Altar Call - Opelika-Auburn News
Walter Albritton
January 7, 2001

The stress and challenge of developing a new worship service

Ever wondered what it’s like to help design a new worship service? You may be interested in knowing that it’s not as easy as falling off a log.

Almost a year ago our key leaders decided to try our hand at offering a "contemporary" worship service at Trinity. Mistakenly, I figured we could get it going within three months or so. Wrong. Think more like a year.

For folks my age it’s not as easy as it once was to map out the future. Once I get a good idea I want to put it in place next week. After all, my time is running out. But in planning for a new worship service, patience is a necessary virtue. Here are a few of the lessons I have learned in this matter:

One, announce that you will begin a new service three months hence and your own people will tell you why it cannot be done so soon. I wanted to start the new service last spring or summer. It turns out we are starting it, finally, today, this first Sunday of the new year. There were details to be worked out, plans to be ironed out for infants and small children, and innumerable "transitioning" questions to be answered.

Two, a new service requires new mules to pull the wagon. You simply cannot stretch your existing personnel out over three morning services. Many new people have to be motivated and recruited. That takes time. Another mistake on my part. I assumed our Minister of Music could do it all. I learned quickly that, though Norm Brunelle is capable and gifted, he already has enough to do on Sunday morning leading two fine choirs.

Three, the new leaders you need are often right under your nose. Most churches have a lot of unused talent. When I began to wonder what person might be capable of taking on the assignment of building "a praise and worship band," Mike Stough’s name came to mind. After all he is a proven leader of musicians, having earned practically ever honor available as director of the Opelika High School band, "the Spirit of the South."

But would Mike be interested? He had already retired from OHS and gone on to a new assignment. Nervously I sat up a meeting and put the challenge before him. Though he was surprised, I could see the wheels turning in his mind as he considered the proposal. After some reflection Mike could not hide his enthusiasm. "I would love to give it a try," he said. Neither of us knew at the time whether he could put such a team of musicians together. But I knew Mike wanted to, and I figured with his skills and God’s help, he could do it.

And he has! Since last summer Mike has been recruiting daily and rehearsing every Thursday night. Now his team of about 20 people is ready to go. He has a fine team of instrumentals and vocalists who have worked diligently to prepare for the kind of "praise music" that is the backbone of a good contemporary service.

Four, beginning a new worship service requires a lot of fine tuning and the cooperation of your entire congregation. The stress level goes up for everyone. Some folks do not think a new service is needed. Others are willing as long as it does not interfere with the status quo. Still others are eager to get started because this is what they have been waiting for. So, as in everything else, it’s hard to please everybody, though pastors are expected to try.

The fine tuning has to do with your present schedule. When do we offer the new service? And where? Our first idea was to offer the new service during the Sunday School hour. Wrong. Why? For one reason, our church is not quite ready to begin offering two Sunday School hours. We have a strong Sunday School program at 9:45. And since it is not broke, we had better not fix it.

Our best wisdom finally settled on offering the new worship service at 9:00 o’clock and make the slight adjustment of beginning Sunday School at 10:00 o’clock. That way, the Sunday School hour is kept intact and those who attend the new service can also go to Sunday School afterward if they wish.

Where to have the service was not difficult to decide once we decided to begin it at 9:00 o’ clock. The fellowship hall of the Christian Life Center was the only choice, since at 9:00 o’clock I am just beginning to preach in our 8:30 service in the sanctuary. With my associate Jimmy Allen serving as worship leader in the new service, all I have to do is move quickly from the first service to the fellowship hall in time to preach again there. Is it too much to preach three or four times every Sunday? Not really when I remember that dear old John Wesley preached two or three times every day of the week! He would view me as a softy since I must work only one day a week.

Five, never forget to plan well for the children! New nursery workers will be needed by Donna Kriel, who runs our excellent nursery. Parents of babies and young children want the very best in child care, and Donna will get the job done well. And will Melinda Jackson, our coordinator of children’s ministries, need to offer another "children’s church" for K5 through Second Grade? Right now, we don’t know, but Melinda says, "Children are top priority at Trinity, so we will be ready to meet their needs, whatever they are."

Six, the matter of dress was a "no brainer." Contemporary worship is casual, in dress as well as the style of worship. So on the way from the sanctuary I will doff my robe, underneath which will be my casual clothes. Bo Smith offered to build me a telephone booth in which to change, but I am a bit uncomfortable assuming the Superman role. There simply are not any "super" Christians around, and if there are, none of them is a preacher. Most of us are simply real people trying to live so that our lives, in some small way, bring honor to Jesus Christ.

Seven, other than the music, how will this service be different from the others? Simple. We will use a large screen and a projector which Scott Kaak is getting ready to handle. Tuesday I gave him my sermon outline; he will throw that on the screen as I preach. He will project the words of the songs and scripture also. There will be no "song leader" since this task will be assumed by our strong team of vocalists. There will be no hymnals, song sheets, bulletins, pews, or robed choirs. And no verbal "announcements."

Believe me, that will be different! For the offering, we will use baskets instead of the usual brass plates.

Eight, will our current ushers pull "double duty"? No, Rick Norred and Keith Pridgen have put together a new team of ushers who will also serve as our "greeters."

Nine, will anyone come if we offer this new service? For this we must wait and see. Frankly, we are expecting a crowd. In many churches a new contemporary service begins to draw the largest attendance of any service. So despite the cold weather we are expecting 400 Sunday.

Ten, how do you publicize this new service? A good question since our goal is clear: to reach new people. We want to reach people who may have given up on church as usual, and people who may be willing to try a new worship format. We want to attract people who are willing to give God a chance, or a second chance, to play a major role in their lives. We want to find parents who are willing to let us help them raise their kids. We decided basically to promote the service "by word of mouth." We’ve asked our folks to tell others about the service and invite them to give it a try. We simply don’t have the money for a lot of newspaper, televison, or radio publicity.

Soon I can let you know if our plan works, if we learned these lessons well. All I know right now is that our planning time is over, and launch day is here. Today is "lift off" day for our new, informal, contemporary worship service at 9:00 o'clock every Sunday.

If you are free, come check it out!