The Sunday Sample, Episode 117
Do you ever theme your services? A thread weaving its way through the service. It might be a topic, a Bible verse, or a spiritual idea bonding the different parts of the service together.
I’d like to share with you an example of one I put together for the Thames Valley Church of Christ and the reasons for doing so.
First, reasons for doing so
- Discipline. It provides a focus for every speaker, and the person putting together the songs.
- Creativity. Restrictions are an aid to creativity rather than a barrier.
- Variety. When we have a theme it stretches us to explore new ideas and sing songs we might not otherwise sing.
- Flow. A unifying idea helps each part of the service to flow from one to another. It enables greater concentration on the topic at hand since there is less interruption.
- Depth. When we pray about, preach on, sing about, commune and fellowship around a common idea we get deeper into that topic.
- Stickiness. A service with one main theme will be easily remembered. A church gathering with four or five separate thoughts in the sermon, welcome, communion, collection talk etc. will be more likely to be forgotten.
These services take more work. Given that we are often resource-light in our local congregations, it may not be possible or even desirable to theme every service. However, let me share with you what we are doing this year in Thames Valley.
We’ve made the decision to theme the first Sunday service in the month. These are our bigger gatherings when most of the the outlying congregations come together. Here below is the current list. You will see that some are yet to be decided:
- January-“Blessed are those who mourn”
- February-“You are the salt of the earth”
- March-International theme.
- April-yet to be decided.
- May-service themed by the Young Professionals.
- June-yet to be decided.
- July-outdoor church service and barbecue.
- August-yet to be decided.
- September-yet to be decided.
- October-Harvest theme.
- November-service themed by the Youth Ministry.
- December-yet to be decided
Second, the themed service from 5 January
Our theme verse was, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.” Here is the order of service:
- “Shout to the Lord”
- Reading of Matthew 5:4 while music transitioned from 1st to 2nd song – “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.”
- “10,000 reasons”
- “Blessed be your name” (Music was playing continuously through the first song, the reading, the second and third songs)
- Welcome and prayers themed on Matthew 5:4.
- Communion talk themed on Jesus mourning for us.
- Song performed while we take bread and wine.
- Talk before the contribution for HOPE worldwide themed on Matthew 5:4 and the words of the following song.
- “Lord you hear the cry (have mercy on us)”
- “In Christ alone”
- Sermon on Matthew 5:4.
- “Awesome God (my God is awesome)”
You will see that all the songs to a greater or lesser degree were themed on the issue of mourning and/or blessedness.
Afterwards, a good number of the congregation came up to me and other members of the worship team to thank us for creating an atmosphere conducive to healthy collective worship. Part of what they found helpful was the clarity of the theme and the fact that it was reinforced throughout the service.
Third, ideas for themes
- A Bible verse. Best to pick a verse rather than a long passage. For example, one of the Beatitudes, a line from a Psalm, a proverb, a pithy saying by Jesus or Paul.
- One of the members of the godhead: Father, Jesus, Spirit.
- One aspect of the fruit of the Spirit: “love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.” (Galatians 5:22–23 NIV11).
- A biblical topic: Faith, hope, love, doubt, worry, perseverance, discipline, comfort, new life, repentance, discipleship, fellowship, gratitude. The list is almost endless!
- A biblical character: You could theme a service around the life of Moses, Abraham, the apostle Paul etc.
- A biblical event: The cross, the trial of Jesus, Pentecost, the Last Supper, the commissioning of the temple, the exodus, giving of the law…
- Biblical objects: I’ve done services themed on bread (Jesus as the bread of life) and nails (the nails which held Jesus to the cross). What about trees, birds, lambs, mountains etc?
- Topics taken from the world: Politics, the environment, celebrity, etc.. There is much in the Scriptures which addresses all of these and more.
I’m going to stop there. The longer I’ve sat here typing, the more I realise there is an inexhaustible supply of themes available. I’ve inspired myself to think about potential themes for some of our services later this year in Watford and Thames Valley!
Questions for today: “Have you tried theming some of your services? If not, would you consider trying one or two and letting me know how they go? If you have themed services, what have you found to have been the most helpful things to do, and some things to avoid?”
By the way, did you hear the previous Sunday sample? I’ve joined the “12 song challenge” at Resound Worship. I committed myself to writing 12 songs this year. Many thanks to Simon who sent me one of his songs. Let’s take our courage in our hands and write new material in 2020.
I have submitted my first song to the Resound community and have received some helpful for feedback. As a realist I’ve now submitted a second version of the song. I moved the opening vocals up a third and added greater harmonic variation. Are you writing songs? Why not join Resound?
Please add your comments on this week’s topic. We learn best when we learn in community.
Do you have a question about teaching the Bible? Is it theological, technical, practical? Send me your questions or suggestions. Here’s the email: email@example.com.
If you’d like a copy of my free eBook on spiritual disciplines, “How God grows His people”, sign up at my website: http://www.malcolmcox.org.
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“Worship the LORD with gladness; come before him with joyful songs.” (Psalms 100:2 NIV11)
God bless, Malcolm
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