One of the things I really enjoy about my job is the variety of worship that I see. Some of it is a sort of thing that I like, and some… less so, but usually when I see it, it is the best that parish can do: it is a confirmation or commissioning service. On these occasions a congregation – and especially those responsible for leading its worship – pull out all the stops and we have the finest music and the most elegant liturgy, with as many people participating, as possible. It’s a real privilege to be part of it.
But the question this raises is: do we give the best we can every Sunday? Should we?
Certainly, most of us like to think we do, but what constitutes ‘best practice’ on a Sunday morning? Is it different from ‘best practice’ on high days and holidays? What is ‘good worship’?
This is the subject of a new Grove book, Evaluating Worship. The author, Mark Earey, makes the point that in assessing the quality of our worship – specifically that worship that we do together, primarily on a Sunday morning – we must be careful not to mistake ‘the sort of thing I like’, for ‘good worship’. I recommend the book to you and won’t try and précis it here, except to highlight three points that spoke particularly to me:
1. The usefulness of some sort of disciplined audit every now and again. If we’re not careful, we can find ourselves assessing our church’s worship according to a stack of unconscious assumptions that are never challenged. It can be uncomfortable to scrutinise the offering that is so intimate and personal as our worship, but if we don’t “we risk digging ourselves and our worship deeper into the ruts they may be stuck in.”
2. The importance of thinking carefully about what worship is for. There are many models of worship – worship as an offering, worship as teaching, worship as encounter, worship as mission, worship as simply what we owe to God. When we start to think corporately about what makes for good worship, it’s worth considering what we’re trying to do before we try and do it. Myself, I don’t think any one model is enough, although I suspect if we try and tick every box we’re unlikely to achieve very much at all.
3. The fruit of our worship ought to be changed lives and changed communities. From whatever angle we take it, whatever we think worship is for, it ought to challenge us, change us. The worshipping community should be a place of charity, justice and truth. The presence of God permits nothing else.
So, prosaically, here are some bits and bobs which might help a congregation reflect on the worship that they’re offering (these links are also available on my page of links):
Worship audit resources on diocesan websites
Diocese of Manchester based on a Peterborough diocesan model.
Diocese of Blackburn
Other helpful resources from diocesan worship and liturgical groups
Diocese of Durham
Diocese of Sheffield, Peterborough – Material to help churches reimagine the offertory
Diocese of Leicester – A session on Welcoming the Newcomer helps churches reflect on which aspects of their worship (and church life) help or hinder their welcoming ministry
Download the accompanying checklist here
Diocese of St Albans – Advice on planning special services
Transforming worship – The Church of England – a (lengthy) report by the liturgical commission, worth reading.
Trouble at the Table: Gathering the Tribes for Worship published by Abingdon Press, by Carol Doran and Thomas H. Troeger
 Evaluating Worship, Mark Earey