By Joy Jenkins
The Rev. Adam Hamilton knows that people attend worship services for different reasons. Half come to learn about their faith and to encounter the living God, the other half come to see friends, sing songs and maybe hear an interesting sermon.
For Hamilton, this isn’t enough. He said churches should strive to create worship services where all experience God in a profound way and increase the expectation that the Holy Spirit will move in their hearts and lives.
“It’s not just picking a few hymns,” Hamilton said of planning for passionate worship. “It’s really asking the question, ‘What’s the journey we’re leading people on this weekend?’”
Leading congregation members on a journey involves prayerfully considering all aspects of the worship service. He addressed this at the Bishop’s Learning Time Sunday morning of Annual Conference Session, sharing examples from his church, Church of the Resurrection in the Kansas City area.
Hamilton begins worship by kneeling and praying at the chancel, which shows the congregation they should “expect something to happen today.”
The way churches welcome visitors also establishes expectations for worship. Hamilton has worship leaders introduce themselves, provide an outline for the worship service and asks icebreaker questions before the greeting time to help people connect.
To ensure that communion and baptism hold meaning, Hamilton explains their significance each time he confers them. This practice was particularly meaningful for one of Hamilton’s church members. She said her friend called one day and said she wanted to go to church. They attended together, and the member was surprised at the passion with which her friend sang, prayed, tithed and participated in communion.
That night, the woman’s friend was driving with her boyfriend when they collided with a stalled semi truck. Both were killed. The member later told Hamilton that she was glad he explained what communion meant because her friend knew why she was going forward. One of the last things the woman said was, “I’m a follower of Jesus Christ, and I need him in my life.”
For Hamilton, this is just one of many reasons why church services should be planned intentionally.
“When people come forward for the Eucharist at your church, do they understand what they are doing?” he asked. “Have you in any way prepared them for an encounter with God?”
The sermon is also a key element of the worship service, and Hamilton offered five components of preaching that connect with worship attendees:
Teach them something they didn’t know before. People like to learn, and if they leave church with a new piece of information to share, they will feel church was worth attending.
Inspiration comes through stories. Sermons should touch hearts in some way.
Include a call to action. Sermons should offer an opportunity for people to respond. For example, to encourage congregation members to remember their baptisms, Hamilton’s church provided them with prayer tags to hang in their showers.
Sermons should be interesting and intriguing. Hamilton encouraged churches to offer sermons that capture congregations’ attention. He described a sermon series focused on restoring cars as a metaphor for how God works through people. To illustrate his point, on the first Sunday of the series, he displayed a broken-down Mustang on the chancel. The last Sunday featured a new Mustang that had been restored from the inside out, which he drove off the stage. Sermons should be deeply biblical. Sermons should be “rooted and grounded in our sacred text,” Hamilton said. This can include two approaches: sermons that begin with a question about life and move to the Bible to answer it and sermons that begin with the answer by exploring the Bible.
Ultimately, these techniques can help churches see that “Preaching has power,” Hamilton said.
The Rev. Mike Costanzo, newly ordained pastor at Lake Lotawana UMC, said he looks forward to implementing the ideas Hamilton shared.
“These are some practical but also so well theologically grounded ways to approach this,” he said. “Every time I hear him, I’m just always so impressed with the language he uses to introduce things...The bigger meaning is always in just a few little sentences to introduce what’s next.”
For Kay Jones, a lay delegate from Mount Zion UMC in Deepwater, Hamilton’s message served as an invitation and an opportunity.
“I like the way that he portrays Christ and his teaching and encourages other people to live out their faith genuinely,” she said.