Early Adventist church worship was participatory in nature. There was singing, shouting, clapping, saying “Amen” in between the preaching, laughing, claiming visionary manifestations, and even speaking in tongues.1 Besides traditional preaching, they had social meetings where believers shared testimonies.2 Music was part of worship, though views on using different instruments varied among those of different generations.3 During the early part of the twentieth century, H. M. J. Richards introduced orderly worship,4 which I believe is mostly followed in Adventist churches around the globe. In this type of worship, the format is very orderly but very few get to lead out or minister. The rest of the congregation does very little except singing congregational songs and saying “Amen” to prayers. The ministry participants often become demonstrators and the audience becomes listeners or watchers. But I believe we can encourage full participation of everyone present in an orderly worship.
Worship at My Church
Worship at my church is as follows: After Sabbath School, worship service proceeds from 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. A praise team starts with singing, then the ministers walk in from the vestry. The ministry team includes the one who offers intercessory prayer, a stewardship talk presenter, a Scripture reader, the preacher, and a person who offers the benediction. After the opening hymn, the intercessor offers a prayer while the congregation is asked to kneel. The announcer, who stands with the ministers, calls for the children’s story. The stewardship talk, special music, and Scripture reading follow the children’s story. Then the preacher comes up to preach for a little over thirty-five minutes. Offering is collected after the sermon while a special music is presented. The service comes to an end with a closing hymn and the benediction.
There is a worship coordinator who instructs each worship participant in how—and how long—to do each item in the program. This systematic and orderly worship service is attended by well over 60% of the members Sabbath after Sabbath. Worship is, as one of the members puts it, “orderly but rigid.” More importance is given to time. Another member says, “It is more a demonstration than something that is participatory.”
Everyone Participates in Worship (EPW)
My dream is that worship be more than just an orderly, well-attended, performance-based service, but rather participatory, giving a richer worshipful experience. My formula for such an experience is “Everyone Participates in Worship” (EPW), where the worshippers are involved and participate along with the ministry leaders on the platform.
I propose seven simple steps of EPW. I introduced these steps in my own church, and we as a church adapted them to make a successful and vibrant participatory worship.
1. Everyone participates in singing. The plan is to encourage everyone, as much as possible, to sing, praise, and worship. The music leader or praise team leader will choose familiar songs or hymns that elevate worship. Through persuasion and motivation, the leader will engage the congregation to sing with him or her. The congregation will be requested to rise and sing along with the team for two out of five songs that are sung. The implementation effect is to take the musical element from performance-based praise to a fully immersed state of praise and worship, where everyone present will feel included and worship together.
2. Everyone participates in prayer. The plan is to provide the opportunity for everyone to pray during the divine service hour, rather than having only the ministry leader praying from the pulpit. Twice a month, the intercessor will announce an important need of the community, state, nation, church, or families and request that the congregation divide themselves into twos or threes to engage in intense prayer for about seven to ten minutes. Before the prayer, they may share their special needs so they may pray for one another. The prayer session will be brought to an end with a sung chorus and blessing from the pulpit. And also, once or twice a month, the intercessor can lead the entire congregation in offering three minutes of silent prayer as they kneel, before he or she offers the intercessory prayer.
3. Everyone participates in reading. The assigned Scripture reader will engage the congregation to read the Scripture responsively. The Scripture reader will ask the congregation to stand, open their Bibles (even on devices), engage in responsive reading, and conclude with a blessing. Or the leader can request the entire congregation to read the Scripture together in unison.
4. Everyone participates in sharing stories. During the meet-and-greet time of the service, the pastor will request that members turn to someone other than a family member or friend and ask a specific question to begin a conversation. The pastor will suggest a question or query, which may be “Tell me about your week,” “Tell me about your hobby,” “What is your favorite dish?,” “What tools do you use to help you in your spiritual journey?,” etc. This provides an opportunity to share stories with fellow believers so they become acquainted and grow closer to each other to worship the Lord together in unity.
5. Everyone participates in teaching/preaching. Opportunities will be provided for the elders, deacons, deaconesses, lay leaders, young adults, youth, and even children to teach and preach periodically. By doing so, the pastor equips the laity to take a leading role in worship.
6. Everyone participates in giving. Recently, my church designed a special offering kit in the form of a pouch, on which is written, “My special gift to the Lord.” This pouch was given to everyone, including children, to participate in giving to the Lord. No one returns the pouch empty; everyone gives.
7. Everyone participates in evangelism. Total participation in worship encourages everyone to participate in evangelism through community outreach, small groups, and engaging in Bible studies and public evangelism. The motto of, “Each family (winning) one family” drives everyone to participate in evangelism. The church that keeps disciples makes disciples.
An inclusive, vibrant, genuine, and participatory worship can make a church a sociocultural religious community. Inclusive participation strengthens member engagement. May our churches transform from demonstrative to participatory worship, where “Everyone Participates in Worship” (EPW), so that each may grow into the body of Christ.
- Theodore Levterov, “Early Adventist Worship, 1845–1900,” in Worship, Ministry, and the Authority of the Church, ed. Ángel Manuel Rodríguez (Nampa, ID: Pacific Press, 2016), 67.
- Ibid, 60.
- Ellen G. White, Testimonies for the Church (Mountain View, CA: Pacific Press, 1948), 7:471.
- H. M. J. Richards, Church Order and Its Divine Origin and Importance, (Denver, CO: Colorado Tract Society, 1906), 64.