One of the things I enjoy most about my job is that I get to help churches see things from a different perspective. I’ve done a lot of consulting over the years, but recently that’s increased significantly.
As a consultant, I’m usually brought in to inspire new models of worship design/implementation. This usually takes place in the form of a two-day seminar . Part two of the process involves me attending worship as a sort of “secret worshiper”, so that I can give the staff a very honest assessment of what is working/not working.
Finally I give suggestions and solutions to the things I’ve identified as needing work in a post-worship lunch session. Sounds dangerous right?
So far, no one has thrown anything at me, and I’m glad to say that I’ve had nothing but positive feedback.
I recently was looking back at my notes from the consultations done in 2011, and I found that there are some common questions all churches should be asking about their worship. Here they are:
1.) Where am I supposed to go?
When I arrive at a church I’m consulting with, the first thing I do is walk into the building and to try and figure out where the classrooms and worship areas are. What I’ve found is that most churches forget that the building is foreign territory for a visitor.
Most churches have signage in place, but more often than not, the signage is not very prominent, can be confusing and sometimes can be interpreted as wrong; especially in older churches with lots of additions. Next time you walk into your building, look for your signage. Is it easy to see? Is it clear? Is it right?
2.) Who are these people?
We have a real problem in the church: we assume people know a lot more than they actually do! Regardless of church size, introductions in worship are important.
Anyone who speaks in worship should be identified in some form or another. Doing it in the bulletin is ok, but a spoken word introduction is even more effective.
At one of the churches I consulted with this past summer – when it came time for the children’s moment – the children’s director came forward and led the kids in an interactive creative exercise. It was really good children’s sermon. The only problem was, I had no idea who she was. She ended by saying, “ok, kids, let’s all go to children’s church now”, and she ushered them from the front of the worship space out of the room.
I immediately had two thoughts. First, if I’d sent my kids forward, and a seemingly random person got up, and ultimately took my kids with them, I’d (at the very least) be a little uncomfortable. If she told me she was the Children’s Director, there would be a higher level of comfort there.
Second, I probably would have thought, “I had no idea that sending my kids up there meant they’d be leaving for children’s church.” Since my son has food allergies, this would have meant I would have had to immediately leave worship and let them know not to offer him goldfish crackers.
There was an assumption that everyone knew how the Children’s Moment worked and who was doing it.
Introductions don’t have to be lengthy or complex. A simple, “Hello, I’m Jane, and I serve in the children’s ministry” would be a vast improvement. Don’t assume that everyone in the room knows everyone on stage/chancel.
3.) When does the service really begin?
A very common problem I see in the churches I work with is that no one seems to begin worship on time. Regardless of denomination, worship style, church size and other factors, we’ve created a culture in worship that is nonchalant about when we begin.
In another service I attended over the summer, I entered the worship space early to begin my observation process. After looking at my phone, I noticed that the service time on the bulletin had passed, and the pastor was still out greeting people and shaking hands. A few minutes passed and the organist finally began playing. I looked down to see that we were 10 minutes past the advertised start time.
That may not seem like a big deal, but it is. To the regular attendee, where there is a sense of community and a feeling of comfort, a few extra minutes to chat is great. For someone who is brand new, the time leading up to worship can be somewhat uncomfortable.
It’s also wise to respect the time of your attendees. If I’m rushing around Sunday morning, getting my kids ready and doing all of the things that need to happen in order to get to worship on time, I want it to feel like it was worth it. Siting around for 10 minutes may create frustration after all of that chaos.
Start time becomes even more important if you have limited parking, and multiple services. Starting late usually means ending late. That can wreak havoc in the parking lot as one service hasn’t cleared out and the next on is supposed to begin.
4.) What’s been happening up until now?
One of the things I harp on a lot at seminars is being intentional about the continual setup of a series throughout the entire series, rather than doing all the work in the first week or two.
What I’ve seen happen over and over is what I call the “frontload phenomenon.” Basically, worship planners are very careful to establish the series on week one, doing all of the proper introductions, setups etc. Week two comes, they hit the series setup a little less aggressively, and then by about week 3, it is just assumed that everyone knows what has happened up until that point.
Studies have shown that the typical family attends worship only one to two Sundays per month. That means that in any given 6 week series, some percentage of your people may only experience one-third of it, and if they come in mid way through – and there’s no intentional introduction to the series – many of them will start off lost.
It’s not all that different than watching a television series like Lost or 24. Episodic television builds from week to week and if you missed part one, part two makes a lot less sense.
One way that TV shows deal with new viewers or those who missed the last episode is to do a recap at the beginning. This doesn’t mean you have to do a video recap every week, but at the very least you should reintroduce or recap what’s come before.
5.) I’m supposed to do what?
Pastors and worship leaders aren’t intentionally exclusive in their language, but it’s not hard to fall into the trap of assuming everyone “knows the drill” in worship. Pay careful attention to your language and weekly rituals to see what things are expected but unspoken.
Common actions in worship such as “passing the peace”, communion, children’s moments, and even the filling out of attendance pads are entered into without much explanation. A regular worship attendee may know what “joys and concerns” means, or what a “connection center” is, but that language doesn’t always translate for the visitor.
One consultation this past summer had me scratching my head as I looked around and noticed everyone else in the room was all of a sudden filling out the attendance pad. I never heard anything that indicated it was time to do that (my church does it during the offering), so they almost missed me completely.
Here’s checklist I’ve developed to help me determine what’s working and what’s not when on a consultation:
- • What do I experience in the parking lot (are there attendants, is there enough parking spaces)?
- • Am I greeted as I enter the building?
- • Is the signage clear?
- • What does the children’s ministry space look like?
- • How efficient is the childcare check-in process?
- • What does the worship environment look like?
- • Does the artwork on/in the bulletin add to or detract from the themes present on screen?
- • Is the music excellent (regardless of style)?
- • Does the music thematically relate to the whole service?
- • Does the welcome/introduction hook me/lead well into the service?
- • Is the media on screen well designed, and is it congruent with the service?
- • Is it clear who all of the leaders up front are?
- • Does the sermon relate to the rest of the service?
- • How was creativity used/not used?
- • Was the service participatory, and if not, how could it have been?
- • Was there a clear goal for the service?
- • Can I summarize the main idea of the service?
It’s hard if not impossible to see things from an outsider’s perspective, so inviting a trusted “secret worshiper” to your church can be invaluable. Look for someone you trust, who is naturally observant and willing to be brutally honest. It doesn’t have to be a professional consultant, but should be someone who knows the worship design/implementation process well.
Also, don’t tell anyone that a consultant/secret worshiper is coming. You want a true assessment of how worship is perceived. You don’t want your people to put on airs.
If your church would be interested in a worship consultation, you contact me here .