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Experience-based worship

SUMMARY: Postmoderns long to be part of a faith community. Rather than looking at which style is best, worship leaders are finding each worship experience has its own flavor.

A key to capitalizing on emerging trends - high mobility of the U.S. population, the birth of the millennial generation, the aging of the baby boomers, the multi-ethnic society and the communications revolution - is to transcend the debate between traditional and contemporary worship.

Rather than looking at which style is the “best,” worship leaders are finding each worship experience has its own flavor. Even though the 9 a.m. and the 11 a.m. services may use the same order of worship, each has its own feel or mood because two different groups of people show up.

By understanding these differences and using them to create engaging worship experiences, congregations can do much to reshape their worship life. The creation of experience-based worship is based on a few key ideas.

Experience-based worship expresses a theme.
This theme runs through the entire worship experience. Planners build the worship experience by identifying the theme and the question based on Scripture. As the various elements of the worship experience are developed, this theme informs what is used and allows leaders to build an experience that speaks to the heart. Consider all of the senses when presenting a theme, especially auditory, visual and kinesthetic (feeling).

The worship experience has regular elements that attract and speak to specific people in your community.
These elements are offered every time the worship experience happens, which helps people feel connected to the ongoing worship ministry of your congregation. Craig K. Miller, author of NextChurch Now: Creating New Faith Communities, calls these your “normative” elements and points out that they can be the prelude, hymn and call to prayer (or the praise songs and a prayer) that begin every worship service.

Each time worship is offered, it is a drama.
This drama starts at the time of “gathering,” when people walk into the place of worship, not with the first song or prayer. It begins the moment someone comes onto the campus of your church. This is why welcoming is so important.

“Setting the stage” is the next part of the worship experience. This is when you offer the normative elements of the worship experience.

Next comes “the question,” which articulates the theme for the day. What is the key thought or idea around which the whole worship experience is centered? This question can be offered through a song, a drama, a video, a children’s message or at the start of the “proclamation” (sermon). Proclamation occurs as the preacher of the day grapples with this question and applies Scripture and insight to help people grow in faith.

“Response and call to ministry” challenge participants to live out the truths of the Christian faith. Communion, an invitational prayer or music can help people make a connection with God. “Sending forth” moves people out into the world to live as Christian disciples.

Preaching is focused on personal experience and building relationships with one another, with the larger world and with Jesus Christ.
One key purpose of preaching is to cast the vision of where the congregation is going in the future. This happens when the preacher listens to the community, the congregation and God. Through this process, a vision for ministry begins to be articulated, and people are challenged to help leadership shape this new vision. Preaching that communicates in today’s environment focuses on spiritual formation and shares a vision for a better future for individuals, the congregation and the world.

Related Resources:
For further information on Miller’s book and other worship ideas from the General Board of Discipleship, go to

Many software programs offer multimedia elements to theme building, and Igniting Ministry provides liturgies and music for expressing the theme of open hearts, minds and doors. In addition to these resources, Igniting Ministry’s planning and teaching materials also support experience-based worship with graphics, Scripture ideas, tips to illustrate themes and printed material linked to the advertising. The Living Our Promise Trainer’s Toolbox has a “WOW! Worship of Welcoming Session” with liturgies, song ideas and so forth. Many “Expression Packages” help congregations explore six weeks’ worth of theme ideas related to the topics of Journey, Gift, Prayer and Faith. For more information about these resources, check