Law and Order Episode:
In first minute, random people discover a dead body
The cops show up and make a clever quip
Credits Roll over iconic Theme Song
First half hour of episode – police work to solve crime
Second half hour – the District Attorney, lawyers, judges enter in and case goes to court and gets resolved.
Almost all television shows have a template – whether they be comedies, dramatic shows, reality shows, talk shows, or even the news.
Local Church Service Any Given Sunday:
Warm Welcome from Worship Leader
Song #3 (possible Turn and Greet time)
Host Comes Up – Announcements and Offering
Pre-Message Focus Video
Closing Songs #4,5
I have been thinking a lot about templates lately – the Pros and the Cons. When I was leading a Worship/Arts team, our mantra was to surprise the congregation every week. We believed our job was to treat every Sunday like a blank sheet of paper, seeking how to craft an experience that would hopefully include moments when people would feel something deeply, connect with God, and ultimately walk out of church different from when they walked in. We looked at the options of tools in our toolbox – including vocal and instrumental music, Scripture reading, guided prayers, drama, video, dance, silence, confession, and congregational worship – and discerned week to week what the best content and flow would be for that Sunday. Predictability was our enemy. We never wanted people to be sure what was coming next so they could go on autopilot. Variety was a huge value for us.
But there is another point of view to consider. Some would argue for the comfort and confidence attenders can feel when they know what to expect. If your favorite television show has no template, if the murder doesn’t happen in the first minute of a Law and Order episode, a person could feel unsettled and disappointed. So if we go to a church with a fairly well established order of service, whether it is highly contemporary or a more traditional liturgical experience, we may show up hoping for the familiar in a world full of constant change and often unwelcome surprises. Maybe church should be a place where we are blessed with that sense of general confidence that if we bring a friend, we know exactly what to promise him or her.
I am not going to argue that one or the other point of view is more right. I am living these days with the tension. I do believe very strongly that whether or not we have a basic template, we should not ever be lazy or lack creativity in our efforts to prepare worship experiences filled with potential for God to move in the hearts of people. Planning Center is a tool that should not replace animated dialogue, intentional choices, brainstorming of moments, and a thorough exploration of options. I also grieve that in so many places we have allowed our toolboxes of artistic possibilities to shrink down to music and video.
So here’s my bottom line. Templates are not necessarily bad. They actually may be just the right choice for many churches. There is also a place for the wonder and divine surprises connected to a blank sheet of paper approach. What do you think? Do you prefer a predictable and comfortable episode of your favorite television series, or going to a movie where you have no idea what might happen next?
If you'd like to explore more about worship design, I invite you to join me for Coaching Circles, where we'll connect with other worship arts leaders for a time of mentoring, coaching, and connection. Learn more at http://www.coaching-circles.com