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Worship Design: Template or Blank Sheet of Paper?

Nancy Beech discusses pros and cons of predictability.

I have been thinking a lot about templates lately – the Pros and the Cons. When I was leading a Worship/Arts team, our mantra was to surprise the congregation every week. We believed our job was to treat every Sunday like a blank sheet of paper, seeking how to craft an experience that would hopefully include moments when people would feel something deeply, connect with God, and ultimately walk out of church different from when they walked in. We looked at the options of tools in our toolbox – including vocal and instrumental music, Scripture reading, guided prayers, drama, video, dance, silence, confession, and congregational worship – and discerned week to week what the best content and flow would be for that Sunday. Predictability was our enemy. We never wanted people to be sure what was coming next so they could go on autopilot. Variety was a huge value for us.

But there is another point of view to consider. Some would argue for the comfort and confidence attenders can feel when they know what to expect. If your favorite television show has no template, if the murder doesn’t happen in the first minute of a Law and Order episode, a person could feel unsettled and disappointed. So if we go to a church with a fairly well established order of service, whether it is highly contemporary or a more traditional liturgical experience, we may show up hoping for the familiar in a world full of constant change and often unwelcome surprises. Maybe church should be a place where we are blessed with that sense of general confidence that if we bring a friend, we know exactly what to promise him or her.

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