'Worship is so much more than singing songs in church - it's a lifestyle.' This phrase has been so well-used it has become a cliché. Yet our experience tells us that most churches struggle to connect what they do on Sunday morning with the way people live out their faith, Monday to Saturday. Worship gatherings can seem disconnected, perhaps even like an escape from reality. Congregation members can get the impression that God is not really that interested in their work, their home lives, or the issues in their communities and on the news.
The good news is that it does not need to be this way. With a little thought, some intentional planning and an openness to try a few new ideas, pastors and worship leaders can re-engage their services with the realities the congregation are facing outside the church doors. We can create space for God to empower and send people out for worship on their 'frontlines' (this is the term coined by the London Institute for Contemporary Christianity to describe the place each person is called to in their week).
Here are seven things we have tried, tested and seen fruit from.
1. Gather people from their worshipping lives.
What are the first words that people hear from the front of you church? Is there a sense of telling people to 'leave your problems at the door', or the suggestion that worship is only beginning now? Why not, instead, begin with reading a scripture such as 1 Thes. 5:16-17: 'Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances.' You can remind the congregation that this gathered time is a focussed opportunity to do together what God is calling them at all times and in all places.
2. Sing about everyday issues
When was the last time you sang songs about daily work, drug addiction, or the trials and joys of being a parent? Infuse your times of singing with material such as Stuart Townend and Simon Brading's Christ Be In My Waking , Geraldine Latty's Lord Have Mercyor music from Keith and Kirsten Getty's Hymns For the Christian Life album, and you'll find a new vocabulary which connects with everyday life.
3. Use different images
If you project song lyrics, what kind of images do you use behind them? Mountains, rivers and other nature scenes? We have found it powerful to supplement those with other kinds of pictures - local businesses and schools, urban scenes, places of brokenness, prosperity and need. You can ask your congregation to provide such images, and connect your sung worship with the needs of your community in a visual way.
4. Pray for local issues
A time of intercession should be an easy way to connect with the needs of the world around you. Could you encourage these to be led by people representing different spheres (business, education, local government, and so on)? Encourage multi-sensory prayers using tactile media (for example pinning prayers onto a map of your area) or sounds such as a recording of the local High Street.
5. Re-engage with the Lord's Prayer
Sadly the prayer Jesus taught us can often be ignored in gathered worship, or rushed through without considering its world-changing implications. Take your time over it, and help congregations to consider what it might look like for God's Kingdom to come and his will to be done at the supermarket, and on the bus, and in our kitchens, and in the factory, and on the playground,and at the bowls club... as it is in heaven.
6. Commission for all kinds of service
Times of prayer towards the end of the service can focus on very 'inward' spiritual needs, or merely commissioning those who are leaving for things like overseas mission work or paid ministry. What if you were to commission everyone for the 'frontlines' they are called to serve in, the places where they regularly come into contact with non-Christians. How can you empower them to God through their work, their attitude and their relationships?
7. Send people out to worship
Finally, does your worship end when the guitars or organs stop playing? Or do you send people out 'to love and serve the Lord' through the week? Choose sending songs, speak out 'sending' prayers of blessing. We have even heard of churches where the sign 'You are now entering a place of worship' was turned around so that people saw it as they left the building.
We have unpacked the biblical foundations and practical frameworks of this approach in our new resource, Whole Life Worship (IVP 2017). It is a collaboration with the London Institute for Contemporary Christianity, and together we have also produced a Journey Pack which is full of usable ideas, service plans and small-group material to help any church go forward with this theme. Visit engageworship.org/WholeLifeWorship to find out more.
Sam and Sara Hargreaves co-lead engage worship, providing resources and training for local church worship. They both studied at London School of Theology, and Sam guest-lectures there on the Theology Music and Worship programmes. They live in Luton and volunteer in their local Baptist church. Find them on Twitter @engageworship.