In his book Planning Blended Worship, Robert Webber makes some key observations about the nature of worship in many churches. On one hand, he notes that some churches treat worship as a program, planning it as a series of disjointed acts. There may be some singing, a prayer, a sermon, more singing, and then dismissal, but no overarching narrative or connection between the elements.
On the other hand, Webber advocates for worship as an event, specifically centered on the narrative of Jesus Christ. In this approach, worship recounts and enacts the story of Christ’s mighty acts of salvation, looking back on his life, death, resurrection, and ascension, while also looking ahead to his promised return. Worship is thus God-oriented and Christ-focused.
To create an event-oriented flow, Webber outlines four main movements in worship: the gathering, the word, the table, and the sending. The gathering serves to assemble the church before God, directing focus to Him through songs proclaiming His nature and acknowledging His presence. This leads to the word, where God speaks through scripture and preaching, allowing intimate encounter with Him.
Next is the table, partaking in sacraments and Christ’s tangible presence, remembering his sacrifice and anticipating his return. Finally, the sending sends believers back into the world after this time with God, living as His people empowered by His Spirit. Just as we were gathered from our homes and workplaces, we are sent back to continue God’s story.
This parallels a social event like a dinner party. There is a narrative flow from welcome, to discussion, to meal, to goodbye. Worship likewise cultivates relationship and intimacy with God through Christ’s story. It is not simply a string of disjointed acts but an interconnected event uniting us with God’s presence. Evaluating our services with this lens can enrich their narrative quality. Are elements disjointed programs or do they flow to meet with Christ? Crafting an event-oriented worship emphasizes God’s narrative and equips us to live it out as we scatter once again.