Recommended Process for Worship Planning

 Planning and leading worship involves attention to the ways the Spirit of God is at work among those who gather for worship. To plan chapel well is to engage in an act of theological reflection and imagination. It is not a process of filling slots in a bulletin but of equipping the people of God as they gather for praise and thanksgiving, lament and petition, confession and proclamation. Good worship planning requires enough time for those who plan worship to ask theological questions about the chapel service and the particular people who gather to worship God together. It requires enough time to find the right people to lead worship and to prepare them for their worship roles. It also requires an openness to the God who may disrupt our worship plans in ways we do not anticipate.

Step 1: In the first meeting or first part of the planning process (two to three weeks before the service) 

Gather a small group of worship planners. Begin with an opening prayer and a time of introduction that draws attention to the similarities and differences in the experiences of those who gather to plan worship. Invite those planning worship together to name their denominational or nondenominational backgrounds and offer a word or two that they associate with the word “worship.” Naming some differences within the planning group helps to make worship planners aware of different assumptions that members of the CTS community bring to a time of common worship.

Read aloud the text or texts that you will be using for a chapel service or week of chapel services. You may want to read the text/s multiple times as you reflect on the questions below. The Office of Worship will provide you with a set of recommended texts, but you may choose others. Alternately, you might use a piece of visual art or music as the focus of your theological reflection. As you reflect on the questions below, take notes. If you are working with a group, be sure to assign a note-taker.

1. What words, themes, and phrases emerge from the text or focus of meditation?

2. Move beyond words and engage all of the senses of a text or texts. What senses are evoked? Does a passage invite you to taste, touch, or smell something? Are there sounds or imagery either explicit or implicit that emerge from the object of meditation? What kind of mood does the passage evoke?

3. How do the themes, phrases, and sensory associations of the passage connect with a particular season in the church year or in the life of the wider body of Christ? How do they speak to current events in the life of the CTS community, the city of Atlanta, or the wider world? Are there important dates or anniversaries (church, CTS, or world events) to keep in mind as you plan your service?

4. In light of what has emerged during your meditation, brainstorm worship elements that might correspond with the themes you have been discussing – hymns, songs, prayers, visuals, and movements. Ideally you will meet in a place where there are a variety of worship resources (denominational hymn and prayer books, collections or prayers, hymns, and songs, collections of images) to assist you as you brainstorm. How might a passage or theme be encountered or embodied by the worshipping CTS community?

5. Begin to shape a service. Use the bulletin templates provided by the Worship Life Office, and make decisions about the type of service you want to plan. Will it follow closely a particular denominational pattern (Presbyterian, Baptist etc.), or is there a plan for a more ecumenical service that borrows elements from a number of traditions? Once you have chosen a pattern, list some different options for songs, prayers, or resources in your bulletin draft. You may want to assign some members of a planning group to explore or develop some of the options you discuss.

6. As you shape the service, articulate a journey the people of God might take together. A service can focus on quiet contemplation from start to finish, or a service might begin with an emphasis on one aspect of human encounter with God (a celebration of the cosmic power of the one who created all that is) and end with a very different mode of addressing and relating to God (the intimacy and humility of a God who shares the smallest cares of our day to day lives). A service might begin and end in similar places (such as praise or joy), yet invite the people of God to mourn and to lament together over the course of the service. Sometimes the arc of the service will be suggested by the form of the sermon, so a dialogue with a preacher of the day is encouraged, particularly if a service includes a sermon or meditation. The worship planners’ hopes and discussions about the service should also be communicated to the preacher, especially if the preacher is not present at the planning meeting.

Step 2: In the second meeting or second part of your worship planning meeting (one to two weeks out),

Create a draft of the order of worship—including any written and/or projected materials—and consider a set of theological questions related to hospitality and participation.

1. As you select songs, prayers and other elements, or assign the creation or selection of these elements to members of your team, keep in mind both the length of time and theological questions of hospitality and participation.

How is the congregation invited to participate? In the course of a week, worship should express our multiple intelligences (social, introspective, linguistic, spatial/visual, kinesthetic, naturalist and musical). It should appeal to the eye and ear, move the body, touch the heart, stir the imagination, and feed the mind.

What does the CTS community need to know in order to participate in chapel? If you are introducing new songs, balance these unfamiliar elements with familiar ones, so that a service is not disorienting to those who participate. If you have enough time, you might rehearse an unfamiliar song or element briefly before the call to worship.

  • What other kinds of hospitality might be necessary?
  • A song leader might help to guide the singing of a song or hymn.
  • A short explanation and/or a gesture might help the congregation know when to begin or come in during a reading or prayer.
  • An announcement might need to be made at the beginning of the service during the welcome to help identify the elements that will be used.

Wherever possible, consider using multiple forms of communication that take into account different abilities and forms of access. For example, if you use a slideshow, offer a short summary of what appears on the slides; don’t assume that everyone can see the slides well.

As you consider questions of hospitality, also keep in mind the theological and liturgical issues and strategies surrounding inclusive language.  How does the language we use in our worship reflect and nurture a Christian understanding of the relationship between God and all of God’s creation? Consider the use of hymns, prayers and songs that use a range of names and metaphors for God and different ways of signifying the relationship between God and the congregation. For example, if you begin with a hymn that names God as Father, you may want to consider a prayer or hymn later in the service that focuses our attention on other ways Christians name and know God.

Give attention to the underlying assumptions of metaphors you use.  How might these impact our theological associations with particular groups of people? For example, is whiteness used as a metaphor for goodness or blackness/darkness as a consistent description of sin or evil? Are disabilities (blindness, deafness, mental disabilities/illnesses) used as metaphors for sin or human lack or their opposites used to symbolize goodness? Some metaphors contribute to the stigma and oppression that minority groups of people experience and should be avoided if possible.

Begin to identify people you will ask to participate in various roles – greeting, reading, singing or song leading, dancing, playing an instrument, and serving communion. Remember that often the person who leads a song, prayer etc. is as important to the worship of a community as the song or prayer itself.  Whenever possible, the congregation should hear more than one worship leader’s voice. Differences in those who lead worship (for example, in gender, age, race, ability, and ethnicity) remind us that Christ is present in the whole church and in all its members.

Some members of your planning group may fulfill some of the roles, but consider inviting other students, staff, and faculty from the CTS community to help lead. Consult the master list of CTS Community Gifts, Talents, and Worship Ministries that the Worship Life Office maintains. When you ask someone to take on a worship role, make certain they are comfortable leading the parts they have been asked to lead. Consider having rehearsal time for all participants, so that everyone feels as confident and comfortable as possible on the day of the service.

2. Consider what kinds of support you require (e.g. musical or audio-visual support), and make a list of these items. Fill out the Chapel Support Form and turn it into the Worship Life Office as soon as possible and at the Wednesday before your service.  Senior Chapel Teams will need to turn in these forms two weeks prior to the service.

3. Before the conclusion of your second meeting/part of your meeting, make sure assignments are given to the group so that all elements, persons, and tasks are covered. Make notes in the draft bulletin of who is responsible for each task.

4. Consider location. There are two main worship locations: Campbell Hall Chapel and the Harrington Center Chapel. Campbell Hall Chapel is the default location for Mondays; the BLC Courtyard is the default location for Tuesdays; and Harrington Center is the default chapel location for Thursdays and Fridays. At times these locations are changed when Harrington Center is in use by other groups during the week; please check your worship reminder email and the Columbia Current Chapel & Forum page to confirm your assigned chapel space. When planning worship, it may be helpful to note the following: CH Chapel has room for 170 persons and the seating is in fixed pews; and HC Chapel has room for 120 persons and the seating can be arranged in a variety of ways. HC Chapel is also on one level while CH Chapel has stairs leading up to the pulpit.

Step 3: Three business days before the chapel service, e-mail the order of worship to the Worship Life Communications Assistant for proofreading and printing.

Remember to include the license numbers and permissions for any music you have reprinted. Include full citations for all prayers or other materials reprinted in the bulletin; if you write a prayer, litany or song, cite yourself.

E-mail a leader version of your bulletin to those who will be fulfilling worship roles. Include names of worship leaders as well as any language or explanations you would like each person to use to introduce various elements. For example, we encourage this phrase for inviting a change in seating or standing: Please rise in body and spirit. Invite all those who are leading to prayerfully practice their roles (for example, reading aloud a scripture or prayer multiple times before the service) and to plan to come to the chapel ten to fifteen minutes before the chapel service begins.

On the day of the chapel service, please arrive ten to fifteen minutes before the chapel service begins. Make sure each person does a sound check. This is very important to ensure that those who lead can be heard! On Fridays the WSL Coordinator will conduct a brief rehearsal with communion servers and the presider. The Coordinator will review brief explanations or announcements that are necessary. For example, on a communion day, a brief explanation needs to be given so that the congregation knows how to come forward and what to do if they cannot come forward, where the wine and grape juice are located, etc. See specific language in the section on Friday services.

Step 4: A few days to a week after the service/s, worship planners should gather and reflect on the service. It is helpful to bring copies of bulletins/orders of service to help you remember each services as it unfolded. Below are some questions to guide you. (Supplemental reflection questions can be found in Valerie Bridgeman Davis’s short article “21 Questions Revisited” in African American Church Music and Worship Volume 2, ed. James Abbington, GIA, 2014 and in Chapter XI of Barbara Day Miller’s The New Pastor’s Guide to Leading Worship.)

1. What happened? Where did you encounter God/Spirit in this worship? What surprised you in the course of the worship service?

2. How was the Word of God communicated and embodied among those who worshipped? How were the images, themes or daily or weekly arcs intended by the worship planners communicated to the worshiping body? Was there space and time made for God to speak and move among those who gathered?

3. Evaluate different worship elements. (Move beyond the language of “I liked” or “I didn’t like.” Think theologically!) What worship elements worked particularly well? Why? Were there worship elements that did not work well? Why? Was the congregation invited to participate in worship? In what ways? Were the prayers, songs, and movements easy to enter? Were there barriers to participation?

4. Was there adequate hospitality offered to those who gathered? Did the service address multiple intelligences, senses, and forms of communication? If not, what might have been done? How did worship reflect the cultural and denominational diversity of the CTS community? How well did it represent a particular denominational pattern if that was the planners’ intention?

5. How was there a sense of continuity with other chapel services that preceded this one? Did the worship also draw attention to the love and work of God beyond the CTS community? How were those who gathered for worship sent from chapel?

See Part Two