Fairly often I am approached by people looking at either starting or taking a serious look at the contemporary services at their church. I usually travel in Methodist/Wesleyan circles, so this can tend to be a really unique situation. Many of these churches are responding to growth/decline trends and see other churches in their town growing and contemporary worship is thought to be part of that.
I have bad news.
As much as church planters, conferences or denominational leaders say it...there isn’t any magic dust existing in a contemporary service.
Yes, it can be a major element of growth and new ministry. Without carefully thinking about it you can create a situation which will only serve as a drain of resources and be seen as a fumble by many of the people you are trying to minister too.
Blindly jumping into the great lake of modern worship music won’t instantly bring new people to your church. Ministry shouldn't happen as a reaction to a downward trend. New ministry happens when we listen to God’s call and have to respond in faithfulness.
There are three key groups of people you need to look at when you are building vision for any type of worship service.
These are the folks in your chairs right now. With them comes denominational tradition, individual church characteristics and values as well as the group which will bring any sort of worship to actualization. Do you normally follow a liturgy or just go with the Spirit? Background matters in your design phase.
Who do you want to reach out too? Just saying “the lost” or some other version isn’t good enough. Look at your existing leadership. Do they have a passion or call for a certain people group. It might be an age. It might be a description of “families who live on x side of town” or a people group spread out across a portion of your city.
What does your community look like? If you want to start a biker service but you don’t have a single motorcycle dealer or shop...you might want to rethink things. What does the community around your church or neighborhood look like? What do they value or spend time and money doing? What needs can only be fulfilled by the redemptive qualities of the kingdom?
Being able to identify these three groups of people will go far helping you understand what type of service you really need to start to minister in your area.
The beauty of knowing these three groups helps in identifying when plans or ideas are actually appropriate. You can realize when something might not be sustainable before it even gets going. The design of your worship will be appropriate to all three groups.
The small area where all three groups intersect is your sweet spot. This is where you will find the greatest depth of transformation, worship and discipleship. Your aim in any service should be to make this center really strong and healthy.
It will look different in different contexts. All worship communities are both individual AND communal expressions of the worship of Jesus Christ. Some are primarily evangelistic (check out The Skull Church for a great modern idea of this). Others might be a deeply embedded new community (Munger Place is a wonderful example). Your idea and understanding of this center will be really varied.
But even outside the sweet spot, you can further out any type of vision for a worshiping community.
When desired ministry and context overlap, you have evangelism. When ministry and worship collide, you are engaged in mission (Matt Redman’s song Mission's Flame is a great example). In the joining of worship and context, discipleship is developed for unique circumstances.
Usually when people ask me “just a quick question about our worship” I tell them this is and should be a much bigger discussion. I hope this provides some clarity around what intentional worship design looks like..because it matters. It isn’t just a hail mary attempt of figuring out what type of music you want. All decisions need to be made with the three major groups in mind. Spell these out with your team. The center of this will be your strong point. The three overlaps will provide the best expression of evangelism, mission and discipleship.
Worship Design matters. It forms how we talk about God. It’s how we want those we are worshipping with to be formed around God. Our worship is the story of God rising out of the redemption which has happened in our lives. Folks will respond in natural ways. Let’s create natural environments utilizing the knowledge we have about our vision using our known congregation, desired ministry and local contexts to form the best idea of how to lead others in a transforming relationship with Jesus Christ.