to any and all questions and objections.

How that helps some.

Kerry James Allen said...

Two weeks ago our church added a Scripture benediction to the end of both Sunday services. It has been a wonderful way to end the service as we corporately quote the verse aloud before the closing prayer.

It has been very well received and has proved to be a thoughtful way to finalize worship.

The verse(s) are printed in the bulletin in one version for continuity, and in two weeks everybody already knows to have a bulletin for the final reading.

We have nearly fifty passages (only using one per week) which are 2 to 1 NT over OT, hence we read 1 OT, then 2 NT, then 1 OT etc.

Here are the passages in case anybody likes the idea and wants to implement:

Numbers 6:24-26, 14:21, Psalm 22:26-31, 57:5-11, 98:5-9, 100:1-5, 149:1-6, Ecclesiastes 12:13-14, Isaiah 11:1-9, 25:8-9, 26:8-12, 64:1-2, 66:15-18, Micah 7:16-19, Habakkuk 2:14, Zechariah 14:6-9.

Romans 15:13, 16:19-20, 16:25-27, 1 Corinthians 15:22-28, 15:51-57, 16:22-24, 2 Corinthians 13:11-14, Ephesians 1:17-21, 3:20-21, 6:23-24, Philippians 4:8-9, 4:19-20, 1 Thessalonians 3:12-13, 5:18-24, 2 Thessalonians 2:16-17, 3:16, 1 Timothy 1:17, Hebrews 10:22-25, 12:1-2, 13:20-21, James 4:13-15, 1 Peter 4:7-11, 5:10-11, 2 Peter 1:2-4, 3:18, 1 John 3:1-3, 3:16-18, 5:20-21, 2 John 3, 3 John 11, Jude 24-25, Revelation 5:12-13, 21:3-5, 22:6-7.

Add or subtract as you see fit.

Michael Coughlin said...

Here's a guy suggesting we subtract from or add to the Bible.

I think he just wants to drop plagues on us.

Michael Coughlin said...

Awesome comment, Steve. I suspect there is a lot of wisdom there that youth cannot claim.

St. Lee said...

Kerry, our Pastor added a similar scripture benediction a couple years ago (though not spoken in unison) so I followed suit and have been ending our service which we do for a local nursing home the same way. I have a similar list, but for some reason I had never considered drawing from the Old Testament. Thank you for the list and the idea!

Sonja said...

Would it have been wrong to leave a church I'd have been attending for years when the "teaching pastor" decided to use his book instead of The Book? That's what I did. Yet before I left, I voiced concerns to the "campus pastor" and he blew me off. Basically what he told me is that I wasn't of any concern being a 50 something gray-haired woman. The whole Rick Warren church structure fails when you're just a little sheep wanting Christ preached and fellowship.

Not an artful comment nor applying DJP's "W's", but it still makes me cry.

kaffin8or said...

Anonymous to protect my church, which I love. I'm a layman but have contributed a lot in years past. I'm not generally known as someone who is averse to change.

WHAT: Recently the pastors decided to move to a form of communion in which the elements are sitting on tables all over the place. During the worship set at the end of the service, a pastor or worship leader will say "if you feel led, you can participate in communion". Financial giving, silent prayer, singing a worship song, are all offered in at once as "worship options". Anyone can engage in some, all, or none on their own volition. The leader himself usually doesn't participate in communion at all.

Most people go along with it but some do not. I'm one of those who cannot. It seems disrespectful of Christ's sacrifice and overly individualistic for a ceremony that is supposed to be about the opposite.

HOW and WHY: The change was made without any warning or explanation made to the congregation or to lay leaders. After the change was made, I brought my concerns to elders and pastors. They listened, but made it clear they feel that the form of communion is totally at their discretion and they are not going to change anything. I would have loved to hear some kind of scriptural justification for the change, but I haven't heard that there ever was one and I don't expect one now.

OUTCOME: At this point, I'm starving for the blessings that come through communion. I want to trust my leaders. At this point I don't know how long much longer I can stay. It hurts.

Tom Chantry said...

Dan, this may not be as detailed as you want, but I’ve found it helpful on a few occasions - making changes mainly to the order of service.

I’ve observed things go very badly in churches even when the changes were, in my opinion, necessary. Generally they’ve gone badly when the pastor/elders/leadership-team/grand-high-liturgical-council has had internal discussions, settled on a course of action, announced it, and gone forward. They might be right, and they might have the authority to make the change, but it rarely goes well. The Christian in the pew has a vested interest in his liturgy, and changes without explanation or without time to digest rarely go well. What is missing from this is teaching, admonishing, instructing and lots of other biblely words relating to the pastoral task.

That said, my approach has been as follows:

1. Prayerfully determine the most necessary course of action within the eldership (plurally, not unilaterally), and opt for incremental change. No one needs to see everything change at once.

2. Do some teaching on the item which might be changed, in a context where the whole church will hear it. Talk about what the Bible says about this element - what you are doing, what might be more biblical. DO NOT ANNOUNCE A CHANGE.

3. Give time and space for reaction. If you’re even hinting at a change in liturgy, believe me, the people will talk to you about it!

4. If the reaction is favorable or even just supportive, make an announcement and implement the change.

5. If instead the reaction is even in part unfavorable, take the time to listen to the concerns of those who are opposed. They may have legitimate opposition. You may even tweak your own recommended tweak. In any case, take the time to hear and to instruct, one-on-one. Delay the change if need be; the church won’t collapse.

6. After this, teach again, this time addressing specific concerns within the congregation.

7. Prayerfully determine (again, with a plural leadership) whether to go ahead with the change, and announce it, and implement it.

Of course all of this presumes that the change is not necessary in an immediate sense. For instance, it isn’t that you have a choir director inserting modelistic anthems every other week! In some cases, quick action is needed, though still with teaching and explanation. But for most changes, even ones which are good and bring the church more into alignment with biblical worship, a patient approach is, I believe, better. You may not win everyone this way, but you may win many.

JackW said...

I’d like to weigh in here as I consider the music ministry to be my primary ministry. I have played guitar in music teams for about 20 years and while I don’t lead, I have found ways to influence the music ministry toward better goals.

My ministry verse is Colossians 3:16 and from this verse I take it that music ministry is a teaching ministry. This, to me, brings James 3:1 into view and means that the music we use is extremely important and we will be held accountable for it.

Music made for Christian radio by Christian radio artist present a challenge in that it’s what people listen to and often want to sing. There is some really great music out there that is written by the church for the church that is so much better, but not as well known.

How to get that music into the service is the challenge. What I’ve done is to buy the CD’s and sheet music of the good stuff and give them away. My thinking is that if people hear the good stuff enough, they will be less likely to want the weaker stuff. The stuff I give away is from Getty Music, Sovereign Grace Music and Indelible Grace Music.

The results are mixed thus far, but slow progress is being made. I think the approach is less confrontational than other approaches I have tried and failed with. It allows you to say something like, “yeah, that’s a pretty tune, but wouldn’t this song work better?”

The song leading into the preaching of the Word is the most important to me, because it connects the worship to the whole service and not just the “music time.” Try using Show Us Christ or Speak, O Lord just before the sermon and you’ll see what I mean. It not only prepares people to hear the word, but prepares the Preacher to serve it.

Pastor Greg Lawhorn said...

I spent a good part of the 80s leading worship before becoming a pastor 21 years ago (Talbot '93), so I've been on both sides of the issue.

I was taught to lead using mainly Maranatha and contemporary songs, without thinking much about the doctrinal content. I was even taught that pastors "don't understand worship," and to kick against the goads a little. In fact, after the elders told me NOT to perform hymns, I rebelliously wrote a hymn about the cross and the atonement ("Love poured out through nail-torn veins, saved by the fruit of His pains"). The next Sunday we sang that new song, and an old classic Fanny Crosby hymn set to an updated melody and chords. I was was told that the "new" contemporary song was great (the Fanny Crosby hymn), but that the "old" hymn (my new song) was too old. I explained my bait and switch, and then said, "So it sounds like you don't mind hymns as long as they don't SOUND like they're hymns." The elders softened their stance a little after that.

But I've got to say that it was only after Alan Gomes at Talbot challenged the answer "He lives within my heart" asked by the musical question "You ask me how I know He lives" that I began to think that biblical truth must not be diluted by artistic license.

My standard for contemporary music since has been songs which are both biblically sound and musically creative. I was shocked to hear, at a funeral no less, that "heaven met earth like a sloppy wet kiss," and spit up into my mouth a little. I took a fair amount of heat for standing against such things at my second church of 12 years (I resigned that pulpit last year after the elders refused to challenge a fast-growing segment of the congregation that was pursuing IHOP, prophecy, Bill Johnson, the prosperity heresy - pretty much everything that Strange Fire sought to address).

I am now involved in two churches, one a plant of our own (http://www.onehopefellowshipnorfolk.org), and another an hour north, which has Reformed roots. Singing at One Hope Fellowship is a blend, but with an eye to songs with the depth and biblical content of "In Christ Alone," rather than the 7-11 songs of the day.

What I found interesting is that the church to the north recites the apostles' creed and Lord's Prayer, and has a couple of Scripture readings in addition to the message. Also, the worship songs are not in a set, but sprinkled through the service. It's a new experience, but I've come to really appreciate the focus on the Word, and the use of song to exalt and glorify The Lord, rather than creating an emotional moment which is falsely called worship.

Michael Coughlin said...

You ask me how I know He lives, He lives within my heart.

Col 1:26 Even the mystery which hath been hid from ages and from generations, but now is made manifest to his saints: 27 To whom God would make known what is the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles; which is Christ in you, the hope of glory:

DJP said...

Right there with you (or Alan), Greg. I've said that for decades. I won't sing that line. Forced, I'll sing "You ask me how I know He lives? The Bible tells me so!"

jbboren said...

Back in the mid 90s, I was a deacon at a church in Harvester, MO. Our pastor, who I dearly loved (and still do) came to the deacons with a proposal to start the whole gamut of seeker-sensitivity (Saturday night worship, a contemporary service on Sunday, etc.). At the time, the church was growing rapidly, the gospel was being preached, and the impact on the community was extensive.

When this was brought up, I 'felt' something was wrong, but being in my early 30s, I wasn't about to go against my pastor on it, so I voted for it.

I wish I'd know then what I know now. The church plateaued, and then membership started to decline. When the worship wars got too intense, I took my family to a church in Wentzville, and ended up singing in the choir with the former worship minister from the previous church. That pastor is now no longer pastoring (he's at a seminary, last I heard).

I'd give just about anything to go back and stop the changes.

The Polemic said...

We were an historically Pentecostal church, a typical AOG church. Our services were intentionally unprepared and opened to the "un-expectant".

We sang a mix of 7/11 choruses and Hillsongs. Sermons, weren't really prepared, and songs weren't necessarily biblical. Then in terrible incident our then (now late) pastor died. Then, the church asked me to stand in on an interim (probationary) basis.

I was fresh out of seminary (an AOG one). By God's providence (a long story)during my time at seminary I lost my Pentecostal-ness and embraced Reform theology (soterioligically), I became a cessationist and realized that God prescribed how we ought to gather together to worship Him and did not leave it open for us to determine.

So when I accepted to stand in after passing of our late Pastor, I started teaching the doctrines of grace, the unbiblical nature of Pentecostal/Charismatic distinctives, and the priority, authority and sufficiency of the Bible. The leadership was convinced by God's Word, 80% of the church too (a few left because of the "change"). The church asked me to remain on permanently and we disaffiliated from the AOG and became an Independent Bible teaching/believing church.

Our Sunday morning worship services changed slowly but drastically. To make a already long story short, we started only doing what God says we must do in the service and not what we felt we want to do in the service. Hymns, prayers, Bible reading, and Expository preaching is now the nature of our worship services. We now subscribe to the regulative principle for corporate worship.

DJP said...

WOW! I'd like to have been a fly on that wall.

Stephen Len White said...

Thank you for the opportunity to comment. I am a newly-appointed minister of music at a Baptist church, and am trying to bring more liturgical tradition to the services, while being sensitive to requests and needs from the congregation. I have been using the liturgical calendar and then mixing with that the requests and special occasions that may occur. This seems to be working well.

The main thing I do not feel led to bend on is using tracks. I greatly dislike using tracks when we have good live musicians here in our church. Some folks still want to sing solos or ensemble pieces with a track, and I have no objection to that in its finality-if I can't talk them into using our accompanist, I let it go for the most part. I'm interested in preparing the hearts of the people to hear the Word-that's the most important thing to me.

Stephen Len White

Even So... said...

this will be in two parts...

Over the last ten years we have implemented quite a few changes in our liturgy. I’ll share some and the process of how the changes were made and how they were received. At the end, I’ll state my reasons why I think we have been successful in implementing positive change to our liturgy, and our overall church culture.

We added a pastoral opening prayer and a scripture reading before the music portion. There was always pray, of course, but now it is more focused, and we have people stand for the reading. This wasn’t hard to do at all; people welcomed the addition of the reading.

Music: Instead of 10 to 12 “selections” (lots of CCM choruses, many were just “little ditties”, charismatically bent, a “happy clappy” overload, etc.) we now have 6 “psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs”. So the time went from 45 minutes to 20. We have a mix of old and new choices, and sometimes old lyrics with new arrangements. We have several members who have written their own music and songs, and we use those. We also use also Getty’s and whatever else we consider as theologically good and rich music from today’s era. Any new addition to our repertoire must be approved by the elders. This took some time, but it was made easier by the fact that our services were over two hours long when I preached for over an hour. So I learned to be more clear and concise, and they let me tweak the number of songs.

During the offering (taken during the third song) people can also participate in what we call the “Pool of Prayer”. I won’t go into it here, but over the course of time everyone winds up praying for everyone else, without any unwieldy and unmanaged prayer lists. It is a focused way for specific needs to be prayed for by an individual who focuses on one person and their needs for the week. I did a sermon on this and we have handouts and occasional reminders of what this is and how it is done. Visitors can participate too. We have seen other churches use this when I explain it to them. It is perhaps the most well received change we have made.

Prayer time: During the fourth and fifth “songs”, while everyone else is still singing, we have some folks down front to pray with others who come forward. This was met with no resistance. I explain what it is every Sunday, as we have the prayers come forward.

We now recite the Nicene Creed on the first Sunday of every month, which is also when we celebrate Communion (we distribute the elements during the sixth song, which is ordinance based, as in “Come Share the Lord”, or similar). Again, this was not hard to do; I thought I might get some pushback regarding the creed, but the folks I thought would have an issue actually were quite pleased with our connecting to the historical faith. We gave a detailed explanation in the bulletin as an insert and talked at length about the creed and its historical context for the first few times we observed it. Everyone seems eager to recite it now.


Even So... said...


After the music/communion, the children and teachers come forward and we pray for them. Again, this was a welcome sight for many, as we have lots of young moms and dads and to see them all come up and be prayed for is a blessing.
I preach for 40-45 minutes on average. Yes, people were happy with that.

Basically, the service starts at 10:30 am, and ends at 12:00 noon. We then have a fellowship dinner in the hall next door (about 60-70% stay for the meal). The meal is a real highlight and opportunity for us. Many people are not doing well financially, and we make a lot of extra food, so this allows them to take some home with dignity and we fed them for a day. The teachable moments are legion. If you want to get to know you people, as a pastor, this is a great way to do it. And yes, I live in the south, and yes, there is a lot of fried chicken there, but I have still lost more than 40 pounds over the last seven months. You just have to be careful at the table, and perhaps make up for it tomorrow.

I believe that our developing a church handbook/doctrinal and practical position/discipleship training tool (our book, “The Fellowship Files”) has had a tremendous influence on our ability to enact biblical, positive change. Also, insisting on a formal membership process increased “commitment to investment”. The members are never “blindsided” by any changes; we discuss them ahead of time. It is usually been quite easy to reach consensus. I have found that if you teach the underlying truth ahead of time, the truth that informs your reasons for change, then it becomes clear for those who must accept and adapt to the changes.

Grace and peace,


Drew Sparks said...

I know nothing about music but I couldn't help but notice the comments about the song, "He lives." I used that song as an illustration once and compared it to the opening of 1 John.

Did you know that the song was written as an answer to the question, "Why should I worship a dead Jew?" What's even sadder, this question was asked by a young jewish boy. How tragic that the song writer's answer was, "He lives within my heart."

We recently hired a music pastor about a 1 1/2 years ago and he has implemented some changes in our music. One thing he does is constantly read scripture throughout the service, in between, before, and after songs. On top of reading Scripture, he asks challenging questions based on the songs or the Word. He mixes up the way he does this so it always keeps you on your toes, not allowing you to get into a rhythm. This makes it very difficult to turn on auto pilot and mechanically work through the music. He truly creates a worship environment for our congregation. It may not be much, but I feel blessed to have a man who desires to create an environment of worship with music.

Anonymous said...

Practical advice for those who might be wanting to implement change but are being resisted by deacons who simply don't like change because it's change: Change the system for counting and entering the offering into the computer first. Later, when you want to make an actual change to the order of service, offer to let them go back to the old, familiar offering-counting system. Works every time.

Herding Grasshoppers said...

Just a couple of comments (from a worshipper, not a leader) about music, since so many seem to be mentioning that...

1. We watched our former church transition to a Willow Creek style of worship, which included grouping all the songs into one long set rather than the more traditional (older?) style of interspersing them in the service. I see problems with that which weren't particularly spiritual, but bear mentioning.
First, having the songs spread out through the service helped some of us stay more attentive - stand up and sing, sit and listen, etc.
Second, the "worship set" was really long. Quite apart from the emotional manipulation I felt was taking place, it was just too darn long for some members of the congregation to continue to stand, especially the older folks. Of course, they could've sat while everyone else stood, but nobody wants to do that, you know? We actually had older people passing out and collapsing occasionally and had to call 911.
I brought up those concerns with the leadership, but they continued on that course.

2. Our church (not the one above) pays great attention to the songs. We sing a mix of traditional hymns and more contemporary music, such as the Gettys, with careful attention to content. I'm so thankful the pastor has made this a priority!

3. A couple of caveats about that, however. In the attempt to choose music that is relevant to the sermon topic, a lot of wonderful, rich hymns go unsung. Also, though we've been attending there for several years, we don't feel like we really KNOW many of the songs, because they vary so continually.

I know, that's MUCH, MUCH better than an endless round of gushy, 7-11, God-is-my-boyfriend songs, and I am THANKFUL for my church and my pastor :D Still, I wish we were developing a repertoire that we (I?) could become familiar with.


A D Raines said...

My story is not as a pastor but as a volunteer leader. We were for a time at a very young (demographically) VERY "hip" church. I was asked repeatedly to help serve in the music ministry. I declined several times because of strong philosophical disagreements but eventually gave in when the pastor encouraged me to effect change in the areas I wanted to see improvement in. Some of them were:

1. Transitioning from hillsong/CCM songs to rearrangements of old hymns, Getty/Indelible Grace/Sojourn hymn arrangements and songs, and generally more doctrinally sound lyrics with fuller depth of meaning. This was met with mixed responses. Many liked the more meaningful songs but there were some complaints from congregants that they were reminded to much of the legalistic churches they grew up in or couldn't "connect emotionally" with these new songs.

2. Transitioning the style of music from a very loud pop/rock electric guitar based sound which incorporated prerecorded tracks to a quieter, more acoustic guitar driven folk rock live instrument only style. The stated philosophy was they originally wanted to play the music loud enough that you couldn't hear other people singing so that you wouldn't hold back. This backfired in principle so that people would actually just stand around and sway to the music rather than participate. The change to a style where people could hear one another singing was met with overwhelming positive response and completely changed the level of participation by the congregation.

3. Doing away with long musical solos and interludes. We never received much feedback on this change.

4. Going from having literally no scripture outside the sermon time to using it as the basis and driver for the whole service. For a church that stressed expository sermons and preaching through books of the bible and frequently hour long plus sermons, I was shocked that the bible was otherwise never opened in our Sunday gatherings. We introduced calls to worship from scripture - typically from the psalms - along with sermon-topically-appropriate scripture readings between songs. We opened this up for congregants to participate by reading assigned texts at the appropriate times. Many people really enjoyed this because it gave them the opportunity to participate and lead in worship when before they were shut out because it was play music or you don't really serve a part. We also included topical scripture into our overhead slides for each song. Every song had scripture at the beginning for silent reading and reflection and any time there was a musical bridge/interlude/ transition from chorus to verse, scripture was displayed. The little feedback we received was very positive on this as well.

5. Taking communion every week. We tried different methods but ended up after critiques and complaints with tables set up and a "come as you are led" time with two tables set up with bread and grape juice for intinction. I won't go into all the detail, but the final format was pushed back on by several (including myself) but the idea of taking communion weekly was widely accepted. Another issue with this was that it was never introduced by the pastor who taught, it was up to the music leader. Whenever I led I took it upon myself to try to draw a line directly from the gospel that was just preached (which was usually accomplished quite well) and the ordinance we were about to partake.

6. One thing I fought against but couldn't win anyone over was the church had a fascination with turning the overhead lights off, running a stage light show and lighting a bunch of candles on stage. It smacked of the emotional manipulation I had seen in churches and youth groups growing up and seemed to have no purpose other than that. They were always sure to have the bright lights on for the sermon.

My family is no longer at this church for a litany of reasons but the majority of the changes we worked for stuck and it seems like most of those were ultimately for the better. Hope this is helpful.

donsands said...

my last comment did not make it through.

Good comments to look over.

I am joined with a Reformed Episcopal Church.
We have the liturgy, litany, and Common Book of Prayer.

I am more Baptist Reformed meself.
Yet I love this local gathering very much. Our pastor is very Reformed and preaches with love for Christ, and love for the truth, and love for his congregation.

Our services are well done, and we have a mixture of hymns with spiritual songs: 'One Thing Remains', 'Never Let Go', In Christ Alone, etc.

We do need some Ch-changes. Not so much the proclaiming of the Word and the music, but the atmosphere needs to be more for the younger Christinas, and perhaps more outreach would be good.
Our church has grown smaller by our congregation going to be with our Father; because we are quite an older congregation.

Good thoughts everyone. Thanks.

Have a terrific rest of the week in our Lord's grace and peace and joy Dan.

I used a quote of yours the other day on FB. Thanks for preaching the truth in love, and loving the truth.

Doug Hibbard said...

Given that we, as a Southern Baptist Church in the south, still worship as John the Baptist did when he started our denomination, I'm mainly watching the comments to see what I can learn :)

All kidding aside, I attempted to spearhead a change in a previous pastorate. Traditionally speaking, we still call people forward after the sermon (take it or leave it, it's a long-held practice). I'm uncomfortable, as an understatement, to have someone walk down the aisle, introduce himself, and then I present them as having become a Christian. Or as qualified to join the church as a member.

So, I re-ordered the worship service to buy time to actually sit down with people who responded to the invitation. A simple shift: take the offering after the invitation, let someone other than the pastor make announcements, and be ready to actually interact with any responses to the message by sitting down with them and with Scripture.

After 2 months, it was changed back due to the people who quit giving because "it wasn't part of church", who complained that no announcements were being made about important things (since the pastor wasn't doing it), and the unanimous opinion of the deacons that the service was running too long. This last was even though the service still ran the same length of time.

So, my experience was negative in that regard. I did all the "leadership book" things: explained what we were doing, why we were doing it, and what the benefits would be.

I underestimated the resistance to change and did not put in the theological underpinnings for why we need to shift our understanding of the invitation time.

I still think it was a good idea--but Baptists don't do change well, so I'm considering whether or not to broach it in the church I serve currently.

Aaron Snell said...

I'd like to echo Tom's entreaty for 1) prayer, 2) teaching, and 3) patience for any change in a church. These are, to my mind, the three crucial elements. Prayer is the foundation, teaching is the mode or method, and patience is the approach.

I have served as an elder at a previous church and am currently serving as one now, and though the most changes to the service that I have been involved with would be minor (such as doing one less song, or adjusting the placement of communion* in the order), I have been involved in both elderships with a rewrite of the church documents (bylaws/constitution and statement of faith), both of which meant fairly big changes in church governance. I can tell you that teaching with patience from the scriptures on the issues you want to change is key, particularly as they move out of areas of liberty and discretion (how many songs you sing, instruments used, the liturgical order) and move in to areas on which the Bible has something definite, important and imperative to say (the theological quality of the songs, whether or not to have a scripture reading, etc.). If you have a strong scriptural reason for changing what you want to change, and you show it from the Scriptures patiently and over a LONG period of time, the church will hear the words of the Lord and want to obey, and the patience will go a long way to soothing and working through the negative gut reaction most of us have to change, particularly change to something as concrete and regularly experienced as a church service.

If you see a change that Scripture convicts you should be made, teach it. Then teach it some more. Then teach it some more, until the church finally says, "Why haven't we made the change yet?" If the change is more discretionary - and there may be very good, wise, and prudent reasons for it - it will depend much more upon the merits of your thinking.

*The one instance where I was a part of "trying" a change of something of substance in the service was the mode of communion at a previous chruch - rather than passing the elements in the plates and little plastic cups down each row, we set them up and administered them from the front, with the congregation coming down to partake. We only did it a few times, and got a mixed (though slightly skewed to the negative) reaction, probably because the reasons were clear to us in leadership but never communicated or taught to the congregation.

Unknown said...

I wish my church would change the format. Our pastors wife leads worship every Sunday, lots of songs about "how we will do something for God" or "how we wish God will do something for us". She chooses a theme for every worship session and reads the odd bible verse to back up her theme. The problem arises when she starts to elaborate for a couple of minutes every now and then, it just seems as if she is teaching in church. She reads a scripture and explains it to the church with a little challenge. Worship lasts about 30 minutes or so. After our pastor has preached he closes in prayer and hands over to his wife to close the service with a song. Virtually every time she then takes the opportunity to finish off her mini sermon for another 5 minutes after which she closes in prayer. Her little sermons are often completely different to the main sermon. Unfortunaly her little sermons are often the only thing that most people remember as they are entwined with emotion, music and are short and lifestyle based challenges.

What can a person do?

Unknown said...

I wish my church would change the format. Our pastors wife leads worship every Sunday, lots of songs about "how we will do something for God" or "how we wish God will do something for us". She chooses a theme for every worship session and reads the odd bible verse to back up her theme. The problem arises when she starts to elaborate for a couple of minutes every now and then, it just seems as if she is teaching in church. She reads a scripture and explains it to the church with a little challenge. Worship lasts about 30 minutes or so. After our pastor has preached he closes in prayer and hands over to his wife to close the service with a song. Virtually every time she then takes the opportunity to finish off her mini sermon for another 5 minutes after which she closes in prayer. Her little sermons are often completely different to the main sermon. Unfortunaly her little sermons are often the only thing that most people remember as they are entwined with emotion, music and are short and lifestyle based challenges.

What can a person do?

Chris H said...

This is a story as a worshipper, not a leader, from many years ago:

We began to incorporate drums in our music at the beginning of the service (we have and continue to mix choruses and hymns). A couple of families pushed back about that, and handed the Elder board the usual sort of stuff about drums being evil and the rest.

The Elder board (far more gracious men than I) searched through every translation and every language they could (english, hebrew, greek, german, french), and listed every instrument found in scripture, and what was said of them.
They prayed and prayed, and then responded to the families with their findings: there is no instrument prohibited by scripture, and so it becomes a matter of taste and/or meat sacrificed to idols. As they drums were enjoyed by the majority of the congregation (even the old ones), they would not be prohibited.

Half the families involved left, the other half stayed. But, regardless of the outcome, I was impressed by the way the Elders responded. I would have said, "get over it," and moved on. By God's grace, I wasn't in that group.

Jay C. said...


I don't have the order of service in front of me right now. Will post this weekend, when I can get my hands back on the list.

Just wanted to let you know that I am not ignoring you and wasn't trying to be dense. :)

trogdor said...

About 20 years ago, my family's church was faced with internal and/or denominational pressure to contemporize, and decided to go with two services, an early "traditional" service and a later "contemporary" service. Now when we go to visit my mom, many of the adults I knew growing up go to the early service, while a smaller number mixes with the younger crowd at the late service. The effect has largely been to create two mini-churches, under the same leadership but otherwise largely unconnected.

More recently, our last church in the Chicago area had been doing two identical services. Over the summer the attendance/volunteers typically dropped a bit, and they would combine and do one service. During that summer some commented how much more they enjoyed being all together - you could especially tell the congregational singing was better. From our perspective, being new to the church and trying to get to know people, it was a lot easier seeing the same people every week. We told the pastor how much more we liked it, and he let us know they would consider sticking with one service because of so much positive feedback. And so they did.

They just announced the change one week - pretty much just said they'd gotten so much good feedback over the summer, instead of going back to two, they'd stay with one for the foreseeable future. The complaints were minimal, since it was something we were already doing anyway. Overall it's been a great change for them, with better services and a more unified church, with minimal pushback.

Larry Geiger said...

Possibly out of scope.

Twice I have been involved in this transition:
New, small, 11:00am service, 9:30am Sunday School.

Growing: 8:00am service, 9:30am Sunday School, 11:00am Service.

Grow some more: 8:00am service, 9:30am service and 11:00am service. Sunday school immediately begins to suffer, especially adult clasess. Eventually leads to no adult classes at all. Parents mostly come at 9:30am, children start out in 9:30am service and then are dismissed for a short class (1/2 hour). Large Sunday school reduced to a trickle and almost no youth where previously there were many more.

Grow some more: Added 5:00pm Saturday evening service.

I really did not like to see class time essentially go away on Sunday morning.

donsands said...

"What can a person do?"-Jason

Look for another church my friend. Or you could stay and pray, and gently try to make a difference. Perhaps share some good books on worship with your pastor and others.

Joe said...

Change just to be "different" is useless and usually is done for the benefit of the changer. Sometimes change is purposeful and enhances worship. That is good change. With or without change, the focus must always be on worshiping God through Christ. Anything else is folly.

All things should be done decently and in order. What the order is, though, is not as important as its purpose. If it is to "wake people up," it is pretty much useless. If it furthers the cause of Christ it is useful.

While that might sound all pious and aloof, it is none the less true. Too many churches pander to people instead of focusing on God.

Puritan Dilemma said...

Hello Phil, I have been enjoying your blog for sometime. Okay, honestly, i don't get your blog, my wife does, and she forwards them to me. Now that my conscience is clear:
I pastor a congregation with 103 members on the roll, with approx 130 in attendance.

over a decade ago, it was a Landmark, Baptist Bride Church, with Arminian doctrine. Since then, we have become more and more reformed, family integrated and the process was handled in this manner: "Hey Joe, any idea why the church practices X?" "No pastor, i never thought about it I guess, hmmm, could you preach on that subject?" "Sure Joe, I will, and here is a book on it written by some old dead guy, you be reading this while I am preparing to preach on the subject."

This same conversation would occur with joe, frank, jim, bill and any other visibly hungry disciple.

Slowly, reform came as the preaching answered the why's of our orthopraxy.

We moved from Normative to a Regulative form of worship over the next 8 years or so, incorporating Psalms along with our Hymns, Changing the Lord's supper from Grape Juice to Wine, Making the preaching the prime mover and purpose of our services, all the while reminding the people SDG for all our actions.

We cancelled evening services and started a fellowship lunch and then an afternoon service immediately following so our elderly could get home and not drive in the dark.

We opted for Family integration as opposed to the latest "radical youth" programs.

We started a bible college which is simply an extended discipleship program that uses systematic theology as the form of operation.

All in all the people at this church have been incredible as they are proving every week to be Bereans, much more noble than anywhere I have ever pastored... i really needed that.

today, we are still reforming, still having growing pains and still learning that we don't know very much.

Thanks for this idea, as the posts have been fantastic.

DJP said...

I'll try to remember to tell Phil your wife enjoys the site, when I see him.

Puritan Dilemma said...

Oh, She enjoys your posts too...lol

DJP said...

Well now that's nice to hear. Thank her for me.


Jay said...


Here's the order of service the way it used to be:

Opening songs
Call to Worship (Bible Reading)
Welcome / Announcements
Personal Prayer and Reflection
Pastoral Prayer
Missions Minute (if we have one)

Now it's:
Call To Worship / Hymn
Welcome / Announcements
Scripture Reading
Pastoral Prayer

They changed it for a better overall flow in the service and because it seems to facilitate a more serious/reflective demeanor. So far it seems to be doing that.

My pastor will be at SC this week, so if you want his name, let me know and I'll see if I can facilitate a meeting with him if you want.

Good luck with whatever you are working on!

Michael Coughlin said...

Hilarious. After reading this all week, I show up at our service this week expecting the usual.

Everything is going along as normal. We sing the final congregation song before the sermon and, as everyone is beginning to sit, the pastor says "wait, wait."

After a pause, he says, "I want you to say hi to somebody."

It caught everyone off-guard completely. But it went well, we enjoyed a little fellowship. In fact, it seemed like he had difficulty calming us down.

It was pretty neat!