Studying Worship on Seminary Campuses: Seminary Chapel Survey

In the spring of 2007, a questionnaire was sent to all ATS-accredited Protestant seminaries in the USA. The purpose of the study was to begin to map the range of practices and policies at the nation’s seminaries surrounding community worship. Thus, the questionnaire asked simple questions and invited reflection and feedback. The questions were divided into four primary categories: Leadership, Liturgy, Community, and Curriculum.

In the spring of 2007, a questionnaire was sent to all ATS-accredited Protestant seminaries in the USA. The purpose of the study was to begin to map the range of practices and policies at the nation’s seminaries surrounding community worship. Thus, the questionnaire asked simple questions and invited reflection and feedback. The questions were divided into four primary categories: Leadership, Liturgy, Community, and Curriculum. 

Sent to over 125 institutions, we received responses from more than 30 schools, including:

Asbury – Orlando
Asbury – Willmore
Austin Presbyterian
Boston University
Brite Divinity School
Calvin College
Candler
Church Divinity School of the Pacific
Claremont
Concordia
Dallas
Denver
Eden
Fuller
Garrett Evangelical
George Fox
Golden Gate Baptist
Lutheran Theological Seminary – Gettysburg
Memphis
Michigan Theological Seminary
North Park
Northern Baptist
Pacific Lutheran
Perkins
Philips
Princeton
Regent
San Francisco
Southern Baptist Theological Seminary
Southwest Episcopal
Trinity Lutheran
Wesley
Western (RCA)
Yale

Summary

The percentage of returned surveys (27%) is too small to make valid extrapolations for certain types of statistical questions (e.g. How many seminaries meet more than once a week for worship?) Still, the sample is large enough to discern some interesting patterns and make some preliminary summary observations, along with representative comments from the survey responses themselves. (NOTE: For the sake of confidentiality, comments have been slightly edited when they might give away their school of origin).

Leadership 

How many staff people (full or part time) work administering or overseeing the worship life of your school?

The survey found that almost every school devotes significant faculty and administrative resources into running a chapel program. The range ran from one part-time student coordinator to one school with a whole fleet of deans, faculty advisors, chaplains, assistants, sacristans, sextants, and musicians (13 in all!). In most cases, at least two faculty/staff members have responsibility for worship as a significant part of their work-load. The most common arrangement was a division of labor between someone whose expertise lay in liturgy or homiletics, and a musician. Most schools also make abundant use of volunteer student assistants or paid interns for both administrative tasks copying music, preparing worship space, etc.) and to help plan worship. Some schools also make use of faculty and student committees to give input and guidance. The largest schools, and those with the most conservative and detailed worship patterns were those schools who poured the most resources into campus worship. 

Representative Comments:

2 = Dean, Worship Coordinator

4 = 2 Faculty (worship+music); 2 paid students

1 full time faculty, plus committee

3 part time, plus 12 student assistants

Just me (part-time)

3 full time staff

1 full time, plus four student sacristans and two musicians

Is there volunteer student involvement as well? If so, how many students participate? How often? In what capacities?

Worship in seminary contexts depends heavily on student volunteers. These students do behind-the-scenes work, such as bread-baking, space-shaping, prayer-writing and worship planning. They also lead their peers in worship itself – praying, preaching, singing, playing, dancing, acting, and so forth. Most schools who celebrate the Eucharist reserve presiding at the meal for those who have already been ordained (usually faculty or staff). 

Some seminaries rely on a select cadre to do the lion’s share of volunteering; others try to share the joy far and wide, with hundreds of students volunteering in one capacity or another over the course of the year. Some seminaries require all students in the M.Div. programs to participate in worship leadership (and all faculty, too!). At these schools, those who volunteer to play an instrument or offer a prayer do so above and beyond these expectations. 

Representative Comments:

Student volunteers read Scripture, introduce speakers, pray, etc. They don’t preach.

We have mammoth volunteer involvement. Over 200 volunteers in our database: bread bakers, readers, preachers, singers, instrumentalists, ushers, space decorators, cloth-washers, prayer-writers, etc. 

All second year students plan and lead one service/year; seniors plan and lead a preaching service/year; other students assist.

8-12 per semester

4 student assistants – physical work mostly; plus preachers, homilists, presiders, singers, readers, dancers, actors, etc. 75% of student body volunteers in some capacity during the year. 20% participate multiple times.

All M.Div. students are required to be part of the liturgical life – we’re sending them out to be liturgical leaders!

6-8 student volunteers on a planning committee; 30 students involved playing, singing, reading, etc.

Student leadership through practicum courses

Are there authoritative documents or written guidelines that contribute to the planning process? (If so, can you include them or indicate where they might be found on the web?)

About half the responding schools indicated that they have authoritative documents or written guidelines that contribute to the planning process. At least half of those who did not have such documents indicated that they intend to produce such documents, or that those documents are in process. (See section on customaries)

Who is the primary person responsible for broad chapel oversight and direction? (Vision and planning) Who is responsible for day-to-day implementation? What are these individuals’ titles, levels of education, and ecclesial status?

Of the schools who responded, two-thirds indicated that the person primarily resonsible for chapel oversight and direction is a faculty or staff member with a Ph.D. in Liturgy, Homiletics, or another related field. These individuals often have titles such as Dean or Chair or Director, and are also ordained in their respective church traditions. At one institution, the worship buck stops at the top: the seminary President is the primary planner for all community worship. Meanwhile, the other third of the schools have a “Minister” or “Chaplain” with an M.Div. in these positions of visioning and leadership. Only three schools employ non-ordained staff as the primary leader for community worship. Many schools, however, employ second and third year students as worship “Coordinators” or “Assistants” as those primarily responsible for day-to-day implementation of worship (at least half of responding schools). The other half have individuals with advanced degrees as primary implementers, though those advanced degrees are most often in music rather than theology. 

Liturgy

How would you describe the style in which worship is offered?

The questionnaire inquired about worship “style” in order to avoid making use of divisive (and largely unhelpful) code words like “contemporary” and “traditional.” Of course, “style” can refer both to expressive idioms (especially musical ones – the sort often labeled with words like contemporary and traditional) and also to worship form or ordo. Asking the question in this way invited interpretation on the part of respondents. 

Though some seminaries felt confident labeling their community’s worship (“praise music with a sermon” or “Generic anglo-Protestant”), most schools used words like “varied,” “diverse,” and “eclectic” to describe their intent to expose students to a broad range of worship ‘styles.’ Furthermore, many schools noted that the worship style for a given service was closely tied to the traditions of the speaker or other worship leaders for that service. A few seminaries noted that the time designated for worship often was used for broader communication between the seminary and the student body – in these instances, prayer and preaching and so forth were incidental.

(picture from Southern Baptist Theological Seminary)

Representative Comments:

Eclectic – style varies as is all over the map. We work to reflect the diversity both of the student body and of the trajectories of the Kingdom of God.

Variety of styles. Contemporary and traditional. 15 minutes music/30 minutes speaker.

Depends who you ask. We try to avoid terms like “contemporary” or “traditional.”

Very eclectic, broadly protestant, fully sacramental. Praise band, pipe organ, Hammond organ, piano, mulitiple choirs. 

Different every day. We ask each leader to draw deeply on their own denominational or traditions’ practices, but to open them up so that a broad range of people from a great many backgrounds can participate in them.

Praise music with a sermon.

Ancient-Future Worship/Blended style

Many styles from Liturgical to Pentecostal, African-American, Latino, Taize, Iona, social issues, etc.

Mixed; we try to offer a variety of styles within the academic year.

Revivalist (exclusively). The typical chapel experience lasts 35 minutes, beginning with one hymn, an opening prayer, occasionally some special music, an oral presentation (a sermon), and a closing song. 

Our goal is to sing through centuries and across continents… so there is attention paid to historical and international content. Often the international content is achieved by different voices, accents and even styles of prayer.

The style is eclectic which reflects the eclectic nature of our students, staff, and faculty. 

Is the worship strongly reflective of a particular denomination's practices or theological distinctives? In what way does it reflect them?

While many seminaries – both non-denominational and denominationally connected – described their worship as “eclectic,” half the denominationally connected seminaries proudly and unapologetically claimed their denomination’s worship heritage as the dominant worship style practiced on campus.

(Picture from Church Divinity School of the Pacific)

Representative Comments:

Yes, our worship is strongly reflective of practices of [denomination]; liturgies and hymns from [denominational resources]; faculty and students largely from one tradition.

Yes, almost always expositional preaching.

Our denominational heritage is dominant, especially in the traditional service.

Our worship is strongly reflective of [the denomination] – but the denomination is changing fast. 

Use of denominational hymnals and worship books in chapel; our worship is shaped by the denominational matrix, but we use broader resources given our interdenominational ethos.

Inclusion of psalmody can be seen as broadly ecumenical but also indicative of our Reformed tradition.

Eucharistic practice out of denominational tradition; other services reflect a variety of cultural and denominational practices. 

Welcoming, ecumenical and inclusive environment of chapel is grounded in denominational ethos. We sometimes struggle to allow the distinctiveness of each denomination and culture to have free expression, while maintaining this environment of inclusiveness and welcome.

Protestant, but over 50 denominations represented on campus.

Not really, no.

Do you ever celebrate sacraments or ordinances in worship? If so, which, and how often?

As one might expect, baptism seems never to be celebrated on seminary campuses. However, Eucharist is celebrated at least weekly in nearly two-thirds of the responding schools. The Lord’s Supper is celebrated never or fewer than twice a year at 20% of reporting schools, monthly at 16% of reporting schools, weekly at 48%, and more than once/week at 16% of reporting schools. In most every case, the more frequently celebrating schools are those from liturgically conservative traditions – Episcopalian and Lutheran, with Methodist and Reformed schools following next in frequency. Schools from Baptist and non-denominational traditions celebrated least often or not at all.

Representative Comments:

Eucharist 3x/week

Communion every Friday

Yes, weekly. 

Monthly – though this is not in line with [sponsoring denominational] practice

Yes, first and last week of classes

Very rarely

No

Where do you hold your worship services?

With only three exceptions, the seminaries who responded to the survey have a dedicated building (or buildings – plural) for the express purpose of the community’s worship and for the training of liturgical leaders. 

Community

When does your community gather for worship? For how long?

Just as many seminaries offer significant liturgical variety in their worship, most seminaries (of those that responded to the survey) also offer variety in the times of day, and length of service during which the community comes together to pray and worship. One school, comprised largely of commuter students, has ceased having regular community gatherings for worship altogether. 16% of the schools meet only once per week. Those that meet only once do so for a significant chunk of time: at least 45 minutes. Of the other schools, 58% meet between 2 and 4 times a week, and 26% meet more often than that. One school offers over 15 opportunities each week for community prayer and worship. Schools like these, who worship more frequently, will often offer a shorter daily prayer service each day of approximately 20 minutes, and augment this practice with mid-week Eucharist service or a healing service or a longer preaching service. 

(photo from Seabury-Western Theological Seminary)

Representative Comments:

1x/wk; 45 min

1x/wk; 60 minutes at least

3x/wk; 35 min.

T/Th for 60 minutes

T,W,Th – 45 min.

W,T = 50 min; T-F, 20 min.

Daily 20 minutes (one service/week is 50 minutes)

5x/wk; 20 min.

5x/week; between 45 and 60 minutes

15 services/wk – morning prayer, Eucharist every day; 4 evening prayer; 1 noonday prayer

What is the average student attendance? Is faculty attendance strong or weak or something in between?

Seminaries also reported wide variety in student and faculty attendance at community worship. 20% of responding schools reported robust student attendance of more than 50% of the student body at worship. 12% reported lackluster attendance – less than 10% of the student body. However, some of these low numbers reflect attendance at daily prayer, a service not necessarily intended to attract a large segment of the student population to worship. Most schools (a little more than 50%) reported adequate attendance of between 20% and 40% of the student body worshipping at a given service. 

Likewise, a number of seminaries (24%) reported strong attendance by faculty. A slightly larger number (31%) reported weak faculty attendance at community worship. The remainder (45%) reported something in between. 

The size of the statistical sample and the nature of the survey do not allow for too many conclusions to be drawn from this data, though there are some intriguing correlations. For example, schools that report robust student attendance are far more likely to report strong faculty attendance. Some responders did not hesitate to point out this correlation and suggest that there was a causal relationship: when faculty attend community worship, students see what they value and imitate them. 

The data also suggest some surprises. For example, there does not seem to be a strong correlation between frequency of services offered and strength of attendance. So, for example, a seminary with only one service per week might well expect it to be better attended than the mid-week service at a seminary that worships more than five times per week. While this is true comparing some schools, it is not comparing others.

Representative Comments

Our chapel service gets between [40%-80%] students; morning prayer has about 10 core worshipers.

We get [approximately 10%] of our student body attending any given service, though attendance is required commensurate with status; online viewing is considered acceptable, especially for off campus students.

We often fill the chapel to capacity [100%].

Attendance varies at different points in the semester, and from service to service. Generally about [25%] per service.

[60%] at the beginning of the term; [20%] by the end

Primarily the students who have class before and after chapel

Faculty attendance is strong (expected)

Strong – between [30% and 70%] of faculty

Used to be very strong; now it is not

In-between (1/3-1/2 of faculty) – This is one of my great frustrations: that faculty cannot be counted on to attend our communal worship regularly.

Depends who is speaking, but usually weak.

Weak. Only one or two faculty besides those involved in planning or leading the service. More faculty attend when students are preaching.

Are guests welcome to worship with you? Seminary families? Seminary staff?

Seminary communities are comprised of more people than just faculty and students. There are seminary staff and student families: spouses, children, etc. Most seminaries attempt to hospitably welcome all these to community worship, though considerations of time and location often prevent fuller participation by these peoples.

Representative Comments

Yes! They are welcomed and present on a regular basis.

Yes; our evening services explicitly welcome families.

Neighbors, folks from neighboring parishes often come.

There are off campus guests almost every day.

Chapel is aired on local cable TV station.

Sometimes.

Yes, but there are significant barriers still for many staff.

Guests seldom attend unless they are invited to speak.

Is the diversity of your community represented in worship?

Like the culture at large, many seminary communities are becoming less and less homogenous, and seem to be eager for their worship to reflect this change. Some are pleased with their success in this regard; some are trying hard, but recognize there is room for improvement.

(photo from Illif Theological Seminary)

Representative Comments

Many times, yes.

Reflecting the diversity of our community is our prime task in the planning process.

Yes, intentionally so. We try hard to work with our ethnic, gender, theological, and denominational diversity as we choose the preachers.

Our worship is more diverse than the demography of the school.

Over the course of a semester we try to do our best.

Yes, but this is an area for growth.

Not as much as we’d like.

This is an area we are working on and hope to improve.

No. Individual chapels…may follow the musical expression of specific cultural subgroups present within the student body, assuming such leadership is available within the student body. More formal liturgical expressions of worship are rarely given opportunity for expression.

We attempt to represent our diversity, although we struggle with how to do this in a genuine manner. The diversity of the community tends to come through in subtle ways when people from particular heritages preach, plan, and lead.

Not really – we make no special effort to represent in our worship the theology or traditions of students from other traditions, though they are welcome to attend.

Curriculum

Is there any direct connection between the worship courses offered and the campus practices of worship?

Worshipping and learning about worship are two distinct tasks. But educators are realizing that they are not so distinct as they might first appear. Whenever we worship, we learn about worship even as we do it. Thus, more and more educators are coming to see the value of a praxis-theory-praxis pedagogical model. This is true in many seminaries as well, as educators strive to make stronger connections between teaching about worship and the practice of worship itself. Some seminaries make this connection explicit, requiring all students to plan and lead worship in connection with for-credit courses in liturgy. At the other end of the spectrum are seminaries who offer no connection between the two; some offer no instruction in worship at all. In between are a myriad of ways seminaries are exploring to help students learn by doing and do while learning.

Representative Comments

Absolutely – we teach what we pray and pray what we teach. 

Training in history, theology and practice of liturgy is the chief goal of liturgical instruction at the seminary

All M.Div. students start with Fundamentals of Worship and move on to [four additional classes].

All students in M.Div. program are required to take worship course, and must attend two chapels for ritual observation.

All students in intro worship class are expected to lead in seminary worship while taking that class. 

Some services are led as practical extensions of some worship courses

In class practicums, the worship professor prepares the students for their specific roles in chapel worship and then debriefs them the week after they have served.

Students from my intro worship course plan and participate in leadership. But I do not tie evaluation for the course to chapel leadership – that would produce anxiety in students that could diminish their capacity for genuine leadership and learning.

Students enrolled in Intro to Christian Worship are required to participate in some way during the course of the semester. Prayers written in other courses are used in chapel liturgies. Choir is a for-credit class, and they are crucial to worship leadership. Students who preach are selected by homiletics faculty.

Worship class requires students to attend; preaching classes, too.

Person in charge of chapel also teaches worship, which allows for connection.

Chapel experiences inevitably become fodder for examples and questions in class.

Connections are strong, but indirect and informal.

There is no direct connection between worship courses and chapel services. 

No worship courses offered.

No.

Is there any other training required for or offered to worship leaders?

Many seminaries try to give practical experience actually leading worship to students studying worship. But does it work the other way? Do seminaries require or offer training to those who lead the community in worship? Most do. Only 20% of responding seminaries indicate that no training is either required or provided for worship leaders. Some schools note that participants such as readers or singers received as-needed guidance from faculty or other chapel administrators. Other schools, more rigorous in their requirements, note that those planning worship have passed at least one introductory course in worship, and often have received more specific training from those who teach worship at the seminary.

Representative Comments

Only seniors (who have completed classes in worship and preaching) may preach in chapel, though others may give liturgical leadership.

All leaders are required to attend a training session.

Worship coordinators get three-week training program plus weekly meetings.

Volunteer worship planners have had at least one Master’s level class.

We offer in introductory course for all students a general orientation to public presence, use of voice, gesture, etc.

The students who lead are given close supervision.

Nothing formal; on-the-job training by the person in charge.

Reader training, cantor training, individual training, guidance, and encouragement. There is a huge investment of time here for us.

None either provided or required.

Other curricular connections?

Many schools find all sorts of ways to connect worship leading and worship learning. Here are some of the more common and some of the more creative ways our survey uncovered:

Representative Comments:

We do not work to make explicit connections across the curriculum.

We are slowly making connections.

Chapel attendance is a requirement of some (non-worship) classes.

Students in preaching courses preach in chapel.

Of course, music professors and sacred music students are regularly involved in worship leadership as part of their education.

Sometimes student covenant groups or administrative offices (Registrar, Development) plan a service.

Interns [who plan and lead worship] get class credit; videos of chapels are used in many classes.

I put out a Reader every Sunday night. This educates the community about some of the various liturgical practices they can expect to encounter in chapel in the coming week. It makes sure that chapel has an educational as well as a spiritual mission on campus. As you can imagine, in the course of a year – or three – this becomes quite a resource about worship histories and practices….

Liturgy is rooted in the ecclesiology of the community, so it is integrated into most of the courses.

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