Creativity Has a Place in Worship
From special music to special touches related to the weekend sermon, churches across the conference are enriching the worship experience with a touch of creativity that often makes the message more memorable.
The time to be compelling is in church -- where the message and experience week after week is life changing. Here are some of the ways TAC clergy and church staffs are enhancing the worship experience for their congregations. For example, Dr. Tom Pace, senior pastor at St. Luke’s UMC in Houston, has been adding an extra dimension to worship for almost a decade by producing weekly sermon note takeaways. “We do this for several reasons,” he says:
§ “Sermon notes promote clarity. When you have to put it down on a small card, you have to be able to keep it simple and clear enough, and when people can both read and hear, they are more likely to retain. “
§ “Sermon notes provide a way for people to participate in the message. A few take notes—some read them. Lots still ignore them, but it is a start.”
§ “They say put your faith into practice; take this into your week. It is a sort of a take away. Before preaching, I invite folks to take the sermon notes card in the pew pocket and put it in their pocket, Bible or planner and consult it or use it during the week.”
“And lastly,” he adds, “Preparing sermon notes forces me to have my act together by Thursday morning so they can get printed, therefore making my weekend more enjoyable, which is leverage to avoid procrastination!”
Sermon With a Twist
For John Seaton, West University UMC, telling a Bible story in the first person was an idea for a summer sermon series that came out of a desire to tell the stories of the Bible in a different way than people are used to hearing them. “I had heard about the first person approach of preaching at a continuing education event I attended last spring and I felt the summer was a perfect time to use this approach in the congregation I serve since there is an emphasis on storytelling during the summer,” he explains. “For those of us who have been in the church most of our lives, we have heard the stories of the Bible so many times that we can become complacent sometimes reading or hearing the story again. For others that might be fairly new to the church, sometimes the stories of the Bible can be quite confusing. So, telling a story in a first person style can breathe fresh life into it. It can open people's eyes and ears to maybe something they haven't heard before.”
Engaging the congregation in this way has led to a great response to the series. Notes John, “It has been so enlightening to see the different ways people have reacted and been affected by the stories. Most of all, it has been great to hear how the stories have helped people with their understanding of the scriptures and how they have experienced growth in their faith as a result.”
Listen to the audio via the link to a sermon titled From a Roof. The podcast archive for the church on iTunes under West U Methodist: http://www.westumethodist.org/worship/sermons/
A Touch of Drama
Congregants enjoy a touch of drama and storytelling when licensed local pastor and 2014 candidate for commissioning Keith Somerville, St. Johns UMC in downtown Houston steps into the pulpit. His storytelling style of preaching reminds listeners of their own life experiences and makes the scriptures come alive. (Watch http://youtube/twzTBwUl6GA)
St. John’s (DT) member Kevin Polk, believes these are effective techniques to have greater impact. “I believe the overall decrease of Methodist membership around the globe is partially due to pastors' failure to utilize events in the Old and New Testament to solve congregants 21st century concerns,” Kevin explains. “To avoid that major pitfall, Pastor Keith teaches and preaches a biblically sound, culturally pertinent, and socially relevant message to those that enter 2019 Crawford St. No subject matter is off limits, including his mother's recent health crisis. Instead of angst while travelling home to New York after her heart attack, he spoke of a blessed assurance he possessed that God, the Healer, would show up and show out just like He did for the woman with the issue of blood, the paralytic at the pool, and Lazarus.”
Tierra Allen agrees saying, “When Pastor Keith starts talking, you never know what you're going to get. It may be a tale of him being bullied at a young age, lessons from his grandmother, or language so raw you'd only expect to hear it on the streets. As a congregant, I come alive when he's up to preach! I have my notebook ready and my ears open. “ Ads Tierra, “His bold personality, his boisterous voice and his love for God are captivating. He knows how to capture and engage the audience and inspire us to do better and be better. He embodies the quote "Be the Change."
Creating An Environment
In Tyler, DaySpring UMC Worship Leader Aaron Laird believes a new trend called “environmental projection” is a “great way to help create an immersive worship environment, emphasize meaning during song and spoken word, and visually direct us to examine ourselves and our Creator, instead of focusing on distractions around us.” Environmental projection is projecting visuals/video/light onto existing walls, doors, windows, pillars, ceiling, floor and general environment to intentionally use any surface as a screen.
As a worship leader, he uses this technique musically. “For example, as we sang Fall Afresh by Jeremy Riddle (Bethel Music), we projected rain on the walls. Visually, it felt as though we were in a gentle rainstorm, asking the Holy Spirit to come indwell us (through song). The visual effect supports the message of the song.”
Adds Aaron, “Much like any other creative element in worship, there's not a one-size-fits-all solution. I've seen it applied in churches of 50 people or less and in venues of 20,000 people. There are different setups every time and I've seen it done well in both situations.
Historically, he believes the Church used architecture, stained glass, tapestry, and many other art forms to support "visual worship." Today's modern church, in many cases, has moved from this, to black box auditoriums, and multi-purpose facilities and modern use of screens. Environmental projection is a way we bring all of these visual worship elements back to the modern church.” He is passionate about helping churches and available as a resource to discuss considerations ranging from budget to environmental analysis and equipment recommendations.
“One thing that I think is very unique at Clear Lake UMC,” says Jeff Weiss, Music/Fine Arts Director, “is that we have a group of 6-8 song leaders that facilitate congregational singing for our traditional services, on a rotational basis.” Jeff has brought in facilitators and coaches to share their experience and insight in encouraging congregational song, including Rev. John Thornburg (Dallas) and Reggie Clemmons (Pearland UMC). Last month, he had a Roman Catholic musician serving as a clinician who brings experience in working with cantors in her church.
“I used to sing at our lectern while our congregation sang the hymns and spiritual songs for worship, hoping I might encourage their participation simply by being present and singing with them. Then God gave me a vision for empowering our choir members to be leaders of congregational song on a weekly basis. I have since stepped back as the staff member and let them embrace the role of a song leader.”
The current team of song leaders offers very different musical experiences, abilities, personalities, ages and body gestures. “I see that diversity as a gift and blessing to our congregation,” adds Jeff. The group is also growing and evolving in their leadership style and approach as song leaders thanks to in-house workshops led by guest facilitators.
He adds, “The worship life of each congregation is unique. Leadership changes and evolves over time. We have discovered great blessings through the ministry of laity-led congregational singing. We will continue to look to God for guidance and direction, praying that what we do will reflect His presence in worship.”
Most Importantly, be Real
According to a Washington Post article in July entitled, How to keep Millennials in the Church, the self proclaimed millennial author writes, “At the end of the day, the Christian gospel is defined outside of and with little regard to whatever itch people think Christianity should scratch. If I am truly honest with myself…what I need is something bigger than me, older than me, bound by a truth that transcends me and a story that will outlast me and my whims, but changes me to be the Christ-like person I was created to be.”