Category Archives: Creative Worship Ideas

Finding God at Sturgis

Two weeks ago I went to the motorcycle rally at Sturgis, South Dakota with my husband. We were coming home on Saturday, and I was going to lead worship on Sunday. So I decided to preach on “Finding God at Sturgis.” All week, my husband and I were on the lookout for God, taking photographs, reflecting, and sharing ideas with one another.

During the sermon on Sunday, I shared the photographs we had taken.

Here’s the link to my sermon, and here’s the photos that I included.

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How I Design a Creative Worship Service

Main graphic for service on the Lord's Prayer

My philosophy, which I learned from the Midnight Oil guys, is to have one graphic up for the whole worship service. I’m trying to tell the story, to get a message across, so I want all the creative elements to reinforce that message. I use a faded copy of the graphic behind all words. (I do that in Photoshop Elements, a program that costs about $80.) I don’t put nature scenes behind the words, or change the photograph with each verse of a song, or have motion backgrounds, because again, I’m trying to get a message across, not use creative elements just so people will so, “Boy, that was cool.”

Last week I was preaching on the Lord’s Prayer. I went to WorshipHouse Media to see if they had any good videos, and I found one for about $20. I could also have created a slide show in Photoshop Elements, but I liked the video. It was the Lord’s Prayer with a piano background. I was at first planning on using it after I read the scripture and before I started preaching.

I needed to find out the heart (theme, thesis, main idea) of the sermon before I chose a graphic. I had one picked out at the beginning of the week, but my sermon went in another direction. So I found this one at the end of the week. You can find graphics anywhere. Take your own photographs. Use google to search for an image (be careful about copyright). Go to worship sites (like WorshipHouse Media or other free sites). I usually go to stock photography sites because I can find what I’m looking for easier and the photographs are very high quality. If you’re just projecting the photograph, a resolution of 72 dots per inch is good (the smaller the resolution the cheaper the photograph), but if you’re going to print it, 300 dots per inch is necessary. I’m now using photographs both for projecting and for printing on cards, so I get the higher quality. They cost me about $5-10.

I wasn’t going to put the scripture passage on the screen. I lean more towards fewer words and more graphics. But I was playing with our new system to find out how big the type needed to be to be able to see it well (over 40 point type). I put one verse per screen, and I practiced reading the scripture from the screen. I loved it, because I was able to have more eye contact with people. And several people said they appreciated having it on the screen. So I’ll probably do that in the future. Again, I used my washed out graphic as the background.

During the sermon, I decided to have a slide with my main graphic and the phrase of the Lord’s Prayer that I was speaking about at the time. I don’t generally plan to have an outline of my sermon on the screen, but this worked well.

I thought about putting the video right before the sermon. I also thought about putting it right after the sermon as a “visual meditation.” I could have also used it after the prayers of the people when we normally pray the Lord’s Prayer. (This week we sang the Lord’s Prayer. I’ve had several people asking for that. “Fresh Worship” doesn’t have to be high-tech. It can be just doing something in a little different way.) We were having communion, so I finally decided to use the video during communion. It was about 2 1/2 minutes, so I played it once while we passed out the bread, and again when we passed out the juice. I heard that one of our four-year-olds was fascinated by it, although he thought the man with the arms raised was an alien.

I want the technology to be invisible. I don’t want people saying, “Oh, that was a great piece of technology.” I want the technology to help us worship deeper and remember the message longer.

I’m a visual person, so designing worship like this comes naturally to me. And because I know where to find resources, and how to use the technology (computer, screens, MediaShout software, remote, etc.), I find it easy and nourishing to my soul. If it doesn’t come naturally to you, take it slow or find someone else to work with for whom it does come naturally.

Creative Worship Ideas: The Lord’s Prayer

I’m preaching on the Lord’s Prayer this week from Matthew (Matthew 6:7-15). We just put in our new projection system, so I’m thinking about visual elements to use in the service. Since I haven’t decided on the heart of the message, I haven’t yet picked out a graphic. I have chosen a video. It’s from worshiphousemedia.com, the site where I find lots of worship elements. I’m going to play it right after reading the scripture and right before I start preaching.

The Lord’s Prayer video

As I’m speaking about “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name” I might show this graphic on the screen. I created it at wordle.net.

Word cloud with names of God

Word cloud with names of God

Although I generally don’t put the scripture passage up on the screen as I’m reading it, and I certainly won’t start doing that until we have some people trained to run the computer, I might put each phrase of the passage up as I’m talking about it. Usually I use the screen for graphics rather than words, but having each phrase up might help people focus on it.

Creative Worship Ideas: Good Friday

One of my favorite Good Friday services is this service from Reformed Worship: And There Was Darkness: A Solemn Service for Good Friday. The heart of the service is a reading from the gospel of Luke, edited by Dennis Dewey. There are two readers who alternate telling the birth story and the crucifixion story of Jesus. When these two very familiar stories are read side by side, it helps you hear both of them in a new light.

Reader One: In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be enrolled. This was the first enrollment when Quirinius was governor of Syria.

Reader Two: Pilate then called together the chief priests and the rulers and the people and said to them, “You brought me this man as one who was perverting the people; and after examining him before you, behold, I did not find this man guilty of any of your charges against him. I will therefore chastise him and release him.

One: And all went to be enrolled to their own cities. And Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the city of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, to be enrolled with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child.

Two: But they were urgent, demanding with loud cries that he should be crucified. And their voices prevailed. So Pilate gave sentence that their demand should be granted. He released Barabbas, the man who had been thrown into prison for insurrection and murder, who they asked for, but Jesus he delivered up to their will.

One: And while they were there, the time came for her to be delivered.

Two: And when they came to the place which is called the skull, there they crucified him and two criminals—one on the right and one on the left. And Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”

Reformed Worship has lots of ideas for Holy Week and Easter worship services. All but the last two issues are searchable online to anyone. The two current issues are searchable by subscribers only.

Children’s Artwork

I’m watching Cokesbury’s Worship Connection Creative Worship conference on DVD. In the section with Tex Sample, he gives a great idea for using children’s artwork in worship.

Sample suggests having children draw pictures of the Bible stories that you will be using in worship. And then show those pictures on a screen with music playing in the background. A great way to teach children the Bible, involve them in worship, and make worship visual.

Using a Song as the Focus of Worship

The scripture passage I’m preaching on this Sunday is Luke 1:39-56, which includes the Magnificat, the Song of Mary. I’ve been playing around with ideas for the sermon. One is the theme of joy in the gospel of Luke. Another is God as Savior. Not just Jesus Christ, but God, too, has that role.

I knew that the Presbyterian Hymnal has a musical version of the Song of Mary. I’ve never sung it in church. It’s a bit of a difficult tune. Then I pulled out my copy of Gather, a contemporary hymnbook from GIA Music. I saw it last year when I went to our community’s Christmas Musicale held in St. Mary’s Catholic Church. (I always like to look at the books in the pews when I visit other churches. I get good ideas that way). Gather had “God Has Chosen Me” in it, one of my favorite songs, so I ordered a copy of the hymnbook as reference.

This year, again at the Christmas Musicale, the Catholic church choir performed “Canticle of the Turning.” It’s an Irish tune, and I love Irish music.

When I looked through Gather to find musical versions of the Magnificat (I figured a Catholic hymnbook would have loads to choose from), what did I find but “Canticle of the Turning.” Turns out that beautiful song was a musical version of the Song of Mary.

So I’m playing with ideas of how to incorporate it into our worship service this week. There’s a video with the song on YouTube (be careful with usage issues.) I’ve purchased a download of the song by Rory Cooney, Gary Daigle, and Theresa Donohoo. I’d like to show a video or play the song sometime during worship. Perhaps instead of reading that portion of scripture, or right after I read it and before the sermon. Or during the sermon. Or for the offertory. And I’m leaning toward using “the world is about to turn” as the theme of my sermon.

How you ever used a song as the focus of worship?

Advent Prayer Stations

Steve Taylor, over at sustain:if:able kiwi wrote a great post on prayer stations for Advent.

Ever since the suggestion was made at the Synod School Creative Worship class, I’ve been thinking about it. Perhaps now is the time.

Steve’s three suggestions are:

Scriptural prayer: Consider the words from Numbers 6:24-27. What strikes you? What questions would you like to ask the writer? In the white space, around the words, write or draw your comments and questions.

You could use any scripture passage you want, the same one throughout Advent or different ones each week, the sermon scripture or another scripture passage.

Intercession bowl: Write or draw the names of people and places you want to see blessed this Christmas. Place them in the bowl.

This sounds like a very easy one to start with. Our children’s Sunday school is using The Way of the Child, which has several stations for individual work. I could use the intercession bowl at one of the stations during Advent.

Fridge magnet prayers: The Bible is written in Hebrew and Greek. As words are translated, they take on different shades of meaning. This provides an opportunity for prayer and reflection. First, consider words of similar meaning.

(spread on table — lord/protector/saviour/redeemer/provider/the/and/you/us/his/her/with/in/be/bless/benedict/kiss/impart/watch/guard/keep/strengthen/sustain/protect/shine/glow/highlight/enlighten/illuminate/magnify/reflect/gracious/kind/merciful/give favour/hug/lift up/hold/extend/face/peace/shalom/tranquility/whole of life)

Second, arrange the words into your prayer of blessing. When you are satisfied with your work, write your prayer in the Advent journal. Please note that by writing out your prayer, we are asking your permission to display it publicly, perhaps on the church website or projected at a service or in an outside art installation.

Sometimes when we’re asked to write a prayer, we have a hard time. But if the words are already there and all we have to do is arrange them, I think more people would try. The prayers that Steve’s church came up with are beautiful.

Redeemer, wholeness of my life, illuminate your will and love
Provider, sustain me through life, provide me with your blessings
Protector, be gracious to me, be merciful
Saviour, show me your peace. Shalom.

The Lord give you his favour with the whole-of-life-shalom
The Lord bless you
Face to face. Amen

For Ill and old people; Merciful protector
Hold
Kiss
Keep
Guard
Watch in the whole of life

Have you ever set up prayer stations in worship or other places?

World Communion Sunday

How are we celebrating World Communion Sunday at First Presbyterian Church in Centerville, Iowa this Sunday?

At the beginning of worship, we’re showing the video for the Peacemaking Offering of the Presbyterian Church USA. (I tried to show it last Sunday, but the speaker wouldn’t work. Always have a Plan B for your technology. My Plan B — which I made up on the spot — was to briefly explain what the Offering was about.)

The congregation, with the help of the choir and a cantor, will sing “Come, All You People” from Sing the Faith. It’s a song from Zimbabwe, Africa. My congregation has heard it before on CD sung by the Embangweni, Malawi choir, but they’ve never sung it before. We’ll have an opening prayer, and then we’ll sing “Halle, Halle, Halleluja,” also from Sing the Faith. This song is from the Caribbean. Our children, who have been practicing playing rhythm instruments with the song, will join in.

For the children’s sermon, I’m going to talk about bread from different parts of the world, and how people from all over the world will be celebrating communion today. I’ve got tortillas, matza, a bagel, pretzels, rice cakes, a loaf of sour dough, and pita bread. This idea came from the children’s activity sheet from the Presbyterian Church resources.

During the Prayers of the People, we’ll be praying specifically for Malawi, Africa, Egypt, and El Salvador, because our congregation has a relationship with these three countries. I’ve been to Malawi on three mission trips, we support a mission co-worker in Egypt, and our Presbytery has a partnership with a parish in El Salvador. We’ll also be praying for the people of the Philippines. One way to pray for people all over the world is to use the Ecumenical Prayer Cycle. The Cycle lists countries to pray for each week, and gives information and prayer requests from each country.

We’ll receive communion by intinction, and we’ll have pieces of each of the different breads we used in the children’s sermon available. People can choose which bread to take. And we’ll project pictures of people from different countries as the organist is playing. The Calvin Institute of Christian Worship has a great section on worldwide worship.

What are you doing for World Communion Sunday? Post a comment with your ideas. I will create a page devoted to World Communion Sunday, and other seasons such as Advent and Lent, so that we can share our ideas with one another.

Using Simple Drama in Worship

Go with your strengths. If you don’t have people who are gifted and passionate about drama, don’t do it.

Drama is not my strength. I organized a “Last Supper” drama for Maundy Thursday one year. No one had speaking parts, but I still went crazy trying to organize it. Never again.

My friend Linda, on the other hand, is very talented in drama. She’s active in community theatre as an actor, playwright, and director. She’s turned the history of Marion, Illinois into a play. And she’s written quite a few short dramas for worship. I wish Linda were at my church. Perhaps someday she’ll write a post about how she started the drama ministry at her new church.

But there are ways you can use drama in worship even if you don’t have people like Linda.

Dramatize the Scripture Reading
I attended a seminar with Bible scholar F. Dale Bruner. Each morning he would teach a passage from the gospel of John. Before he taught, he would do a dramatic reading of the passage from memory, sometimes paraphrasing and adding simple motions. He said that when he taught in the Philippines, it was so hot that people kept falling asleep in his afternoon classes. So his wife, Kathy, suggested that he memorize the passage and his lecture. It brought the passage alive and kept people interested.

One of the steps I’ve added to my sermon preparation process is to read the passage out loud several times. If I do that every day before Sunday, I’ll be able to dramatize the passage even if I don’t memorize it completely.

Another simple way to dramatize Scripture is to have different voices reading different parts. The scripture I used last Sunday was Psalm 148. I read the odd verses, and the lay leader read the even verses. Very simple, yet we got several comments that people really liked it. Adding one or more voices helps people hear and understand the passage better.

For Palm/Passion Sunday last year, instead of a sermon, we did a dramatic reading of the whole passion story, using Eugene Peterson’s The Message. I read the narration, and the other voices came from people sitting in the congregation.

Reformed Worship
Readers Theater is when you have two or more people reading a script without movement, costumes, or memorization. It takes a little more work to coordinate, but is a good way to start adding simple drama.

The journal Reformed Worship is an excellent source of Readers Theater dramas. All but the last two issues are available online. It’s worth the price of the subscription.

John C. Bush uses a service for Good Friday at his church, And There Was Darkness. The heart of the service is two readers reading from the gospel of Luke, alternating between the birth narrative and the crucifixion. It’s one of the most powerful readings I’ve seen.

Bert Witvoet wrote two “dialogues with scripture” using the Ten Commandments and the 23rd Psalm. He says,

Here is a fresh approach to the reading of the Ten Commandments and of Psalm 23. People tend to tune out when they hear an overly familiar passage of Scripture. Juxtaposing the way our society expresses its views on moral issues with the commandments gives the reading fresh meaning…

Iona Resources
I’ve found the Iona books Cloth for the Cradle, Stages on the Way, and Present on Earth very helpful. They contain prayers, readings, scripts, and symbolic actions. The language is fresh. Even though I haven’t done much with the scripts, I’ve used many of the prayers and readings.

Special Seasons
Special seasons are a good time to incorporate drama into worship because people are a little more open to new things during Lent and Advent. Perhaps this Christmas would be a good time to try drama.

How do you incorporate drama into your worship?

More World Communion Sunday Ideas

I want my congregation to know that we worship with Christians around the world. So we use elements from other cultures in our services.

This Is the Good News
One idea is to use the song “This is the Good News” (#598 in the Presbyterian Hymnal). The tune is a Native American (Dakota) melody, and the words make a perfect affirmation of faith. When I used it in our alternative worship service, I played the recorder (an instrument that sounds similar to a Native American flute), and someone else led the people in saying the words together.

This is the good news which we received
in which we stand,
and by which we are saved:
that Christ died for our sins
according to the Scriptures,
that he was buried,
that He appeared to Peter,
then to the twelve and to many faithful witnesses.
We believe He is the Christ,
the Son of the Living God.
He is the first and the last,
the beginning and the end.
He is our Lord and our God. Amen.

The Maasai Creed
The second idea is also an affirmation of faith. It’s the Maasai Creed, which was written in the 1960s for the Maasai people of Africa. I heard about it on NPR’s Speaking of Faith.

We believe in the one High God, who out of love created the beautiful world and everything good in it. He created man and wanted man to be happy in the world. God loves the world and every nation and tribe on the earth. We have known this High God in the darkness, and now we know him in the light. God promised in the book of his word, the Bible, that he would save the world and all nations and tribes.

We believe that God made good his promise by sending his son, Jesus Christ, a man in the flesh, a Jew by tribe, born poor in a little village, who left his home and was always on safari doing good, curing people by the power of God, teaching about God and man, showing that the meaning of religion is love. He was rejected by his people, tortured and nailed hands and feet to a cross, and died. He was buried in the grave, but the hyenas did not touch him, and on the third day, he rose from that grave. He ascended to the skies. He is the Lord.

We believe that all our sins are forgiven through him. All who have faith in him must be sorry for their sins, be baptized in the Holy Spirit of God, live the rules of love, and share the bread together in love, to announce the good news to others until Jesus comes again. We are waiting for him. He is alive. He lives. This we believe. Amen.