This past Sunday, as my family was out of town for a few days, we had the opportunity to worship in an established Baptist church in another state, choosing their contemporary service that was held in the family life center. My ministry calling has wired me to evaluate worship services with an eye for what needs improvement. Unfortunately, last Sunday was no exception. As my family worshipped together corporately, my “consultant” hat was frequently appearing on my head. As I have reflected on the experience, I felt it would be helpful to provide a synopsis of the evaluation with hope that it will encourage others to evaluate their own services in several of these areas.
As we entered the building, we were warmly greeted by a couple of folks at separate times that made us feel at ease. The environment was simple, but pleasant in the lighting and visual elements. The band consisted of an acoustic guitar, lead guitar, drums, and a keyboard. In addition to the main male worship leader (acoustic guitar), there was a female singer. Thankfully, all of the songs were played in congregationally-friendly keys (see post).
The areas of concern in this service were:
- The worship leader had no eye contact with the congregation. It really felt like the band was doing their own thing without regard to whether or not the congregation was with them. Indeed the congregation was, for the most part, standing and merely observing what was happening on stage. There was no clear direction given to the congregation. At times, we were left wondering if were supposed to be singing or listening.
- There were poor transitions between songs. The direction and flow of worship can be greatly hindered by stopping after every song and then resetting for the next piece. It is much better to bridge the songs musically and textually to provide a great flow (much of this is taught in our Worship Leader Boot Camps). The service overall was fairly disjointed, seeming as if someone had selected five favorite songs and just sang them as stand alone experiences, with no thought to the whole worship experience.
- Many of the songs seemed to be unknown by the congregation. New songs can be a real killer to worship when not introduced correctly or when done in excess (see this post for more). This was probably one of the main factors in the congregation being in spectator mode throughout the service.
- One of the songs should never be considered as a congregational song. Just because a song has a great text and sounds great doesn’t make it a great congregational worship song. The song sung that morning had an ornamental melody that would be hard for average singers to learn. The song was sung with only keyboard and really seemed to be considered a solo piece, yet the worship leader had the congregation remain standing and the words were on screen. We were getting the same lack of cues as in all the other songs, so one could assume that we were suppose to sing the song.
- The lyrics on screen were often a hindrance to worship. Some songs had words broken up by line differently from the way it should be sung, leading to confusion if the song is not known well. The operator often had the wrong slide on screen or was slow to find the right one. This may be the result of poor preparation rather than poor operation in real time. Some of the moving video behind the lyrics was rather distracting and totally unrelated to the lyrics. (For more on projected lyrics, check this out).
- Not a hindrance to worship, but a legal issue: there was no copyright notice on any of the slides. Churches should strive to be legal in their use of music. There is much to say on the issue of copyright.
For more posts related to participatory worship, be sure to check out this page.