Our administrative committee recently conducted pastoral evaluations which included congregational wide surveys about the general worship life of our church. Most of you are familiar with this and have had something similar done in your own church. I admit I have a love-hate relationship with these evaluations. I love the fact that people, especially people who are usually not vocal, or the regulars standing by the piano to “chat” before I even get off the bench, have a vehicle to share their thoughts and their quiet observations about worship. It’s a way to truly hear from the majority of the congregation and gauge the temperature of the group. But . . . wowzers they can be difficult to read and difficult to digest. Worship planning is a very intimate thing and when we plan services each week, we aren’t “plugging in songs” and “finding a nice Scripture text” for the assurance of pardon. We pour our hearts into these services. The liturgy flows out from our souls right into the google doc, spilling onto pages 2-4 of the bulletins. It’s an intimate thing and reading all sorts of suggestions, corrections and sometimes hurtful comments stings. Worship evaluations = love/hate relationship. Below is an article I wrote for our church’s newsletter after our last cycle of evaluations. Maybe there is a nugget of truth in here for you as you continue to plan and for your congregations as they continue to worship!
Worship Evaluation is Like a Glucose Monitor
Medical technology is truly amazing. I will never forget those first few days at home after Ben (my 7 year old son) was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes. We were pricking his fingers and checking his blood sugar at least 8-10 times a day and every drop of blood brought a rush of anxiety that his numbers would be too high or low out of range and would necessitate an immediate response. Four months later, a continuous glucose monitor arrived in the mail and brought with it the incredible ability to see Ben’s blood sugar from our cell phones 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. We can see his numbers, we can see if he is out of range, we can see which direction he is trending. It is remarkable.
We know it is time to change the sensor on the monitor or that something is faulty when we start to see a scattered, disjointed, “connect the dots” type of pattern instead of smooth rolling lines signaling consistency and accuracy. It’s terrifying when one dot appears above range, and 5 minutes later a dot appears well below range, triggering alarms. Yes we see highs and lows which are normal, but they are usually connected by gradual ascents and descents.
The first time I read through the results of the worship evaluation conducted by the administrative committee, I admit that it felt somewhat like looking at a “connect the dots.” I pulled out a blank sheet of paper and started graphing/grouping each result so it was easier to visualize the congregational feedback as a whole.
More lay congregational participation. A more streamlined service with better/quicker transitions. Pastor Meg/Katie are the only ones to lead liturgy. Involvement of at least one other to help with liturgy each week. Personal testimonies each week. Sanctuary banners only. Better use of space with art installments and commissioned works. Love that the service always ties closely around the theme of the message. Worship should be what inspires us and leads us to praise regardless of theme. Praise team. More traditional music. More variety in musical styles. More special music.
It is clear you all care deeply and are invested in our worship, and it’s important for you all to know that there is incredible range in your styles, preferences and tastes. The person who you sit next to this Sunday might have a completely different musical style from your own, and the person who you greet during the mutual greeting might have a completely different opinion about how our worship should be structured from week to week. So, how do we avoid a “connect the dots” scenario where you all feel like ping pong balls getting bounced back and forth between people’s preferences where only a percentage are happy on any given Sunday? How do we continue to gather together each week for worship, for communion, for fellowship? Here are a few thoughts I’ve gathered over the past few weeks . . . Just like Ben’s glucose monitor, when we are jumping all over the place trying to hit each random dot from week to week, there’s something going on that isn’t quite right.
The Holy Spirit Works in Many Ways
When things are right, we have consistent lines that naturally rise and fall to various points, but become gradually and smoothly. Maybe our worship practices can learn a lesson from the blood sugar. When we journey together, gradually going one direction pushing us to something new, then sweep back down in the other direction it is a lot easier to remain unified. Instead of leaping and diving, we commit to travel the road together, open to being stretched and pushed, recognizing that the Holy Spirit works in the familiar and the unfamiliar, the comfortable and the uncomfortable.
Find God Beyond Your Preferences
Just because worship might not be in your “style” on a particular week doesn’t mean that God’s hand is not at work in our service and in the hearts of those present, including you! Recognize that for some, this might be an incredibly meaningful worship experience; one that met the needs of their heart and soul. Find and name the places where God is at work in each service, regardless of your own preference. Look for ways to worship God even in the unfamiliar. Maybe this means sitting/standing quietly, listening to the sounds of praise around you.
Our congregation has always embraced and celebrated diversity. We gather together each week, coming with different stories, from different backgrounds, different political parties, different lives. But we still arrive at the same location, at the same time (sort of), to worship the same Lord and God, who graciously calls us to worship each week. Our diversity, including diversity in worship practices grows us, expands our views of God and God’s world and ultimately helps us to know more about God who hears the praises of ALL people. It lifts us, stretches us and hopefully unites us as we lift our voices and hearts in worship.
As we continue to worship together each week, my prayer is that we walk together, opening ourselves to new experiences and opportunities, finding comfort in the familiar and grace in the new. I pray that together we are not jumping from thing to thing, style to style, leaving some behind; but that we instead commit to worshiping consistently, lifting our voices as one in praise. As Ephesians 3 says, my prayer is that we “may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen!”