Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Let Us Break Bread Together: The Music and Celebration of the Lord’s Supper, Part 3

By Robin G. Jordan

Due to the length of the resource paper’s section on the music of the gathering rite I have divided it into four parts.

The Gathering Rite. Everything that precedes the Epistle forms what liturgist call the “gathering rite.” The gathering rite begins in the homes of those who will be celebrating the Holy Communion together that particular Sunday morning at the very moment they awake and concludes with the reading of the Epistle. It is a type of the Great Gathering of which the Old Testament foretells—when people will come from the four corners of earth to worship God on his holy mountain and to which our Lord himself alludes in Luke 13:29, the assembling of the multitude of the redeemed for the marriage feast of the Lamb. It is a sequence of actions, individual and collective, that transforms a loose aggregate of people into a worshiping assembly.

The beginning of the 1928 Order for the Administration of the Lord’s Supper consist of the prefatory Lord’s Prayer, the Collect for Purity, the Decalogue, the Summary of the Law, the Collect for Grace to Keep the Commandments, the Threefold Kyrie,  the Collect of the Day, and any additional Collects. The prefatory Lord’s Prayer may be omitted at the priest’s discretion. The Decalogue may be omitted provide it be said at least one Sunday in each month. Whenever it is omitted, the priest is required to say the Summary of the Law at least one Sunday in each month. Otherwise, the Summary of the Law is optional. If the Decalogue is omitted, the Threefold Kyrie must be said, “said” here also meaning “sung” since the Threefold Kyrie is an integral part of the ordinary of the Mass. The Collect for Grace to Keep the Commandments is optional. The beginning of the service may be preceded by a prelude or special music and an introit hymn.

In planning the beginning of the 1928 Communion Service a good rule of thumb is to keep the beginning of the service as simple as possible. The prefatory Lord’s Prayer, the Decalogue, and the Collect for Grace to Keep the Commandments should be omitted. The addition of material from the Missals should be avoided. The beginning of the service is cluttered enough as it is. The application of this rule of thumb will keep the beginning of the service from becoming so lengthy and so emotionally demanding that it exhausts the people. It also puts into practice the liturgical principle that less is more. With the pre-service music and the introit hymn the purpose of the beginning of the service should be to call the people together and to prepare them for the proclamation of God’s Word.

The rubrics of a fair number of the more recent Anglican service books permit the people to join the priest in saying the Collect for Purity--a prayer asking God to cleanse those praying the collect and prepare them for worship. Cranmer had intended that this prayer should serve as a prayer of preparation for the whole congregation, not just the priest. While the rubrics of the 1928 Communion Service do not make provision for the people to say the Collect for Purity with the priest, they also do not make provision for the people to say the Prayer of Humble Access and the Post-Communion Prayer with the priest. However, it has become customary for congregations of churches using the 1928 Prayer Book to join the priest in saying these prayers. If it is acceptable for the congregation to say these prayers with the priest, it is also acceptable for the congregation to join the priest in saying the Collect for Purity.

The practice of the priest saying certain prayers rather than the priest and people together is hangover from the days before the printed book and widespread literacy. Cranmer rejected the medieval idea that the Mass was a sort of magical formula that only a priest might sing or say, assisted by a choir in cathedrals and larger churches, a view that is the very antithesis of common prayer. In the sixteenth century only men of means owned books and a large segment of the population was illiterate. This limited what Cranmer could do to make the liturgy common prayer—the shared prayer of the entire worshiping assembly.

The Puritans objected to the congregation’s participation in the liturgy and their various proposals for the reform of the Prayer Book reduced that participation to the saying of “Amen” in response to lengthy, verbose prayers said by the minister and the singing of metrical psalms. During the Interregnum they abolished the Prayer Book and replaced it with a Directory of Publick Worship that implemented these proposals.

The time before the introit hymn can be used to familiarize the congregation with new music in the service and thereby to enhance congregational participation. The Gulbransen Digital Hymnal DH-100 CP has a number of instrumental settings. These settings may be used to play instrumental versions of tunes in the digital hymnal player’s Master Index. An instrument version of a new or unfamiliar tune may double as a prelude. An instrument version of a familiar tune may also be used as a prelude. Preludes are not restricted to organ music and may involve choral singing as well as instrumental music.  On occasion a congregational hymn and service music practice may be advisable just before the prelude. Musical offerings by instrumentalists, soloists, or vocal ensembles are appropriate in addition to music for teaching. These offerings themselves may used to introduce the congregation to new music.

In the Anglican Church the first hymn of the communion service is called the introit hymn. Due to the role this hymn plays in the gathering rite, it is also called the gathering song. The introit hymn, or gathering song, may be sung during the entrance of the ministers or after their entrance. In the latter case the ministers make their entrance in silence or to instrumental music. This is the recommended practice in small churches that do not have a choir. The precentor begins the introit hymn after the ministers take their places. The ministers provide vigorous support to the congregational singing from the chancel platform. If the introit hymn is sung during the entrance of the ministers, the ministers should be at least well into the sanctuary when the singing begins.

It is also appropriate for the ministers to unobtrusively take their places before the prelude and to set an example for the congregation by praying in silence, standing with bowed heads. It is not essential that the ministers make a ceremonial entrance during the prelude or the introit hymn.

The ceremonial entrance of the ministers with incense, cross, and torches, is a custom that was unknown in the North American Anglican Church before the mid-nineteen century. Up until that time the minister simply walked to the pulpit or reading desk from which he led the service. If he came from the back of the sanctuary, he greeted the people on his way. Those who were assisting him had already taken their places beforehand—the parish clerk in whatever was his accustomed place and the choir in the gallery at the west end of the church.

In Choosing—and Using—Hymns Lionel Dakers advises that if a hymn is sung at the start of a service, it should be a short and lively one, ideally not more than four or five stanzas in length. Dakers was the organist and master of choristers at Rippon Cathedral for 3 years and Exeter Cathedral for 15 years. He was a special commissioner for the Royal School of Church Music from 1958 to 1972 and the director of the Royal School of Church from 1972 to 1990. He authored a number of books on church music, commissioned practical church music, encouraged the writing of new hymns, and devoted a good part of his life to the promotion of excellence in church music and organ playing.

Dakers stresses the importance of choosing a hymn of the right length for any given juncture in a service. If too long a hymn or too slow a hymn is used for an introit hymn, the hymn will tire the congregation at the very beginning of the service and not get the service off to a good start. The only occasion on which a long hymn might be used at the start of the service would be for a solemn procession on Christmas Eve, Easter Sunday, Rogation Sunday, or a similar occasion.

The introit hymn should be a bright and vigorous hymn that sets the tone of the entire service and impels the service on its way. “A reflective, slow or soft hymn, or perhaps one in a minor key” will not necessarily act as a mood setter or move the service forward with a sense of purpose and momentum. Due to the important part the introit hymn plays not only in starting the service but also in bringing the congregation together as a worshiping assembly and focusing their attention upon God, the introit hymn should be a familiar hymn or it should be rehearsed ahead of time. Its selection should be given considerable thought and attention.

The start of the service is not the place to use a new or unfamiliar hymn that the congregation has not practiced beforehand. The one possible exception is a new or unfamiliar hymn sung to a very familiar tune. It would be wise in such case to have a brief congregational rehearsal before the service at which one or two stanzas of the hymn is sung to acquaint the congregation with the new use of the tune. This conveys to the congregation that hymn singing and their participation is an important part of worship.

A number of hymns have the right text and the right length for an introit hymn but the wrong tune. One way to remedy this problem is to sing the hymn to a different tune that is brighter and more vigorous. The tune or tunes printed with a hymn in a hymnal are only suggested tunes. Other tunes of the same meter and rhythm may be used to sing the hymn.

On most Sundays in the year, in Epiphanytide and Trinitytide, hymns about the Lord’s Day and general hymns of praise or invocation are often good choices for an introit hymn. On other Sundays and holy days the season or occasion should be considered in the choice of an introit hymn.

During Lent, the introit hymn may be omitted. Its omission helps set the season apart from Christmastide, Epiphanytide, Easter, Whitsunday, and Trinitytide. The exception is Palm Sunday when a procession with palm or willow branches is in order.

Hymns with alleluias are traditionally not sung during the Lenten season in the Western Church. Crosses are veiled—purple Roman Use, sackcloth Old English Use. Christ Episcopal Church which I attended in my youth and where I served as a lay reader and a chorister for a number of years followed the Old English Use—sackcloth during Lent and oxblood with black ophreys during Passiontide. Some churches also do not place flowers on the reredos during Lent.

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Monday, May 30, 2016

Let Us Break Bread Together: The Music and Celebration of the Lord’s Supper, Part 2

By Robin G. Jordan

(1) The Role of the Precentor. For a small Anglican church that does not have a choir, a precentor is a must irrespective of whether the church has an keyboard accompanist or uses a digital hymnal player, worship tracks, or a CD hymnal. In a small Baptist church this music minister would have the title of song leader or music director. In a small Anglican church precentor is the more appropriate title. A precentor is typically a volunteer and may be musically trained or untrained.

A precentor has a number of responsibilities. The precentor plans the music of the service in consultation with the keyboard accompanist if the church has one. He leads the congregation in its singing; works to expand the congregation’s repertoire, selecting new hymns, worship songs, and service music and teaching them to the congregation; conducts congregational rehearsals; invites soloists, small vocal groups, and instrumentalists to perform special music; organizes hymn sings; and does whatever else he can to elevate the quality of worship.

A precentor should a good ear and a strong pleasant voice. He should be able to carry a tune, to follow the notes of a melody in a hymnal or songbook or on sheet music, and to sing in key and on pitch. He should be comfortable at singing unaccompanied or to a keyboard or electronically recorded accompaniment, and should have mastered the basic techniques of teaching new music to a congregation.

A precentor should be knowledgeable about worship, liturgy, and the Book of Common Prayer, the proper use of music in Prayer Book services and special or occasional services, and the general principles of hymn selection.

A precentor should be familiar with a wide variety of music styles and a broad selection of hymnals, songbooks, and musical collections.

A precentor should have strong commitment to the role of the congregation as the principal music makers in the church and to the vision of the local church as a singing church.

A precentor should also know his limitations.

This description of the ministry and qualifications of a precentor is based upon what I learned from workshops, my reading, and my own experiences as the worship leader on a church plant launch team, unofficial music co-director, chorister, cantor, song leader, and worship leadership team member.

(2) The Role of the Ministers. When a small church does not have a choir, the weight of the responsibility for leading the congregational singing naturally shifts to the ministers at the service. Lay readers, lectors, precentors, and servers all fall into the category of ministers, not just clergy. Even when a small church has a choir, the ministers normally share this responsibility with the choir. It is important that the ministers sing in key, sing loud enough to be heard, and do not wander off the tune. If they sing off key or wander off the tune, the congregation may follow them. Or the congregation may stop singing altogether.

The precentor and all the ministers who live within reasonable driving distance of the church should practice the hymns and service music for a particular Sunday beforehand. This includes the ministers that may not be serving that Sunday but will be singing in the congregation. When and wherever they practice, they might invite the stronger voices in the congregation to join them. They could invite the entire congregation as far as that goes. The absence of the visiting priest who presides at the church’s celebrations of Holy Communion is not sufficient reason to dispense with practicing the music for Communion Sunday.

A good choir director will have the choir practice familiar hymns and service music at choir rehearsals, knowing that this practice will make a difference in how the hymns and service music is sung on Sunday morning. This attention to the quality of all the music in the service and not just the anthem or other special music is one of the things that the unchurched person notices when visiting the church for the first time and which leads him or her to draw the conclusion that the church takes the worship of God seriously.

The same attention should be given to the quality of the music in the service when the ministers lead the congregational singing. It is application of the principle expressed in the adage, “What is worth doing is worth doing well.” If hymns are worth singing, then they are worth singing well. If we love God, we owe him our best effort. Even if our singing may fall short of that of a professional vocalist, we are seeking to honor God with the best that we can do.

(3) The Selection of Music. In planning the music for a celebration of Holy Communion, it is best to begin with the selection of the gospel acclamation, hymn, or anthem to be sung between the Epistle and the Gospel, and then move onto the selection of the music for the other parts of the service in this order: the hymn or anthem to be sung at the ingathering of the Alms and Oblations, the doxology to sung at the presentation of the Alms and Oblations, the hymn to be sung after the Prayer of Humble Access, the hymn or anthem to be sung or the instrumental music to be played during the distribution of the elements, the Gloria in excelsis version or hymn to be sung after the Post-Communion Prayer, and the hymn to be sung and instrumental music to be played after the Blessing.

This order does not have to be followed rigidly. I have on occasions first selected the gospel acclamation, hymn, or anthem between the Epistle and the Gospel, gone onto to select the music for the Liturgy of the Table, the post-communion hymn, and the final hymn and the postlude, and then selected the hymn or anthem and doxology for the Offertory.

In selecting a hymn, anthem or other special music—solo, small group vocal, instrumental music—careful attention should be given to its suitability to the place in the service where it will be used and how it will contribute to the flow of the service and the overall worship experience. This includes the words of the song as well as its length, mood, tempo, and melody.

It is of crucial importance to view the music used in a service not as an adornment to the service but as an integral part of the people’s common prayer. The primary consideration in selecting a song for a particular place in the service is that it fits that place in the service and that its words make sense at that juncture.

Its length, mood, tempo, and melody are also important considerations. A song may have the right words for a particular moment in the service but its length, mood, tempo, or melody may be wrong.

When editing a hymn to shorten it, care should be taken not to mutilate the sense of the hymn. Hymns should NOT be abruptly ended after the third stanza. This deplorable practice is a serious abuse of Christian hymnody and shows no regard for hymns as a part of the people’s common prayer.

Some hymns must be sung in their entirety They cannot be edited to shorten them. Any attempt to shorten them will result in the congregation singing nonsense or worse. For example, if the last stanza of “A mighty fortress is our God” is omitted, the devil is left in charge!

The chief purpose of hymns is to help the congregation give voice to their prayer. Hymns are also teaching tools. They instruct and reinforce what they instruct. As Paul pointed to the attention of the Corinthians, everything that Christians do when they meet together must be done for the edification—the building up—of the body of Christ, his gathered Church.

Other hymns may be judiciously edited. One or more stanzas may be omitted without affecting the meaning of the hymn. A number of hymnals put an asterisk next to the stanzas that may be safely omitted. Or the meaning of the hymn may be altered but the words of the shortened version of the hymn are appropriate for a particular juncture in the service.

While attention should be given to the season, the appointed Scripture readings, and the occasion in selecting the hymns, anthems, and other special music for a celebration of Holy Communion, it is not necessary to relate every song and piece of music to the theme for the day. Whether the song or piece of music is suited to the place that is used is most important consideration. While the singing of a Christmas carol in July should be avoided so should the singing of a hymn sending the congregation forth into the world at beginning of the service or a hymn inviting the people to come and worship at the conclusion of the service.

The selection of the music to be used before the service—any special music, the prelude, and the introit hymn—should always be saved to last.


Memorial Day, as Americans have come to know it, began in the years immediately following the Civil War. But until World War II, most people knew it as “Decoration Day.” It was a day to decorate with flowers and flags the graves of fallen soldiers and remember those who had given, as Lincoln beautifully said, “the last full measure of devotion” to defend their nation. It was a day to remember what the honored dead had died to defend.

A century and a half has passed since Lee surrendered to Grant at Appomattox, effectively ending a national nightmare that filled over 625,000 American graves with dead soldiers. Since then, other international nightmares have ravaged the world and put more than 650,000 additional Americans into war graves in Europe, North Africa, the Pacific Rim, Asia, and the Middle East. Read More

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You’re not alone.

The culture around us is changing.

You can debate when the collapse of Christendom in the West began, but there is little doubt we are witnessing a massive shift away from the cultural consensus that existed even a few generations ago.

So as a church leader – as views on sexuality, family, parenting, drugs, finance and other values change – how do you respond? What do you do when the world for which you trained—maybe even the world where your approach was once effective—is disappearing before your eyes?

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Saturday, May 28, 2016

Let Us Break Bread Together: The Music and Celebration of the Lord’s Supper, Part 1

By Robin G. Jordan

Introduction. In 1999 I prepared a resource paper for the Episcopal Diocese of Louisiana’s Commission on Liturgy and Music on the music of the Eucharist. The purpose of this resource paper was to provide guidance for clergy and church musicians on what music might be used at the various points in the Eucharist where music could be used. The Reverend Ormonde Plater who was Archdeacon of the diocese and Secretary of the Liturgy for the diocese had invited me to prepare the resource paper after reading an article that I had written for The Living Church. The title of the resource paper was Let All the People Praise: The Music of the Holy Eucharist. It was one of two projects that I undertook at that time. The other project was a resource paper on child-inclusive worship. It explained in more detail the principles for including children in worship, which I had introduced in Let All the People Praise: The Music of the Holy Eucharist and provided a list of additional resources.

Both projects were undertaken not only with the large church with ample musical resources in mind but also the small church with more limited resources. I drew upon my experiences in music ministry at Christ Episcopal Church, Covington, and St. Michael’s Episcopal Church, Mandeville, as well as extensive research. While written for the Holy Eucharist, Rites One and Two, of the 1979 Prayer Book, the principles discussed in the two resource papers are applicable to the Order for the Administration of the Lord’s Supper in the 1928 Prayer Book.

Both projects included surveys of the musical resources available to churches in the closing decade of the twentieth century. Most of the music that I examined and described almost twenty years ago would now be categorized as the “New Traditional.” It is also eminently congregational.

I have reviewed the hymn indices of a number of hymnals produced since that time—Worship & Rejoice (2000), Lutheran Service Book (2004), The Worship Hymnal (2008), Worship: A Hymnal and Service Book for Roman Catholics—Fourth Edition (2011), and Glory to God: The Presbyterian Hymnal (2013). The music I surveyed in 1999 forms a substantial part of the core hymnody of these more recent collections.

Based on what I ascertained from my survey of the Master Index of the Gulbransen Digital Hymnal DH-100 CP this music also forms a large part of the core hymnody in eight of the thirteen hymnals listed in its Manual. These eight hymnals included the predecessors of Worship & Rejoice (2000), Lutheran Service Book (2004), The Worship Hymnal (2008), Worship: A Hymnal and Service Book for Roman Catholics—Fourth Edition (2011), and Glory to God: The Presbyterian Hymnal (2013).

Since 1999 I have worked on a third project. I surveyed the metrical versions of the canticles and psalms, which were available to small church congregations during the opening decade of the twenty-first century. I also looked at metrical settings of the Kyrie, the Apostles’ Creed, the Sanctus, the Lord’s Prayer, and the Agnus Dei as well as easy-to-sing non-metrical settings of these liturgical texts. Among the challenges small church congregations, in particular new church plants, face is that they frequently worship in settings in which the acoustical environment is not favorable to chanting. New congregations have substantial numbers of adults and children who are unable to sing chant. They also do not have the kind of musical leadership for effective chanting.

The project was based upon a number of premises. Among these premises is that Sunday morning is at the center of the life and ministry of a small church. Sunday morning is when most of the teaching, fellowship, worship, and pastoral care goes on in the small church. What happens on Sunday morning will impact the small church congregation throughout the following week. Consequently, thoughtful attention should be given to every aspect of Sunday morning.

What might be adequate in a weekday service of Morning Prayer or Holy Communion such as saying the canticles, psalms, and service music—Gloria, Kyrie, Trisagion, Sanctus, Memorial Acclamation, Great Amen, Fraction Anthem, etc., however, is less than satisfactory in a Sunday service of the same type. A new church plant, if it is to attract new families, needs to offer as high a quality worship experience as it can achieve within the limitations of its resources and circumstances. Offering such a worship experience is no less critical for small churches that have served a community for several generations.

A new congregation, or any small church congregation as far as that goes, should not have to settle for saying liturgical texts when musically appealing, easy-to-sing metrical and non-metrical settings of the same texts are readily available. It also makes no sense for a new congregation to say these texts when the new congregation can easily sing them to familiar hymn tunes and in the case of non-metrical settings to simple melodies. It is unnecessarily restrictive to insist that if a congregation cannot sing these texts in a particular way, i.e., to plainsong or Anglican chant, the congregation should not sing them at all. The purpose of music in a service on Sundays and other occasions is not to promote a particular style or type of music but to help the people to worship God.

A theme that runs through the Scriptures, the New Testament as well as the Old Testament, is the importance of worshiping God in song. Our Lord took part in the worship of the synagogue and the Temple. This worship involved the singing of psalms. After the Last Supper our Lord and his disciples sung a psalm in praise of God before they went into the night. Genuine New Testament worship involves not only the reading of Scripture, the preaching of sermons, the offering of prayers, and the celebration of the Lord’s Supper, it also entails the singing of “hymns, psalms, and spiritual songs.”

Most people are able to sing. They may not be musical, that is, have specific interest in music or show a particular talent for music. They may have been asked to sing music that is not for their voice type or within their vocal range. They may live in a culture that does not value group or communal singing as it once did. They may not be a part of a singing group or community. They may have received little or no encouragement. They may be inhibited by social expectations of musicianship. They may suffer from misperceptions about their singing ability. But they can sing! Given singable, musically-appealing hymns, worship songs, and service music, encouragement, instruction in basic singing techniques—posture, breathing, facial flexibility, warming-up, etc., and sufficient opportunity to learn and master what they are being called upon to sing, they will sing with confidence, enthusiasm, and delight.

By the same token the members of a worshiping assembly are its chief music makers. The role of the music leaders in the church—the precentor, the choirmaster, the choir, and the organist, or the worship leader and the band, is to facilitate the congregation’s singing. The music of the worshiping assembly is paramount. The provision of special music is secondary.

Congregational singing serves a number of liturgical functions—catechetical, devotional, exhortative, and inspirational. Research shows that congregational singing also serves a number of psychological and social functions. For individuals group singing enhances psychological wellbeing, elevates mood, reduces stress, fosters social relationships, and has other benefits. For groups singing together strengthens group cohesion and reinforces group identity. This research points to music and singing as a part of God’s divine design for human beings. Archeological findings also support this conclusion as does the Bible.

God meant the Church of Jesus Christ to be a singing church. If a canticle, psalm, or other liturgical text that is normally sung can be sung in metrical verse form, it should be sung. A metrical version of a liturgical text is not inferior to a chant setting of the same text. It is simply different. If the text is taken from the Bible, both versions are translations—even paraphrases—of the original Hebrew or Greek. A small church congregation that sings accessible metrical versions of the canticles and psalms and easy-to-sing metrical or non-metrical settings of the service music is no less genuine in its worship of God than is the large church congregation whose choir sings plainsong or Anglican settings of the canticles and psalms and more elaborate settings of the service music. It actually may be more faithful to God’s revealed plan for Christian worship than the large church congregation that depends upon its choir to bear the weight of the singing in worship.

Whenever a movement of the Holy Spirit has brought spiritual awakening and renewal in the Church, it has inspired a revival of congregational singing. It has also stimulated the composition of new hymn tunes, the writing of new hymns, and the creation of new forms of congregational song. If any one conclusion may be drawn from this outpouring of new music is that God sets a high value on congregational singing.

What deserves mention is that upon close examination the new forms of song frequently turn out to be old forms given fresh expression. The medieval Church sung passages of Scripture in the form of canticles and psalms set to chant settings. After the English Reformation the Church of England sung passages of Scripture in the form of metrical paraphrases and anthems. In the last three decades of the twentieth century Anglican and Episcopal churches sung passages of Scripture in the form of what were called Scripture songs. These songs were set to easy-to-sing, musically-appealing irregular tunes.

At St. Michael’s the choir which did not have a large budget for anthems used them as anthem material. The choir also sung hymn anthems. The choir of North Cross United Methodist Church did the same thing until a music professor from Loyal University and her husband joined the congregation. She would become the church’s music director and replaced the Scripture songs from the UMC hymnal supplement with classical anthems from the university’s music library.

 What keeps small church congregations from using metrical versions of the canticles and the psalms other than the mistaken notion that these songs must be chanted to plainsong or Anglican chant is a lack of familiarity with what canticles and psalms are available in metrical verse form. No one has to my knowledge undertaken the task of indexing metrical versions of the canticles and psalms as organ voluntaries and choir anthems have been indexed. They are typically included in indices of hymns rather than being indexed as a separate category.

Almost all hymnals contain metrical versions of the canticles and psalms. Some hymnals place them in a section of their own. Other hymnals like The Hymnal, 1940 and The Hymnal 1982 place them in one of the various sections in which the hymnal is divided.

The Gulbransen Digital Hymnal DH-100 CP’s Master Index contains a fairly large number of tunes to which metrical versions of the canticles and psalms may be sung. I explore the use of metrical versions of the canticles and psalms in Early in the Morning Our Songs Shall Rise to Thee: The Music and Conduct of Morning Prayer as well as in this article series.

Every Church Should be Involved in Planting New Gospel Churches

I believe once a church celebrates five years of existence, they are an established church. With this premise, the vast majority of churches in America are established churches. Many of these churches are in need of revitalization.

When you look at the status of churches in America, you may read reports that seventy or even eighty percent are plateaued or declining. When a church gets outside of itself in a missional focus like planting new gospel churches, this can serve as a major part of revitalizing their own established church.

Among even the largest evangelical denominations and conventions in America, only a small percentage of established churches are involved directly in planting new gospel churches. This needs to change if we desire to reach North America and the world for Jesus Christ. Read More
Are we cherishing the religious freedoms that US servicemen and servicewomen died to protect when we leave others to plant new churches and do nothing ourselves? As we commemorate those who gave their lives in the service of their country, let us give thought to how we can make their sacrifice worthwhile by taking full advantage of those freedoms as well as how we can better minister to US servicemen and servicewomen and to veterans.

Note to Aspiring Preachers: Here are Seven Key Pitfalls to Avoid

Preaching is hard work.

To those sitting in the pews, preaching can look relatively effortless–especially when it is done well. But do not be fooled. Preaching exhausts the body and the soul in ways that are incommensurate with its duration. I could work in the yard all day in 90 degrees of heat and (somehow) feel less exhausted than preaching two services.

But, it is not just the physical/spiritual toll that preaching takes. What makes it hard is the complexity of the task. Just standing up and talking for 30 minutes (and making any sense at all) is tough enough for most folks. But, on top of this, preachers have to navigate a complicated passage, balance sensitive doctrines, weave together a coherent message, apply the message to people’s lives, and do all of this in a manner that is compelling, engaging, winsome and never boring or dull.

No wonder James said, “Not many of you should become teachers” (Jas 3:1)!

Indeed, because of the complexities of preaching there are a number of pitfalls that all preachers (especially aspiring ones) risk falling into. I thought it might be helpful to highlight some of these possible pitfalls that I have noticed over the years.... Read More

Saturday Lagniappe: How Listening Can Lead to Spiritual Conversations and More

Listening Can Spark Witnessing, NW Baptists Told

"People will often tell their personal issues within the first couple of sentences of introducing themselves," evangelical trainer Margaret Slusher said in witnessing workshops across the Northwest Baptist Convention this spring. Read More

My316 Five-Week Curriculum

Click here to download My316 resources.

Why Every Church Should Move Toward Cultural and Racial Diversity

Sam Rainer examines the need for greater culture and racial diversity in US churches. Read More

10 Great Church Website Resources

Your church website truly is your digital front door and can’t be ignored. Read More

Muslims Turning to Christ - a Global Phenomenon

An unprecedented number of Muslims are becoming Christians. David Garrison, who has spent years researching the phenomenon, shares his findings. Read More

Friday, May 27, 2016

Understanding the ‘Simple Church’ Movement

The term “simple church” is birthed out of frustration. We need to describe this phenomenon often called “house church,” but all people in this movement do not like being identified by a “house.” They point out that these churches do not meet just in houses; they also meet in restaurants, businesses, or other settings. What defines simple churches is not location but emphasis.

We want to describe a certain kind of house church; however, Daniel and I do want to describe accurately what this movement does. Thus, we are going to most often use the term “simple church.” Essentially the term “simple church” describes churches that emphasize a common life in Christ. This is achieved theoretically by prioritizing certain values and practically by limiting group size. Simple churches also tend to function completely by face-to-face relationship. If everyone cannot be “in common,” the church is no longer a simple church. Robert Banks explains:

[Simple church] involves face-to-face meeting of adults and children who are committed to developing a common life in Christ. They meet weekly in a house, apartment, or other convivial space. More important than the setting is their mutual care for and accountability to one another. As an extended Christian family they desire to sing, pray, learn, share, love, play, and have a meal (which is also their Lord’s supper) together. Through their mutual ministry to one another they learn to identify and use the gifts God had given them and they are therefore more confident in engaging in mission through various individual ministries in their homes, neighborhoods, work places, and wider communities. While they view themselves as church they also recognize the importance of congregating regularly with a larger group of God’s people.

Simple churches have prioritized face-to-face relationships and common life to such a degree that their fellowships take forms that are significantly different from traditional churches. Their commitment to community is impressive in that they intentionally limit group size so that members cannot be a part of the church without being truly connected with the church members.

Thus, we will use the term simple but will also use the term house church when appropriate.

Until recently the concept of simple church in the West was relegated to the back burner in the church world. Yet this continues to be the method God uses in most parts of the world to expand his kingdom rapidly (China is a great example, with estimates of more than tens of millions of “underground” Christians meeting in house churches). Simple-church proponents in the West, however, have often been painted as “disgruntled” Christians who are pulling out of established churches or as groups that quickly become ingrown.

Simple churches have been an intriguing, though limited, experiment among Christians in the West—with little success in the past for sustaining a movement of this simple strategy. But the phenomenon seems to be picking up some steam and even caught the attention of The New York Times years ago: “A growing number of Christians across the country are choosing a do-it-yourself worship experience in what they call a ‘house church.’” And that number (we think) is still growing. Read More
This "lane" may be the best lane for Anglicans in some communities and even regions in North America.

Be Mean About the Vision – Part One

Why is is so important that we be intentional about the vision? The Bible tells us in Proverbs 29:18 that “Where there is no vision, the people perish.” In other words, where there is no vision, things dies and people die; maybe not physically, but in the Bible death is not physical. When Adam and Eve lost sight of God’s vision for them in the garden, They died; not physically, but spiritually, relationally, and emotionally. That’s how the Bible most often describes death.

Some of us know that the word vision in in Proverbs 29:18 is literally translated revelation. The New International Version translates this same verse like this: “Where there is no revelation, the people cast off restraint” Proverbs 29:18. In other words, God also wants us to know that where there is a lack of a clear vision revealed by God for a person or organization, there is going to be less focus, more people running in random directions, and and more chaos that ensues!

This is why I believe vision is the most important thing in the world. We must understand, embrace, and align our lives and our organizations around God’s revealed vision for our lives and the organizations we lead! We must steward it. preserve it. We must protect it. We must defend it. We must hold people accountable to it. We must be willing to let people go when they won’t align around it. All of this is what it means to “be mean” about the vision. Read More

Also See
Be Mean About the Vision – Part Two
Be Mean About the Vision – Part Three
Be Mean About the Vision – Part Four
Be Mean About the Vision – Part Five

On the Net: Church Society Launches Weekly Video Exposition of Sunday Lectionary Readings and More

Lee on the Lectionary: A new regular video feature on the Church Society blog

Introducing a weekly 5 minute exposition of the Anglican Lectionary readings for each Sunday. Lee Gatiss begins with the readings for this coming Sunday. Learn More

How Can a Pastor Reverse Negative Sentiments in a Church? – Rainer on Leadership #228 [Podcast]

On today’s episode, Thom Rainer and Jonathan Howe discuss a few causes of negativity in the church and how pastors can help deal with negativity and even stop it from happening on the front end. Listen Now

10 Reasons Perfectionism Will Hurt Your Ministry

I’m a perfectionist. I admit it, but I don’t like it. What I’ve learned over the years is that my perfectionism has hurt my ministry. If you’re a perfectionist, here’s why that trait will likely hurt your ministry, too. Read More

How to Know When It Is Time to Leave

Some of you will be considering a ministry move this summer and want to make sure that God is orchestrating it. It is normal to reach the end of another church-year and take stock of your life and ministry. I want to share a few ways that helped me to know the right time to leave a ministry. Read More

What Every Church Needs

Many contemporary sermons sound more like the advice one can get from a pop-psychologist on talk radio or a television show. What we need are biblically based sermons empowered by the Spirit and delivered with passion that comes from prayer, study and holiness. Read More

Make Disciples without Adding Events

Discipleship is at the heart of the church. Jesus commanded us in Matthew 28:19 to “Go and make disciples of all nations.” The issue for the church throughout history is discerning the most effective way to do it. How can we lead people to salvation and develop them into mature disciple makers? Read More

Less Than Half of American Christians Find Church Attendance, Bible Reading, or Service to Be Essential

What is intriguing about a recent Pew Research Center survey of Christian values is not what American Christians value but what they do not value. Read More

Transgender Confusion Goes Beyond Elementary School Bathrooms [Podcast]

Researcher Mark Yarhouse on why mixing politics and gender identity has only left us more confused. Listen Now

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Why I Am Not Roman Catholic

Last week I began a new series titled “Why I Am Not…” and in this series I am exploring some of the things I do not believe as a means to explaining what I do believe. In the last article I explained why I am not atheist and now want to explain why I am not Roman Catholic. The timing of this article is unplanned but rather appropriate. I publish today from Orlando, Florida where I am enjoying some time at Ligonier Ministries, the ministry founded many years ago by Dr. R.C. Sproul. In very important ways the answer to the question “Why am I not Roman Catholic?” is “R.C. Sproul.” But I am getting ahead of myself. Read More

His Only Son

“What’s in a name?” Juliet muses. “That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” The daughter Capulet’s sentiment is certainly true on some level. But the same cannot be said of the name applied to Jesus in John 3:16. Jesus’ identity as God’s “only Son” so sweetly enhances our understanding of this verse that without this name the gospel loses its fragrance. Read More

Who Was Augustine and Why Was He Important?

Augustine is almost universally loved by Christians. Indeed, those who find cause to reject Augustine often do so based on a particular issue they find problematic in his teachings. Rarely is someone a full-blown anti-Augustinian. Certainly for all Western Christians Augustine is an unrivaled figure in the history of Christian reflection. Indeed, there is hardly a subject that is not shaped by his writings and ministry. Read More

10 Things You Should Know about Satan

Here are 10 things we should know about Satan.

(1) Satan, like all other angels, was created at a point in time (Col. 1:16; John 1:1-3). Satan is not eternal. He is a finite creature. He is, therefore, God's Devil. Satan is not the equal and opposite power of God (contra dualism). His power is not infinite. He does not possess divine attributes. In sum, he is no match for God! At most, Satan is the equal and opposite power of the archangel Michael.

(2) We don’t know how or when Satan rebelled against God, as the two texts most often cited to account for this more than likely do not have Satan and his fall in view (Isaiah 14:12-15; Ezekiel 28:12-19).

(3) Satan’s names reveal much about his character. The title Satan is used 52x in the Bible. It literally means "the adversary," the one who opposes (see Zech. 3:1-2; Num. 22:22,32; 1 Sam. 29:4; 2 Sam. 19:22; 1 Kings 5:4; 11:14, 23, 25). In Psalm 109:6 it has the sense of "accuser" or "prosecuting attorney". Read More

On the Net: "The Church in the Furnace" and More

The Church In The Furnace

While extreme examples don’t apply to most of us, there may be more subtle ways that we do things that can also come across as a bit intense to the newcomer. Read More

The Church In The Fridge

I suggest that there are three areas where most churches need to do some remedial work on their relational factor. Read More

When Grace Hurts the Church

Churches are not monolithic. Read More

7 Ways to Make Yourself Invaluable to a Team 

One of my first managers frequently reminded us no one is irreplaceable. He would use the illustration of placing your hands in a bucket and then pulling them out. The level of the water doesn’t change much when one or two hands is removed. While I agree with him on some levels – even though I’m not quite sure it’s a healthy demonstration for building team morale – I think there are ways a person can make themselves more valuable to a team. Read More

Six Questions Leaders Should Routinely Ask Themselves

Leaders are merely stewards. We don’t own the people, the ministry, or the organization we lead. We merely steward the opportunity for a season. Someone will come along after us. Because our leadership is short, we should lead and serve with thoughtful intentionality. Wise leaders routinely evaluate their lives and leadership. Here are six questions leaders should routinely ask themselves.... Read More

Some Simple Practices that Will Get You Over Your Insecurity as a Leader

Here are five changes that can help you deal with underlying insecurity. Read More

7 Deadly Sins of Church Leaders

Perry Noble on seven common sins that can undermine the credibility of church leaders. Read More

10 Misperceptions about Young Pastors

In the past, I’ve written about misperceptions of missionaries and misperceptions of pastors. Because of my love of young pastors, I’ve interviewed and surveyed some of them to learn what they believe are misperceptions of their generation. Here are the primary findings.... Read More

The Pastoral Power of Undivided Attention

Lee Eclov on why coffee, home visits, and personal prayer will always be at the heart of ministry. Read More

Overtime Pay Mandated for More Ministry Employees

But pastors are likely exempt. Read More

Pastor, This Is What We Need on Sundays

A word to my pastor friends, who every week labor in preparing to teach the Bible in the weekend gathering while the dark cloud of the new cultural downgrade hangs over them.... Read More

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Living in a (Nominal) Religious Context

Nominal religious contexts do not mean the end of the church.

Many American Southerners still possess a religious terminology that expresses they were saved at the age of 8, baptized at the age of 10, and are on the membership roll at the Crooked Creek Pentecostal Church or the Sugar Creek Methodist Church. Many of these individuals based their salvation on being moral, decent, and upstanding citizens, who love their families, their country, and even their God.

Living in such a nominal religious context presents some dangers, difficulties, and directives for believers who are passionately committed to king Jesus. Read More

Photo: Nashville, Tennessee

On the Net: "Where Successful Church Plants Get Their Money" and Much More

Where Successful Church Plants Get Their Money

Here's how church plants become self-sufficient—and what financially stable churches have in common. Read More

What Does the Word “Gospel” Mean in the New Testament?

When we come to the New Testament, we find three distinct ways in which the term gospel is used. Read More

7 Tensions Every Leader Faces – Everyday

Learning to balance the tensions of leadership may determine the level of success a leader can sustain. If a leader leans too far one direction – their leadership effectiveness suffers. Read More

The hidden hours of ministry: Preparation

In gospel ministry as in sports the hidden hours lay the foundation for what happens publicly. Read More

Persuasion is not (necessarily) a dirty word

Stephen Liggins exmines the role of persuasion in the proclamation of the gospel. Read More

Persuasion: the right stuff

Acts reveals three main forms of persuasion that were deliberately employed by the evangelists: the use of the Old Testament, reference to witnessed supernatural events (especially the resurrection of Jesus) and interaction with Greco-Roman sources of authority. It also reveals one prominent form of persuasion that was never utilized. Read More

Three Ways Worship Shapes Discipleship

Here are three ways the spiritual discipline of worship contributes to the disciple-making process.... Read More
Unfortunately in a number of the churches warming up the congregation for the pastor’s message is seen as the purpose of the music on Sunday morning--a legacy of revivalism.
Loving the misfits

Our youth groups, just like our church congregations, are filled with all kinds of people. In the mixture of diverse personalities and life experiences that make up a student ministry, there are also some students who require an extra measure of attention. Read More

6 Ways to Find Fresh Outreach Ideas

Where do you find great outreach programs and innovative ideas? Here are some of my best suggestions. Read More

Ten Recommended Books on Evangelism

It’s no secret that many evangelicals struggle with doing evangelism. In fact, many will never share their faith with anybody. Here are some practical resources that may help you and your church re-invest in this task.... Read More

We Are Not Entitled to the World’s Respect

Winning arguments is not the same as winning souls. Read More

Why Are So Many Muslim Refugees in Europe Suddenly Finding Jesus?

Whether out of conviction or convenience, thousands of migrants in Europe are converting to Christianity. Read More

PEARUSA bishop translated to Diocese of the Carolinas

Bishop David C. Bryan of the PEAR-USA Southeast Network has been elected the first suffragan bishop of the ACNA Diocese of the Carolinas. PEAR-USA Southeast Network clergy and congregations have been given until July 1st to apply for admission to the Diocese of the Carolinas. Read More

Prison ministry focus among pastors, churches studied

While most Protestant pastors visit correctional facilities and want to help prisoners and their families, their churches often lack the training or finances to run an effective prison ministry. Those are among the findings of a new phone survey of 1,000 Protestant senior pastors from LifeWay Research. Read More

China sees sevenfold increase in persecution against Christians

Persecution against Christians in China has increased sevenfold since 2008, according to the latest report by China Aid. Read More

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Thoughts on the Revitalization of The Traditional Anglican Church in the Twenty-First Century

By Robin G. Jordan

Among the trends that I have been following on Anglicans Ablaze is what has been described as renewed interest in hymns, more emphasis on congregational singing, and smaller worship gatherings. A counter-trend is the continued flow of people from smaller churches to larger churches. 

What we are observing are two clusters of trends—one involving folks who desire to engage in more intimate, participatory forms of worship and the other folks who prefer to listen to the latest contemporary Christian music and a celebrity preacher. A small traditional Anglican church could benefit from the first cluster of trends if it undertook a number of changes.

To maintain viability in the twenty-first century a traditional Anglican church needs to establish and keep a reputation for taking its worship seriously; having a friendly welcoming congregation; offering clear Bible teaching, providing opportunities for leadership, ministry, and mission, and serving its community. It further needs to reflect its community in the makeup of its congregation. If it is a regional church, it needs to reflect the makeup of the region.

What also is critical is that the community sees its members as caring, loving people at the heart of whose care and love is Jesus Christ. This means that the church members themselves, not the church’s clergy, must build bridges to the community, which bring the church members and the community into contact with each other.

In addition a traditional Anglican church needs to have an attractive website on the Internet, which prompts folks visiting the website to want to visit the church. Nowadays people looking for a new church home visit the church’s website first. If they do not get a good first impression from the website, they are not going to visit the church.

The 1928 Book of Common Prayer and The Hymnal, 1940 have name recognition value to only a tiny segment of the US population, a segment of the population that varies in size from region to region and is growing smaller every year. They are not the draw that they were in the heyday of the Continuing Anglican Movement in late 1970s and early 1980s. A traditional Anglican church can no longer advertise its use of the 1928 Prayer Book and the 1940 Hymnal and attract a steady flow of visitors. Their use is no substitute for the characteristics that I have identified in the foregoing paragraph as essential to traditional church viability. I have watched one too many traditional Anglican churches go belly-up because they did not pay enough attention to these areas of church life and worship.

One of the primary reasons members of small churches do not invite people to their church’s worship services is that they are embarrassed by what they perceive to be the poor quality of these services. A part of the solution to this problem is to get the congregation excited about Sunday morning again. People who are excited about something want others to share in their excitement. Church members, when they are excited about Sunday morning at their church, will invite all kinds of people to their church’s worship services.

The first step to generating excitement about Sunday morning in a small church is to size-up the resources of the church and show the church how it can make better use of these resources to enhance its worship services. In a traditional Anglican church this entails giving attention to five key areas—planning and conducting of the service, reading of Scripture, preaching, music, and the sacraments. Only the last area requires a priest and then primarily for the administration of the Holy Communion.

As the rubrics of the 1928 Baptismal Office recognize, a baptized layman can administer the sacrament of Baptism in dire emergencies. Lay baptism is a biblical practice. Jesus’ disciples baptized as laymen, not as ordained ministers.

In his research on why formerly unchurched people joined a church, Thom Rainer found that an important consideration was the quality of the church’s worship music. Style of worship music and quality of worship music are not synonymous. It is a common mistake to confuse the two. What Rainer found was that, whatever the various styles of music that a church is using, when a church is tangibly doing its best, the church conveys to the unchurched visitor that the church takes the worship of God seriously. This was a major factor that caused an unchurched visitor to return for a second visit, a third visit, and so on, and eventually become a regular attendee at its services. The research included churches that used a variety of instruments as well as music styles in their worship.

Over a century ago in Loyalty to the Prayer Book (1904) Percy Dearmer urged his readers:

Let us by all means have bright Services, if by that we mean singing in which everyone can join, if we avoid the temptation to make our Services dull and without significance, through perpetual monotoning, if we secure real brightness by clear and stirring reading of the Lessons "distinctly with an audible voice"--and by short and vigorous sermons, and by interesting instructions; and if we remember to make the highest Service the brightest of all. Let us, in fact, bring out the real brightness of our Services by doing them proper justice.

Dearmer’s advice is as true today as it was then—perhaps even more so.

If you are not familiar with Percy Dearmer, he was English priest and liturgist best known as the author of The Parson's Handbook, a liturgical manual for Anglican clergy. Dearmer championed the English Use, sound liturgical practice that came from the traditions of the pre-Reformation English Church and which conformed to the rites, services, and rubrics of the Book of Common Prayer and the canons that governed the Prayer Book. He wrote a number of other books as well as revised The Parson’s Handbook several times. Dearmer had a strong influence upon the music of the church during his lifetime. He was responsible with Ralph Vaughan Williams for the publication of The English Hymnal in 1906 and with Vaughan Williams and Martin Shaw for the publication of Songs of Praise in 1926 and The Oxford Book of Carols in 1928. Dearmer was professor of ecclesiastical art at King's College London from 1919 until his death in 1936. His ashes are interred in the Great Cloister at Westminster Abbey.

On a personal note my favorite hymn as a child was Dearmer’s “Jesus, good above all others,” 540 in Songs of Praise, Full Music Edition, Revised and Enlarged edition 1931, sung to the tune QUEM PASTORES LAUDAVERE.

I have given serious thought over the past few years to how a small Anglican church that uses one of the older Anglican service books and what is known as the “new traditional” core hymnody in its worship might reach and engage the unchurched population of its community and its region. The article series, “Early in the Morning Our Songs Shall Rise to Thee: The Music and Conduct of Morning Prayer,” is one of the fruits of that thinking as it relates to worship, particularly worship music.

Reinvigorating its worship, however, is only one of a number of steps that a small Anglican church needs to take to achieve this goal. It must make itself more attractive in other ways. It must also expand its “footprint” in the community and the region. A church can be small but have a very large “footprint.” A church’s “footprint” is its impact upon the community and the region which it is located.

A common way for small churches to expand their “footprint” is to have a yard sale in the church parking lot to raise money for a charitable organization in the community such as a food bank. The community is impacted in a number of ways—through the purchase of inexpensive items at the yard sale and through the proceeds donated to the food bank. The church also benefits from the yard sale—from the goodwill it generates in the community, from the visibility it helps to give the church, and from the interactions between church members and community members at the yard sale. The previously invisible St. Fursey’s suddenly become the church down the street that had the yard sale last week and the people of St. Fursey’s the nice folks who sold me this whatsomadoodle real cheap. Another common way is a parish fair with booths, games, prizes, and food—lots and lots of food. Any profits from sales at the parish fair are donated to a worthwhile cause in the community or the region. A third common way is to join other groups and individuals from the community or the region in a community service project benefiting the community or the region or both. This is a great way to meet people, form new relationships, and to expand the church members’ relationship network. It also puts a human face on St. Fursey’s.

Yard sales, parish fairs, and that sort of thing also help church members to recognize that the church does not exist for them. It exists for the whole community, for the entire region. These types of outreaches help church members become more outward-looking and less inward-focused—a critical step in church revitalization.

Jesus said, “No one lights a lamp and puts it under a basket, but rather on a lampstand, and it gives light for all who are in the house” (Matthew5:15 HCSB). Have you ever seen the lamps that were used in ancient Palestine during the days of Jesus’ earthly ministry? They are tiny! One easily fits in the palm of your hands. They also can be easily hid under a basket, especially a large basket used to measure grain. I have replicas of the two most commonly-used lamps. But in the dark windowless houses in that part of the ancient world they provided a welcome light. If a tiny lamp can brighten a house, how much more can a small church be a light in its community and its region?!

On the Net: "Why the Local Church Is Trending Up" and More

Why the Local Church Is Trending Up

At any point in its history, the church is a case study in the contrast between appearance and reality. Despite all indications to the contrary, and far beyond any expectations, it has flourished. Read More

Forget Church Growth, Aim for Church Health

When I wrote The Purpose Driven Church, I predicted that church health – not church growth – would be the primary concern of the 21st Century church. I believe that prediction is proving itself true. Read More

9 Ways to Maximize Your Leadership in Your 20s

If you’re in your 20s, you don’t need to sprint through this season. Use it to prepare yourself for the person you want to become. Read More

Current Update on Why Pastors Are Quitting – Rainer on Leadership #227 [Podcast]

On today’s podcast, Thom Rainer and Jonathan Howe update listeners on 10 current reasons that pastors are leaving the ministry. Read More

Darkness, Being Anonymous, and Church

Does darkness and anonymity impact one’s behavior? Read More

Amplifying Evangelism—One Critical Component in Becoming an Engaging Church

If we want churches to be evangelistic, we need to emphasis evangelism. Read More

Evangelism Is Better Caught Than Taught

Whether you are a busy pastor or a busy leader in your church, you can live what you lead in the area of outreach. Read More

Religious 'nones' outnumber Christians in England and Wales

More people in England and Wales say they have no religion than say they are Christians, according to new analysis – and the number is increasing. Read More