What do you think of when you hear the term creative worship? Do you think of screens, a praise band and a more engaging service? This is a common misconception. The goal of creative worship isn’t to entertain or to be creative for the sake of creativity. Worship is always about God. As our trusty Book of Order tells us, “In worship the people of God acknowledge God present in the world and in their lives … In worship the faithful offer themselves to God and are equipped for God’s service in the world” (W-1.1001).
Worship, as the central act of our communities of faith, is the time when we teach and practice the command to “love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, soul and strength” and “to love your neighbor as yourself.”
But I often wonder if we are fully living out that command. Do we engage our heart, mind, soul and strength? Do we live out the command to love our neighbor through our hospitality? Do we shape and form a worship service that allows all ages to participate and connect with the love of God?
At the church I serve, we have sought new ways to use imagination and innovation in worship – not just for the sake of creativity, but to help folks connect with the Creator. Creative worship is about engaging the senses, bringing to life the Word of God, experiencing the Holy in new ways – all for the sake of glorifying God.
As someone with an education background, I can’t help but think about worship without considering learning styles and multiple intelligences. Now I know that worship isn’t necessarily about “learning,” but I do think it is the primary form of Christian education in churches. I also think that we worship best when we are fully engaged, when we love God with our hearts, minds, souls and bodies.
So as we approach the Word of God each week in preparation for worship, do we pray, reflect and think about the ways we use the different learning styles or intelligences? Here are some ideas that go along with the intelligences that Howard Gardner identified.
Linguistic intelligence (using words effectively) – Have the congregation write their own prayers on pieces of paper to take home or bring forward. Offer white space on bulletins for notes or doodling.
Visual-spatial (use of physical space) – Visually communicate the Scripture passages or themes in the sanctuary through art or other items. Pour water into the font during the confession. Invite an artist to bring the Word to life during the readings.
Bodily-kinesthetic (use of body, hands-on learning) –Take communion by intinction. Pass out play dough to shape while you talk about God the potter. Color prayer mandalas. Invite folks to dip their hands in the font. Use prayer stations throughout your space.
Musical – Teach new music, offering variety in both style and culture (The “Glory to God” hymnal has great options). Pass out rhythm instruments. Allow time for listening and participating in music.
Interpersonal (interacting with others) – Offer a time of discussion during or after the sermon. Give space for congregants to voice their prayer concerns. Provide a time of hospitality before or after the service.
Intrapersonal (understanding one’s self) – Provide times of silence. Allow space for self-reflection. Encourage journaling.
Logical-Mathematical (capacity to use numbers, patterns effectively) – Allow your theme and/or the Scripture passage to be evident from beginning to end in the music, liturgy and space. Give instructions in the bulletin so worshippers know what to expect. Be specific in the prayer of confession and include numbers; if we are confessing our destruction of the planet, then spell out how many millions of water bottles we throw away, the percentage of fresh water that is available for use or how many animals are threatened with extinction.
There are so many more ideas in creative worship – the options are endless. But remember, creative worship doesn’t mean throwing out everything we’ve always done. I love the shape of Reformed worship and the movements of Gathering, Proclaiming, Responding and Sending. I also love the freedom “to play” within those movements. Each week I attempt the overwhelming challenge of trying to bring Scripture to life, to seek ways to help the congregation engage their whole beings in worship, to allow space for people to experience the Holy. We do this not for the sake of creativity, but so we might glorify and love God with our hearts, minds, souls and bodies.
KRISTIN STROBLE serves as the pastor of Heritage Presbyterian Church in Youngstown, Ohio. She enjoys coffee, books, running and spending time outdoors.