For any worship leader the place for announcements in the weekly worship gathering can be difficult to fit in. You want to ensure people are as informed as possible, but if left unchecked they can become simply another “commercial break” in people’s lives, or go on for an unnecessary amount of time. Alternatively, they can disrupt the flow of a meeting or cause people to switch off.
Constance Cherry, the author of The WorshipArchitect, conducted a little experiment around this very issue. Having the opportunity to visit a number of different churches over an extended period of time, and with a keen interest in the place of public scripture reading and prayer in corporate worship, Cherry’s experiment was to calculate the amount of time, as a percentage, devoted to different aspects of worship in a variety of churches. The details of the experiment and the results can be found here. It should be noted that this is not an exhaustive analysis and so the results should only be treated as indicative. However, whilst they don’t say everything, they do indeed say something. The name of the article gives much away; “My House Shall Be Called a House of…. Announcements.”
What is most startling is that in many instances more time was spent announcing things than was spent reading the Bible or praying. So what? You may ask. People do need to know what’s happening during the week, and church isn’t just about Sunday’s gathering. Yes, and yes. I agree. However, the time we devote to those elements of our corporate worship gathering do give a strong indication to everyone of what is most important to us. Furthermore, if this is happening week in, week out, then the message is being reinforced over and over again. And what is that message? That we’ll spend a short time reading the Bible together but a long time telling you about this week’s activities? We need to cut the prayer down a bit to advise you about a youth group event this Friday night?
Scarred into my memory are two occasions of worship in The Salvation Army. The original wounds that caused these scars came about when on both these occasions, in separate Corps, we didn’t have one reading from the Scriptures at all. Not even a verse. Of course, the announcements weren’t forgotten. Incredibly, on the first of these occasions, the preacher was sharing on Nehemiah 8 and how we should be “People of the Book” yet not once did we even open the book they were talking about! I asked the officer about this afterwards and they chuckled an embarrassed laughed and said “Oops.”
For me this is much more than a problem of time priorities, this is a theological problem. Our first doctrine states the following:
We believe that the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments were given by inspiration of God and that they only constitute the Divine rule of Christian faith and practice.
Well, it’s quite simple for me. If we do indeed believe this doctrine, and if indeed all of the other doctrines flow on from this first one, then the one place where this should be most evident is in our corporate worship. Sadly, it’s not. It’s been my experience that in many of our Corps very little time is devoted to the public reading of Scripture, and when it is it generally serves the purpose of reinforcing what the preacher has decided to share that day. Furthermore, if we want to encourage the individuals and small groups of our Corps to apply this to their lives by opening the word during the week then it’s imperative that it be exampled to them at their corporate gathering first.
My wife and I have the privilege of being the Corps Officers at Gosford Corps on the beautiful Central Coast of NSW at this time. We sought to apply our shared belief in Doctrine One to our corporate worship from the very beginning. To help in this we use the lectionary; and shared set of readings that are patterned on the life of Christ, follow the Christian calendar, and cover a variety of readings from the Bible. Each week the lectionary includes a reading from the Old Testament, a Psalm, a New Testament reading and a Gospel reading. We don’t necessarily use all of them every week, except the gospel since that is our story, but we do use more than one. The sermon each week is, more often than not, an exposition on one or more of the passages for that week.
The benefit of this has been that our people have become accustomed to multiple readings of Scripture during corporate worship. Oftentimes, some of the readings are never referred to again in the meeting. They are simply read because it is good to read and hear it. This also serves to help us, as the worship planners, avoid the examples I’ve shared about. These readings are the starting point for our planning every week. They form the skeletal structure upon which the other elements are added to after – songs, prayers, sermon, etc. If you start with the Scripture reading it is next to impossible to forget it.
More recently, we’ve been experimenting with the announcements. We shifted the location for the announcements to the end of the meeting, just before the final song. Instead of thinking of them as a “commercial break” they serve the purpose of being “opportunities for mission” in the coming week. In terms of the traditional fourfold order of worship (Gathering, Word, Response, Sending Forth), it makes much more sense for them to be located in the ‘Sending Forth;’ the place where the gathered community becomes the scattered community. Here we all “Go” into the world to be his people in the world. The announcements can then serve the purpose of inspiring the community to be involved in specific opportunities for mission in the coming days.
We also have instituted a couple of rules. Firstly, everything goes into the newsletter. For us, this is where all of our upcoming activities are shared with our congregation. Other churches may use a notice board, website or group email. Whatever option serves best, find something like that to fulfil this purpose. We refer people to our newsletter every week, making sure they know where they can get a copy, for all the information that they need to know about activities coming up. Any other announcements must relate to the whole congregation. If they only relate to one specific group in the congregation then it’s up to that group’s leader to inform the members in another way; email, personal invitation, phone calls, flyers, PowerPoint slides shown before the meeting etc. We avoid, as much as possible, making announcements for the sake of making announcements. There will always be exceptions to this rule, but we’re sticking to it as much as possible in order to teach our congregation about what we believe is important. The hour or so in which we are gathered together for worship will be devoted to one purpose – worship. We want to commune with God together as a congregation and history has shown that two of the main methods by which this has occurred has been through “hearing the word of the Lord” and through prayer. That is what is important to us. That is what “we believe.” That is what we will devote this time to.