Putting Life into Worship
Renewing public worship, by the Revd Doug Chaplin, Vicar in Droitwich and the Diocesan Worship Advisor
I was quite surprised to find that our local Waitrose normally gets a mystery shopper visit and report once a week. I get the impression that this is normal for most supermarkets. They want us, their customers, to have a good
shopping experience, and they put a lot of effort into it. Shortly after I found this out, the Bishop asked me to take up the role of worship advisor, working on our diocesan priority of developing good worship. This coincidence made me think. How do we find out whether people have a good experience of worship in our churches? How do we improve that? And, to be blunt, what is "good worship" anyway? Some people will say that we simply can't prescribe what "good worship" is. It will depend entirely on what our particular tradition is, and the sincerity with which we approach God. Diversity and sincerity are both very important, especially in our Anglican tradition.
Nonetheless, I think we can identify some features of "good worship". It is about experiencing the presence of God. We may aim to do that by finding the right mix of prayer, praise, music, silence, and so on. We may look for the balance of Word and Sacrament and the use of both traditional and contemporary approaches. It may also be about very practical matters like making sure people can hear the readings, or are not so cold that they can't concentrate. But the question "Do we help each other experience God?" is a very important one to ask.
Good worship is about participation. The audience for most of the service is not the congregation but God. Everyone present is an actor, a worshipper. Some roles include reading, others leading prayer, or accompanying songs. Some will be very visible, others in the chorus. Others again will just say "Amen" clearly. How well do we encourage participation? A third marker is that good worship is related to real life. Picture an iceberg, with only a small part showing above water. Church services are the visible bit of our attempt to direct our whole lives to God by offering him our work, relationships, leisure, action and prayer (St Paul says "present your bodies, as a living sacrifice
... which is your spiritual worship" Rom 12:1 NRSV.) Is church worship an escape from real life, or a way of finding strength and encouragement to go out and live God's mission?
Those are some big questions, and I hope we can help each other ask them. There are materials available to help parishes explore how "good" worship is in some of the ways I've outlined here, even including ways of doing a "mystery worshipper" style of review. I hope we all want to improve the quality of what we offer God, and help each other experience God's presence. Contact if you want to explore how I or my colleagues can help you do that.
Doug Chaplin is a Vicar in the Droitwich Spa Team, Diocesan Director of Reader Training, Diocesan Worship Advisor and the author of Leading Common Worship Intercessions, Church House Publishing, 2009.