Members, Methods, and Mandates: Guidelines for forming a worship committee

Church worship can easily be destroyed by extremes. The same is true for the worship planning process. One extreme occurs when no one is ultimately in charge; the other occurs when everyone is. Establishing a worship committee can help churches avoid these extremes.

One of the assumptions stated in the introduction to this manual [Lift Up Your Hearts] is that the worship life of a congregation is under the supervision of the elders, who form the ruling body of the church. The elders usually delegate the primary role of worship leadership to the pastor and musicians. But they may also choose to delegate the task of worship planning to a committee that gives worship more careful consideration. A worship committee is in a key position to plan and evaluate worship meaningfully and regularly.

Composition of the Committee

A worship committee should be composed of members who represent the variety and diversity of the congregation (in age, personality, and style preferences) and who are able to work together. The committee should also include the pastor and one or two elders, so they can serve as the liaison between the committee and the supervising body Others regularly involved in leading worship should also be on the committee. For smaller congregations, this could involve one of the regular organists or pianists and the choir director. For larger churches, it could involve the staff music director and /or worship coordinator; the committee would then make recommendations to these staff members.

A set of clearly written guidelines should establish what the committees tasks are, to whom the committee is accountable, and what authorization it has to carry out its tasks. A method for reporting to the supervising body should be clearly spelled out.

Normally, worship committee appointments are made for two or three years, on a rotating basis, to provide both continuity and freshness. The size of the committee is determined by the scope of its responsibility. If all worship planning is to be done by the committee as a whole, more members will be needed; if worship planning is done by a separate subcommittee or task force, the committee can be smaller. Most worship committees range in size from seven to fifteen members.

If a worship committee finds its range of tasks too broad, it should consider appointing subcommittees or task forces to handle specific aspects of worship life. Task forces can be appointed to manage such matters as greeters and ushers, music ministry nursery staffing and supervision, sacraments, sound system, audio/ video ministry and visual arts. Each task force reports directly to the worship committee and is composed of one or two worship committee members plus other individuals who have interest or expertise in that area.

Function of the Committee

Included in this chapter are sample worship committee guidelines. Though there is room for variation, certain common elements must be considered.

■ Education. A task as far-reaching as worship planning requires a committee that takes its own process of learning and growth seriously. An effective committee should spend time studying and discussing worship and should encourage the congregation to do the same.

■ Policy. Some congregations are completely autonomous in planning worship. They have little besides their own tradition to guide them. Other congregations belong to denominations that establish worship guidelines—from the very broad to the very specific. Following their own denominational commitments, the worship committee should take the lead in establishing policies to guide the congregation in its worship life. Normally the supervising body will have to adopt these policies, but recommendations should originate with the worship committee.

■ Budgeting. Each year the worship committee should propose the annual worship budget to the congregation, because the committee is in the best position to know what funds it will need. Similarly, the committee is responsible for supervising the use of those funds accountably.

■ Coordination. When several people participate in planning and/or leading worship, someone needs to coordinate the teams efforts. The responsibility for coordination lies with the worship committee, though the committee may appoint a worship coordinator for given services. Some churches are moving toward a more formal appointment of a worship coordinator.

■ Brainstorming. The committee will occasionally need to step back from a structured agenda and turn itself into a think tank that develops creative ideas about the worship life of its congregation. Such sessions easily stimulate reflections that revitalize worship.

■ Planning. Each service, including special celebrations, must be scheduled and planned. [Note: The importance of advanced planning is discussed later in the manual.]

■ Evaluation. Most worshipers are quick to evaluate a service as they leave. The most helpful evaluations, however, are done thoughtf ully and corporately by a committee that deliberately sets itself to this task. Evaluations may be weekly or monthly but, to maintain vitality, the committee should judge the quality of recent services.

Structure of the Committee

Attention must be given to the method the committee uses to do its worship planning and the structure it needs to facilitate such planning. Four methods are currently in use in churches.

■ Committee of the Whole. Some churches do selective planning by the worship committee as a whole. The most typical pattern is for the committee to meet monthly to accomplish several tasks. The first part of the meeting is always set aside for two matters: First, an evaluation of the worship services of the past month, in which each member may share reflections. (This evaluation usually includes all aspects of the services except the sermon, which is more the responsibility of the elders.) Second, a planning session for selected upcoming services. Two or three services during the coming month are selected, and the theme and major components are set before the committee. The group then engages in a brainstorming session, offering ideas and suggestions that the pastor and music director use in their final planning.

■ Planning Subcommittee. Although evaluation of past worship services is the responsibility of the entire committee, detailed worship planning may be more effective if assigned to a subcommittee. This task force may meet monthly and work with a grid that examines several months at a time. Special services and all worship liturgies are the responsibility of this group, leaving the broader worship committee to focus on other matters.

■ Planning Teams. A growing number of planning teams meet weekly to do detailed planning. Just as choirs rehearse weekly so this group meets to finalize the details of the next Sunday and plan services for the following weeks. A number of people attend each meeting, including the pastor, organist, choir director, and others who may work with children, drama, or liturgy writing.

■ Rotating Planning Teams. Some congregations have worship committees that establish the worship calendar for the entire year and then assign teams to plan worship for a portion of the year. Teams must structure the liturgy for their assigned period, submit it to the worship committee for approval, and make all the necessary preparations— including inviting and preparing participants and providing materials.

Each congregation must discover which method will work best in its situation. The structure of the congregation, the availability of talented people, and the number of staff members will help determine the best method for your congregation.

The nonnegotiable, however, is that some clearly authorized group must be responsible and held accountable for meaningful worship planning and evaluation.

Tips for the Chairperson

It would be helpful for your worship committee to evaluate itself, its role, and the effectiveness of its structure on the basis of the material in this chapter. In one of your meetings, distribute copies of this chapter to each member and discuss the following questions. Fifteen to thirty minutes should be adequate.

For Discussion

  1. How clearly defined are the guidelines for your worship committee? Do all members understand their tasks? Are revisions necessary?
  2. Do you engage in worship evaluation? Could your evaluation and planning be done better if it were delegated to a subcommittee or task force? What criteria do you use in evaluating worship?
  3. What educational role has your committee taken in the last two years for itself? For the congregation? What steps need to be taken to better educate the congregation about worship?
References

Mast, Gregg. "Worship Committees: What Do They Do?" Reformed Worship 8:10-11.

Rozema, Robert. 'Planning for Worship." Reformed Worship 2:2-5.

Also consult the following sample worship committee mandates and agenda.

Excerpt

SAMPLE WORSHIP COMMITTEE MANDATE (1)

  1. General Purpose: To nurture the corporate worship life of this congregation as inspiring, celebrative, and centered around the faithful preaching of the Word of God.
  2. Accountability: The committee shall report to the elders of the church.
  3. Membership: The committee shall consist of eight to ten members and shall include the vice president of the council, who shall serve as chairperson; another elder; the senior pastor; the director of music; and other members of the congregation. The senior pastor and director of music shall have continuing membership on the committee.
  4. General Duties:
    — to plan regular services of worship that include the proclamation of the Word, confession, praise, prayer, giving of gifts, sacraments, and other special services
    — to regularly study the nature of Reformed worship in order to carry out its mandate intelligently and in an informed manner
    — to make arrangements for pulpit supply when needed
    — to make informative reports and recommendations, as necessary to the elders
    — to make necessary recommendations to the finance committee concerning budget needs for the coming year
    — to supervise and coordinate the work of the task forces
  5. Task Forces:
    — Audio/Video Ministry—to maintain and operate the sound and video system and record all worship services
    — Greeters—to identify and welcome visitors as they come to worship and provide them with helpful information
    — Music Ministry—to assist the music director in supervising, scheduling, and evaluating all dimensions of the music ministry
    — Nurseries—to maintain, staff, and supervise safe and secure nurseries during all worship services
    — Sacraments—to make preparations and arrangements for baptisms and Lord's Supper celebrations
    — Cassette Ministry—to retain a file of all recorded services for one year and make them available to borrow or purchase
    — Ushers—to greet and seat worshipers in an orderly, efficient, and pleasant manner
    — Visual Arts—to provide attractive and appropriate banners, flowers, and other seasonal decorations
    — Worship Planning—to assist worship leaders in planning selected worship services and engage in worship evaluations

SAMPLE WORSHIP COMMITTEE MANDATE (2)

  1. Scope of the Committee: This committee is responsible for all matters relating to the worship programs and activities of the church. Its objective shall be to ensure that each member of the congregation is striving to
    — learn what it means to worship God
    — establish regular times of devotion privately and with other believers
    — regularly attend and participate in worship services
    — exercise the faithful use of the sacraments.
  2. Composition of the Committee: The committee shall consist of the minister, one elder, one deacon, a musician, and at least two members of the congregation. The members of the congregation shall be appointed for a two-year term, subject to reappointment.
  3. 3. Duties:
    — to plan worship services that are theologically sound and spiritually uplifting
    — to study liturgical materials in order to be wisely informed about Reformed concepts of worship
    — to research, write, and produce materials for worship and instruction that will help members of the congregation learn more about worship and enable them to participate fully in all aspects of worship
    — to regularly evaluate the quality of worship services
    — to include the gifts of all members of the congregation—young and old, male and female—in the worship life of the congregation
    — to plan liturgies for such special occasions as professions of faith and the welcome of new members, and to plan the proper setting for the celebration of the sacraments of baptism and the Lord's Supper
    — to report to the council on a regular basis with proposals and evaluations
    — to meet quarterly with other resource persons to lay out long-range plans for worship during the approaching season of the church calendar
    — to interact with other committees on matters that affect worship services.

Sample Agenda for a Worship Committee Meeting

  1. Opening devotions by the chairperson
  2. Review of the last meetings minutes
  3. Worship planning activities
    — Review: The worship services of the past month are reviewed; each committee member is free to give suggestions and evaluations.
    — Planning: Major elements of coming worship services are set before the committee with free discussion about how to combine them and who and what to include.
  4. Task force reports—each task force reports on its activities, raises any concerns and questions, and seeks action on necessary matters.
  5. Study matters—a previously selected issue, article, or chapter is put before committee members for discussion and study. The purpose of this part of the meeting is to increase committee members' awareness of issues relating to worship.
  6. Miscellaneous matters
  7. Prayer and adjournment

This article is excerpted from Lift Up Your Hearts: Resources for Planning Worship, soon to be copuUished by the Christian Reformed Church and the Reformed Church in America.

The resources in this three-ring binder will equip worship planners to understand and apply the principles of Reformed worship and to plan and evaluate worship services on a weekly, seasonal, and annual basis Churches that buy one copy oftliis manual are permitted to copy the contents far use in their congregations. Available from CRC Publications (1-800-353-8300 US; 1-800-263-4252 CAN) and from the RCA Distribution Center (1-800-698-7221 or 616-638-7071).

Norma de Waal Malefyt (nld2@calvin.edu) is Resource Development Specialist in Congregational Song for the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship, Grand Rapids, Michigan.

 

Howard D. Vanderwell was the Resource Development Specialist of Pastoral Leadership for the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship, the author and editor of The Church of All Ages and Caring Worship: Helping Worship Leaders Provide Pastoral Care through the Liturgy, and co-author of Designing Worship Together.