101 ideas for better worship services

The following suggestions are designed to add life and vigor to worship services.

Reprinted with permission from WORSHIP, a publication of the Department of Church Ministries, South Pacific Division of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, 148 Fox Valley Road, Wahroonga, N.S.W. 2076, Australia. Copies are available at the following prices: single copies, $A6.50 each; 50-100, SA6.40 each; more than 100, SA6.25 each.

Consider the following suggestions, designed to add life and vigor to worship services. They are not described in great detail, giving ample opportunity for each congregation to tailor them to local needs. Keep in mind that some ideas are great once or twice a year, but would wear thin quickly if overdone. Also, remember that even the most innovative approach to worship becomes a rut if done all the time.


1. Encourage the congregation to speak up during the sermon. If they remain passive, cease talking periodically and ask for their reactions or questions concerning what has been said so far.

2. Why not try a "musical sermon"? Choose the hymns so that they convey the desired message. This works exceptionally well if the sermon topic is praise.

3. Try a role play for Scriptures read in the sermon. Act out one of Jesus' parables, casting it in a modern setting. Involve some of the younger church members.

4. Dramatize a passage of Scripture as part of the sermon.

5. Try a dramatic reading of Scripture as the total sermon. This works particularly well as a short sermon on the sacrifice of Christ, used as a prelude to Communion.

6. Intersperse the sermon with per formed and congregational music, selected to drive home the points being made.

7. Don't tell a children's story at the beginning of the sermon, but introduce a "suspense box." Pause to check its contents periodically during the sermon, as a curiosity builder. As a climax, bring out the object(s) in the box to use as an object lesson/visual aid.

8. Make a feature of letting the juniors or earliteens choose the sermon topic for the next week. Then have them participate on the platform, provide special music, collect the offering, or greet people at the door. Involve them in as many ways as possible.

9. Invite a youth or a number of youth to present the sermon.

10. Invite a layperson to preach on a topic dear to him or her--such as a mother, on the home; or a teacher, on education.

11. Prepare handouts on the sermon topic for the children to fill in or color in. The handouts could include a quiz based on the texts to be used during the sermon.

12. Don't try it often, and be careful that it does not detract from the reverence of the worship service, but a staged interjection/interruption can be a good attention-getter.

13. By all means, prepare a sermonic year to guarantee the proper balance in sermon topics and style of presentation.

14. We live in a visual age. Use graphics and visuals. Give the congregation a chance to look at more than just the speaker.

15. Follow Christ's example. Use plenty of simple object lessons. The simpler and the more visual, the better.

16. Do a little research into the different sensory types audio, visual, kinesthetic. It will aid in ministering more effectively to each member of the congregation.

17. Present a 15-or 20-minute sermon, then allow reaction and discussion from the congregation for the next 20 minutes.

18. Give the historical/cultural back ground to a chapter of the Bible. Sing a hymn or have a musical item. Then show how the passage speaks to today's situation, giving it a pastoral application.

19. Try a more conversational sermon than usual. Move away from the pulpit or move the pulpit and get closer to the people.

20. Use a roving microphone and try an interview sermon. Seek responses from specific members of the congregation for the points being made.

21. How about two short sermons presenting opposite viewpoints on a topic that remains unresolved? Have a fellowship meal and allow the congregation to react during an afternoon meeting.

22. Get two people to present a sermon through dialogue. It could involve some role-playing as well.

Performed music

23. Schedule some unusual instrument for the special item--a harmonica, saw, musical bottles, etc. Have the per former tell how he or she happened to learn that instrument.

24. Have an entire family provide the musical item.

25. Include the story behind how the song happened to be written.

26. Try the old-fashioned musical monologue--background music while the words are read or recited.

27. Try an "illustrated song." An artist can do a chalk drawing or sketch while the song is sung. Or slides can be shown on a screen.

28. Have a group of singers lead a rousing praise service, providing an item or two themselves.

29. Introduce the service with a brass fanfare. It really captures the attention.

Congregational music

30. Feature a variety of instrumental accompaniments to complement the organ and/or piano. It can be stringed instruments one week, brass the next, etc. Any instrumental addition will help to raise the decibels and increase the quality of the congregational singing.

31. Conclude a moving sermon that features an appeal with a song of commitment, sung while the entire congregation holds hands as a symbol of commitment and unity.

32. Take 20 to 25 minutes to create an "entire-church choir." Have the basses, sopranos, tenors, and altos all move to different quadrants of the church so they can learn their part. After a practice run or two, have the "choir" render the special item.

33. Learn a new hymn from the hymnal.

34. Sing one hymn's words to an other hymn's tune. The hymn's meter is listed in the hymnal. If the meters match, the words and tunes are interchange able.

35. Sing Scripture songs one week instead of hymns from the hymnal. Use an overhead projector so people can see the words.

36. Feature choruses for the young one week.

37. Read a verse or every other verse of a hymn rather than singing all the verses. Anything that breaks the routine captures people's attention and helps them focus on the hymn's meaning.

38. Divide the church into two or more groups and try some of the canons (rounds) in the new hymnal.

39. Have those who announce the hymns choose their favorite and tell why that hymn means something special to them. It will help the congregation get to know that member better. It may even give the hymn new meaning for some of the others in the congregation as well.

40. Have two or more "support singers" sitting in the front row singing into microphones during the hymn singing. It helps to "fill out" the sound and encourages better singing.


41. Have people from different groups within the congregation offer the prayer each week. Introduce the person as representing that group--grandparents, parents, youth, singles, young marrieds, university students, etc.

42. Use a written prayer for variation. Many books of prayers are avail able, offering a variety of beautiful prayers.

43. Have three people share the prayer. One can be responsible for praise, another for thanksgiving, and another for intercession.

44. Invite a child to offer the morning prayer. The words may be simple, but the impact may be great.

45. Instead of a person up front offering the entire prayer, he or she can invoke God, then suggest topics for the congregation to pray about silently. The prayer leader should pause after each topic suggestion. Topics can include things to praise God for, things to thank God for, and various people and activities for which a blessing is sought. It is crucial to explain before the prayer be gins just how it is going to proceed.

46. Try a responsive prayer, with a refrain from the congregation. Psalm 136 could be used as a prayer for this purpose. Or the prayer leader could compose a prayer with a congregational refrain, following the pattern of Psalm 136.

47. Have a family, Sabbath school class, children's division, etc., all pray, each offering only sentence prayers. Active participation is a crucial element to long-term enjoyment of the worship hour. Get as many people as possible involved.

48. On a special occasion plan a "season" of prayer, with several people praying. Be careful not to make it too drawn out or it will have a negative impact, particularly on the younger worshipers.


49. Use mime or drama to highlight the message of the Scripture reading.

This is particularly effective if the reading is a Bible story.

50. Have a family read the Scripture, each taking a segment.

51. Try antiphonal Scripture reading, with young and old or male and female responsively reading segments of the Scripture.

52. Have a shut-in or isolated member read the Scripture. Videotape it, then replay it on Sabbath. Churches often make provision for the shut-ins to hear the sermon, but rarely provide for their active participation in the service. If video facilities aren't available, voice tape and photographic slides will work well.

53. Vary the people reading the Scripture--singles, couples, single parents, ethnics, etc. Reflect the diversity of the church through the participants.

54. Prepare an illustrated Scripture reading. Many of the psalms lend them selves to illustration through nature slides, film, or video.

55. Provide a musical background to the Scripture reading.

56. Invite the congregation to read the Scripture responsively. If diversity of translations is a problem, put the verse on an overhead transparency.

57. Invite someone to paraphrase a well-known passage, showing how he or she perceives the passage and its message.


58. Have several families be responsible for collecting the offering.

59. If it is Christian Education Day, have children in school uniforms collect the offering.

60. Invite the congregation to "bring" their offering to God by actually coming forward and depositing it in a basket at the front of the church. It provides movement for the younger worshipers and has significant symbolism.

61. Sing a hymn while the offering is collected.

62. Read Scripture--i.e., the story of the widow's mites--during the offering collection.

63. Have someone read poetry while the offering is collected.

64. Invite each member of the congregation to offer a silent prayer on his or her offering before it is taken, rather than having the prayer from the front.


65. Read the visitors' names from the visitors' book as part of the welcome. And be sure someone gets every visitor to sign.

66. Make a special feature of the welcome, inviting members to introduce any visitors they have brought.

67. Allow time for people to greet those next to them.

68. Encourage the greeters at the doors to invite one or two guests to come onto the platform during the service and tell about the most exciting thing being done in the church they regularly attend.


69. Use an object lesson rather than just telling a story.

70. A little sleight of hand always captures children's attention. It can be used to drive home the point that things aren't always what they appear to be.

71. If the schedule is full, drop the children's story, but prepare pictures for the children to color during the sermon. Invite them to come to the front during a hymn to pick up their supplies. That gives them a chance to move around, but doesn't add to the time.

72. Invite the children to draw their interpretation of the sermon's message. Collect the drawings at the door as they leave, and put them on the notice board the next week. Make a feature of the display.

73. The week before Communion, have the children draw their interpretation of the meaning of Christ's death on the cross. Then put the drawings on the walls around the church on Communion day.

74. Plan a children's church once or twice a year. Let them be responsible for as much as possible.

75. Include the children's story in the sermon itself, telling them in advance some cue to watch for that will mean that their story is about to begin. It adds an element of suspense.

76. Encourage the older children to prepare an outline of the sermon.

77. Have a five-minute "adults' corner," then preach the entire sermon to the children, getting it down to their level.

78. Make a baby dedication part of the children's corner, using it as a springboard for a discussion about God's love for children and families.

79. Have the children do charades for the congregation. These can be spontaneous or planned. They can be done with or without costumes.

80. As the congregation sings or the organ plays "Jesus Loves Me," invite all adults in the congregation to go to a child and tell him or her how happy they are that the child is part of the church family and how much they love having children in the church.

81. While the foot-washing ceremony is in progress during the Communion service, have a meaningful section for children that includes more than just nice little stories.

82. Invite all children to spontaneously dramatize some well-known Bible story in front of the congregation. Be sure to have ample adult help to keep it moving smoothly.

83. Have the children come to the front of the church, form them into an impromptu junior choir, and have them provide a special item for the adults.

84. Form a mass choir of children. After a few rehearsals, have them provide a special item for the worship service.


85. Interview someone in the congregation about his or her conversion, profession, outreach, etc. If something really good has happened to someone, interview the person about it. Let people share their joy and their gratitude toward God with the entire congregation.

86. Videotape an interview with a member, giving the person a chance to share his or her testimony. Show the person in the workplace, in the home, participating in a pastime, and at church.

87. Videotape a shut-in member, letting him or her share with the congregation the joy found in serving God despite adverse circumstances.

88. Provide opportunity for members to express emotion when something has happened that affects the entire congregation--a major tragedy, a wonderful blessing, a crisis, etc.

89. Prime two or three people to react to the sermon, outlining how the truth just presented has affected their lives. Then open up to spontaneous comment. Be careful not to let comments run too long.

90. Don't limit reports of exciting outreach to Sabbath school or the Personal Ministries period. Give people a chance to share with the entire congregation. The interview format may help to keep them on track and to the point.


91. Always have some optional elements in the worship plan that can be deleted at a moment's notice if time is getting away. That allows the services to maintain both a prompt beginning and ending time.

92. Let a family comprise the plat form party. They can be responsible for the prayer, welcome, hymns, Scripture reading, etc.

93. Attempt to represent the congregation's age spectrum every week.

94. Change the sequence of events. Don't fall into a rut.

95. Schedule a Communion service for Friday night. Use larger pieces of bread and larger glasses of wine. Candles and sitting around a large table or tables can add to the effect.

96. Have a sermon in the morning lead up to an unhurried Communion service in the afternoon. Announce it well in advance.

97. Capitalize on the public's inter est in Easter (as many Latin American Adventist congregations do so effectively). Schedule an Easter weekend of religious activity. Thursday night, a Communion service. Friday night, focus on the Crucifixion. Sabbath, an outline of "the day of rest." Sunday, a celebration of the Resurrection. Drama could be used effectively. Or the services could just feature good preaching and well-organized music, Scripture reading, testimonies, etc.

98. Most nations have a national day. Capitalize on it to prepare pro grams about what the country means to immigrants, brotherhood, or multiculturalism. This can be a good lead-in to a Communion service.

99. Don't forget poetry. Good poetry is magic. Let the congregation's poet(s) share an original piece from time to time.

100. Carefully plan periods of meditation. Silence has its place.

101. Appoint a worship committee so that each Sabbath's worship experience will be a treat.

Ministry reserves the right to approve, disapprove, and delete comments at our discretion and will not be able to respond to inquiries about these comments. Please ensure that your words are respectful, courteous, and relevant.

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Reprinted with permission from WORSHIP, a publication of the Department of Church Ministries, South Pacific Division of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, 148 Fox Valley Road, Wahroonga, N.S.W. 2076, Australia. Copies are available at the following prices: single copies, $A6.50 each; 50-100, SA6.40 each; more than 100, SA6.25 each.

October 1991

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