Guest Blog: Worship Flow

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On occasion I will be including guest bloggers; worship leaders who are "in the trenches". This first one is by Chad Meeuwse Director of Music & Worship at Modesto Christian Reformed Church in Modesto, CA .   

As a worship planner, flow is a big deal for me. In my earliest days of putting together a worship service when little made sense to me, I understood that flow ranked very high, not far below content. A couple weeks ago our church celebrated Worldwide Communion Sunday. Since the start of the new season, a lot of the work we had been doing in rehearsals has been in preparation for this worship event. With so many different groups involved, the flow of the service required much more attention than the average service. How could I weave the use of the praise team, adult choir, and children’s group into a service that was cohesive and not merely a variety show?  The two matters I always consider are the physical movement of groups to or from the front and the congregation’s involvement with each element of worship. 
 
I am not a fan of awkward silences. Sometimes silence is good and appropriate – during prayer or following a particularly moving anthem. However, the silence between a pastor’s words of “And now the choir is going to sing for us” (we also avoid transitional statements like this) and the choir members standing in their seats and walking to the front is unnecessary and it disrupts the worship flow. Our sanctuary does not have a choir loft. Our choir begins the service seated together in the front few rows. Depending on their place within the order of worship I will instruct them on when to come forward. For example, if they sing immediately following our mutual greeting, they will come forward during the boisterous greetings between the congregants. Or if they sing a response to a scripture reading such as the assurance of forgiveness or an acclamation, I will pull them up prior to such a reading while the previous hymn or song is finishing. We have a screen at the rear of the sanctuary for the choir to sing from if they are moving forward during the final stanza of a hymn. At the conclusion of the choir anthem, I often ask my accompanist to play an extended tag or “travel music” to get the choir back down to their seats. If they are singing again later in the service, they will return to the front pews. If not, they disburse and sit with their families or loved ones. I’m reminded of what Ron Rienstra wrote concerning spoken transitions in worship. They should “use words that point backward to what’s just happened…and forward to what’s about to happen.” (Ten Service Plans for Contemporary Worship, p. 8) I believe music serves as a great transition from one act of worship to another and helps create seamless worship experiences.
 
All of the elements of worship on Worldwide Communion Sunday incorporated congregational involvement to some degree. The adult choir opened the service with a processional and later sang a response to the assurance of forgiveness. One of our adult choir’s purpose statements says, “[we will] assist and support congregational singing.” The choir is often used as a tool in teaching the congregation new music. We will rehearse a new song as a group the week before the song is to be introduced. This way when the song is sung for the first time on Sunday there will be about 30 singers around the sanctuary who are already familiar with it. In this case, the response to the assurance led by the choir was a call and response between the choir and congregation. Even while up front, the choir supported the congregation by singing along with their responses to the call. For any other music the choir offers alone we print all texts in the order of worship (with English translations if necessary). This allows congregants to pray the text or sing along silently with the choir, and it also allows those who cannot hear well to understand what the choir is singing. Our children’s worship arts program led a prayer for peace in the world interspersing a refrain for which they signed the text while the congregation sang. For this prayer, we provided the music to the congregation to sing from while the children signed. The praise team led contemporary songs, some new to the congregation. Many times, if the praise team is in the middle of a set, we will break up individual songs with prayers or Scripture while the music continues quietly underneath. Regardless of which group or person is leading, as long as the congregation is actively engaged and not merely acting as spectators, the worship will remain just that and not take on the form of a talent show.
 
What are some of your thoughts on seamless worship sequences? Do you have any tips the rest of us can use to achieve good worship flow?   

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There are times when the praise team will lead a song right after the sermon. To go up to the stage area they have 2 choices. They can wait until after the pastor has his prayer of application after the sermon or they can walk up during the prayer. The first choice involves the awkward silence you mention above. The second choice can be disruptive for the congregation and also does not allow the praise team to focus on the prayer. How do other churches handle this situation?

No problem having people come forward during prayer.  One's eyes need not be closed and hands folded in order to pray.  Though I've found people at first need repeated assurance that it is OK to walk forward during a prayer, it doesn't take long before it's natural and is done in a worshipful way.  Worship team participants normally sit next to an isle anyhow, so very few, if any people are even aware of their movement during prayer. 

Participant

Personally I don't have a problem with the team going up during my application prayer.  They know to go up quietly.  They can listen to the prayer as they go up but I don't think that by going up at that time they're missing something.  It's their ministry to lead in worship, so they need to be up there so when people open their eyes, we're good to go.

Sometimes silence, in my circumstances, was unavoidable due to logistics. What I found important was how this silence was handled. For example, our organist had to come down from the loft where the organ is to the piano on the main floor of the sanctuary. We discussed this transition as one where we focused on maintaining a silent and structured process and not a hurried rush to fill the silence of this transition.

Even though most congregations are used to silence when movement is necessary within the worship service, it seems less abrupt when there has been some prep for it just before or soft accompaniment happens as it ocurrs.

However, the older I get, the more I find myself feeling like I've been programed to death during the worhsip service. There is a time for silence and meditation if the congregation has been prepared to take that time for reflection.  There needs to be more of that built in. 

Purposefully and well placed meditation time is more useful if folks are asked to reflect on the words they just sang as worship instead of singing yet another verse of a worship song.  Temper the repetition with more meditation opps.

Silence can be more much more worshipful when well placed and the congregation is ready for it even if it includes necessary movement.

My 2 cents.

I've always like the concept of a moment to reflect on how profound God is by explaining in detail a object of nature that goes beyond deductive reasoning. or a personal story that the realness of the Lord's presence is revealed in every day life. Then let people ponder his greatness with silence. I have felt yhe Holy Spirit many times during such events because people need a hope reminder and to know that Jesus is not abstract but real as earth itself. Glory be to God

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