I remember learning that there are basically two important parts of a speech – the beginning as you grab people’s attention, and the end as you reinforce your main point or call for action.
(Of course, does that mean what’s said in the middle isn’t as important?)
Politicians, especially presidential candidates, are really good at this. As they travel the campaign trail, they often end their speeches with the same phrase to help drive home what they care about most.
I was considering recently whether there are any parallels to a worship service. Of course, in worship planning we know that all parts of the service are important. That overall flow matters.
We put much effort into selecting songs, scriptures, and creative elements to help people be able to hear and respond to truth. So that through the scriptures, preaching, and ultimately the Holy Spirit, we experience transformation.
And when we experience something that moves and impacts us, we want to respond in some way. How many of us, after hearing stories of hunger or injustice, want to rise up and do something about it?
Hopefully each Sunday when we gather and are reminded of the gospel and the cross, people are drawn and moved by the Holy Spirit, wanting to take another step. Wanting to live in obedience and gratitude.
In Experiential Worship (Amazon affiliate link), Bob Rognlien writes that when God touches our hearts, we want to respond out of love and gratitude. Too often, our worship services leave people unclear about where to go from there.
Each week, as spiritual leaders, we have the attention of a room full of people desiring to know what to do and how to live. And before the congregation is dismissed, we have a few powerful moments to “seal the deal”, for lack of a better phrase.
Instead of taking full advantage of these moments, we treat them as an afterthought.
We don’t know what to say. Or who is going to say it.
So we just say that the service is over with a cheery “see you next week!”
And while there is nothing wrong with inviting people back next week, if that is all we do, then we have missed a potentially powerful moment to declare, remind, and guide.
Whatever you may call it in your church, the reality is that we often don’t put as much effort into the closing as we do for the rest of the service.
Why should we not ignore this element? As Robert Webber wrote in Worship is a Verb, “The dismissal tells a story. It is more than a signal that the time of worship is over. It is the beginning of service in the world. The content of the Dismissal, although brief, should be well thought through . . . . [We] need to give careful thought to the words and actions that send God’s people into the world.” (pg 102-103)
The end of the corporate gathering is not really a closing, but a sending. Sending people to live in the world that God has placed us in until we gather again. This is a prime opportunity to remind the gathered worshipers how to do that. An opportunity to cement a key theme, Scripture, or truth in the heads of all in attendance. Something they can take with them other than thoughts like “what a nice sermon” or “the music was great.”
Back to Rognlien: The historical function of the sending at the end of the service is to send people out into the world with a clear understanding of what they are to do in response to what they have experienced
This is one of the most important times in service. It will be the last thing people see/hear/do before re-entering their world – hopefully a bit more transformed into Christ-likeness than before they came.
In my own planning, this has always been important to me. I’ve tried to choose Scriptures to remind people of the biblical theme of the day. I’ve used readings, prayers, and creeds. Over the course of a series, I’ve used the same closing to reinforce what we’ve been focusing on.
So, whether you choose a themed Scripture, a recap of the main truth of the day, a prayer or even a basic creed.
Whether someone speaks from the platform, or the gathered speak in unison.
Do not misuse this vitally important element.
Give as much planning to it as you would other service elements.
After all, how you end is what people will remember.
What do you want people to remember?
What has been one of the most meaningful conclusions to a service you’ve ever experienced?
If you’d like some more practical help in planning the conclusion of the service, check out this post by my friend Fred McKinnon: 5 Things to Consider When Planning the Conclusion of Your Worship Service