Monday Morning Quarterback

Monday Morning Quarterback

Note: Monday Morning Quarterback is a recurring post that examines personal and pastoral events of Sunday. 

Today’s topic: improvisation.

One of the valuable contributions being made by NEXT Church is a push towards spontaneity and improvisation in worship. Mainline churches have relied heavily on printed orders of worship that clearly instruct worshipers in every move of a service, especially since the liturgical renewal movement of the 1960’s. That serves a critical hospitality function, as anyone who can read is able to follow printed prompts and join in printed responses.

But voices like Ashley Goff are pushing churches to drop the scripts and pick up some improv skills. To sit for 60 minutes listening passively or joining in now and again in precisely predetermined ways feels more and more out of joint for contemporary people. How, the question goes, can churches expect to incorporate the gifts of men and women who, Monday through Saturday, are blogging and DIYing their way through more and more of life when what we offer them is an hour long seminar or hymn sing?

It’s a complicated question, and there’s lots of nuance to be added, but I’m persuaded that the move to improv and spontaneity is the right one. So yesterday I tried some things. I asked for a raising of hands during the sermon. I tried the “Yes, Let’s” benediction again. But that’s not much. I still felt like I was doing a lot of one-way talking.

So here’s my question: if you’re a church leader, what are some of your favorite ways of “imrov”ing in worship? If you go to a church, what kind of balance do you expect between what the service dictates for you vs. what you’re invited to contribute of your own? And if church isn’t your thing, then what is the most invigorating kind of collective activity you participate in, and what makes it that way?

Thanks for your comments!


13 thoughts on “Monday Morning Quarterback

  1. improvisation requires trust and confidence. And congregational improvisation might especially need more spoonfed-dedness. We ARE on auto-pilot a bit because that is how we were trained to be.

    A low-hanging fruit of improv might be spontaneous applause during sections of the service. It feels as though we should applaud for the choir, musicians or testimonies…if it were contextualized as thanksgiving to God AND the person, that might feel comfortable for the congregation.

    the congregation kinda needs to know what is expected and to prepare to improvise. All good improv relies on practiced forms that are put into a new expression.

    …maybe you should enroll in the groundlings, Rocky…I bet you’d dig it…

  2. Thanks for starting my week with “Who’s Line is it Anyway?”
    This is a tough one for me. I want to be open to the movement of the Spirit (which is not the same as what you’re talking about, necessarily) but I have people in worship who are ‘recovering’ from pastors who liked to be “spontaneous” in ways that led people to not feel safe in worship.
    I think there is value in being able to trust and expect what will generally happen in worship. I think there is also value to shaking that up every so often.
    We’ve had a few days in worship where I’ve thrown a question out to the congregation in the middle of the sermon and asked people to talk to their neighbors about it. Then I bring them back together and ask if anyone wants to share. We’ve had good conversations in those moments. But I’ve also had visitors ask me “do you do that every week?”, and it made me realize that kind of unplanned worship may not be welcoming to visitors.

    And I remember liking the idea of the “yes lets” benediction. But I don’t remember what it was. Could you point me to that?

    • You prompt people with “Let’s go out into the world . . . ” and people yell out responses like, “To love our neighbor.” Then the congregation responds, “Yes, let’s!” I didn’t do it right though. Everybody yelled their responses at the same time.

      I grew up on that kind of spontaneity, and for my whole adult churchgoing life I have appreciated its opposite. Now I’m wondering about a middle ground. The world is different now, isn’t it?

      • Thanks for the reminder. Maybe I will try that this week.
        Yes. I feel more energy is headed toward getting us to go beyond our walls, which is a good thing. But how energy is spent within the church walls is closely related to how the sending goes…

  3. So I came from a church where when we got there, the only set congregational participation was the Lord’s Prayer and hymns, and the passsing of the peace at the end of the service. The pastors made upthe Call, confession and of course all prayers, often on the spot. It was a talking head service. (Also long not well-prepared sermons.) Not only could the congregation barely engage, the kids totally checked out. We worked hard to make interactive kid-friendly services at one service, and added liturgy back into the other. I was very successful, BUT it was not improv, AND it was a lot of work.

    • Maybe the structure of liturgy that is well designed and enjoys a broad ownership by the congregation is the thing you really need to have the kind of spontaneity that’s helpful. Maybe the old line about knowing the rules well enough to break them effectively applies here?

  4. Donna Supinger says:

    Appreciate spontaneous prayers. Pastor prays but will spontaneously call on diff people to pray also. Some
    times we have an hour long sing fest in our evening service but parishioners call out diff hymns to sing thus the service is spontaneous and dependent on who’s there and what they want. In the morning the sermon, praise and worship, and the meeting (blessing) of individuals are important. Everything else could be spontaneous. Then again I’m not Presbyterian so what I need from a service might be different.

    • I’m afraid “spontaneous” can often just be whatever the worship leader or pastor has in mind at the time, which, week-after-week, isn’t spontaneous at all. I remember those two hour mega church services we went to when I was a kid. They were quite proud of the fact that there was no service order and that you never really knew what God was going to do in worship. Only, God tended to “spontaneously” do the same things each week, usually around the time of the offering.

      I’m making an assumption about the level of interactivity that is helpful for people. Maybe I’m overreaching on that.

  5. Steverino says:

    This may be one of those intro v. extrovert things. I prefer to be ministered to by intelligent, challenging, thoughtful ministers, including the choir and organist, as well as the pastors. Others may like yelling their concerns in a mass scream that no one understands but seems enthusiastic. Hmmm, biased much? Anyway, I usually interpret ‘spontaneous as ‘poorly prepared.’ Am I too staid, or seeking a respite from the demands of my week?

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