If you’re like me, you love the corporate worship gathering and really want to see your church engage in worship.
The typical Sunday morning worship set is around 25-minutes; so every moment counts!
Like most, we start our services with worship and used to start with some sort of “welcome to church, sing with us” encouragement. But I vividly remember the Sunday where the welcome to service intro grabbed my attention in a major way.
“There’s got to be a better way to do this,” I thought.
It occurred to me about 15 seconds into service one Sunday when the volunteer I had entrusted to welcome the congregation had already talked about both the Broncos and the weather that morning.
It went something like this: “Welcome to church. We’re glad you’re with us today, especially with the big game starting in about 45 minutes! And you braved the cold. Man, you’re the people who really wanna be here. We hope you’ll enjoy the service and, man, we hope God’ll do something cool…”
What I felt that day I couldn’t yet name, but there was a deep dissatisfaction that I vividly remember.
It felt trite, irreverent even, to inaugurate a corporate gathering worshipping the living God in such a manner. For some churches this kind of introduction is normal. It’s intended to be casual to help non-churched people feel more comfortable. On the other end of the spectrum the liturgical purists would have been appalled and disgusted by our flippant remarks.
Both camps have reason to be impassioned around their cause. We do want people to feel welcome and how we begin a service has about as much to do with that as anything. And yet, what we say matters.
How we frame what we’re about to do as worship matters.
Thoughtfulness, nuance, and subtlety are important. I’m convinced that though it’s impossible to speak with perfect clarity about God we ought to try and get as much right as we can.
I began to research and discovered that quite a bit of theological thought has gone into how we begin the service and welcome the congregation.
All I knew is if you want to see your church engage in worship, this couldn’t be the right to go about it. Turns out, I wasn’t the first one to whom the thought had occurred, “There has to be a better way to do this!” Surprise, surprise.
First, I learned that this liturgical moment has a name: the Call to Worship.
Thank you Constance Cherry. That it is a welcome, but it’s more than a welcome. It’s a call to worship. It frames what’s about to happen. Think of how movies based in the 1800’s portray the train conductor tooting the horn at the appointed time and yelling, “All aboard!” The train is departing. Worship is commencing.
Gathered for worship, we’re more than just a collection of individuals who happen to be in the same place for the same reason. We’re the Body of Christ gathered as a people and we’re going together to meet with the living God.
Secondly, I learned that the “call” comes from God.
Our coming together is a response to God’s preceding call. if we truly believe we are God’s people gathered by His Spirit to meet with him, then he’s actually the one welcoming us! Sure we should be glad to see one another and share a greeting as we arrive, but we must not be confused. We are not the host.
Think of it like this: God is the host who has invited us to meet with him, as he did first with the people of Israel in the tabernacle then in the Temple, at appointed times and in specific places.
That is what Sunday morning worship is ultimately all about. God meeting with his people. Suddenly the opening moment has a newfound weight and purpose.
If this is true, then what should that moment sound like?
How can we open service in a way that is truly welcoming – not staunch or rigidly formal – while framing what’s about to happen. There are many ways to do this moment well and a simple Google search will overwhelm you with possibilities.
For years I have worked to curate various Calls to Worship that are both contemporary in wording but also theologically faithful. Here are a few examples:
- “Good morning! It is good to be here, together, in God’s presence as his people. We trust that the Spirit has drawn us here as a body – the Body of Christ – to worship him in spirit and truth.The psalmist said, ‘I was glad when they said to me, let us go to the house of the Lord.’ And here we are gathered in the house of the Lord because of his faithful mercy. Let us begin worship by reading (or reading together) the words of Psalm 136…”
- “Good morning! Welcome to ______, where we desire to worship the God who is present to us through singing, praying, proclaiming the gospel, and receiving communion together this morning. As we enter into worship, let us be reminded of Psalm 100 as a guide for entering his presence… Let’s read this together”
- “Welcome to the house of the Lord! Here at ______ we trust that the Spirit has gathered us just as we are to worship God. As we worship this morning we can trust that we ARE encountering the living God, we ARE being shaped into the image of Jesus, and we ARE being drawn into his mission in the world.Let us worship first by proclaiming the words of Psalm 29 (vv.1-2, 10-11) aloud together…”
These are but a few examples of what this moment can sound like. There are hundreds of ways to present the Call to Worship faithfully. Again, this is about from the start of our services, setting hearts and intentions to better see your church engage in worship. I would recommend thinking about what is being communicated in the examples above and what is intentionally left out.
The differences between these and the opening example might seem subtle, but they’re important.
The emphasis is not on the individual’s choice to attend, but on the Spirit’s work of inviting and drawing. Each example reminds us that we are a body, not merely a collection of individuals, and that God himself is present already; we don’t have to do anything to “usher him in” or “welcome him.”
They also provide some context for the ways that our worship will be expressed. Further still, they culminate with a Scripture reading that situates the gathering within its intended purpose: corporate worship.
This kind of adjustment is unlikely to provide immediate results of any kind. It might even go unnoticed by the majority of the congregation. But over time it will begin to shape the expectations of those entering the space of worship. I truly believe it will help your church engage in worship so much more, because it actively focuses individual’s attentions on the power and intention of that very moment.
There is a freedom in knowing God is the host who wants to be with us. That he doesn’t need us to do anything to invoke his presence. He simply delights in our participation in coming to meet with him and our brothers and sisters.
Simply put, the call to worship is “Good News”! It’s such good news it deserves to be announced right away.
You may also be interested in these related posts!
- Is Your Church Service Format the Reason Your Church is Apathetic?
- Should We Sing Songs that We Know aren’t *Technically* True?
- The 4 Do’s and Don’ts of Spontaneous Worship
- 5 Things Worship Pastors Do that Annoy Volunteers
- How to Not Lose Your Passion for Worship (Sustaining the Long Haul)