I’ve heard it said that if you want to figure out a church’s theology, you can simply watch their worship service. Is the congregation typically lively, or does it look more like Lord’s Day of the Living Dead? How does the congregation respond to the lyrics? Does the service feel corporate?
In my experience, asking these questions can be very revealing. The members are almost always a reflection of the whole. But there are a handful of things that shape our worship services that most would call insignificant, or even negligible. You might not even notice some of them if you looked at the congregation. Here are five simple ways to help revitalize your worship services.
1. Dedicate yourselves to the breaking of bread.
If you aren’t already taking communion every week, I would strongly encourage you to start doing so. Members of the early church “devoted themselves” to the breaking of bread—listed in Acts 2:42 alongside the apostles’ teaching, fellowship, and prayer. Though there are all kinds of debates about what is considered “descriptive” versus “prescriptive” in Acts, this point doesn’t stand on its own. Paul reminds us that as often as we eat of the bread and drink of the cup, we proclaim the death of Christ until his coming (1 Cor. 11:26). Even more, we do not proclaim Christ merely in our own assembly; the Supper unites us with the church catholic. It allows us to unify not only as a local gathering, but as the church global.
Ultimately, the observance of the Lord’s Supper beckons us to reflect on the gospel of Jesus Christ and forces us to repent of our sins (1 Cor. 11:27-29). Communion is a means of accountability instituted by God Himself, so why neglect it?
2. Give your congregations meat.
If you didn’t pick up on the allusion, I’m referencing Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 3:1-3: “But I, brothers, could not address you as spiritual people, but as people of the flesh, as infants in Christ. I fed you with milk, not solid food, for you were not ready for it.” Clearly you shouldn’t be serving infants meat. If you are a pastor and your congregation needs milk, by all means give them milk. It is best for their sustenance.
But I’m convinced far too many congregations are being served milk for the wrong reasons. They’re not avoiding meat because they cannot digest it, but rather because they are afraid of it. Preacher, preach theology. One of the biggest mistakes I see is pastors who think their congregations are too dumb to “get” theology. Don’t underestimate your church members, pastor. By only giving your church milk, you’re making them want it more. They build up a hunger for easy Christianity. They need milk and meat. It’s good for their spiritual diet.
3. Liturgize your services.
I didn’t realize that I was missing liturgy until I started attending a church that uses it. It’s easy to write off liturgy as icing on the worship cake—something not necessary if it isn’t your flavor. But liturgy has helped our church keep the gospel central. Corporate Scripture readings, confessions of sin, assurances of pardon, and benedictions are practical ways to not only embrace the gospel, but to actually structure your services around the gospel.
Liturgical services take the pressure off the worship leader (or team) to perform or plan. They allow talents and flashiness to take a backseat to Scripture, prayer, and corporate fellowship. The worship leader is freed from goofy banter; instead, he can read Scripture or remind the saints of their status before Christ. Liturgy helps prevent our services from being gospel-centered in mere word and allow them to be so down to their DNA.
4. Turn the music down.
In far too many churches, it often feels as if the church is singing to the stage. The music drowns out the voices of the congregation. The worship gathering is intended to be congregational.
My worship pastor friend West Breedlove once told me that as long as the music isn’t blowing peoples’ hair back, the service feels congregation-driven. He is absolutely right, and you can sense it when you attend the services at his church. Time and time again, I have been blessed by how downright congregational their services feel.
Just turn the music down. It isn’t hard, and you don’t have to make it dead quiet. Simply reach over to that slider labeled “Master” and slide it down a few decibels. Before you know it, your worship leader will be able to step away from the microphone as the church body carries the melody throughout the song.
5. Kill politics.
I’m not talking about playing “God Bless America” on July 4th or politicizing your sermons (though those practices deserve to be killed, too). I’m talking about the politicization of the church itself.
Often times, church members pick sides—for or against a pastor, a new ministry, or new initiative. Please, pastors and church members alike, kill these tendencies as soon as you sniff them out. Church membership means you agree to submit to the teaching of the elders and pastors (Heb. 13:17). Do not be fickle, as those of the flesh, but remember your covenant membership. Express disagreement, sure. But remember what your membership entails. You are under the authority of your church’s elders—even in a congregational church. Fight politics in your church with everything you have because it will divide. It will kill your affections for Christ. You will care more about winning than worship, and this is a dangerous place to live.
Not every change in your church has to rock the boat. Sure, some of these are harder to throw in the mix, but I think these five things are indicative of a gospel-shaped culture. Consider implementing even one of these five ideas, and pray to see the gradual lifting of your peoples' eyes to the Son who is able to save us.
Cody Glen Barnhart
Cody Glen Barnhart (@codygbarnhart) lives in Kansas City, Missouri, and is a student at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. He has written for the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, Canon & Culture, Gospel Centered Discipleship, and is a contributor at servantsofgrace.org.