3 Ways to Skin a Cat or Start a Worship Service

May 7, 2010

3 Ways to Skin a Cat or Start a Worship Service
There's always more than one way!

1. Sneak up on the cat and just go for it...The Cold Opening

If you've ever been sucked into a dramatic T.V. show that ordinarily you have no interest in, chances are you were caught by a "cold opening." In the television world, it is one of the most effective devices for engaging unsuspecting viewers. The cold opening show comes on directly after the previous program without any interruption, and as a result, you might be hooked before the opening credits even identify the name of the show. I love cold openings because I love to be engaged without pre-show hype. 

I also love cold openings in worship services and have planned hundreds of them with reasonable success. So, what constitutes a cold opening in worship? 
• It happens without warning, fanfare, or preparation
• It "evolves" rather than starts
• It seems to be spontaneous and unbridled
• It happens because it can't help itself
• It attracts more than it instructs 
For example: 
—Have live piano playing while folks are entering the worship space—use lighting, if available, to "point" people in the direction of the action.
—Then, have a unseen singer hum (a flute would also work well) Amazing Grace with slowly building volume until it's at about 70 db.
—Then, have a teenager come to one side of the platform (Chancel) and start talking about his/her earliest remembrance of doing something truly sinful (lying to parents etc.) for no more than 60 seconds.
—Then, have a pastor come to the other side area of the platform and quote Romans 3:23 ("For all have sinned...") and talk about the paradox that we've all "done it," but are reluctant to admit it, over and against our doubt that anyone could truly love us if they knew the truth about us (no more than 90 seconds).
—Then, have the band, orchestra, or organ "take over" the piano and start leading the congregation into Amazing Grace as an opening hymn. Use the Chris Tomlin version if you've never tried it (or even if you have).
—Let the service proceed without referring back to your cold opening except to say that your theme for the day is the struggle we all have to let God find us and love us as we are.
2. Pretend to be the cat's friend...maybe tell a few jokes...The "Aw, Shucks..." Opening

The "Awe Shucks" opening is meant to disarm the congregation, to cozy up to them or show how relaxed your service style seems to be. But be very careful, you don't want to be so casual that it feels like people have come to an event that has no importance at all.

Here are some common mistakes in this approach...
—There comes a moment when congregations see joke-telling as a manipulative tool rather than being funny and endearing. Beware the savvy congregation—they're on to you!
—If you "howdy" someone too much, they'll stop paying attention to you—lead, for pete's sake!
—The "aw shucks" style upfront is a turnoff for some people in the exact same way that, for some personality types, it's uncomfortable to turn to their neighbors and say, "God loves you and so do I." 
—If you let people know that you're glad they're there, it might discount their resolve to be at worship because they felt called by God—not your ad in the paper or 15 second spot on late night television
Try this, instead (though I'm absolutely sure you could write a better one)...
"This is a time for us to be together in the best possible way—open, caring, full of courtesy (grace), lack of judgement (grace), and mutual encouragement (grace). We're here to share time, not monopolize it. Everything we do and say will probably be for our mutual benefit and certainly it's meant to be to the glory of God. That's not exactly the value by which most of us conducted ourselves during the week, but isn't it wonderful that God has provided this opportunity to fix that? We're here because He wants us here and we're simply answering His invitation to be with Him and worship Him. Let's combine our strengths and weaknesses to do the wonderful work of this hour."

3. Scare the poor cat to death—then you won't have to skin it at all...The "Shot from a Canon" Opening

Back in the day, I used to like starting worship services with something BIG and LOUD in order to get everyone's adrenaline up. It's O.K., but I'm not sure about my then motives any longer. Watch this video from North Point Media and prepare to be mortified about formulaic service planning. I laughed, I cried, I felt ashamed!

Every worship hour has to begin somehow. Make sure you have good thinking and praying behind how you start yours. Enjoy the creative process, but always plan to be respectful and obedient in giving God this particular moment in the week. Oh, and just leave the cat alone!


—Doug Lawrence, internationally recognized speaker, author, and advisor, helps churches assess and improve their skillfulness in creating engaging worship experiences by utilizing his more than 35 years of "deep trench" worship leadership in prominent mainline churches. You may reach him at dlawrenceconsult@mac.com. Or, if you wish, call 1-650-207-8240 for assessment information and scheduling.

Doug now teams with the slingshotgroup.net to place 
extraordinary worship leaders in extraordinary churches.


Topics: AV & Creative Arts, Commentary, Consulting, Evangelism & Outreach, Leadership, Music, Technology, Worship

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