Church building projects, whether new construction, a renovation, or the purchase of a building, are a major undertaking for any congregation. During such a process there is usually openness for change. Often there is a window of opportunity to initiate worship renewal.
This article will consider the needs, challenges, ideas, and strategies for worship renewal during a church-building transition.
The need for worship renewal
Across denominational lines, congregations need worship renewal especially if they value relevancy in our fast-changing contemporary society. While postmodern individuals value spirituality, Christian congregations now exist with many spiritual options and cultural changes that minimize the church’s influence. According to George Barna, “Most adults do not have much confidence in Christian churches.”1 Many vote by their feet that congregations and worship are irrelevant, and many who do attend church are often unsure if they have experienced worship.
The challenge of initiating worship renewal
Those who desire worship renewal often discover that attempts to change liturgy lead to resistance. Worship has divided many churches, leading to pastoral and congregational burnout.2 Worship beliefs and practices tend to be strongly based upon feelings and culture—often more than upon Scripture. If you doubt this, try celebrating the Lord’s Supper on Thursday evening as originally celebrated. Because of the importance placed on worship, people tend to be very sensitive about worship renewal or change.
“This is why perfectly rational people will roar with anger when someone moves something as simple as a chair in the sanctuary of a church. . . .Although everyone in the congregation knows that the order of the service is likely to have some changes. . . . you better not mess with the eleven o’clock hour!”3
A biblical account of worship renewal: King Solomon’s temple
A biblical account related to a church building transition describes the construction and inauguration of the Solomonic temple. This narrative provides a forum to discuss rituals in worship, ways of keeping God at the center of a major building project, and the planning of special dedication services.
When King Solomon led the construction of the new temple, variations in worship developed. At the dedication of the new facility, Solomon (the king as opposed to the priest) played the leading role in worship as He led the procession of the ark to the temple (2 Chron. 5:6).4 Solomon presided over the offering of animal sacrifices, in blessing the assembly (2 Chron. 6:3), and the dedicatory address and prayer (2 Chron. 6:4–42). At this dedication service, 22,000 oxen and 120,000 sheep were sacrificed (2 Chron. 7:5) and “fire came down from heaven and consumed the burnt offering and the sacrifices; and the glory of the Lord filled the temple” (2 Chron. 7:1). Solomon went all out to dedicate the new temple, epitomizing how worship can involve considerable variety, effort, change, and cost. Music played a major role in worship during the monarchical period including instruments, anthems, and mass choirs that made worship a delight (2 Chron. 5:12, 13). Meditative silence was also a part of worship (Pss. 4:4; 46:10). Today, more worship planning, including musical and liturgical variety, would likely impact worship renewal.
A probing question to encourage reflection about worship: Are the best days for worship in this congregation in the past or the future? We need ongoing renewal to avoid being fixed on the glory days of the past as Israel experienced with Solomon’s temple.
Worship renewal—King David and the Psalms
When considering worship renewal, along with Solomon’s account, consider King David and the Psalms. David, a paragon worshipper, danced, sang, played instruments, and praised God with all his heart, and this involved an active response. Psalm 134:2 says, “Lift up your hands in the sanctuary and praise the Lord” (NIV). Psalm 47:1 states, “Clap your hands, all you nations; shout to God with cries of joy” (NIV). David found great pleasure in worship and was dubbed “a man after [God’s] heart” (1 Sam. 13:14, NIV).
The texts on worship in the Psalms are numerous, encouraging, and convincing. One psalm says: “My soul yearns, even faints for the courts of the Lord. . . .Blessed are those who dwell in your house; they are ever praising you. . . . Better is one day in your courts than a thousand elsewhere” (Ps. 84:2, 4, 10, NIV). A sermon series on the Psalms, King David, King Solomon, and the temple would strengthen the biblical foundation for worship renewal during a church building transition.
Reasons and strategies for worship renewal
Change, during a church building transition, can be described as “in the air.” New ideas for growth will be more plausible when presented at the appropriate time. A building transition often changes the congregation’s power structure; new leaders develop, while others take less active roles. These changes can provide avenues to initiate worship renewal.
Focusing on worship during a church building transition can temper burnout. Pastors and members often become enveloped in the technical aspects of a transition, which can lead to personal exhaustion, family disintegration, spiritual decline, and church tension. Transitions rarely turn out as smoothly as planned, for costs commonly go over budget, schedules are often not met, conflicts abound, and those in leadership roles often hear numerous complaints. These pressures may increase to an extent where pastors elect to transfer to another congregation while members become frustrated and quit. Focusing on worship during a major transition can mitigate stress, help provide balance, direct mental energy to spiritual concerns, and avoid an overwhelming emphasis on technical issues.
Working with a worship committee to initiate renewal
As the church facility begins to take shape parishioners tend to begin to consider their first services—especially the grand opening, holiday programs, concerts, or other community programs. Members likely feel a sense of pride in their building and want to showcase their church at its best. Special services can utilize the extra energy often inherent in a building transition to experiment with worship rituals.
If a congregation does not already have a worship committee, this provides an opportunity to build one, so that solo worship planning can give way to the team approach.5 “Congregations served by collaborative planning teams will find that the worship life of their church has a different tone.”6 Transitioning into an updated facility presents, for the congregation, a good time to ponder a congregation’s past, present, and future direction. Worship committees, especially during transitions, provide a forum to brainstorm about future liturgical rituals.
A successful project, like an updated church facility, is often determined by how it begins. A business, athletic team, or a baby born healthy has a better prospect than one beginning with poor health. Likewise, inspiring first worship services help perpetuate healthy worship.
This article introduced the need, challenge, biblical ideas, and reasons to focus on worship renewal during a church-building transition. While not the ultimate goal, having a better building can be a wonderful blessing. When worship remains as a primary reason to have a church sanctuary, other pressing and urgent issues will not take precedence.
1 George Barna, Index of Leading Spiritual Indicators (Dallas, TX: Word Publishing, 1996), 43.
2 Loren Mead, Transforming Congregations for the Future (Herndon, VA: The Alban Institute, 1994), 86.
3 Ibid., 104.
4 Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture references in this article are from the New King James Version.
5 Scott Dyer, The Source for Effective Church Service Planning (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1996), 9.
6 Norma deWaal Malefyt & Howard Vanderwell, Designing Worship Together (Herndon, VA: The Alban Institute, 2005), 7.