5 Elements of a Great Worship Service

5 Elements of a Great Worship Service

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Video times referenced in this article:

  • 5:15 Cellist Sharon Mulfinger Gerber’s looped version of “Christ the Lord Is Risen Today”
  • 9:13 Tomlin’s “I Will Rise” ballad version opening an Easter praise set

God does what He does when He wants to. There’s no special formula to create a worship atmosphere. But with a humble heart, consider these ideas that will encourage an attitude of worship in the hearts of your people:

1. Pray.

This goes without saying, but how often do we get so caught up in the job of worship leading that we forget why we do what we do? Pray as you plan, pray as you perform. Pray that God will reveal Himself to the hearts of His people. Ever hear the saying “Work like it all depends on you and pray like it all depends on God”? I think that motto is fitting here. What good is all the work we do as worship leaders if the Lord isn’t in it? Why bother?

Ever had a Sunday when everything went like clockwork and the congregation yawned? Conversely, have you ever had things go completely wrong in your service, only to have God show up? (I think He does this to teach us that it’s all about Him, not us!) This isn’t an excuse to be lazy…I believe in working and planning ahead to avoid a glitch that might distract the congregation.

2. On a foundation of familiarity, throw in something different.

If you generally begin your music with up-tempo songs, try starting once in a while with a mid-tempo song or ballad to build tension, and follow it with songs that rock. This throws the congregation—they get a little antsy during a starting ballad and seem to release their pent up energy when the upbeat songs kick in.

Watch an example of this at Brookwood, the church where I play keys, at 9:13 in the above video. Worship pastor Brantley Smith programmed Tomlin’s ballad “I Will Rise” to start our Easter service. Notice how the song starts tenderly with vocalist Julio Ruiz, me on the piano and cellist Sharon Mulfinger Gerber (catch her spectacular pre-service rendition of “Christ the Lord” with her looping pedal at 5:15). The song slowly builds and continues into an upbeat Easter celebration.

3. Longer, heartfelt prayer.

I remember once when a woman on the praise team prayed a touching, spontaneous prayer in the middle of our praise set that gripped the congregation. I quietly played the keyboard while she prayed, transitioning into the key of the next song that was coming up.

You, as worship leader, don’t need to monopolize all the time speaking and praying. Let others you trust on your praise team participate. Find the people in your congregation and praise team that have the “gift of prayer.” You know, those people who seem to touch the heart of God with their eloquent prayers. I don’t mean the staid, ornate “O great God of the universe, we beseech Thee” type of prayers, either! Look for people who pray to God like He’s their best friend. This can be the most important time of your worship, where people truly interact with God. (Some people may tend to ramble. Have them focus on one idea in their prayer, perhaps the theme of the morning.)

4. Acoustic guitar.

On tender worship songs, try an extended intro featuring acoustic guitar. It’s amazing how this instrument can draw people in.

5. Familiar songs.

Some worship leaders get into the rut of constantly throwing new songs at the congregation and then wonder why nobody’s worshipping. Remember, we musical worship leaders are way ahead of the average person in the congregation. We’re tired of the latest worship songs before 99 percent of the congregation even know these songs exist (most Christians never step foot in a Christian bookstore OR listen to Christian radio, let alone care about the latest hot worship leader). “Open the Eyes of My Heart,” Paul Baloche’s mammoth worship hit written in 1997, is still in CCLI’s top 20!

A few years ago, I visited several Dallas megachurches in one weekend. I experienced great production, great music, but little worship going on and lots of performances. However, at one megachurch in particular, I remember very distinctly being drawn in and touched by the worship. Suddenly it hit me: I happened to know all the songs in the set, and I realized something important: People worship best with songs they know. It’s simply harder to worship when the mind is intent on learning a new tune, but the mind is freed up when the song is familiar and the heart can worship more easily.

Bottom Line: Determine this week to partner with God in making your church’s worship the best it can be!

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Don Chapman
Arranger/composer Don Chapman is the creative energy behind several websites devoted to contemporary worship: HymnCharts, WorshipFlow, and WorshipIdeas.com. He's the editor of the weekly WorshipIdeas newsletter that is read by over 50,000 worship leaders across the world.