Shaping Vertical Habits

Daybreak Community Church, Valparaiso, Indiana

Even here, people come for a church service,” says Pastor Rob Knol, standing at the back of the gym of the Boys and Girls Club in Valparaiso, Indiana, where Daybreak Community Church has just completed its worship service.

Even here—where the seats stretch from one free throw line to the other, where a basketball hoop hovers over the praise team’s instruments and speakers, where the backdrop is a mosaic of sponsors of the Boys and Girls Club pitching real estate and juicy hamburgers. Even here, worshipers hunger to be surrounded by cues and reminders of what worship is.

“We have a huge contingent of people from Catholic or Lutheran backgrounds,” says David Vander Woude, coordinator of Worship Arts and Operations at Daybreak. “They’re used to churches that are generally large and very nice—places that they can say, ‘That’s our church building.’ While we don’t have that, we realize that we need to try to create a place that feels like they’re going into a place of worship—while realizing that we can worship anywhere.”

As part of a “Vertical Habits” grant from the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship, Daybreak commissioned four banners to hang in the gym—one for each of four “vertical habits” identified in a series the church held last spring: adoring, confessing, thanking, and requesting. (For more about vertical habits, go to The banners were made by Gilbert Contreras, an artist from Daybreak’s parent church: Crossroads Community Church of Schererville, Indiana.

The banners beautifully recontextualize the gym (which was built on to a nineteenth-century school building that now houses the Boys and Girls Club) as a worship space. Beneath the garish and glaring sponsor logos, the banners are subtle, intriguing, and invite reflection. Rather than the bold letters of the ads in the gym, the banners use a delicate sans serif font (see page 31).

On the beige “adoring” banner, a silhouette hoists his or her hands toward heaven (the artist made all figures unidentifiable by race or gender, so as to include all worshipers). The “confessing” banner is inky blue, with a silhouette kneeling and clutching its hands to its chest. The “requesting” banner has a similar pose, but it is peaceful, without anguish. In the “thanking” banner, the figure has one arm outstretched and the other raised to heaven, as though one hand were receiving and the other giving gratitude.

The banners help frame the space, but they also surround worshipers with constant reminders of what worship is. They’re part instruction manual for new worshipers, part cheat sheet for lifelong worshipers who need constant reminders.

“The images help to visually depict what we’re talking about,” Vander Woude says. “That has definitely been a big help. We’ve had a lot of people say to us, ‘I feel more like I’m in an environment where I’m ready for these things.’”

Vertical Habits as a Way of Life

The Vertical Habits series did more than just shape Sunday worship, though. The series aimed to nourish the idea of worship as formative as well as expressive—a way of life rather than a discrete event.

“The intent was to talk about a life of worship and what it looks like. How do we encourage it, not just on Sunday corporately, but also throughout the week, wherever we are?” Vander Woude said. “At Daybreak, we have people from a lot of different backgrounds, and we wanted to be sure that we share these particular elements, and have people see how each part is important in our lives, not just when we go to church.”

“It encouraged an attitude of praise as a lifestyle, rather than just on Sunday morning,” said member Bob Haan. “Sometimes you really want to [praise], sometimes you only do it out of obligation, but when it becomes a habit, you get the results despite that fact.”

“It was a great help,” Knol says. “We invite people to worship, but we don’t always explain what it is. . . . If it doesn’t make sense, if it doesn’t relate, people won’t put up with it.”

The Vertical Habits series also fostered a more holistic outlook on ministry at Daybreak, Vander Woude said. “Like a lot of church plants, we tend to want to have great programs and resources available,” he said. “But do we get hung up on resources? Are they really connecting with people? Are people being drawn into the presence of God, and into a life-changing relationship with Jesus Christ? With Vertical Habits, I really started thinking about that much deeper than I ever had.”

Vander Woude said the Vertical Habits series helped Daybreak focus on its existing members as well as on potential members. “At first, it was strictly all about the visitor, or the person that was far from God,” he said. “It still is, but while keeping in mind those who are a little further along on that journey. We asked ourselves, How do we develop our corporate worship so that it is meaningful for the people we have, while keeping our vision of reaching out to the lost? That’s been the challenge.”

Fostering a Balance

As part of the series, Knol preached a sermon on each of the four habits and handed out daily devotions on each habit that were written by church members. Daybreak also recorded a CD of nine songs related to the Vertical Habits series; the images of the banners were include on the CD cover.

Vander Woude said the series helped foster a sense of balance in Daybreak’s worship. “It’s real easy, probably in general, but especially in modern worship today, to get all wrapped up in praise and adoration, and forget about these other very important things,” Vander Woude said, “We all have things to be grateful for, but we also all have things that we just don’t get right, and we need to confess them and lay them down before God and others. If we’re not working to be honest about that and creating an environment for that to happen, we are missing worship altogether.”

The series also led to a balance in worship planning. VanderWoude says his planning team has started to look harder at what might be missing from a service.

“In our worship planning, we make sure that we look for open holes that shouldn’t be there, such as skipping over a time of confession,” he said. “We’re much more deliberate now about filling those holes.”

Worship doesn’t feel overly calculated at Daybreak, though. The opening songs are interspersed with VanderWoude’s prayer of confession, which leads to the offering (accompanied by a track from the Vertical Habits CD) and then to Knol’s message on the Ten Commandments.

This week the lesson is on the commandment “honor your father and your mother.” Knol addresses his sermon to all children, in order to include both the children present and adults who don’t have children. He makes parents—especially their foibles and failings—a common denominator.

Knol plays a video clip from the movie Nanny McPhee, in which the father (played by Colin Firth) responds to his son’s request to talk by harshly hushing him and sending him away. The video fades in as the PowerPoint Scripture text fades out, softening the transition from preacher to video and then back again. Knol also holds up a big red tag that came with a piece of discount clothing he bought that week. It says “As Is.” “Parents come with ‘As Is’ tags,” Knol says, to laughter.

But we are commanded to honor our parents. To honor them means to assign them worth, and to choose to see the best in them as a way of giving God gratitude, Knol says. He then voices the burning question of listeners whose parents were abusive or absent: “How do you honor the unhonorable?” You honestly confront the issue, and maybe the person, rather than pretend they’re flawless, Knol says. But you still seek out some shred of good in them. He notes that Peter wrote “Honor the emperor” (1 Peter 2:17) at a time when the emperor was Nero, the fiercely cruel persecutor of Christians.

Honoring others, Knol concludes, is also a way of asking people to “look at the ‘As Is’ tag on me,” and to ask ourselves, “Does the life I live encourage honor from others?”

Knol’s sermon, which is more topical than exegetical, does have things to teach longtime believers, but he uses media and other illustrations, and strips his sermon of theological vocabulary, in order to communicate to new worshipers.

“I have a heart for ministry to the unchurched,” says Knol after the service. He recalls meeting with an atheist law student in a local coffee shop to run his sermons-in-progress by her, asking what questions she had. Knol writes on his information card from Christian Reformed Home Missions that for him and his wife Linda, “There is nothing else we would rather do than create a place where people far from God can come to know and experience the life
Jesus Christ describes in John 10:10—abundant life.”



About Daybreak

  • Founded in 2002 (Grand Opening), church plant of
    Crossroads Community Church
  • 79 members, 35 regular attendees
  • 2 full-time staff (pastor, director of worship arts and operations)
  • Services: 10:00 a.m. Sundays

Vision statement: Daybreak Community Church is a place that helps people connect with a God of new beginnings, new hope, and new opportunities to live life to the full. Through celebrative worship, relevant teaching, a contemporary style including media and the arts, and small groups, people will discover their gifts and purpose in life. Daybreak focuses on people who are without a connected relationship to Jesus Christ.


Service Outline


“Hosanna” CH 296, SWM 29, WR 266

“The Old Rugged Cross” CH 296, WR 260

“Take My Life” CH 597, PH 391, PsH 288, SWM 226, SFL 74, TH 585, 586, WR 466




Lesson: “God’s Top Ten: See the Best in Others”

Song: “Let the Praises Ring”



Excerpt: Vertical Habits “Confessing” Devotional

Sin resembles [the] dead leaves blanketing my garden. When I don’t clear sin away, it chokes me so that the flowers of my heart can’t push through to the daylight. King David experienced the withering effects of sin. He wrote, “When I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long. For day and night your hand was heavy upon me” (Ps. 32:3-4). Sin weighs us down and prevents us from fully enjoying God. How can God come into our heart if it’s so covered with gunk that he can’t find the door? But when we confess our sins to God, the cool wind of forgiveness blows the dead leaves away.

—by Daybreak member Lisa Deam

For additional material from the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship, click here.

Nathan Bierma ( is Communications and Research Coordinator for the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship and adjunct professor of English at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Michigan. He is also a contributing writer to the Chicago Tribute and a contributing editor to Books & Culture  magazine.


Reformed Worship 82 © December 2006, Calvin Institute of Christian Worship. Used by permission.