What does it mean to have good flow in worship?
For me, flow means:
- an uninterrupted experience
- continuous movement in one direction without bouncing around, pausing, or redirecting partway through
In contrast, a worship experience without flow may feel:
- disjointed or mismatched
- confusing or disconnected
- thrown together
The point is not to expect our Sunday services to be like a professional theatre production each week, but to do our best to create an experience that doesn’t detract or take away from God as the sole focus.
Think about that for a second: how are we pointing people to God all throughout our services? Are there times when we put the focus on ourselves or unknowingly create situations that are distracting for the congregation?
Often times, this is not necessarily about the elements in our services, but the transitions in between them.
"Good flow keeps people focused on worshiping God through the service elements instead of how we're getting from one element to the next." - Jon Nicol
With that in mind, here are three ways to create better flow in your worship services:
01 | Add traveling music.
Imagine with me:
You’re visiting a church in another city today. The choir just finished their morning anthem, the accompanist finishes playing, and there’s a moment of silence as everyone sighs with content. But suddenly, the moment is over as the choir begins making their way (rather haphazardly) back to the chancel pews, stomping up the steps, whispering to each other, as if they’re invisible. You watch, for 30 seconds or more, as they file back into their places and everyone freezes until the director gives the cue to sit all together. Then, the pastor steps forward to introduce the next thing in the service.
What went wrong?
It’s the dead space that gets me more than anything else. The awkward silence, the shuffling noises, the side comments.
Moving is part of the equation - I get it. But the problem is, we sometimes think that we shouldn’t move on to the next thing until everyone is back in place and that’s where I have to disagree. Moving might be a necessity, but it doesn’t have to be the focus. And not having anything else happen at those points in the service means we’re letting everyone get distracted and essentially giving them permission to let their minds wander.
Enter traveling music.
Traveling music is simple instrumental music that underscores a particular action.
It might be a simple 4-chord progression that you repeat as needed with different types of accompaniment patterns each time: blocked, arpeggiated, waltz-style, open 5ths, etc. You might vary the octave or improvise a simply right-hand melody each time. Or, you might use part of a hymn or song you just sang (or something you’re about to sing).
Related post: Creating Unique Musical Underscores for Worship
You might play traveling music before and after the anthem to accompany the choir moving down from the chancel. You might use it when the children come down front for the Children’s Message (and again when they leave for Sunday School). You might use it when the ushers come forward to take the offering plates or prepare to serve communion.
Wherever it makes sense in your service, traveling music can provide a link between worship elements, helping one thing flow into the next, simply and seamlessly.
Let’s replay that scenario I gave you a minute ago:
You’re visiting a church in another city today. The choir just finished their morning anthem, the accompanist finishes playing, and there’s a moment of silence as everyone sighs with content. As the choir begins making their way (quietly) back to the chancel pews, the accompanist begins playing again - a section from the anthem, though in a higher register. You find yourself caught up in the moment again, thinking of the words the choir just sang: “Praise Father, Son, praise Father, Son, praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.” The accompanist finishes playing just as the choir sits down and the pastor steps forward to introduce the next thing in the service.
Totally different experience, right?
Think about ways you can incorporate traveling music into your services and help preserve the flow of the worship experience for all who are there.
02 | Outline spoken parts of the service.
Think about your worship service and all the places where someone introduces something. Perhaps it’s giving a welcome at the beginning of the service, or making announcements, or sharing prayer concerns, or introducing the next hymn or Scripture reading, and the list goes on.
Some people are really great at coming up with what to say on the spot and speaking in a clear, confident, succinct manner. This often comes with practice and experience. Others of us tend to ramble (especially when we’re a little nervous), say more than we need to, stop to explain things or go off on tangents, and end up repeating ourselves unnecessarily. Does this sound familiar?
While I’m all for authentic worship, praying in the moment, and leaving space for God to work and move in the hearts of His people, I also know from first-hand experience that a little talking off-script or “winging it” goes a long way (it happens in teaching, too!). It can take up a lot of time in your service (add up the number of minutes you spend introducing and explaining things on a given week) and can quickly derail the flow of the worship experience you worked so hard to create.
So, what can you do?
Outline what you want to say in advance, or, if you’re the type who needs to write it out, word-for-word, then do that. Write in a conversational manner - as if you were speaking with a friend - but stick to what you have planned as much as possible.
If you have a worship leader or someone else who does some of the talking in your service, write out a script for them to read in the service. Keep it short, simple, and to the point. Again, make it conversational and somewhat informal to keep it from feeling stiff and overly-formal. Use contractions (e.g. “We’ve talked about…” or “We’re ready…”), shorter sentences, and simpler words.
Remember, an introduction or transition is simply a moment of preparation and reflection for the next element in the service. Don’t get side-tracked!
Planning out what you want to say and writing it out in advance will not only tighten up your transitions and keeps things moving, but it will also help keep everyone on the same page (the ushers know when to get up from their seats, the tech person knows when to start the video, the organist knows when to begin playing, etc.).
03 | Alternate between spoken and musical elements.
When you’re looking at your worship order, think about how long the congregation will be sitting before having the opportunity to stand. Think about how long there will be spoken elements before hearing a piece of music or singing something together. It’s important to have a balance of both spoken and musical elements, and I find it helpful to alternate between them as much as you can.
For instance, here’s a simple worship order template:
Call to Worship
*Affirmation of Faith
Notice how each musical element (in bold, for purposes of illustration) is followed by a spoken element. Also, notice the intervals of sitting and standing (the latter marked with an asterisk). This gives the service a natural rhythm and helps preserve the flow from one thing to the next.
Related post: 5 Creative Worship Order Templates
One quick word of advice: make sure that whoever is leading the spoken elements is in place and ready before the music stops. If you have a worship leader who sings the final note of the hymn from his seat, hymnal in hand, he or she will not be ready to lead the Affirmation of Faith that follows, leaving the congregation waiting. Similarly, make sure that whoever is giving the Children’s Message has a microphone and is ready to go before the prayer, so there isn’t a pause in between.
These are small, relatively simple changes, but they make a huge difference in preserving the flow of worship and creating a meaningful, cohesive experience for all involved.
How are you working to create better flow in your worship services?