By Don Seevers II
Our congregation seems to have found its niche in the greater Lexington, Kentucky, area. Our congregation is enjoying good growth in both worship services, but our traditional worship service surpasses the blended/contemporary service in size on many Sundays.
Why do some worship styles work in certain locales and not in others? I’m not sure, but I believe striving for excellence in all we do can make the difference. In some churches, the traditional service has been de-emphasized as other worship styles have developed. Unfortunately, it has been relegated to the position of providing a worship option for “mature Christians with silvery hair.”
I believe traditional worship can still be a viable option that attracts worshipers from multiple generations. In fact, if you attend our traditional worship service on any given Sunday, you will find teens, college students, singles, and young couples in their 20s and 30s, as well as a large number of people in their 40s and early 50s. Of course, there is the usual contingent of folks above 60, too. My point is this: traditional worship services can still be an effective tool in reaching the multigenerational community for Christ.
I believe any worship service (in any style) can be lackluster and predictable. I strive to keep our worship fresh and refreshing. Our minister plans his messages well in advance. I get his sermon titles, themes, and texts for several months at a time, and that greatly assists me in planning.
Most of our worship services center around his message, and I try to find songs that support that message. I believe it is important to present worshipers with two or three main ideas or concepts to ponder when they leave a service.
I start my preparation with a study of the Scripture passages to be used in the sermon. I glean ideas or themes from those passages. Then, I take our hymnal and search for hymns or gospel songs that are taken from the texts. If I cannot find specific songs from the Scriptures being used, I look for other songs that will support the sermon.
I realize “thematic” planning doesn’t always work in various worship styles, but it does work well in a traditional setting. Since I have started my preparation in the Word, I have a purpose in mind for the various elements to be included in that service. Then I ask, “What can I do and say to lead these people toward a common goal next Sunday?” With this beginning place, I can look at what the choir, vocal ensembles or soloists will sing and what the instrumentalists will play with the desire to lead a unified worship time that will help attendees remember two or three main ideas.
It can be refreshing to include new approaches. For instance, we often begin with an instrumental prelude. Then we take a few moments to welcome those attending and announce any pertinent information before inviting the congregation to worship together. This can be accomplished through Scripture reading or giving some insights into the direction we hope to take in worship. I simply call this a time of “focus.”
Other times, we begin with a spoken call to worship by the leader. Occasionally, we participate in a responsive reading from the hymnal or Scripture. Although we normally use hymnals in this service, I take advantage of video projection to assist in these options.
We also sing from hymnals, and that can be exciting. Our church loves to sing four-part harmony. Knowing that, I usually have us do some a cappella singing a couple of times each month. I truly believe that if I am going to teach new worship songs in the blended/contemporary service, we should learn new hymns (or hymns that are new to our congregation) in the traditional service. This does not always come easily, but if those worshiping know the purpose is to help us appreciate the sermon or some new insight in our walk with Christ, they will embrace the new song.
Hymnals feature songs that were popular at the time the hymnal was edited and published, but video projection enables us to introduce hymns that are not in our hymnal. This is a great way to bring some of the “treasures” of hymnody to your congregation. We also spruce up hymns by using key changes and sometimes sing melody to a reharmonization of the hymn on the last stanza.
I stress to our choir members that they are worship leaders. They provide great strength and confidence in our congregational praise. The choir does not always sing at the same place in the worship service. Sometimes it provides a choral call to worship and occasionally it provides a Communion anthem in lieu of a Communion hymn.
It is also helpful to have fine instruments that are well-tuned! Most of the accompaniment in the traditional service is provided by the organ and piano, but we regularly use our church orchestra to accompany singing. We are also blessed by our handbell choir and children’s choirs which play and sing on a monthly basis. We have several fine vocal ensembles and soloists who greatly bless our congregation and honor the Lord through their skillful preparation and presentation in music ministry. In addition, we sometimes present dramatic readings of exciting Scripture passages. This really brings the Scriptures to life.
I am grateful when a soloist or ensemble comes to me a few weeks before they are to sing and asks me the sermon topic and the Scripture text. Then I know “they really get it!”
Don Seevers says, “I have a confession to make. I am a church organist!” He serves as worship minister with Tates Creek Christian Church in Lexington, Kentucky.