Monday mornings used to be a nail-biting affair for me as a worship leader. We had these comment cards which became a popular way for church members to express their opinions about Sunday worship service. For one, we called them “comment cards” and invited the onslaught of detailed prose. What was also known was that the entire staff and the board had a copy of these by early Monday morning in their mailboxes at church. By the 10:00 am staff meeting, this first page was already circulated through the grapevine. Around our boardroom table, we each received our copies of the staff meeting agenda with this list of comments attached to the front page. After the under the breath grunts from the pastor, we went around the table addressing each of these comments as directed to us. Some were pertinent advice. Others were an expression of their “friends” opinion as well as the “many people they know” that said the same thing. One problem was that many of these were anonymous. We surely could read between the lines with a bit of detective work. But, unlike other churches I had served over the years, the anonymous ones did not end up in the trash. They were, in fact, the most important on our list. I called this death by comment card. There was no way to address one comment saying the sound levels were two soft and one saying they were too loud. One unnamed dear person would question whether or not we had the Holy Spirit present and another would be thankful for the Spiritual refreshment.
5 Smart Ways To Evaluate A Worship Service
Some of these factions were represented by various staff leaders and board members of the church. The passive aggressive push and pull wore the pastor and me down quite a bit. Whatever we did was not enough. Our friend, Mr. or Ms. Anonymous kept moving the bar we had to reach. It created tension and frustration at all levels. The main reason was not the fault of the comment cards, necessarily. It was the lack of clarity in what we intended to accomplish on Sunday in worship. Without leadership to filter why we did things, the “how” was always the thing for all involved to chase. And that pursuit proved to drag our entire ministry down. Everyone, including myself as the worship leader, had expectations. These unmet, diverse expectations provided the momentum of an impending train wreck. So, Mondays were not my favorite day of the week for quite some time.
One group of people, including leaders, felt that a “soaking experience” in worship music was the priority. So, if this group felt jarred by a teaching moment about the history of the song or hymn or if a scripture reading interrupted the song flow, they objected. Another group felt that we should not be as lively and had too much pep. Perhaps a more reflective set of music would please that group. The youth pastor and his crew felt that we needed an acoustic guitar to lead worship as that was what made them connect to the music better. There were folks objecting to the fact that we actually had written introductions to musically lead into a song. One particularly puzzling comment was a person who said they felt I was not as connected to God as I should be; now, they felt connected, but their impression was a barrier, apparently. One critique came forward that made values a clear issue. “Rich, the newer Christians and members seem to enjoy the music more than our long-time saints here.” So, the idea was that I personally was not interested in anything, but newer folks and actually had to choose one group over the other. They wanted that choice to be in their favor. Would we be seeker sensitive, spirit-driven, or guard the old hymns with reverence? Obviously, we had no way of mediating this in a mature way. You see, without clarity, people will smell the leadership vacuum and act accordingly.
I want to give you five ways to evaluate a worship service. I know that my experiences are pretty common after speaking to many pastors and worship leaders over the years. The most visible and important meeting each week is our Sunday worship service, yet we spend little time thinking through how to cohesively lead people to appreciate the biblical values we place on it. Just like my former church from years ago, if a clear statement is not available to coach people with, then they will coach you! And, as a worship leader, we really should not have to decide these things on our own. We need our leadership to delineate traditions with the scripture as the authority to be revealed. In some traditions, it is apparent what the purpose of a weekend service is meant to do, but for many of us in the Evangelical world, we have had a do-it-yourself liturgy that has left people free to pull us in many differing directions. I hope these five principles guide you well so your Monday morning staff meetings are more productive than mine used to be.
Decide why you meet for worship in church. Then choose what you do based upon that. What is the bottom-line “win” for a worship service?
My role here is not to decide this for the church in America, but I will ask you what you actually believe about a Sunday service. Some claim it is for seekers and an evangelistic event. Others will state that it is a gathering of saints, so its purpose is to gather and send people out. Another group may insist that teaching the Bible in an expository (verse-by-verse) manner is the purpose. The fact of the Holy Spirit filling people matters to some of us, as well. You must decide upon the overall purpose of why you even meet. Without this, any evaluation is based on an unknown foundation. Build the foundation so you can compare each other’s thinking to your goal for worship.
If a church states that they believe that services are primarily an evangelical endeavor, then what happens in that service can be judged based upon that goal. How many people became Christians in worship this past weekend or within the last year? We can ask that question, having a different purpose in worship, such as seeing it as a gathering of Christians, but the weight that this question carries depends on your choice. The confusion caused by not willingly and publicly having an open dialog about the purpose of worship allows for immature and distracting responses from our congregation. So, answer this question.
We meet on Sundays (Weekends) for the purpose of _____________ .
Define your filter based on your values. What values do you believe in enough that you are willing to be very unpopular?
Once we decide the goal and purpose, we then can state how we in our unique church or movement should proceed. Defining values will help you filter the feedback, eliminating off-topic ideas and opposing views. It will also help you secure your identity. If you are an urban church, that should color how you value the weekend in some way differently than a suburban church would. While your purpose of a Sunday is not to be expository in your preaching, preaching that way may be one of your values of how you achieve what’s important in worship. You view that your primary purpose for Sundays is to gather and send the saints, leading them in weekly worship through the Word and God’s presence. However, you may value that in how you make your church inviting to people who don’t normally go to church. You already know the primary thing, but how to get there matters, too.
Instead of one primary question, you need at least three to balance the tensions you might have in your tradition or practice. If you are a seeker-sensitive driven church in worship, how is that framed? Perhaps you define reaching the new group of people flooding the neighborhood. You want to creatively implement your services so that this new group is reached. So, that is one of your questions. Another question may be in how you address those who are not seekers any longer. Just because your main aim is being seeker sensitive doesn’t mean you cannot filter that through other values. This holds true for any other purpose. Yes, I have my opinions, but I have been in a variety of settings and have seen that, as a servant to them, the breakdowns have more to do with the leadership implementation, than the belief or method chosen. Here are three suggested ideas to fill in the blank with your values.
We would never do these three things in worship ____________________ .
It would not be a service without these three things __________________ .
If these people do not resonate with our worship, we are doing it wrong _____.
Defend beauty in worship. Is it about being impressive or expressive? Do we follow fads or create what will last?
This one shows a bit of my bias, but I believe if we don’t ask questions about how we express, we may be unhealthy in our expression of worship. We can impress or express. We can follow the latest trends in worship industry music or curate and create services that are meant to transcend the moment. Beauty has a purpose and, in worship, it seems that the Psalmist teaches us with his song, Psalm 66.
Make a joyful shout to God, all the earth!
Sing out the honor of His name;
Make His praise glorious.
– Psalm 66:1-2 (NKJV)
What we seem to idolize today is what instantly moves us. Beauty, at times, is an acquired taste. It is the opposite of eating a McDonald’s Big Mac. If you are super hungry and eat one of these burgers, you are immediately gratified. However, after a while, you don’t feel so good in the stomach. Well, that is my experience. It is an impressively marketed burger, but it does not express the same thing as an In-N-Out hamburger does. This less impressive company expresses certain value through its food. Instead of a frozen patty, a fresh beef patty is squashed and fried for you. The fries are made the same way, with an employee spending all day hand-extruding them in open view. You cannot find an In-N-Out everywhere. Every corner has a McDonald’s in almost every state of our nation. That is impressive, but the beauty of the In-N-Out burger requires some thought and planning as the lines are long–almost all day long. One company uses the genius of their marketing. The other simply makes good food.
When we come to worship, we have to defend the actual food we serve. Just because we have an impressive reputation for music or preaching does not make the meal a worthy one. I believe the Psalmist was right to model the glorious aspect of worship. In the Old Testament, Rehoboam thought that making shiny bronze shields would be good enough for the worship of the people of Israel. The pragmatism makes him not unlike us all today. He walked away from God, depleting the splendor of the temple worship. Our choices do this at times unless we defend beauty in worship. Our steadfastness preserves the golden shields, not the substitutes. In this day and age, we oftentimes look for substitutes that shine like gold to be in its place. Impressive production cannot save a lackluster story. What is the story of our church? Are we keeping priorities where they should be? If not, we end up worrying about the expedient buzz, rather than the real deal. Lamentations 4:1 describes this best.
How the gold has lost its luster! Even the finest gold has become dull. The sacred gemstones lie scattered in the streets!
Here is a question to ponder when evaluating worship services or worship ministry.
Is the act of worship worth funding or should aesthetics become budget cuts in lean times? How important are they?
Discover the journey in community. Are we in tandem with our people’s needs and desires in worship?
A church is likely to go through some sort of change, especially in our transient society. All it takes is a large company to move out of our town for a disruption. Or, maybe your city is booming, and a lot of new faces are showing up at your church each week. If we choose to separate our church in factions rather than sharing in the discovery, we are out of touch. Being in sync with where the current temperature of the congregation is must be evaluated in our worship. With the fast pace of change, our people are likely to be swept up into new experiences that shape their needs.
One way to be together in this discovery is to refresh your worship team as much as you can. New people will change the chemistry of your worship team, but that will either spark growth or cause resistance from the comfortable ones. While we should not do things simply to rock the boat, it makes sense to keep your team as fresh as you can to be responsive to the changing church you serve. If we plan in a vacuum, we miss the opportunity to respond where people are at. While leadership isn’t following people, you have to know where your people are to take them somewhere else.
Also, I recommend that once a year, a church take the time to teach about worship to the people at large, if possible. Or, one can work in a nugget about why we meet throughout each month in some manner. My current pastor gave a very inspiring description of the Passing of the Peace portion in our service. He reminded us that before we go to the altar, we are to be at peace with our brothers and sisters as the scripture teaches. While it is a joy to see the faces of friends and greet them, the purpose is deeper. Instead of allowing our worship activities to be self-directed, this gives the community a chance to do something together with the same intent. The Passing of the Peace is just one example. Why do we even sing at church? Really, we should take nothing for granted.
How has the current worship service leadership served people better or worse this year than last year?
How many new people are helping lead worship this year compared to past seasons?
Dine together in worship. Instead of presenting an experience from a stage, how about sharing a meal with Christ present?
I love the idea of the word, “liturgy”, which means “work of the people.” When we make worship solely the work of the clergy or professional worship leader, we rob our church of their worship. The congregation should not see our role in worship leading as ones they can vicariously worship through. They should see us as servants providing the starting note of their prayers. The table we set is to encourage all of those coming to enjoy God’s promised presence. While polishing a presentation from a stage can be spiritually powerful, it is not the same thing as a group of people dining together. And the meal we partake in happens to be Christ, himself! To make our leadership a polished presentation steals the thunder away from the songs and prayers of our people.
Too often we mistake the music for the meal. While the vehicle of music is very important–in fact, a way I have supported my family for many years–it is what the music helps that is more important. When God’s people praise him together with one voice, we open up for an opportunity to experience God’s presence together. The meal of the Lord’s Supper, or communion, is the ultimate symbol of this as we literally are re-enacting the Last Supper when Jesus instituted the practice. If Jesus instituted a practice of worship, then it must be pretty important, I would say. What happens is we believe that the music doesn’t prepare us for this encounter, but rather, that it is the encounter. Of course, we experience God as we pray, but imagine if we believed the words of Christ about the communion table? We often pick and choose what is literal or not. I don’t see in scripture where music is the meal.
There is a pressure we put on worship leaders and musicians that is untenable if we believe there is more to what they do than is present. There is also a loss if we limit God’s Spirit to say that he is not present where he chooses to be present. So, the balance is to be open to the Spirit while being clear about what is overtly promised to us. Jesus is present in the bread and wine. Or, is he not? If we are so open to see God move and work in a time of singing and praying, why would we not be as open to the very promise Jesus gave us about his table? And we should put more pressure on ourselves, rather than on the church stage or altar. Does our faith match the promises of God? Or, are we picking and choosing to believe as we feel, rather than how the word describes and prescribes to us?
Here are some questions to ask to evaluate the elements in our services.
What vehicles in the service are most biblically supported and did we prepare and lift these up to their appropriate level of importance?
What do people come to consume in a Sunday worship service?
How are we framing the expectations of the congregation and leadership? Are these in line with what we know the Bible lays out for us?
Evaluation can be a positive activity if done with a clear worship theology and vision.
When you sit down in the early part of the week to measure what happened last Sunday, I hope these points encourage you to be strategic about it. It can be freeing to have guidelines bigger than you and me to keep us accountable as worship leaders. If these are not in place, we surely can lead up and respectfully engage our leaders in these conversations. Instead of reacting to the heat of feedback, we can, at the very least, be assured of where we need to focus. This aids in diffusing the varied opinions of others with the shared purpose and values of worship your church holds. Until these are clear, measuring worship is a lackluster chore with little effectiveness. Let’s change that!