Earlier this year I approached some of my colleagues and asked if they would be interested in helping me host a series of eight “summer worship nights” at my church on Fridays. They all responded enthusiastically, and so we made some plans, spread the word, and went ahead with the idea. We just wrapped up our last one last week, so I wanted to explain why we did it, what we did, what about the kids, what the nights accomplished, and what we learned.
Why we did it
I regularly get approached by people asking me if we can have a more extended time of worship (they mean singing) at church. Sunday morning worship is wonderful, but there are a million moving pieces, and in the context of an Anglican liturgical service, you can’t really have a very extended time of uninterrupted singing without the service going on for 2.5 hours. So, I thought, “why not?” Offering people more opportunities to exalt Jesus Christ is always a win. It will always benefit the church. It will always have a bubble-over effect onto Sunday mornings. With enough advance planning, and making sure the Sanctuary was free for eight Friday nights in a row during the summer, we got word out, and offered anyone who wanted an opportunity for extended worship the invitation to come out on Friday nights.
What we did
We had these worship nights in our Sanctuary from 6:00pm – 7:00pm, so people with kids could come before it got too late. The first one was on the last day of school in Fairfax County. We started on the dot of 6:00pm with 30 minutes of singing, led by a full band, with space to repeat songs as much as we wanted, and time for reflection in between songs when it was appropriate. We would start with one song, then I would welcome people and read a Psalm, and we’d keep going. A big clock on the back wall kept me on time. At 6:30pm, before people were seated, I told the kids they could go down the middle aisle where “Dr. Jones” would meet them and take them downstairs for lots of fun. We’d all say “bye kids!” as they ran downstairs, then I’d encourage people to take a minute and greet the people around them. After that, we had a 15-minute Bible teaching having to do with the person and work of the Holy Spirit. To wrap up, we had more time for singing, prayer ministry up front, or time for people to stay and reflect/pray in their pews. At 7:00pm on the dot I would say “It’s 7:00pm now. You’re free to go, free to pick up your kids, of you’re free to stay if you’d like. We’ll keep singing a few songs, and you can come and go as you wish. Now may the Lord bless us and keep us, the Lord make his face…” By about 7:15pm or so, most people had trickled out, and we’d sing the Doxology and that was it.
What about the kids
My colleague Mike Seawright, who leads our family ministries, was 100% behind these nights. Ministry really does work best with teams! So Mike got three summer interns, and one of their main jobs was to run an awesome 30-minute kids program downstairs during summer worship nights. So these three interns donned costumes which transformed them into mad scientists and professors, and had the kids doing ridiculous science experiments while also learning biblical/spiritual truths. Kids absolutely loved it. Many of them would ask throughout the week “is it Friday yet”? The interns – and the kids program – were awesome. And they helped the summer worship nights attract some younger families, so the demographic wasn’t exclusively empty nesters.
What the nights accomplished
1. They scratched an itch for people who longed for more extended times of singing.
2. They allowed the congregation to grow in their expression of worship. More time, less pressure, more freedom.
3. They were good practice for me – and my fellow worship leaders on stage – who had to use our “extended worship” muscles a bit more than we’re used to. Don’t get me wrong, we’re used to long services. But we’re not always used to 30 minutes of uninterrupted singing.
4. They were a good opportunity for young people to preach some of the sermons, and to run the kids program.
5. They allowed for multi-generational worship. For 30 minutes, everyone worshipped together. All ages. It was great.
What we learned
1. The people who came out to these evenings really wanted to be there. So even when we had small crowds, there was a wonderful expectancy amongst the people which allowed for some very sweet times of worship.
2. Summer rain storms seem to like Friday nights. We had several nights affected by torrential down storms. But there’s nothing you can do about that!
3. Nursery and kids program is key. If we hadn’t been able to offer nursery and a great kids program, these nights would not have been successful.
4. People are eager to be prayed for – and to pray for each other.
5. It was good to say at the start that we were going to offer eight. Maybe we’ll do these again next summer, but maybe not. We’ll see!
6. People were grateful that we started on time, and ended on time, every week.
Over all, I’m glad we did these, although they have significantly increased my need for a vacation. Next year, if we do offer these, I will need to spread the worship leading load out more effectively, and will leaning on Mike Seawright to help me recruit some worship interns to work in conjunction with his family ministry interns. That whole thing about teams being important is really… important.
These nights have helped us learn some good lessons about how to offer an extended time of worship in a way that works in our context, and between now and next summer, we may offer some seasonal worship nights, maybe one in the fall, one in the winter, and so on. I look forward to a good debrief with my colleagues in a few weeks, so we can make sure we affirm what worked well, and fix what didn’t.