Reflection #35 on Worship in the Contemporary American Church

This is post number 35 in a series of random reflections I have been amassing over the past couple of years since retiring from steady, local-church, “weekend warrior” worship ministry.  These ruminations are in no particular order, and they vary in significance.  I welcome discussion on any of them.

Reflection #35: There is no ideal place to put announcements in worship services, but, if you must have announcements, consider placing them at the end of the service.

I am now two-and-a-half years into an extended period of visiting churches around Chicagoland, what I have called “The Worship Leader Roadshow” in the Twittersphere.  And I have been collecting random observations along the way, delivering them to cyberspace via this blog.  One constant–across churches of different sizes and denominations–I’ve observed is that there is no good place to put the weekly announcements.

how-to-design-like-a-saint-475pxGather any group of worship leaders together, and eventually this subject comes up.  Some advocate for putting the announcements at the front of the service, before anything of greater substance transpires, but most end up admitting they make their way into the middle of the service somewhere, interrupting the flow and stifling momentum.  (As a staff member at several churches, I heard–more than once–that the announcements couldn’t be at the very beginning of the service because too many parishioners walked in late, and they would miss the important information.)  And even in this day and age of multiple information streams (websites, e-mail distribution lists, text alerts, Facebook), most of us still feel the need to take up valuable time in the midst of corporate worship articulating that which is readily available in numerous other locales.

Very few evangelical churches pursuing contemporary worship consider placing the announcements at the end of the service, but that, in my opinion, is the best place for them.  (Most Catholic churches I have attended over the years, put them there.)  Here are two reasons why:

Placing announcements at the end of the worship service gives greater emphasis to the final element of the traditional four-fold worship pattern, sending.  In this model, we are gathered, we are led to experience Word and Table, and finally we are sent.  (I use the passive voice for this sentence to underscore the important roles played by worship facilitators.)  Sent to do what?  In part, we are sent to fulfill the mission of the Church, generally speaking, and the church, specifically speaking.  The latter includes all the things that typically fill the time allotted for giving announcements: VBS, mission committee meetings, soup-kettle ministry, and a host of other worthy pursuits.  “Go and be the Church” exhortations/benedictions at the end of the service are natural spots for weekly announcements.

Placing announcements at the end of the worship service allows us to lead with our best stuff.  Journalists employ this concept routinely, and around newsrooms you’ll hear encouragement given not to “bury the lead” somewhere in the middle of your article.  My card-playing grandmother felt the same way, when during a game of Sheepshead, she’d throw the highest queen (i.e., highest trump card) she had while proclaiming, “Swing from the top!”  In similar fashion, relegating announcements to the end of the service puts them in their proper place, allowing significantly more important worship content to fill spaces of higher importance.  (When bookended with scrolling advertisements on the screens as people walk in, announcements made during the dismissal get highlighted twice.)

I have no ridiculous notions that end-of-service announcements will become the norm for contemporary American evangelical churches.  Too many constituents have what they perceive to be too much at stake to alter drastically de facto service orders, and too many worship pastors/leaders have too many other important battles to fight to die on this hill by themselves.  If senior church leadership can’t support worship leaders’ efforts to move what some would consider non-essential necessary evils out of the limelight, it’s not going to happen.  Is it the end of the world if announcements stay where most of us have them these days?  No, but any church that purports to place high value on corporate worship would do well to consider options that might make a few folks unhappy in order to pursue the greater corporate good.

The Lord be with you!

Coming next week (Lord willing): the importance of sacred space for contemporary worship. 

About Warren Anderson

Emmaus Road Worshipers is written by Dr. Warren Anderson, Director of the Demoss Center for Worship in the Performing Arts at Judson University (Elgin, Ill.), where he also directs the Judson University Choir. A Judson alumnus, he has served his alma mater in a number of capacities over the past 30+ years, especially the chapel ministry, which he led for 22 years. From 1982-2016, Dr. Anderson served six different churches--American Baptist (X2), Converge, Evangelical Free Church of America, Roman Catholic, and United Methodist--as a "weekend warrior" worship musician/pastor. He is a former member of the editorial board of Worship Leader magazine. The views expressed in this blog are not necessarily the views of Judson University.
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