Saturday, August 30, 2014

Transforming Sunday School and the Worship Service

My church, Trinity Lutheran Church in Pembroke Pines, Florida, is featured in this month's The LutheranThe issue's cover story is about transforming Sunday School, and our Worship Together service is one of the features of the article.

The article discusses the successes in transforming Sunday School, and I understand that focus.  I do want to stress that we didn't find the formula that's working now right away.

Our 9:45 service blends elements from Sunday School and a traditional worship service.  We have a liturgy that we follow most weeks.  Instead of a sermon, we have a puppet show or a reader's theatre or some sort of interactive approach--although occasionally we don't.  We break into small groups where we model a Faith 5 approach to faith development that families can practice in their homes.  Every other week, we have an arts/craft project of some kind.  We've just celebrated the second year of this approach.

Our church had been experimenting with re-making Sunday School for almost a decade before we came up with this approach.  Before I was a member, I was fascinated with the church's experiment with intergenerational Sunday School.  For a season after I became a member, we had fun with skits and improv in Sunday School.

But we found that there was an initial burst of enthusiasm, only to find that a few months later, we were down to one child or two.  We also found that those approaches took a lot of work in writing, preparing, and coordinating with all the volunteers.  It wasn't until we combined elements of Sunday School with elements of the worship service (like Communion, which we do every Sunday) that we found success.

We currently use resources from Faith Inkubators, which makes it much easier.  We have a team of lay leaders who take turns in developing the arts and crafts project and leading the service.  There's less risk of burn out when we share responsibility.

Our worship service is much more laid back, while at the same time being participatory.  The service has more in common with church camp services or Vacation Bible School than with the traditional service.  I confess to missing some of the high church style of traditional worship:  paraments that change, the hymns that remind me of my grandparents, the chanting of the Psalms.  But I love, love, love the sense of really knowing my fellow worshippers that our 9:45 service fosters.

And because we're a small worship group, we're very welcoming to visitors.  I worried it might be overwhelming, but people seem to jump right in.  We do make a point of telling visitors that they have more traditional options with our early service and our 11:00 a.m. service.  But often visitors come back to our service.

It wouldn't work for everyone in every setting.  And church history tells us that our approach won't always work for our church.  But I'm happy that it's working now.


Anonymous said...

Please rename your church as a Baptist 'church'.

You are not a Lutheran church or do you belong to a Lutheran organization.

Anonymous said...

You should share this with your pastor. It's from Lutheran Worship -- I hope it opens your eyes about what worship is about.

Our Lord speaks and we listen. His Word bestows what it says. Faith that is born from what is heard acknowledges the gifts received with eager thankfulness and praise. Music is drawn in­to this thankfulness and praise, enlarging and elevating the adoration of our gracious giver God. Saying back to Him what He has said to us, we repeat what is most true and sure. Most true and sure is His name, which He put upon us with the water of our Baptism. We are His. This we acknowledge at the beginning of the Divine Service. Where His name is, there is He. Before Him we acknowledge that we are sinners, and we plead for forgiveness. His forgiveness is given us, and we, freed and forgiven, acclaim Him as our great and gracious God as we apply to ourselves the words He has used to make Himself known to us.

The rhythm of our worship is from Him to us, and then from us back to Him. He gives His gifts, and together we receive and extol them. We build one another up as we speak to one another in psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs. Our Lord gives us His body to eat and His blood to drink. Finally His blessing moves us out into our calling, where His gifts have their fruition. How best to do this we may learn from His Word and from the way His Word has prompted His worship through the centuries. We are heirs of an astonishingly rich tradition. Each generation receives from those who went before and, in making that tradition of the Divine Service its own, adds what best may serve in its own day—the living heritage and something new. (Excerpted from Introduction to Lutheran Worship)