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Chapel Planning: Asking the Right Questions

Christian high school students, staff, and teachers at Calvin Symposium on Worship 2012 began a chapel planning seminar seated around tables. They introduced themselves and described common questions in their school’s chapel planning process. One person at each table summarized responses to share with the entire seminar.

Christian high school students, staff, and teachers at Calvin Symposium on Worship 2012 began a chapel planning seminar seated around tables. They introduced themselves and described common questions in their school’s chapel planning process. One person at each table summarized responses to share with the entire seminar.

As the scribes reported, three things became clear. First, there’s a wide variety in how often chapel happens. Second, some chapel models work better than others in engaging students and changing school life. Third, many schools spend far more time discussing liturgical mechanics, style, and form than worship’s meaning and purpose.

How often

Schools worship together as often as every day and as little as every four to six weeks, according to symposium reports and websites of Baptist, Catholic, Christian, Episcopal, Lutheran, and Mennonite high schools. Times vary from 15 minutes to an hour. Some chapel services include acolytes, robed choirs, cantors, and the Eucharist (communion), served by chaplains, priests, or student eucharistic ministers.

Many models

Depending on the school, the chapel speaker may be a student, teacher, chaplain, local pastor, alumnus, school parent, missionary, or traveling speaker.

Most schools use one of these chapel planning models:

  • Outside speaker model. The team’s main task is to book a speaker and choose songs and scripture that fit the speaker’s topic.
  • Chapel coordinator/staff model. A faculty member, often a Bible or religion teacher, plans and leads chapels that (usually) include an outside speaker to deliver the message. The coordinator may ask students to lead prayer, read scripture, or accompany singing.
  • Student team model. Students volunteer or apply to be on a chapel planning team or in a chapel planning class, led by one or two teachers. Some schools offer academic credit for chapel classes. Including chapel class in the daily schedule opens up more opportunities for students to plan and lead chapel. A few schools give each grade level the job of planning one chapel per semester or year.

Learning, doing, encouraging

Dozens of Christian high schools have answered surveys and brought student-teacher teams to Calvin’s worship symposium. They’ve discovered that chapel makes the most impact when students have the chance to learn about worship, practice with their peers, and reflect on the process with their teachers.

It’s tempting for spiritual life committees to talk most about whether students liked last week’s chapel drama or who would be the best guitar player for the next chapel. The mechanics of technology, sound, seating, and clean-up make a difference. So do stylistic preferences in music and other arts. Matters of form—who speaks, chapel format, themes, messages, and interaction—are also important. Yet Ben Dykhouse, director of Christian leadership at Ontario Christian High, says that chapel began making more impact when the team adopted a specific planning model and began asking how their chapels glorified God.

He and other mentors suggest tabling questions of mechanics, style, and format till you’ve prayed and talked together about how to help chapelgoers live into a Bible passage, respond to God, or go out and serve.

Offering a chapel class two or three times a week opened the opportunity for Whitinsville Christian High in Whitinsville, Massachusetts, to help more students grow in faith. Chapel students chose “Created to Worship!” as a yearly theme, exploring vertical habits each month. Senior Emily Plantinga wrote in the school newsletter, “I experienced the most joy in our chapel on confession. Students were spread out everywhere….writing their deepest darkest secrets that they didn’t want anyone else to know but that they needed to get rid of. It was like they were happy to have a chance to write that sin down and throw it in the trash, because it took their guilt away. Giving their sin over to God made a huge impact on my heart.”

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