This article was originally published in Worship Leader magazine (Jan/Feb 2012). For more great articles like this one, subscribe today.
There can be comfort in consistency. But it can also breed complacency. The last thing the Church needs is Christians who go through the motions, content to echo well-worn words without deepening their faith.
For many congregations the way we do church, traditional to contemporary, feels the same from week to week. We follow the same formulaic liturgy with little change (and yes even contemporary churches have liturgies: doughnuts, two songs, welcome, three songs, sermon, four songs, close). Even when we experience something as important as communion, there’s little change to our standard routine. Admittedly, for many, sameness can create a familiarity that makes space for God; yet for others, it can foster a dullness and tendency to tune out. From time to time, our rituals therefore deserve attention, some time to honestly look at them and ask the question: is this helping people worship or is it making them tune out?
Let’s look at Communion. In your congregation, the mood of your service may take a somber turn as Communion approaches. The predictably slow music starts to play while your pastor suddenly goes from happy to serious while leading the church through the sacrament, saying the same thing in the same way.
However, when Jesus led the disciples through the first communion, he actually broke with tradition. He took the symbolic ritual of Passover and turned it on its head by declaring the broken bread, traditionally a symbol of the sacrificial lamb, to be his own body. What a revelatory moment. Jesus didn’t mean for us to break bread repeatedly for the sake of ritual. Christ wanted us to relive that moment of revelation that his disciples experienced that night.
So, how do we create that moment for the Church? We need to thoughtfully, intentionally weigh each part of our rituals—from singing songs to welcoming our neighbors to baptism and Communion—and ask ourselves what we can do to stir minds and hearts. Ritual is not a bad word. In fact any time people gather more than once, rituals and liturgies are created. Show me the most progressive dynamic church out there, and we could still identify a liturgy—we could identify their rituals. The key is to identify your rituals and then evaluate them. Here are three things to think about during that process.
If you’re feeling comfortable in what you’re doing, you might be lacking innovation. Or worse, your rituals might be helping people tune out rather than tune in to God. Taking risks or mixing things up should make you feel a little uneasy. All innovations come with some fear of failure. Not everything will be a success, but failure can be a great teacher. When you succeed, you will see people dig deeper into their faith—worth the risk.
Be Aware of Your Congregation’s Response
Are people responding? If it looks like your congregation is going through the motions, they are. As a worship leader, you have a unique point of view. Before a service, clearly articulate to your team how you hope people will respond. After the service, talk as a team about the verbal and nonverbal response and what you can do differently next time.
Ministering With Wisdom & Sensitivity
Would a non-Christian visitor understand what was happening? Would a mature Christian be encouraged in their faith by what is happening? Are both of these happening at the same time? If not, it’s time to rethink your introductions and transitions and the way you are trying to encourage your entire congregation to engage with God.
While there can be flaws in consistency, there can be great power as well. When you’re consistently thinking of ways to make your worship service a better experience, it’s good. When your constant focus is creatively telling stories your service will get better. God is consistent. His Word is never changing. But the way we experience it is always changing as we grow in our faith. Every weekend, not just communion Sunday, is a chance to add dimension to your service. There’s an opportunity to be intentional about taking your congregation on a journey to tell God’s story in a new way.
Jerod Clark is a Project Leader for Church Juice (churchjuice.com). This Chicago-based ministry helps churches be better communicators by providing free resources and advice.