A Historic Order of Worship

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by John Witvliet

The following chart outlines a historic pattern of Christian worship. While most churches don’t use the exact wording found in this chart, there are thousands of churches on many continents that use a version of this pattern.

Gathering/Praise
Call to Worship
Acts of Praise
Greeting

Confession
Call to Confession
Prayer of Confession
Assurance of Pardon
Passing of the Peace
Response of Thanksgiving

Proclamation
Prayer for Illumination
Old Testament Reading
Psalm
New Testament Reading
Sermon

Response to the Word
Song or Hymn of Response
Creed and/or Testimonials
Prayers of Intercession/Pastoral Prayer
Offering, Offertory Prayer

Lord’s Supper
Invitation to the Table
Great Prayer of Thanksgiving
Words of Institution
Prayer of Consecration
Communion
Thanksgiving

Sending
Song or Hymn of Dedication
Call to Service
Blessing/Benediction

Notice that there is a basic theological logic and flow to this order. We first approach God with worship and adoration. Our sense of God’s holiness leads us to repentance. Hearing the assurance of pardon leads naturally to thanksgiving, and so on. There is a theological logic to this organization of a worship service that is better than a “list approach.”

In some churches, all the actions of worship (praise, intercession, creeds, testimony) are simply listed without regard for how one flows into another. In services like these, the individual actions of worship may be meaningful in themselves. But the same actions would have much more meaning if their context would support them.

Imagine that a choir sings an arrangement of “Amazing Grace.” The music is meaningful regardless of its place in the service. But imagine that the hymn is sung at the end of a prayer of confession, following a time of silence. The same music becomes much more powerful and effective because of its place in the flow of worship.

Notice also that this historic order of worship does not dictate which style of leadership, music, art, or drama should be used to bring the order or structure to life. This same order, with minor variations, is used in thatched huts in Haiti and in large European cathedrals. It is universal enough to be considered classic. But how should this discussion affect you, the worship planner?

If your church follows an established worship pattern, start your planning there. Look for the theological logic in your pattern. Discuss that logic with others on your worship committee. Changing the pattern, if any changes are needed, should be a corporate project.

If your church doesn’t have a formally established pattern, think for a moment about the implicit pattern that might be there, even if it’s not written out. Consider asking your worship committee, your pastor, or your elders to think about this. When you are planning a service, use the historic worship pattern detailed above as a model or guide.

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I love this model. This is another incredible resource. I do have one question on logical progression... shouldn't a "Call To Confession" preceed "Confession"?

Community Builder

I think "Confession" is meant to be a title for a section that includes "Call to Confession" through "Response of Thanksgiving." I think "Gathering/Praise," "Proclamation," "Response to the Word," "Lord's Supper," and "Sending" are also supposed to be section titles. It would have been helpful if they had appeared in bold or italics or something to distinguish them from the elements within the sections. Someone please correct me if I'm wrong! Stanley

Community Builder

Stanley, thanks for the suggestion.  I hope the addition of BOLD titles and spacing helps. 

I love it. This is officially bookmarked and saved. Between this and the worship grids from Calvin that can be found in the "Resources" section, it gives me pretty much everything I need.