From time to time I try to visit various churches, not only to worship and to meet my own spiritual needs, but also to get ideas to share with our ministers around the world. Here are a few suggestions I have gleaned:
1. Why not have all the visitors—both Adventists and non-Adventists—stand during the pastor's welcome in the eleven o'clock hour? Read a poem or a paragraph or two specially prepared to welcome them to the services and urge them to come back. This recognition creates good will and makes an impression upon a visitor's mind that will not be soon forgotten.
During this same welcome period, have everyone in the church shake hands and introduce himself to those whom he does not know who are sitting around him, both in front and behind and at the sides. During this time those on the platform can also come down and mingle in the audience for just a few seconds, shaking hands with individuals, especially focusing on those they do not know and who are visitors. This will break down walls of coldness and prejudice, bring in a warm feeling, and set up a responsive attitude in the heart for what comes later in the worship service.
2. During the taking up of the tithes and offerings we are admonished to be joyful givers, but the act of giving our offerings and tithes to God is anything but joyful in most churches I have attended! As a matter of fact, it is the most solemn portion of any church service. Watch the faces of people as the offering plate is passed. Their faces show concern, seriousness, soberness, and at times even grief! One would think that instead of an offering plate, an open coffin were passing by, in which lay their dearest friend or relative! Why not, instead of some musical selection on the organ or piano during this time, make it a joyful occasion by having the whole congregation sing while the offering is being taken? I experienced the thrill of this in a church in Soweto, South Africa, the largest black township in the country. Our neat, clean church had no musical instrument because they couldn't afford one, but the voices of the people as they sang sounded more beautiful than any organ. Of course, they didn't have songbooks, but they knew the songs by heart. Perhaps your congregation could be taught to memorize a song so that the people would not have to be holding songbooks and hands could be free to pass the plate and put in the offering. Memorizing a song could be managed if necessary, or even different songs dealing with salvation through our Lord and the consecration to which He is entitled on the part of those who serve Him.
In other churches I have heard passages of Scripture read during the taking of the offering. In fact, at the last church I visited, the Emmanuel Seventh-day Adventist church in Brinklow, Maryland, the local elder read 1 Corinthians 13 while the offering was taken. Selected passages from the Bible and the Spirit of Prophecy can be used that lift a person's heart in worship to God. This helps each to realize that the offering is a part of worshiping God. I suggest that no strange remarks, no "strange fire," be offered to God during this time. This is no place for negative statements, but rather positive ones connected with giving to the Lord. Following the offering in the church I just mentioned, when the deacons came forward, they knelt and held the plates high as all sang "Praise God, From Whom All Blessings Flow." This was a memorable experience.
3. I believe that we can create a greater worshipful atmosphere in our churches if we participate in more congregational singing. We don't need to wait until the new hymnal comes along to do this. Our people need to be taught literally hundreds of hymns. Why not try a new one every Sabbath? What would be wrong with having a congregational song following the closing hymn and benediction as the ministers walk out? A song such as "God Be With You" unites hearts, helps us to think of others, and creates a deeper respect and love for one another. Too often our worship services are a passive performance rather than an active participation on the part of the worshipers before the Lord God.
4. At another church I attended, testimonies of God's leading and blessings were given during the missionary period. One member, an engineer at a radio station, came forward and related how God had healed him of a physical disability. A dear lady mentioned a minor, but very meaningful, experience. She could not get her door unlocked one rainy and cold evening. She offered up a short prayer, and then tried the lock once more. The key turned easily! She felt sure the Lord had blessed in answer to her prayer. Members gave four or five such testimonies during the missionary period at this church. The experience seemed to warm the whole congregation and bring in a spirit of fellowship.
Sabbath morning services should be a time when God's people come together for worship and praise of God, for spiritual strengthening of their own souls, and for reaching out in fellowship to strengthen their brothers and sisters in the Lord. This is no time for us to give our people abstract discussions that leave them unfed and unsatisfied. This is no time for humanistic philosophy masquerading as Biblical preaching. There is far too much of this kind of preaching in Seventh-day Adventist churches today. Sabbath morning services are a time to lead our people heaven ward, to provide them with solid spiritual food that will nourish them until the following Sabbath and give them strength to face the battles of life on a day-to-day basis.—J.R.S.