Every Sunday about three hundred Christians gather to worship at Christ Church (PCA) in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Many of them grew up in other Protestant and evangelical traditions. They bring these backgrounds and ex periences with them, enabling the congregation to draw from the breadth and depth of the Christian tradition as they worship.
Worship is at the heart of Christ Church. The congregation was founded on and centered around the concept of worship and takes seriously its goal to involve all members in contributing to Sunday services.
Several factors contribute to this congregation's success in involving so many in planning and leading worship each week.
Committees. First, and perhaps most basic, is their system of planning. Most congregations depend on their pastor, organist, and several members who belong to a worship committee to plan services. Not so at Christ Church. In place of one worship committee, they have numerous smaller planning committees that involve a large part of the congregation. Each of these Smaller groups is responsible for planning three to five services per year.
The groups are composed of two to three members and the pastor. They meet a week or two prior to the service(s) in question and choose special music, readings, hymns, and other elements appropriate to the service's theme. A church-wide worship committee provides oversight and direction for these service-planning committees.
Gifts. The second factor that makes the participation idea so fruitful at Christ Church is the number of gifted members. Musicians and artists are understandably drawn to this group that encourages the use of gifts in worship. As a result, the congregation includes illustrators and designers as well as people accomplished in organ, piano, guitar, clarinet, flute, violin, and recorder.
People. Still another factor that contributes to the appeal of Christ Church's model is the involvement of all members of the congregation. Christ Church recognizes the importance that children have in worship and will, from time to time, bring them before the congregation to lead in a song and to offer prayer through movement and gesture as well as song. Sometimes the children are accompanied by a sacred dance group that leads the congregation in related gestures of prayer and praise to God.
The architecture of Christ Church is a melding of function with appropriate symbol. The sanctuary is dominated by a circular window dissected by vertical and horizontal beams that create an image of a Celtic cross.
Variety in Praise
Although the Trinity Hymnal serves as the congregation's primary hymnal and provides the group with the great hymns of previous centuries, much of their music comes from other sources. They look to the InterVarsity hymnal, Hymns II, for example, for selections from the mainstream of the American evangelical tradition. And on most Sundays one or more hymns from other traditions are reproduced in the bulletin.
The choir at Christ Church is called the ensemble, a group that plays a vital role in weekly worship. The ensemble may open a service, conclude a service, or offer a special musical selection in keeping with a particular theme or element of the service. The group's purpose is never perfunctory. They always offer music for a well-defined purpose.
The director of the ensemble works with the worship planning committees to coordinate the musical selections with the theme for each service. On Pentecost Sunday, for example, the ensemble might open the service with an invocation. Later in the service they might sing a hymn to the Holy Spirit antiphonally with the congregation. On another Sunday they might read a dramatic Scripture lesson.
Instrumental music is also common at Christ Church and, like the ensemble music, is closely integrated into the service.
Hearing God's Call
Worship, both in music and word, at Christ Church is a testimony to the bountiful gifts and
graces that God, through his Holy Spirit, bestows upon the church. Worshipers are reminded weekly that God has called them to bring to him the first-fruits of their lives—their many abilities and their time in careful preparation.
Worship Planning at Christ Church
I had asked if I could visit a Worship Planners' meeting to find out more about how Christ Church involved so many of its members in worship. Arriving a few minutes early, I stepped into the worship center to get a feel for the place. The flat cement floor had glued-down carpeting, but when I sang a few notes to try out the acoustics, chills ran down my spine. The sound of my voice filled the room.
In looking around I could see why. The carpeting was the only sound-absorbent surface in the room. All the walls (six sides) were plaster, and the high ceiling—flat on top and sloping on the sides—was made entirely of wood and supported by exposed steel girders. The many angles and reflective surfaces of plaster and wood combined to create a wonderful room for worship.
A few minutes later, I met in the pastor's study with the Worship Planners for the third Sunday in Advent. Present were Sheila Grubbs and Tammy Smith, both businesswomen, and Pastor Paul Engle. Sheila and Tammy have been involved in planning sessions for a few years— typically about three times a year for two successive services.
The weekly Worship Planners, I discovered, don't plan a service from scratch. Rather, they add substance to a framework created by the Worship Team—a group that consists of the pastor, an elder, a deaconess, and the music coordinator. The Worship Team had provided this group with a worship schedule for all of Advent that included Scripture and sermon titles (chosen three months in advance), the choral music (chosen two months in advance), and the Advent candle readings.
Pastor Engle opened the meeting with prayer and gave a synopsis of the sermon for the coming Sunday. From there the group proceeded to fill in details. They chose a call to worship and a prayer of confession. They chose the hymns and decided where the anthem would fit best li-turgically. The group also decided who would lead in the prayers, Scripture, and responsive reading, making sure that members of all ages were involved.
I asked the two women why they volunteered to participate in planning. Sheila told me, "Planning makes me much more aware of the whole service. Even when I haven't done the planning for a service, I watch for the theme and look to see how it all goes together." Tammy agreed, "Taking part in the planning process now and then gives me a greater appreciation of all the services at Christ Church. It helps to know that so much thought and planning goes into worship. The services I help plan are especially meaningful to me."