Designing Worship with an Expansive Evangelical Impulse

Each month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. This month, Sarah Dianne Jones is curating a series written by our workshop leaders at the 2017 National Gathering. What excites them about the Gathering? What are they looking forward to sharing and discussing during their workshop? We invite you to join the conversation on Facebook and Twitter!

by Bob Henderson and Jessica Patchett

Four years ago, we invited our session to consider the possibility of launching a new, unique worship service. Five years earlier we had broadened our worship life by offering two distinct styles of worship, so the questions came rapid-fire: “Why? Aren’t the ones we have good enough? Won’t a new service simply steal people from one we already have?”

Our response was that even though our present services spanned the traditional/contemporary divide, they were still structured largely the same: a song or two of praise, a time of confession, community concerns and prayers, scripture, sermon and closing song.  

But what if we could have a service that intentionally fostered participation for the worshiper, regardless of their prior faith experience? What if we allowed prayers to be written, candles to be lighted, and feedback to the sermon to be spoken and discussed. What would happen if, each week, we offered a time for personal prayer with the minister? In other words, what if we designed a service that required no faith knowledge or training while inviting and expecting full participation?

The day we started our new service, our weekly worship attendance grew, but more importantly, the face of our congregation changed. We had long been an organ and choir robe church. Just a few years earlier we added a casual and contemporary dimension to the church. But now, we’re becoming a multi-racial, multi-faith, open-to-feeback-and-different-opinion church where seekers and searchers are taken on their own terms.

Why? Because God speaks to different people in different ways, and our families and neighborhoods are diverse – in age, political party, faith background, race, and sobriety. The people we love and care about span spectra that society says can’t be reconciled.

But we believed that if we loved all these different kinds of people, surely the Spirit of God could find a way to gather them into one congregation. That’s why we’re always inviting God to help us reform our worship. It’s why our new worship service is interactive and invitational, so that there would be space for people who aren’t just like ‘us’ to come in and shape it in a way that makes it theirs, too.

Two and a half years later, we’re so excited every time a young adult brings their parents to worship, proud to show them that they’ve found a church and a faith of their own. And, we’re equally delighted that older adults bless these same young adults with careful words of hard-won wisdom in the service’s sermon ‘talkback.’

As people live longer than ever before, we see this intergenerational cooperation and mutual blessing as a vital characteristic of the church in the 21st century and crucial for the success of any sustainable worship innovation.

We hope you’ll join us for our workshop. In the meantime, check out this invitation to our interactive service:

Designing Worship with an Expansive Evangelical Impulse” is being offered on Tuesday of the 2017 National Gathering during workshop block 3.


Bob Henderson, Senior Minister of Covenant Presbyterian in Charlotte, NC, has led vibrant, growing churches for more than 25 years. He enjoys curating worship that that both remains faithful to Reformed theology and speaks to contemporary people.

Jessica Patchett, Associate Minister at Covenant Presbyterian, has served in church leadership for nearly 10 years. She enjoys helping people explore the way of Jesus and articulate their own commitments of faith.

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