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Writing a Congregational Worship Statement (Bible Study)

This Bible study looks at and goes through the steps to creating a worship statement. It suggests that a properly authorized group of leaders decide and articulate the worship values of a congregation.

Lesson 5                                       See all lessons
Scripture: Ephesians 4:11-16; Colossians 3:15-17

Introduction

Every worship planner knows that in any group of ten people you are likely to find six different concepts of what worship should be like. And they all use terms to label their preferences—traditional, classical, contemporary, intergenerational, historical, liturgical, contemplative, blended, casual, informal, seeker-driven, seeker- friendly . . . and the list goes on. How are we to know and identify what the worship of our congregation should be like? Is it left to the judgment of whoever happens to be in charge at the time? Will it change course when a new leader comes? Does it change from week to week, or service to service, depending on who is in charge?

The two epistle passages at the beginning of this lesson express Paul's instructions to church leaders. Leaders, he says, are not to do whatever they want. Leaders use their role to provide for the health, welfare, and growth of the entire body. If you carefully study these concentrated statements, you will hear Paul pointing to such goals as

  • preparing others for ministry
  • building up the body of Christ in unity and knowledge
  • attaining greater maturity
  • attaining healthy stability in what we believe
  • more effective service and ministry
  • a congregation where peace and thankfulness thrive
  • a healthy worship life
  • doing all in the name of Christ.

Perhaps you will find additional insights. All in all, these passages give church leaders a very significant role in the life of a congregation.

It may be a rather new idea to many congregations, but the writing of a congregational worship statement could be one of the more effective ways of accomplishing these tasks. In our conversations with church leaders we discover that very few congregations have such a statement, though many wish they did.  

So we suggest that a properly authorized group of leaders decide and articulate the worship values of a congregation.

The Benefit of a Statement

A congregational worship statement that is written carefully and thoughtfully can become a unifying tool for a congregation. It will accomplish three healthy tasks:

1. A formation tool. While we worship to honor God, we are being formed ourselves at the same time. This influence of worship often takes place so subtly that those who lead worship without a carefully thought-out statement of worship could be mis forming worshipers without realizing it.

2. A measurement tool. How will we know what type of worship to plan if the congregation has not spelled out what the worship of this congregation is to be like? How will planners walk their way through the maze of differing expectations without some guide? And how will we be able to evaluate our worship if no set of criteria has been set down?

3. A teaching tool. All worship planners and leaders have a large educational task today. Worshipers need to be instructed concerning what they are engaging in each Sunday. What an excellent tool a congregational worship statement can be for study by leaders, education classes, and new member classes. It can also be a printed brochure available to visitors.

No need in the church today seems more important than that of the spiritual gift of discernment. Those in leadership roles must be able to think clearly, understand issues, respond to questions, and do all of this with a keen understanding of the Spirit's desire for the church and its life. A carefully written worship statement will be both the product of such discernment and an aid for developing discernment.

What Should It Include?

Each congregation will want to identify the contents of their own statement, but there are certain "givens" that we can suggest. A profitable worship statement should address matters such as these:

  • our definition of worship—what do we understand worship to be?
  • the purposes of worship—what are we trying to do in worship?
  • the participants in worship—what do we assume about those who come, and who may lead?
  • the practices of worship—what may we expect to find in worship at this church?
  • the process of worship planning—who plans our worship and where may we go with ideas and suggestions?

Some congregations will prefer to make their statement fairly extensive; others may prefer a more brief statement. We can all learn well from the work of others who have invested their efforts in writing such a statement. Perhaps you can find a sample in a neighboring congregation. A variety of samples are provided throughout chapter 3 in our book Designing Worship Together (Alban Institute, 2005).

The Task of Writing

Understandably, it may seem like a daunting task to write a statement for your congregation. However, if you do not have one, we encourage you to consider writing one. You and your congregation will reap great benefits. Different groups will likely define their own procedures for the writing process. There are, however, a number of considerations that we suggest you include.

1. The preaching pastor should serve as the key person. Such a statement can hardly be written without his or her participation.

2. A small group should join the pastor in the process, participating in research and the formulation of values so that the final product is owned by more than the pastor.

3. Engage in research in such areas as a study of Scripture; other writings about worship; a study of your congregation, its history, personality, previous decisions, and tradition; creeds, confessions, and statements from the official assemblies of your denomination; and an assessment of the vitality (or lack of it) in your current worship life.

4. Designate one person who will be the primary writer. This person should be someone gifted with the ability to craft words and ideas, and will fairly and honestly represent the thinking of the group and not be limited to his or her own ideas.

5. Edit freely. The best statements go through a number of drafts! Let the group read and evaluate it at each draft. Be patient so that the editing process will be valued as further refinement and not resented as wasted time. Assume that at least three or four months will be needed.

6. The official body of the church which is responsible for worship should finally approve the statement before it is published. In your situation this may be a board of elders, the session, or a group of trustees.

Once a worship statement has been approved and published it becomes the working document that guides worship planners and leaders. However, we would suggest that you devise a plan to keep it alive. Use it for training and orientation for new committee members and review it regularly for possible upgrading.

Tips for the Discussion Leader

In leading this discussion, it is important to be very clear of the intent of the lesson. Keep such questions as these in the forefront of your mind:

  • Would we benefit as a congregation from having such a worship statement?
  • Would our work as planners and leaders of worship be aided by such a statement? How?
  • Do we have the interest and motivation to tackle such a task?
  • Could we reach a consensus as a group on the need for such a statement?
  • Where should we begin?

Because this would be a large task, reaching consensus within the group will be very important. It's likely a new idea to many. Take your time. If there is a level of skepticism among some in the group, do not force them to agree, but on the other hand don't give up the idea too soon. Give the group time to think further about it, perhaps coming back next month (or whenever you meet next) to further consider it. If the group reaches a consensus that they do not desire to write such a statement, have them identify and clarify what their reasons are.

Encourage all in the group to express their ideas.

Discussion Starters

1. Do you know of other churches that have such a congregational worship statement, and what their experience has been with it?

2. In what ways could we as a group of planners and leaders benefit from having such a statement?

3. In what ways would our congregation benefit from such a statement?

4. What are the issues and values for worship in this congregation that need to be clarified?

5. What issues in the past could have been dealt with better if we had had a worship statement?

Further Reading
Norma de Waal Malefyt and Howard Vanderwell, Designing Worship Together: Models and Strategies for Worship Planning (Alban Institute, 2005), chapter 3.

Lesson 6
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