Are Corporate Worship Services Planned Upside Down?

Chris  —  September 26, 2012 — 9 Comments
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Walk into any modern worship service, and you will likely encounter some variation on a theme.

upside down

What theme?

Sure, exceptions exist. You might experience a video, dramatic element, missions highlight, or communion, but this is the general pattern you will encounter.

At least I have – both in my own planning and in churches I have attended.

And the question is why? Why do we do it this way?

Of course, you may be wondering why I’m even asking the question.

Allow me to refer you back to a post from a few weeks ago. In How to Evaluate a Worship Service, I shared a 4 minute video from Dr. Jim Altizer where he talks about how to evaluate a worship service in four different areas. If you haven’t seen it yet, go ahead and watch it. It’ll provide necessary context.

One of the statements he made in the video really struck me.

Do we presume to respond to God before hearing from or about Him?

An incredibly simple, yet piercing, question.

Sure, by including a well-crafted call to worship, we can hear about God and His character. But if the essence of worship is responding to a holy God who is with us and who is revealed to us through Jesus Christ and His Word, should not the bulk of our worship take place after the primary declaration portion of our corporate gathering time?

Our tendency though (including mine) is to place the bulk of worship before the message. But in doing so, are we faithfully responding to God as He is or as we think Him to be?

Now I realize that if the corporate gathering is truly an ongoing expression of worship for the people of God because they are living in the circle of worship, then perhaps this is a moot point.

Or is it?

As I began serving in the role of worship pastor in a previous ministry setting, I remember one Sunday being asked about this very thing. He thought that the bulk of corporate worship should happen after the message as a response. Unfortunately, I didn’t give as much credence to his comment as perhaps I should have and blew it off.

Perhaps to my own detriment.

Maybe instead of the 90/10 split we’ve grown accustomed to, we should be considering a 30/70 split. Even a 50/50 split would be better, I think. There is a place for corporate worship on the front side to draw us together and prepare our hearts to hear God’s Word. But I think we’re missing out when we rush through a final song after the message so we can move on with our day.

The declaration of the living Word of God always brought about a response of the congregation in the examples of Scripture. Our modern response, though, seems to be more about appreciation for the sharing of knowledge.

In services where I’ve intentionally planned a greater portion of worship after the message, the response has always seemed to be more engaged and “worshipful.” Especially when it has been coupled with a call and reason to respond.

I realize that this kind of shift can’t happen overnight in most congregations. It would have to be something that is done intentionally and with the full support of the senior pastor and other leadership.

I also realize that the expression of response and worship to the truth of God is something that should carry out throughout the week because of what has been declared.

I’m curious, what do you think? Do you think I’m off base? Am I missing something? What has been your experience in services where there has been a greater opportunity (time and content wise) for response after a message?

Maybe you attend a church community that has or is making this shift. What has been your experience?

I’d love to hear your thoughts. Let’s make this an ongoing conversation.


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9 responses to Are Corporate Worship Services Planned Upside Down?

  1. After years of a closing song – or a slow song followed by an up-tempo song – our pastor talked to me a few years back about the importance of making our altar service like a second worship service. We have transitioned into this way of doing things and have had POWERFUL moves of God in our altar services…sometimes these “second worship services” will last for close to an hour. We always have anywhere between 2-6 praise/worship songs toward the beginning of our services but also carefully choose a set of songs to flow with what the Pastor or guest minister is preaching.

    One thing that we have learned is to be careful of abrupt endings or song transitions – this can really be disruptive to an altar service. Like an abrupt change of tempo, change of key or anything else that takes more than a few seconds in between songs. In the process of learning this we have created all sorts of song medleys so as to flow from one song into the next without causing a scene.

    A closing song and then out-the-door is definitely a thing of the past for our church, and allowing some time for responsive worship to the Word would be beneficial to any congregation, I would think :)

    • Thanks for sharing your experience and where you guys are in the process. What a great blessing to have a pastor on the same page. Glad to hear that your being intentional with that time thematically too. Not only as a response, but also to help reinforce the themes of the morning can only be a good thing for the congregation. May God continue to lead and guide you all on your journey of worship.

  2. I forwarded this to my pastor as a start of a conversation. I have often thought about this very thing. At our church, we have an interesting mix of long-time members and newer, younger members. As worship leader, I try to mix traditional hymns with more contemporary praise and worship music done in a “folk/Celtic” style. I would like to change up the standard format with music following the message in harmony with the message, but I don’t want to “rock the boat” of tradition!
    Hopefully, this article will start folks thinking in a new way about how we do things.

    • What a great idea! I hope that you and your pastor are able to have some great conversation together around this and move forward together. That is of vital importance. It might be a slow process, but with intentionality it can happen. May the Lord guide you as you work to further the journey of worship of your congregation.

  3. We have tried this at our church for several months now. Unfortunately, the response has been underwhelming. Half way through the worship set conversations start up and people get up and leave. As a worship leader I find this demoralizing. The order that has gotten the most response is 15-20 minutes of worship followed by the message, followed by a call to response with 10-15 minutes of worship.

    • Wow, I can imagine that can be quite demoralizing. I’m sorry to hear that. But I’m glad to hear that you’ve sought to find an approach that works best for the congregation you serve. Each one is a little different, and it’s not good to have a single hard and fast rule. Perhaps you can work to gradually grow that ending segment, but sounds like you’ve got a good approach right now. Blessing as you move your congregation forward in their journey of worship.

  4. I completely agree with. I spent the past 25 years leading worship upside down. I am looking forward to being part of a ministry that more reflects what you have written about .

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