Worship Renewal: What We Have Learned

A summary of what we have learned about worship renewal.

From congregations funded through the Worship Renewal Grants Program of the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship we have learned that there are some basic principles common to all projects in this broadly ecumenical, multicultural, multigenerational search for worship renewal.  

All bulleted items are taken directly from Worship Renewal Grants Year-End Reports

PROVERB 1:

Worship renewal cannot be produced or engineered by human ingenuity, but is a gift of God's Spirit.   Renewal is a gift for which we pray, rather than an accomplishment we achieve.

  • Worship renewal is achieved only through the Holy Spirit-the divine favor from above.   The common theme was the need to pray diligently, be patient and expect the unexpected.  
  • We learned that the most important element of worship and worship renewal is the exponential element that the Holy Spirit brings; His work supersedes any human effort.
  • Comment from a pastor: "God is shaping us at this Church in His own way and on His own schedule.   Any renewal that happens here is not based on human genius.   The Holy Spirit is at work."
  • Everyone comes to the table with a wealth of ideas and opinions and while that makes coming to a consensus difficult, we felt the Holy Spirit was there in the process.
  • We have learned that God is faithful, and that we can be led by Him to places and opportunities beyond our own imagination.
  • Any new approaches to scripture presentations in worship include risk and requires a certain amount of courage to step out in faith.   We are constantly needing to be reminded to prayerfully discern the leading of the Holy Spirit in all of our actions related to worship.
  • Communication among worship leaders has gone from adequate to excellent.  As a worship committee, we have learned to prayerfully explore new ideas and to carefully review the more traditional worship methods. The congregation has been very cooperative in the process.

PROVERB 2:

Worship renewal mines the riches of scripture and leads worshipers to deeper encounters with Christ and the gospel message.

  • Participants have spoken of a greater spirituality and growth of personal faith life and the connection between and need for both personal prayer and communal worship.
  • Congregants are more knowledgeable, more involved, more connected with each other.   Many members who were faithful but not as active are now more actively engaged.   Members, especially the children are praying some powerful prayers.   There are visible evidences of spiritual growth.
  • Group members sense a heightened energy in worship and an appreciation of the ways we have incorporated some of what we have learned into the services.   We have involved more laity in discussions of worship.   People are reporting a deepening prayer time in worship as well as more attention to the Word
  • I am very certain that this process has little to do with the money, and so much more about commitment, connections and conversation.with God and each other!
  • As we grow closer to God, we grow closer to each other.   And close community leads us back to God.   It is a circle of intimacy that lies at the heart of corporate worship.
  • Confession and Assurance of Pardon are not optional areas of worship - they are necessary.   Confession and receiving forgiveness from God through Jesus Christ is a regular part of following Christ.   Confession not driven by guilt as much as a desire to experience God's grace and freedom.
  • We learned that common ground in worship is much more abundant and available than our differences.   As we examined each element in our order of worship we were able to share our understanding of the meaning and purpose of each element and relate our experiences with each element.   We learned that renewal happens when people begin to have serious discussions about the nature and purpose of worship. This process began with the discussions about applying for the grant and continues even today as we have completed the project and are moving on.  
  • The grant helped us to understand a fuller meaning of the word "worship". We now look at worship as something that goes from an inward state to an outward state. We also now understand that there are many variations in how a congregation can express worship. Our discussion left us feeling that we have more work to do in educating ourselves and our people.

PROVERB 3:

Worship renewal arises from, and leads to, the full, conscious and active participation of all worshipers - young and old, the powerless and powerful, newcomers and lifelong worshipers.

  • Worship is more spontaneous and provides more avenues for participation by the congregation than before.   We have made changes and added variety.   It has made worship more authentic.   Format changes and other intangibles have occurred.   One partnering congregation is a recent creation in our community.   Three congregations merged just a few years ago and moved into a newly built structure.   Changes that were a result of this project helped the congregation make a significant move from being "three combined churches" to becoming ONE church.    
  • We created opportunities to experience a "full, conscious participation" in worship.   Those words now mean something to the group and to individuals in the group.   Worship has a new feeling to it.   Experiencing it in many ways is new and brings a new level of understanding.   Worship is not a spectator sport!   We need to find ways to gradually bring the worshippers into even more involvement.
  • It has convinced us that we don't have to change our style, because style is not the issue. We can and must focus on passion and participation.   Our other findings have convinced us that our worship must take place in the midst of a church culture that is filled with a sense of belonging.
  • Our children who participated in the project are excited to be involved in worship planning and practice. This eagerness is matched by helpful and guiding leadership as these young people grow in grace and confidence. The participatory nature of worship has been elevated: getting more people involved as actors, both in pulpit and pew, and not simply spectators. Worship can be creative; not limited to the segmented approach that seeks to appeal to the various generational tastes.    
  • Overall, our discussions have shifted from a survey or our "preferences" in worship to a focus on the presence of God in worship and worship as our response to God's gift to us.   Though worshippers might not be able to name it, they are describing an increased impact of the service in their lives.
  • Our project discovered that worship is experiential, and needs to be the very basic elements of Christianity when shared with children with special needs.   We learned that training the congregation to be more welcoming of special needs children and their families takes time and a longer time frame than we anticipated.   
  • Our grant has given both the participants and directors the incentive to be more proactive in thinking about worship practices. We also have become more intentional about finding ways to continue nurturing family worship at home during the week.  
  • We enter worship shaped in part by our culture.   Transforming worship challenges the culture's pattern we bring with us, and presents the Divine patterns against which we should live our lives.
  • How do we move people of faith from being spectators to participating in worship?
  • An unplanned yet delightful surprise was that children are by far some of the best teachers of how to worship.   We discovered that the best pathway to teach adults about the dialogical nature of worship on a congregation-wide level was through the children.   Through messages, songs and postures tailored to their age and formation level, the children proved to be the best practitioners of dialogical worship in a multi-sensory/multi- experential way.
  • Persons of all ages want to share their faith with others and need to do so to grow in their own faith.
  • Listening to persons with disabilities share their stories is a great source of instruction; disabilities and mental illnesses impact the entire family and congregational "system"; inclusion is not our project but God's gift through Christ.
  • Our Generations Banner and Family Poster projects have enabled children, youth and adults to work cooperatively to improve the visual impact of our corporate worship and has resulted in meaningful conversations between generations and the sharing of talents and expertise of which we were previously unaware.
  • Children and youth are often leaders in worship renewal, both in their own homes and in the church.   We should never underestimate the spiritual awareness and understanding of children.
  • Intergenerational worship is counter-cultural.   When children are regularly separated from adults and families separated from singles or adults , forming a community that values the contributions of all its members requires constant explanation and vigilance.   Intergenerational worship requires planning and persistence.   We seek to build a community which enhances the spiritual growth of all its members, by including all.
  • We kept the children's participation very diverse so the adults would get to see far ranging ways in which the children could be involved in congregational worship and so the children's participation would not be put into a 'liturgical' box.
  • Young adults stay connected to a community in which they feel involved.
  • Worship renewal occurs at every age and stage of life.
  • Different cultures face different challenges in worship renewal.
  • We learned that focusing energy to foster the participation of those who are more on the edges of our assembly requires ongoing challenges.   We learned that including different elements in worship (the artistic talents of children or the cultural gifts of Mexican members) is a celebration of God's gifts among us that leads us to long for more.
  • We learned that a family's home worship practices help prepare both children and parents to become more active worshippers during corporate worship.   We learned that lasting renewal comes as a result of study over time, being patient in prayer, open to ideas, changing one heart at a time.   Collaboration and communication are vital.  

PROVERB 4:

Relationships (Christian fellowship, trust, forgiveness and grace) are essential for worshiping together.

  • We have come to understand that there are indeed a variety of gifts but the same Spirit. Before the grant process we would speak of two separate cultures of worship. We have developed a new culture with shared core values and this culture and these core values we have found to be in tune with our tradition.   We worship now as a true expression of who we are as a multi-cultural, bilingual community of believers.   We have found our common ground by spending time together to talk and share our experiences.
  • Working as a group in a worship project can build bonds that withstand the mundane frictions that inevitably occur in an organization.   After the Advent season, one member said that the congregation felt more energized than it had for a long time. As a worship committee, we are continually aware of the need to focus our worship planning, remembering what we learned from the various opportunities provided as a result of the grant.  We find ourselves energized and hopeful as we seek to enhance the worship life of our community.
  • Because we care about each other, we do not allow our different assumptions and opinions to form riffs and barriers.   On the contrary, those differences have helped us broaden and deepen our understandings of the nature of worship.   Worship renewal may require programs and meetings but its basis is in relationship of care and trust.
  • We have learned that technology is a tool for communicating, but nothing replaces relationships in effectiveness at communicating the Good News.
  • Team work is essential - and takes intentional work (& work & work & work...)
  • We have experienced worship renewal to be a dynamic, engaging and mysterious process.   We have gained a more comprehensive understanding of worship, of styles/modes/languages of worship and of the power of increased planning and training on the flow and impact of the worship service.   We have learned that worship renewal needs concentrated time and effort and that it is on going.   We have also become more aware that the planning of worship in this large church can be challenging and needs deeper involvement by laity.  
  • We discovered the importance of the linkage between the activity of worship and the sense of community throughout the church. Worship style isn't nearly as important as a widespread sense of belonging. Participation in worship is a key to passion for God in worship. Mere onlookers are more likely to be distracted by style.   We learned how difficult worship renewal can be. Congregational buy-in is essential if renewal is to work. Otherwise, you'll simply have revolution and reaction.

PROVERB 5:

Worship involves all the senses.

  • We have learned that worship can involve all the senses including handling clay, the movement of dance, observing a story in stained glass, and singing an ancient hymn.
  • To lead a reading in worship involves more than to make audible what is printed.   Whether we're intentional about it or not, we supply an interpretation to that reading.
  • Besides simply allowing individuals to just see or experience different forms of artistic expression within worship, it has opened doors to new conversations among members about worship itself.   These conversations were not very prevalent prior to this grant project.   
  • People are more comfortable with new visual elements when the theological reasoning is presented to them.
  • Our liturgies tend to be so full of words that we sometimes neglect other, non-verbal, non-rational aspects of our humanity.
  • Physical actions are a powerful gateway for spiritual growth and renewal.   God uses our senses to communicate His loving presence to us as we share bread and wine.
  • Sometimes it's not easy to talk about worship because it's difficult to put our thoughts about God into words.   Pictures, symbols, or movement often convey what words cannot.
  • Artwork that is integrated into the goals and meaning of worship amplifies the emotion of the experience, making it more vital, more personal.   It can help direct our focus, it can help us pray.
  • The place in which we worship influences how we worship and what our worship experience is like.
  • No matter the type, style or source of congregational song, there must be strong leadership.   In every congregation and community God gives people the capacity for musical expression in worship.   The gathering and use of these gifts may require creative choices and reframed expectations.
  • Our view of worship has certainly been expanded and enriched throughout this grant process. Through working with leaders from various church denominations we have learned to embrace the variety of worship expressions (dance styles, music, costumes, etc) that flow from the Body of Christ.

PROVERB 6:

Learning about worship is essential for renewal.

  • Conscious, active and fruitful participation only happens when meaningful education about worship has first taken place.
  • We have learned how much we as a congregation did not know about the history, theology and practice of Christian worship through the centuries and in various settings.   "We've always done it this way" may not be a statement of resistance to change as much as an admission of our limited knowledge and experience.
  • Worship renewal cannot come arbitrarily - for the sake of change alone, or even for the sake of keeping worshipers interested.   It must come as a result of a congregations' understanding between the connection of its worship practices and the way in which that body lives out God's purposes for this world.  
  • Whether teaching children, seekers, new or mature Christians, clearly explaining in a life-giving way why we are doing what we are doing -whether it be praying a lament, lifting our hands, giving our offering, bowing in repentance or receiving a blessing - has a direct affect on people's increased passion for and awareness of worship.   Simply going through the motions of worship - stand-up, sit-down, sing now, not talking - without letting people know why they are engaged in these practices rob worshippers of a deep and meaningful experience of God.  
  • We have asked ourselves, "How can we foster more vibrant, intergenerational and participatory worship while still maintaining a high standard of theological integrity?"   We have a genuine need to educate our congregation in the richness, beauty and intentionality of worship.  
  • I learned different ways to pray.like the Lord's Prayer (age 5 )   I've seen the power of praying together and opening yourself before God and others (age 68). I liked studying the phrases of the Lord's Prayer every week and seeing them on the banner up front; now, when we pray at the table, it means a lot (age 16)   Prayer: so vital to worship, so accessible to people of all ages, such an integral part of a Christian's life.

PROVERB 7:  

Worship renewal often takes place around the sacraments.

  • There is renewed emphasis and study of the sacraments of baptism and communion.  
  • The project brought many people to a greater awareness of Communion and how it can be received/served in different ways.   Younger adults and young people seem to be drawn to the mystery of the sacrament and thus it engages them in worship on a regular basis.
  • The more we studied the sacraments, the more we discovered how deep and complex their meaning, and recognized a need to make continuing education on the sacraments part of our church culture.
  • "Communion" comes from the Greek word of Christian fellowship (" koinonia "), life shared with God and with each other.   Communion binds us together as the body of Christ.
  • We have asked, "How can we increase our understanding and appreciation of confession/assurance of pardon in light of Baptism and the Lord's Supper?"

PROVERB 8:

There is a hunger for worship renewal.

  • Those who are seeking God appreciate worship that is inviting and experiential, imaginative and inclusive
  • We did not anticipate fully the eagerness of the congregation to explore worship renewal. Everybody had varying ideas of what this meant. We learned that the pastor was instrumental in keeping the idea of renewal before the congregation. We also learned that much of what we had been doing was simply from habit and did not increase our communication with God. One thing that surprised some team members was a small segment of the congregation that was very resistant to the idea of making any changes. They saw the whole idea of renewal as unnecessary. However, the increased vitality in the worship service served to quiet most of their fears and doubts.  
  • We learned that there is much eagerness for worship renewal in the life of our congregations.   Our focus on educating and involving children in worship has been received as a welcome effort.   Most people think of worship as a personal experience to be rated for "how much they get out of it."   Our task as educators, as well as pastors, is to promote worship as what we do in response to God's love and grace.   We continue to learn and develop worship habits throughout our lives.

Practical Tips:

  • It only takes a few thoughtful, deliberate and discrete changes to create far-reaching effects.   Numerous or sweeping changes can easily be counter-productive.
  • Worship renewal is a much longer process than we thought - actual, tangible change is incremental.   Perhaps worship renewal is mustard seed speed.
  • Worship renewal is a marathon and not a 40-yard dash, and, as a result, we must remain focused, fervent and faithful in continuing this journey of worship renewal.
  • We have learned that planning a worship service is hard work, and being creative at it is time-consuming.   But offering creative worship to God is exhilarating and renewing, calling forth unrecognized gifts.
  • Those who minister are sometimes starving for an opportunity to be ministered to.   Those in leadership sometimes are hurting and need others.
  • How does a congregation regain its call to active ministry and not just say: "That's the Pastor's job"?
  • Small Group Dynamics -- How developing small group ministries can enhance worship and how worship can enhance small group ministries.
  • Leadership awareness to the culture and place where their congregation is at.   How to introduce new ideas without appearing to be dictator or destroyer of tradition.
  • Thinking beyond self - Moving congregations to a new vision of worship and life that extends past its doors.
  • Overcoming the "if it's not happening in my church, it is not happening" mentality of small member congregations.   Helping move people to experience worship in different settings than in "their church".
  • Pastor identity - Role of the Pastor in the life of the congregation, i.e. avoiding the over-functioning Pastor/under functioning Church that happens in many small member congregations.   The role of Pastor in teaching and worship - developing an understanding of what a Pastor is and does and who the congregation is as ministers (priesthood of all believers).
  • Do everything by team.   If you can't get a team of people together.reevaluate!
  • We have learned the importance of planning ahead.   This grant gave us a manageable way to incorporate more people in planning an overarching theme for a set of services.   Our worship has been more experiential, more creative and more unified than ever before.
  • The participants at the final seminar learned that change is not a bad word.   They also learned some ways of helping people be more open to change in their worship life and empowering them to have a sense of participation in moving towards change.
  • Giving up individual ownership of a vision or project allows others to embrace it.   Allow a vision to be shaped and room to grow through the joyful dialogue of interested believers.  
  • You cannot have too much promotion for a project.   Promotion is too big a job to do by yourself .   The best promotion is done from the ground up by those who share your vision.
  • Because we are a young church, we had assumed that habits of worship for our congregation were not really developed.   We found out that every church has habits.   As worship became more interactive, people became more involved.   As our worship involved all ages, we felt more like a family and learned ways God interacts with us in our different life stages.  
  • We are all aware of a new energized attitude about worship in our community.   There is a renewed attentiveness toward the elements within our worship service.   Fortunately, the congregation has learned over the year how to provide feedback in a useful and positive manner!
  • We have learned to plan ahead and meet often for vision, strategic planning, prayer and fun!   Worship planning and leading is an exceeding joy!

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