Worship should reflect the questions people are asking.
For example: After a national or local tragedy, it would be artificial to present worship that ignored the trauma that people are feeling. After a spate of deaths, or some high-profile bouts of illness, a healthy church will want to respond publicly, not just go about “business as usual.”
A congregation with many young families will want to address issues common to young families, such as life-purpose, concern about public schools, time and money management.
During the holidays, we know the pressures people feel — financial, grief, time, loneliness — and should address those openly in worship.
Preachers should speak to the questions people are asking. Any good sermon stitches together three elements: Scripture, people’s lives, and events in the larger world. A “Listening Church” sermon would start with the questions people are asking, such as “Who is God” or “Why do people suffer,” and then seek responses in Scripture and in experience.
This happens naturally during a community crisis. At other times, it can help to identify the question being addressed, to show that this is a pressing matter to some congregants and therefore of concern to all.
Ground worship design in the questions people are asking.
Some questions lend themselves to liturgical expression. For example: If people are asking about suffering, a service can include ministry of healing, songs about suffering, message of God’s steadfastness and our hope. If people are asking about life purpose, a service can include baptismal or membership covenant, witnesses to faith at work in daily work and life, music about mission. Questions that reflect interests of children — often shared by adults — could form the basis for a children-led liturgy.
Some questions go beyond words. Questions about hope or loneliness could benefit from expression in dance, art or chamber music.
Instead of having every Sunday service be alike, planners can vary content and tone to reflect different sorts of questions.
Tom Ehrich is a writer, consultant, and leader of workshops. An Episcopal priest, he lives in Durham, N.C. The church wellness project may be found at http://www.churchwellness.com