By Rev. Roderick “RJ” Stevenson, Contributing Writer
Do you remember when drums and keyboards came to church for the first time? I remember the unrest of the saints about how loud it was going to be and how the church shouldn’t sound like a concert! Look at us now. Over time, we’ve grown to accept and even expect the best drums and keyboards at every service. The presentation of worship has continued to emerge from a worship service into an experience. What are you experiencing?
As worship has evolved through innovation, what was once a simple service of responsive liturgy, hymns, and the preached Word has now emerged as a full-service production experience with intelligent lighting, broadcast productions, full orchestras, and multiple services. Some ask, “Does it really take all of that?” Why has worship become so involved?
The Sunday morning mission has become a matter of how to keep the congregants’ attention while effectively ministering the Gospel. Unfortunately and all too often, the production elements introduced into the environment serve more as a distraction from a vertical God-centered relationship and focus more on the awe of the production itself. The music, lights, and screens should function collectively with the liturgy to encourage us toward God! Training and rehearsals should allow musicians and technicians to become comfortable with their tasks in order to experience worship themselves.
There’s nothing more distracting from worship than the audible crickets heard as the congregation waits patiently while the sound team troubleshoots the feedback squelching during the morning announcements. We ascribe to a consistent method of worship and it would seem like someone would focus on ironing out the kinks from week to week. Have we embraced the age-old “this is how we’ve always done it” so much that we’re willing to compromise on the quality of what we offer to God? We must progressively seek to give God the best we have.
The following are guides that will be helpful in providing considerations toward transforming our worship services into experiences:
First, worship programming must be relevant and engaging for all ages. Our goal in planning weekly congregational worship should be to engage the hearts and minds of diverse worshippers in an experience of a lifetime. It is during that brief moment in time that chains are broken, bodies are healed, and deliverance takes place because of the yoke-destroying power of God. However, if God is not presented in a way that is easily relatable then have we successfully shared the gospel?
It should be our endeavor to prepare experiences that offer a presentation of worship that will engage and inspire the entire congregation. Song selections, if possible, should feature repetitive choruses and should be presented in a way that encourages the congregation to participate. The most effective presentation allows the worshipper to take the experience with them.
This encourages them to hum the song on Monday morning as they take a coffee break at work. Then a coworker asks, “What’s that you’re humming?” Now the member is engaged in a moment of witness and evangelism provoked by the song selection they experienced during worship on Sunday morning. Job well done!
Second, worship is best experienced when it inspires participation, outward expression, and lifts the worshipper upward to God. Through worship, we denote a measure of value toward God by how we respond. Have you ever heard someone offer a musical selection that made you want to stand and shout! If presented with excellence and enthusiasm, every movement of our corporate worship experiences should inspire response. A call-to-action should be clear and evident throughout the experience and the appeal for salvation should not be breezed over but should be presented intentionally with an expectation to extend to someone a complimentary all-access pass to eternal life with Christ.
Third, worship must be life-changing. Can you take it home? After the benediction is over, what did the un-churched visitor retain from the experience? Do the children know what it means to “heist up the windows?” To be truly life-changing, the experience of worship must be portable enough to take with you. This doesn’t refer to carrying the organ in a suitcase; but rather, answering the question, “How can I reproduce that experience in my everyday life?”
Does your experience include songs with catchy and repetitive lyrics? Does your scripture reference include some method of participation? Does your sermon have a clearly communicated theme?
This isn’t suggested to be a fix-all for brief attention spans. That actually comes through becoming a disciplined worshipper which is a completely different article. I would hope, however, that you would consider the experience that you had on Sunday. Was it portable? What did you take away? Who did you tell? I look forward to an emerging experience of worship with you, wherever you are.
The Rev. Roderick “RJ” Stevenson is a multi-instrumentalist, songwriter, arranger, producer, and recording engineer with credits with several recording artists, churches, and broadcasting companies. He is the owner/CEO of KreativeKoncepts Production and Design, a full-service marketing and media company with 15 years of service to multiple businesses, institutions, ministries, and high-profile personalities. He currently serves as Pastor of Worship and Outreach at Allen Temple AME Church in Tampa, Florida, under the leadership of the Rev. Dr. Glenn B. Dames.