Inclusivity in Alternative Worship Formats

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At our church, we (like many) are having serious conversations about our evening worship services. One possibility that has come up is the idea of using the evening worship time for a variety of approaches to worship - so, for instance, one week the service is focused on time of small group prayer, another week the message may include a time of small group discussion, etc.

One particular challenge we have faced with this is the reality that small group conversations are challenging for some of our hearing-impaired members and small group discussions are not necessarily accessible to the range of cognitive development we have at our church. Yet, at the same time, we want to take seriously that these are important functions that we as a church can do together, perhaps even during worship.

I am sure we are not the only church that has run into this challenge, particularly as more and more churches have experimented with their evening services. Any advice or suggestions you may have or may have come across would be greatly appreciated. We want our worship services to be accessible to all and are wondering how others have tackled this.

Thanks!

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Kory, what a wonderful conversation your church is having and your concern for inclusiveness is wonderful.

It may be possible to do small group conversations that include both the hearing and a wide range of cognitive abilities with just a few modifications.  

What room are you having the small group conversations in?  If it is exceptionally "live" acoustically a change in venue may be all that a hearing challenged person needs.  Also sitting in a circle may help so that the reading of lips is possible and the sound of the voice isn't muffled by people's backs.  

As for reaching the full range of cognitive abilities.  I'd encourage presenting the material using as many media as possible.  Can every topic be presented in two different ways?  Could a discussion on a scripture passage be set up by both reading from scripture and a storybook Bible or a thematically related picture book? Or use scripture and video?  Then in setting up the questions keep at least some of them very open ended.  "I wonder..." questions work well for adults as well as children or "What would you do if..." If there are no right/wrong answers then it is possible for everyone to feel comfortable participating.  

I don't know, maybe you've already tried these things and they didn't work in your context.  If you haven't tried them, it may be a place to start.

If you do decide to move forward with this let us know how it goes and what you learned because I think you are right that many churches are struggling with answering that same question. 

I have had mild hearing loss in one ear ever since a bad infection over 20 years ago, and I find small group conversation challenging; I can only imagine how bad it could be for those with more severe impairments.  I definitely concur with the suggestions in the previous comment--first of all, evaluate the room.  High ceilings, hard furniture, tile floors can create a "live" environment that bounces the sound around and makes for too much noise competing for my "good" ear. This is particularly important in a large room with several groups meeting at different tables.  In that type of setting, something to absorb some of the extra sound (curtains, acoustical panels, carpets or area rugs) is needed.  Flexibility in seating may also be helpful.  If I can sit where the primary sound is on my right (the good side), I can manage better.  And limit "background" sound.  If music is used, keep it very soft and instrumental only, so it doesn't compete with conversation.  Do consider having some type of visual support.  If the setting isn't appropriate for a Power Point, maybe just a flip chart and markers to highlight main points being discussed will help people make sure they don't miss anything.  Hope these suggestions are helpful.  

Guide

Kory, Friendship Ministries is producing a new curriculum called "Together" that can be used in small group Bible studies that include people with and without intellectual disabilities. It's really exciting! Also, Walk with Me, a popular Sunday school curriculum for children, as well as hymnals, liturgical resources, and materials for adults are available in braille and/or large print from Faith Alive Christian Resources.