The major challenge facing any instructor teaching a class entitled “Current Practices in Worship” is discovering current practices and trends in Christian worship. With few resources at our disposal, my class of twenty students at Northern Seminary (Lombard, IL) developed and conducted a survey of over eighty congregations located between Chicago and Rockford, IL. After the surveys were concluded, students FaKelia Guyton and Samuel Cocar helped me gather, summarize and interpret the data.
It was exciting to conduct research ‘on the ground’ of Evangelical church culture. It will be exciting to watch new classes of students build on this body of research. Of course, as with any sociological research into the practices and perspectives of a certain people group, we need to concern ourselves with questions of statistical validity. Is our sample size large enough to extrapolate to the general population? What kind of differences in respondents can be counted as statistically significant? And so forth.
In this case, as Samuel Cocar observes, “our sample size of eighty Protestant congregations occupies a territory somewhere between anecdote and complete empiricism. Hard data is always better than vague speculation, even when the data is more suggestive than conclusive.”
In a previous blog I highlighted data related to the role of the sermon. Today I bring to your attention data which speaks to some of prevalent conversations among pastors, church leaders, and worship planners.
What is the typical length of the Sunday service or weekly gathering?
46-60 Minutes 18.5%
61-75 Minutes 23.46%
76-90 Minutes 35.8%
What version of the Bible do congregations utilize during their Sunday service? This question generated a diverse response, including that of many congregation which employ more than one version. But here are the leaders:
25.9% New International Version
17.3% King James Version
9.8% New Revised Standard Version
8.6% English Standard Version
What about hymnbooks? 50.7% of our surveyed congregations use hymn books, but the remaining 49.3% do not.
Which phrase best represents your approach to the Sunday service?
42.31% Our service is for glorifying God through shared song and message.
23.08% Our service is a vehicle for moving people into the next steps in their faith journey.
23.08% Our service is designed to foster Christian maturity.
11.54% Our service is designed to reach out to those yet to become Christians.
Which word best describes the prayers in your service? 81% Extemporaneous & 19% Written and Read
How many Scripture readings does your service include?
12.35% More than Three
Which word best describes your pastor’s role during the Sunday service?
How would you describe your congregation’s God?
Suggestions by this data? Take a-ways?
First, evangelical congregations remain deeply influenced by Pietism and its bias against formed prayers (believing they reflect a lack of spirituality by the one offering prayer). Perhaps the time has come for serious conversation among Evangelicals about personal piety, free versus formed prayers, the content of prayers, and spiritual formation.
Second, in spite of the loud and pervasive message of the “seeker-sensitive” and “externally focused” movement, most congregations design their Sunday services for worship and discipleship. Just 11% of the congregations surveyed design their Sunday service for evangelism.
Third, 78% of the congregations surveyed include two or more readings from Scripture in each service. An outsider who knows of Evangelicalism’s strong commitment to Scripture may not be surprised by that number. They might expect Scripture saturated Sunday services. As an insider, however, I was startled, but pleasantly so. Much of my experience within Evangelical worship has been with pulpit-centered Sunday services where the pastor reads one passage before offering an expository sermon. It was refreshing to discover many congregations including multiple Scripture readings in their Sunday services.