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Worship Workshop: Creative Ways to Design Worship Together

Worship Workshop: Creative Ways to Design Worship Together

by Marcia McFee

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The Worship Workshop, rather than providing simply another manual for doing worship, offers instead an interactive workshop that helps worship teams develop more meaningful and memorable worship for the congregation. By combining liturgical history and the creative process, The Worship Workshop encourages worship teams and staff to break out of


The Worship Workshop, rather than providing simply another manual for doing worship, offers instead an interactive workshop that helps worship teams develop more meaningful and memorable worship for the congregation. By combining liturgical history and the creative process, The Worship Workshop encourages worship teams and staff to break out of the traditional worship box in order to create diverse ways to present the Good News in worship.

Through a variety of activities, ideas, and informational handouts, The Worship Workshop helps worship committees, planners, and designers evaluate the state of their current worship, get more people involved in the planning and designing process, explore the diverse designs of congregational worship, learn the history of worship, and utilize the arts and artists in worship.

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Abingdon Press
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New Edition
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8.50(w) x 10.90(h) x 0.40(d)

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The Worship Workshop

Creative Ways to Design Worship Together

By Marcia McFee

Abingdon Press

Copyright © 2002 Abingdon Press
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4267-3053-5



Don't get tense at the mention of the word "evaluate." Inside that word is the root word "value." It is important to talk about what we value about our worship. In doing so, we remember the significance of the words and actions that give expression to our worship, and we begin to speak openly about our relationship to our God, whom we worship. It can be a wonderful way to deepen our relationship with each other as well.

There are many ways to evaluate our present worship. The following pages suggest several exercises that can guide your evaluation. However, the one ingredient that is necessary in all cases is a loving and caring environment where each person has a voice without fear of judgment. This environment cannot be assumed; it must be verbalized at the beginning of the group's time together. Start with prayer and an overt statement that everyone is invited to learn and dialogue together.

And remember, breathe.

In addition, remember to use language of affirmation and hope. This does not mean we should shy away from challenge, but a group that sees challenge as opportunity rather than obstacle will be able to go deeper in its discussions.

The next two pages, "I celebrate that worship at my church is ..." and "I pray that worship at my church will be ..." are worksheets that I often hand to people at the beginning of a workshop. I ask them to take a moment to list things they celebrate about their worship already (affirming what we are already doing), and what they pray for worship to be (using positive language to talk about what we yearn for). This is a good way for worship teams to get feedback from the congregation or simply get the conversation started about where they are concerning worship.

Here is another exercise. Place a large piece of paper on a wall or table where people enter with the title:




Invite people to use markers to write "graffiti style" words that complete the sentence, such as "friendly," "warm," "fun," "jazzed about mission," "beautiful." Later in the session substitute the word "worship" for "church" so that it reads, "Our worship is.... " Now look at the same words and discern if there is a discrepancy between how we identify ourselves and how we worship as a community.






Evaluating and Celebrating Our Worship

There are so many important questions to consider when evaluating and celebrating worship. Asking questions and discussing dreams and disappointments in a caring context is imperative in order to develop a clear, strong vision for the role of worship in our spiritual growth. In addition to focusing on whether worship holds our attention, whether it is interesting and inspirational, and whether it "meets our needs," we are called to reflect theologically on the scope and span of that which we proclaim in worship. Do we proclaim that which is "comfortable" to us? Do we choose content based on what we think people want to hear or experience? Do we have a healthy balance of comfort and challenge in worship?

The following group activity is designed to help us look at this question: "Are we proclaiming the fullness of the gospel to which we are called?"

1 Make copies of the "Worship has been for me ..." page for distribution to each person gathered.

2 Make sure everyone recalls the stories listed. If needed, read the story or have the group tell it in their own words.

3 With the whole group, brainstorm a list of descriptive/feeling words for each story. Each person should write all words offered on their paper. For example, "The Wedding Feast'" may have words such as "celebration," "invitation," "transformation." Whereas, "The Garden of Gethsemane" may include "agony," "earnest prayer," "meditative."

4 Divide into partners and together reflect on:

your own personal experience of worship (for example, "'The Sermon on the Mount' was emphasized in the church where I grew up because of a focus on preaching.")

your own worship preference (for example, "I wish worship was more celebratory like 'The Wedding Feast.'")

where your congregation fits in (for example, "We do 'The Sermon on the Mount' and 'The Road to Emmaus' [encounter with Christ] very well, but we don't model community and forgiveness like 'The Last Supper.'")

5 As a whole group once again, take a poll to compare answers. Discuss whether or not the fullness of the gospel story is reflected in your worship and why that may be the case. For example, is worship a place where we know we can celebrate and also mourn? be on a journey together? experience the abundance of God? be outraged at the injustices of the world? Are we afraid to laugh, cry, touch, sing, or proclaim? Why? Of course, all of these dynamics will not be evident in each service. It is important to remember that observing the seasons of the liturgical year can help us find opportunities to express the fullness of the gospel story.




We are all experts at worship! Simply by virtue of our experience of worshiping, we know how to recognize and design good worship. It's just that we don't always have the language to consciously talk about it. And we probably haven't spent much time analyzing our experiences. This exercise encourages us to engage in the act of remembering worship experiences that were:


There is so much that goes into designing good worship, but we can discover what we already know by recalling and analyzing worship experiences whose equations were "M2." You know what kind of services I'm talking about! They are services that you can still recall and in doing so you get goose bumps because the experience touched you in a deep way.

So, in partners or small groups (or if it is a small group to begin with, you might choose to do this together), briefly describe a service that stuck with you—that was meaningful and memorable. Write these under the "Yes! Here is an example" section on the next page. Then describe what happened. What images, words, or actions do you remember specifically? Write these things under the "What about the experience made it..." section. Do this with as many services as you have time or memory for!

Now it is time to analyze and reflect. We can glean larger concepts and characteristics from specific examples and details.


They list these types of memories about it:

* the church was decorated beautifully

* the story of the birth was acted out

* children were involved in the service

* taking communion in candlelight was awesome

Now, what characteristics could we name from this example?

* we are hungry for visuals that create a worshipful environment

* dramatizing the story helps us experience its power and meaning

* intergenerational worship feels more like everyone is involved

* we are hungry for some mystery and awe in our worship

All of these things, then, can help us create more meaningful and memorable worship in the future. It's not that we recreate old services, but we keep the equation of good worship in mind as we design.


Yes! Here is an example:




A Checkup for the Body of Christ

Have you ever left a worship team meeting exhausted? feeling like you got nowhere? wondering if anything will ever happen to get certain people to cross "party lines"? Whether people are of differing generations or theological backgrounds, there are always disagreements about how to worship. If this feels like your church, the following exercise, "Diagnosis: Worship," may help your worship team get to the bottom of the matters that keep them stagnant. This metaphorical device is one that I have found helpful.

Many of us don't talk very much in our worship teams about the "health" of our worship practices, our understanding of those practices, and our relationship to each other. But any conflict can be seen as creating "dis-ease" among us. Instead of staying focused on the symptoms, do a thorough checkup to see what kind of remedy can be proposed (and don't forget, there is always more than one way to treat a disease). For additional help, a wonderful resource on the subject is Trouble at the Table: Gathering the Tribes for Worship by Tom Troeger and Carol Doran. Read the following descriptions and make responses about your own church's worship on the handout (page 30).

1 Patient history: A doctor would never prescribe or diagnose without knowing something of the patient's medical history. Often our worship conflicts have roots in unresolved grief or old, unfinished issues. For example, we are a church with older charter members which has an influx of new members moving into a growing neighborhood.

2 Symptoms and the dis-ease these symptoms point to: Simply trying to "fix" a symptom without diagnosing the underlying problem is like putting a bandage on an infected wound. There may be an unspoken or even unconscious fear or misunderstanding behind a symptom. For example, the "symptom" of dis-ease could be a squabble over using different kinds of candles other than the brass candlesticks given "in memory of" Aunt Betty at the time of the start of the church. This squabble is not just about someone acting "inflexible." The disease itself is probably an underlying (and justified) fear that the past is being forgotten, that memories of the church and the contributions of its founding members are slipping away. Additionally, we have forgotten that the symbol (the light) is ultimately to remind us of Christ, not just Aunt Betty or not just to use "cool stuff." This points to problems with the understanding of symbolism. The theology of "stuff" (as I call it) is lacking depth.

3 Emergency procedures: Recognizing what the symptoms point to is the first step to resolving the conflict. What else must be done immediately in order to begin to heal? In our example, the worship team could prepare a service of remembrance and celebration where the stories of the beginnings of the church are handed down to the new "generation" (including how Aunt Betty herself was the light of Christ to many people). All Saints Sunday is a great time for this. Make a tradition of getting out all of the memorial gifts as well as pictures and stories for display that day. Putting Aunt Betty's candlesticks in the closet for a while will then be less traumatic and you can begin to use a diversity of materials for the symbol of the light of Christ in our midst. Additionally, education about why we use candles and the theological grounding for it will help us as a congregation to grow in our ability to worship God

4 Preventive medicine: Once we have come to an understanding about the root of the problem, what can we do to make sure the symptoms don't reoccur? For example, use a great variety of worship settings on the table for different seasons so that we don't have an "either/or" situation.

5 Nutritional information/balanced diet: Our tendency in change is to overdo it. Change happens slowly and the balance of old and new is needed in the first stages of a new way of doing things. For example, don't wait an entire year to bring the brass candlesticks back out for a Sunday or season.

6 Sense of well-being: The beauty of dealing with "dis-eases" in a healthy way is that we open the conversation to look at other aspects of our worship. How healthy and balanced are we in other areas? Can we use our successes to raise other issues (lovingly)? For example, perhaps talking about why we had conflict about the candles will help us talk about reasons why we experience tension with regard to certain music, texts, and actions (is the dis-ease nostalgia, unfamiliarity, fear?).










Change isn't easy (I bet you've never heard that before!). Any type of change must be accompanied with a great deal of love and care for one another. The most frequently asked question in my workshops is, "How do you go about making change without upsetting people?"

Well, of course, you can't control how everyone will react. But you can go about revitalizing worship in a more grassroots way that will make everyone feel more included and informed. Here are the four major things that I have found helpful in going about change.


Worship is the "work of the people," and as such should matter to people. We must be in the habit of talking about what matters to us—what is meaningful to us. I highly recommend that you don't try to "sneak" change into your worship. I believe we can give people more credit for flexibility given the chance to learn and talk about worship. When a level of trust is achieved, temporary change can be introduced without as much preparation as may be needed early in the process.


Don't try to pack in too many changes at once. There will be different degrees of readiness for change. Pay attention to growth of the "Body." Continue to emphasize the need to offer a diversity of ways to praise the Divine who is known in endless ways. Offer occasional special opportunities for alternative worship for those who are impatient for new things.


I can't stress this enough. I have seen such positive differences in congregations who study the history and theology of worship together. Always accompany changes with information about the theological, biblical, and historical significance of the new symbol or act.


Get more people involved in worship design and leadership. I believe that the team model of worship planning (pages 60-61) will help a lot by giving people a chance to learn and give input to worship. In a way, they take more ownership of what happens on Sunday morning. When we give of ourselves, we gain more from our participation.


Often churches jump to the conclusion that in order to settle worship "controversy," the solution of two services of different styles should be adopted. While this can be helpful, it is only one solution to the need for diversity and can sometimes simply mask the real underlying problem: a lack of commitment to understand one another deeply. Embark on a congregational study of worship using this book in order to dialogue in a more "healthy" atmosphere about what steps are needed. Then consider these options:

If outgrowing the sanctuary isn't the problem, diversifying the existing worship service may be possible with added trust and understanding. Also, adding special services with a diversity of expression during appropriate times in the liturgical year may be a way to enhance your church's worship life (e.g., weekly Taizé services during Lent or "praise" services from Easter to Pentecost).

By all means, consider starting another service! This can literally be a "growing" experience. What a blessing to have several opportunities for people to express their love of God. My advice is to consider it a mission endeavor. Get the support of the congregation in the way you might for a new church plant—prayers, money, and enthusiasm.


Excerpted from The Worship Workshop by Marcia McFee. Copyright © 2002 Abingdon Press. Excerpted by permission of Abingdon Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Meet the Author

Dr. Marcia McFee is an author, worship designer and leader, professor, preacher and artist. Her engaging and interactive style has been called "refreshing," "inspiring," and "unforgettable." Marcia combines her background and experience in professional companies of music, theater and dance with a variety of worship and preaching styles in order to bring a fresh experience of the Gospel to each worship setting. Marcia has provided worship design and leadership at numerous national and regional gatherings.

Marcia's passion for helping the church to worship God fully is especially directed toward the education of local congregations. She travels extensively in order to teach regional workshops that are accessible to congregational leaders and worship teams. These one-day workshops are usually hosted by a church, underwritten by district or conference bodies or by registration fees, and open to all churches in a particular area. Participants have commented that these workshops are inspirational as well as practical, no matter the "style" of worship practiced or denomination of the participants. Additionally, Marcia has begun a program of continuing education events in her home town of Lake Tahoe and an on-line subscription to season worship design help.

As well as her experience with local church worship, Marcia specializes in designing and leading conference worship. Over the last 18 years, she has coordinated worship for countless regional and agency conferences. Most recently, she designed and led 22 worship services over a 10 day period for the international quadrennial General Conference of the United Methodist Church.

Dr. McFee received a Master's of Theological Studies degree at Saint Paul School of Theology with a concentration in Preaching and Worship, where she recently received the Outstanding Graduate Award from the Alumni Association. She earned a Ph.D. in Liturgical Studies at the Graduate Theological Union with an allied field of Ethics. She has been a guest lecturer and adjunct faculty at nine seminaries and served as the North Texas Conference (UMC) Consultant on Worship & the Arts.

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