What’s the Latest in Online Worship?

An article from Outreach Magazine about applications for online worship…

Fishing season was just two weeks away when the April 20 explosion rocked BP’s Deepwater Horizon offshore rig, and oil began rising from the floor of the Gulf. As the weeks dragged on and millions of gallons fouled the waters, the fishing industry was stranded, and coastal communities suffered.

Terri Goulette lives in one of those hard-hit areas—Houma, La.—where many families lost their livelihood in the wake of the spill. Moved by the need, she started looking for a way to help and to bring encouragement to the community. That’s when she thought of a backpack and school-supply drive. And she thought perhaps she could mobilize her “local church”—700 miles away in Central Florida.

Goulette is one of an estimated 2,000 people who join the services of Northland, A Church Distributed through webstream each week

(in addition to the 12,000 who worship at their various sites). She’s been part of the online congregation since the first week of the church’s webcasting in 2005.

Goulette’s response to her community in need—her impulse to serve in some tangible, specific way and to involve her church in the process—casts an intriguing light on the Web-based church experience and how online worship is morphing into a new definition of “virtual.”

Virtual Isn’t What It Used to Be

When churches first started streaming video of their services on the Internet, the closest metaphor was broadcast TV. For many, this is still the prevailing perception—just people watching a screen. Dan Lacich, Northland’s pastor for distributed sites, sees it differently.

“Television is a one-way push of content with no interaction built in other than ‘Send us a check, and we will send you a book,’” he says. “The worship experience that people are having via Northland’s web and a handful of other churches is one that is fully interactive and designed as an entry point into ministry everywhere, every day.”

In the new virtual, online attendees are able to connect with one another before, during and after worship via community and private chats. They’re able to have immediate and direct contact with a minister who serves that online congregation.

Lacich also notes that online worship is not necessarily a solitary experience. “Growing numbers of our online worshippers are gathering with others and using the Web as their way to participate in worship, not simply sitting and watching. They stand, sit, pray, greet, sing and have communion along with the rest of the church that is gathered in many other places. It really gets exciting when these online worshippers start working together to serve and reach out to others who do not know Jesus.”

Opportunities Global and Local

In addition to 28,000 who worship each week at various physical locations and a network of more than 100 churches who use their free teaching resources, LifeChurch.tv based in Edmond, Okla., has also experienced an explosion of growth in its online ministries. Pastor and Innovation Leader Bobby Gruenewald, an Outreach columnist, acknowledges that their fairly robust online ad campaign attracts drifters and seekers as well as the committed. While the curious may click through to their site and linger only briefly, like Northland, LifeChurch.tv is finding increasing numbers worshipping regularly online.

And like Northland, Flamingo Road Church in Cooper City, Fla., Newsong Community Church in Irvine, Calif., Granger Community Church in Granger, Ind., Healing Place Church in Baton Rouge, La., and other churches with an aggressive online strategy, LifeChurch.tv is finding that opportunities for spiritual influence online are as far-reaching as the Web itself. Even in countries not particularly hospitable to missionaries, online ministries are taking hold. Gruenewald singles out India as one area where people are pursuing answers to faith questions they might otherwise have little opportunity to express.

And from the casually curious to persistent seekers, LifeChurch.tv is tracking those who make the first move to step out of anonymity, seeking discussion, counsel or one-on-one prayer. “We’re noting where online worshippers are clustered and offering opportunities to gather in small groups or connect with a local congregation, whether that church is part of LifeChurch.tv’s network or not,” Gruenewald says.

Online worship is creating unexpected opportunities, says Dan Ohlerking, online pastor for Healing Place Church’s four weekly services. Recently, Ohlerking received an e-mail from a man saying he suffers from severe agoraphobia, but that via the church’s online worship, he’s been “coming to church.” Northland’s Lacich notes that the church’s webstream worship has been used in local jails, supplemented by a physical volunteer team who are on-site during the worship service. “Often, the men who come to the service start to reach out to their wife and kids to say, ‘You need to go to this church.’”

“I can’t tell you what it’s like to have one of these guys come up after they’re out of jail and say, ‘This is my first time here, but I’ve been worshipping with you,’” Lacich says.

It is this interactivity that’s driving the vision for online worship. While it may be some seekers’ solitary pursuit, the intent is to build the church, to use online worship as another avenue to gather people together.

The Challenge of the Metrics

As these and other new ministry opportunities continue to emerge from the virtual experience, churches investing resources into this new vision are searching for ways to steward that investment. They’re studying the metrics—number of unique visitors, amount of time users stay on the website, number of people participating at a virtual site, etc.

Those numbers, Healing Place Church’s Ohlerking says, help him gauge the health of the online campus he pastors. He has followed LifeChurch.tv’s lead, measuring online attendance of a service by the maximum number of simultaneous viewers for that experience. Additionally, LifeChurch.tv tracks the total number of unique computers that connect and the time on the site, Gruenewald says, adding that he also looks at how many people are volunteering, giving and are involved in live prayer conversations as ways to measure engagement. Because Northland gives users the option to sign in and participate or remain quietly anonymous, attendance is tracked in two ways, and users must be on the site a minimum of 20 minutes to constitute “attendance,” Lacich explains.

Currently, no standard of measurement exists for online attendance and isn’t likely to emerge in an area of such diversity. “Because so many churches approach online ministry differently, it’s difficult to arrive at a standard for measurement,” says LifeChurch.tv’s Gruenewald. “A church’s goals for their online ministry will determine their perspective on what’s important to evaluate. So some churches might pay attention to the number of registered users while others might track site hits.”

Regardless of who counts what, online worship and the people who participate are fast becoming part of a church’s overall equation.

“As our church is being transformed from most of our people mainly assembling at buildings accommodating large numbers to most of our people being gathered in smaller venues and individuals connecting with particular others for an online experience, we are being challenged to clarify not only the vision, but the measurements of those participating with us directly,” says Northland Senior Pastor Joel Hunter.

As the church continues to think creatively and grow beyond traditional parameters, perhaps the greater, overarching question and challenge comes down to: How do we measure ministry effectiveness? Along with thousands of churches around the country, Northland and LifeChurch.tv are wrestling with that question. “We’re passionate about changing how we measure ministry effectiveness,” Gruenewald says, adding that LifeChurch.tv is in the process of developing software to help churches in this process.

As weeks turned to months and the Gulf oil spill persisted, Terri Goulette’s backpack drive had taken shape and gained momentum, mostly through word of mouth and informal networking. It wasn’t until she contacted Northland to invite the involvement of her church that she remembered the church does an annual school supply drive to benefit homeless and other needy children in Central Florida. Goulette and Northland combined their efforts, and the contributions poured in.

When the day arrived to distribute the backpacks in the area around Houma, La.—Aug. 7—Northland was on hand to assist Goulette. Because of one person’s impulse to help and the community she mobilized, nearly 800 kids received a new backpack and school supplies. The ministry she’s receiving online, she says, is teaching her “how to continue to walk with Jesus and look at others through God’s eyes, to make my world more like Heaven on Earth.”

Zac Hicks on Exchanging Hip for Intergenerational Worship

Zac is thinking about worship at his EPC church in Denver, CO. See what he has to say. http://www.zachicks.com/blog/2010/10/11/worship-exchanging-hip-for-intergenerational.html

Worship: Scriptural Definitions and Practical Applications for Public and Private Worship

Following is a worship primer drawing from some of my favorite sources on the topic. See footnotes at the bottom of this article.

I. What is Worship?

A. The term ‘worship’ comes from the Anglo-Saxon weorthscipe which later developed into worthship, and then into worship. “It means, ‘to attribute worth’ to an object. To worship God is to ascribe to Him supreme worth, for He alone is worthy.” 1

B. A definition: “Worship is the submission of all our nature to God. It is the quickening of conscience by His Holiness; the nourishment of mind by His Truth; the purifying of imagination by His beauty; the opening of the heart to His Love; the surrender of the will to His purpose – and all this gathered up in adoration, the most selfless emotion of which our nature is capable and therefore the chief remedy for our self-centeredness.” -Archbishop William Temple

C. Biblical words for worship 2

1. Old Testament

a. ‘Service’ (abad): all kinds of service including acts of adoration and chores; e.g., Ex. 3.12; 20.5; Dt. 6.13; 10.12; Jos. 24.12; Ps. 2.11

b. ‘Bowing down’ or ‘prostrating’(shachah): Gen. 22.5; 27.29; Exo. 34.14; Ps. 22.27

2. New Testament

a. ‘Service’ or ‘Worship’ (latreia) depending on the context; e.g. Rom. 12.1; Mt. 4.10; Lk. 2.37; Act 26.7; Heb. 8.5; 9:9

b. ‘Service to the community or state’ (leiturgia); e.g., Lk. 1.23; 2 Co. 9.12; Phil. 2.30; Heb. 9.21; 10:11

c. ‘Bowing down’ or ‘prostrating’ (proskuneo); e.g., Mt. 4.9-10; 14.33; Mk. 15.19; Act 10.25

3. Thus, Christian worship and service are one and the same. Worship is both narrow and broad, an event as well as a lifestyle. (cf. Ps. 95:1-7a and 7b-11).

D. Worship is revelation and response. God makes himself known to us in several ways: through His works in creation (Ps. 19:1); through His written word (Ps. 19:7); supremely, through Jesus Christ (Jn. 1:18); and, through the Holy Spirit. (Jn. 16:13). We respond in service and adoration. 3

E. God alone is to be the object of our worship (Exo. 20.1-3), not men (Act 14.12-14) or angels (Rev. 22.8-9).

F. We are to worship Him with our whole being: mind, will, emotions, and body (Dt. 6.5; Lk. 10.27).

II. Why do we Worship?

A. Because He alone is worthy.

• “Worthy are You, our Lord and our God, to receive glory and honor and power; for You created all things, and because of Your will they existed, and were created.” (Rev 4:11)

B. Because of His Acts of Redemption. He has acted in history.

1. “And He said, “Certainly I will be with you, and this shall be the sign to you that it is I who have sent you: when you have brought the people out of Egypt, you shall worship God at this mountain.” (Exo 3:12)

2. “But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.” (1 Pet. 2.9)

3. “Sing to the LORD, for he has done glorious things; let this be known to all the world. Shout aloud and sing for joy, people of Zion, for great is the Holy One of Israel among you.” (Isa. 12.5-6)

Practical Application

• Everything in our public worship services should be designed and carried out not to call attention to ourselves but to God and to cause people to think about Him.

• This should be the basis of our evaluation of its various elements – the preaching, public prayer, leading of music, the Lord’s Supper, the announcements and the offering.

• All of our spiritual gifts should be used in such a way as to glorify God rather than ourselves: “Whoever speaks, is to do so as one who is speaking the utterances of God; whoever serves is to do so as one who is serving by the strength which God supplies; so that in all things God may be glorified through Jesus Christ, to whom belongs the glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen” (1 Pet 4:11). 4

III. How we worship. 5

A. God-Centered Worship. Covenant Lordship involves control, authority and presence.

1. Control. Worship must be focused on the covenant LORD’s control, his rule as sovereign over creation, praising him for his “mighty acts” in creation, providence and redemption. (Ex. 15:1-18; Ps. 104; Zeph. 3.17; Rev. 15:3-4).

2. Authority. We bow before God’s authoritative power and his holy Word. We read and study his Word in worship (Act 15.21; 1 Tim. 4.13) and we go out to be doers of the Word, not hearers only. (Rom. 2.13; James 1.22-25; 4.11).

3. Presence. We experience God’s presence in worship. He comes to us to be with us. God met with his people in the tabernacle and the temple (Exo. 20.24). He rejoices over us with singing (Zeph. 3.17). The name of Jesus is Immanuel meaning “God with us” (Is. 7.14; Mt. 1.23). In New Testament worship, even a visiting unbeliever may be impressed with the presence of God in worship so that “he will fall down and worship God, exclaiming, ‘God is really among you!’” (1 Cor. 14.25)

Practical Application

• When we leave public worship, we should not ask first ‘What did I get out of it?’ but ‘How did I do in my work of honoring the Lord?’

B. Gospel-Centered Worship

1. Though Adam and Eve enjoyed fellowship with God in the Garden they fell into sin. However, God continued to seek worshipers (Jn. 4.23) after the fall: Cain and Abel both bring offerings to the Lord (Gen. 4.3-4) and in the time of Seth, people “began to call on the name of the LORD” (Gen. 4.3-4)

2. The Israelites were conscious of sin and forgiveness in worship through their system of animal sacrifices which prefigured deliverance through Christ.

3. In New Testament worship God’s word tells us of our sin and God’s provision for forgiveness. Our eating and drinking in worship reminds us of the Lord’s death until He comes (1 Cor. 11.26). Our worship centers around the life, death and resurrection of Christ and his coming again.

Practical Application

• Worship should bring us to repentance for any known sin in our lives, including sins against one another. Otherwise, our attempts at prayer and ministry are frustrated by God. (Matt. 18:15-18; Ezek. 44:6-14)

C. Trinitarian Worship. Trinitarian worship is aware of the distinctive work of the Father, Son and the Spirit for our salvation. After the work of Christ was complete on earth, the Father and the Son sent the Spirit to empower the church in its mission to bring the gospel to every nation. We worship God for initiating our redemption, we worship Christ for accomplishing our redemption, and we worship the Spirit for sealing our redemption, applying the work of Christ to our hearts, enabling us to understand His Word, filling us with divine gifts and empowering us for ministry in the world.

D. Vertical and Horizontal.

1. Ministry to God. This is the vertical aspect.

2. Ministry to One Another. This is the horizontal aspect. We love God (vertical). We also love one another (horizontal). (Mt. 22.37-40; Mk. 7.9-13; 1 Jn. 4.20-21).

a. We should not ignore the needs of the poor (Is. 1:10-17; cf. 1 Cor. 11:17-34; James 2.1-7)

b. We should edify other believers (1Cor. 14.26)

c. We should encourage one another to good works and not forsake assembling together. (Heb 10:24-25)

E. Broad and Narrow – see above

F. The Importance of Worship

1. The Westminster Shorter Catechism tells us that “Man’s chief end is to glorify God and to enjoy him forever.”

2. The goal of our entire life is to glorify God (1 Cor. 10:31) and to that end God is seeking worshipers (Jn. 4.23)

3. All of history culminates in “the praise of his glory” (Eph. 1:14).

IV. Results of Worship 6

A. We Delight in God

1. In the Old Testament Psalms:

a. “You will make known to me the path of life; In Your presence is fullness of joy; In Your right hand there are pleasures forever.” (Psa 16:11)

b. “Whom have I in heaven but You? And besides You, I desire nothing on earth.” (Psa 73:25); also Psa 27:4; 84:1-2, 10

4. In the Early Church

a. At Christ’s birth: “The shepherds went back, glorifying and praising God for all that they had heard and seen, just as had been told them.” (Luk 2:20); also Mat 2:11

b. After his resurrection: “Then He said to Thomas, “Reach here with your finger, and see My hands; and reach here your hand and put it into My side; and do not be unbelieving, but believing.” Thomas answered and said to Him, “My Lord and my God!” (Jn 20:27)

c. At his ascension: “And they, after worshiping Him, returned to Jerusalem with great joy” (Luk. 24:52)

5. Worship gives us a foretaste of heaven: “And the four living creatures, each one of them having six wings, are full of eyes around and within; and day and night they do not cease to say, “HOLY, HOLY, HOLY is THE LORD GOD, THE ALMIGHTY, WHO WAS AND WHO IS AND WHO IS TO COME.”” (Rev 4:8); also 5:12

C. God Delights in Us

1. God delights in his creation: “God saw all that He had made, and behold, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day.” Gen 1:31

2. God delights in those he has redeemed: “You will also be a crown of beauty in the hand of the LORD… you will be called, “My delight is in her,” …For the LORD delights in you….as the bridegroom rejoices over the bride, So your God will rejoice over you.” (Isa 62:3); also Zeph 3.17

D. We Draw Near to God

1. In the Old Covenant, believers could only draw near to God in a limited way through the temple ceremonies; most had to remain in the courtyard. Only the priests could enter the holy place and only the high priest once a year could enter the holy of holies but not without blood (Heb. 9:1-7).

2. But Christ, by his death, went into the holy place as mediator of the new covenant and high priest, offering His own blood for our redemption (Heb. 9:11-24).

3. Therefore we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus…and since we have a great priest over… [us], let us draw near with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith. (Heb. 10:19-22)

4. So New Testament Christians are no longer worshiping, as it were, in the shadows of the Old Covenant tabernacle or temple, it is genuine worship in the presence of God himself through the blood of Christ. Christ our mediator has brought us into the holy place where God is. We have not come to Mount Sinai where Israel received the Ten Commandments, but to the heavenly Jerusalem where we worship God together with those already in heaven.

“For you have not come to a mountain that can be touched and to a blazing fire, and to darkness and gloom and whirlwind, and to the blast of a trumpet and the sound of words which sound was such that those who heard begged that no further word be spoken to them…But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to myriads of angels, to the general assembly and church of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the Judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood, which speaks better than the blood of Abel.” Heb 12:18-24

5. Our only appropriate response is this: “…Let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe; for our God is a consuming fire.” Heb 12:28-29

E. God Draws Near to Us

1. James tells us, “Draw near to God and he will draw near to you” Jam 4:8

2. In the OT , when God’s people praised him at the dedication of the temple, he descended and made himself known in their midst: “The trumpeters and singers joined in unison, as with one voice, to give praise and thanks to the LORD. Accompanied by trumpets, cymbals and other instruments, they raised their voices in praise to the LORD and sang: “He is good; his love endures forever.” Then the temple of the LORD was filled with a cloud, and the priests could not perform their service because of the cloud, for the glory of the LORD filled the temple of God.” 2Ch 5:13-15

3. God dwells in the people’s praise. Though this was a unique occurrence accompanied by a visible cloud, David affirms that God, perhaps more often invisibly, inhabits the praise of his people: “Yet You are holy, O You who are enthroned upon the praises of Israel.” Psa 22:3

F. God Ministers to Us through other Believers

1. Though the primary purpose of worship is to glorify God, the Scriptures teach that something occurs to us as we worship: we are built up or edified.

a. “What is the outcome then, brethren? When you assemble, each one has a psalm, has a teaching, has a revelation, has a tongue, has an interpretation. Let all things be done for edification.” 1 Cor 14:26

b. “Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you, with all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with thankfulness in your hearts to God.” (Col 3:16); also Eph. 5.19; cf. Heb. 10:24-25

2. Also, God ministers to us directly as we come to Him in worship through Christ:

a. “You also, as living stones, are being built up as a spiritual house for a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.” 1 Pet 2:5

b. “Therefore let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” Heb 4:16

c. “But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit.” 2 Cor 3:18

G. The Lord’s Enemies Flee. When God’s people worshiped him, at times he would fight for them against their enemies. This occurred when King Jehoshaphat faced the Moabites, Edomites and Syrians. He sent out the choir praising in front of the army:

“When he had consulted with the people, he appointed those who sang to the LORD and those who praised Him in holy attire, as they went out before the army …When they began singing and praising, the LORD set ambushes against the sons of Ammon, Moab and Mount Seir, who had come against Judah; so they were routed.” 2 Chron 20:21-22

1Ralph P. Martin, Worship in the Early Church, 10.
2New Dictionary of Theology, 730-731.
3Ibid., 730.
4Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology, 1005.
5Adapted from John Frame, Worship in Spirit and Truth, 4-11.
6Grudem, 1005-1009.

Leading Intergenerational Worship

At Myrtle Grove, we are reaching across the generations through worship arts ministry. We currently have two fairly distinct generations of worship leaders in our church. We have those who have been leading worship for fifteen to twenty or more years who are now in their forties and fifties, and we have those who have been leading only a few years in their twenties and early thirties. With such diversity, we are taking steps to maintain unity between the generations for the benefit of the church and its ministry to the community by rotating our worship bands and by combining our worship bands with orchestra and choir.

Over the past several years, we have been utilizing a modern worship band format (guitars, drums, bass, keyboards) for leading worship almost exclusively. We have been rotating four worship bands, two groups made up of mostly older worship leaders at the early, more blended, service and two groups made up of mostly younger worship leaders at the late, more contemporary, service. However, we found over time that this separation of old and young was not conducive to a sense of unity among the congregation or among the worship leaders.

We recently took steps to become more unified and to become more diversified. First, we asked the worship bands to begin serving at both services so that both “congregations” could experience the diversity of the different teams and have a greater sense of unity between the two services. And second, we expanded the minstry to once again include those who play traditional orchestra instruments (cello, flute, oboe, trumpet, horn, timpani, etc.) and those who have sung in traditional choirs (soprano, alto, tenor, bass). This has presented certain challenges and is reaping some significant rewards.

Challenges of utilizing bands for both services:
1. For bands who are used to serving only at the 11:00 service, an 8:00 a.m. sound check feels verrrrry early! It’s hard for some of our younger band members to get out of bed and get to the sound check/rehearsal on time.
2. For those same bands, the early hour makes it difficult to sing some of the modern music with its high vocal range.
3. For all the bands, waiting around for the late service makes it a long day lasting from as early as 7:30 a.m. for instrumentalists to as late as 12:30 p.m. since we have a “discipleship hour” at 9:45 between the two two services.
4. The congregation must sing a wider “play list” and perhaps learn new music somewhat faster.

Benefits of utilizing bands for both services:
1. The congregation experiences the diversity of all four bands instead of just two and the diversity of both younger and older worship leaders.
2. There is a greater sense of unity between the two services. With the same music being played in both services, members of the congregation can attend either service and have a similar experience on a given day.

Challenges of an expanded worship team including band, orchestra and choir:
1. Finding music for such a diverse ensemble. Until recently, not much music has been available that combines band with choir and orchestra except perhaps full-length worship musicals.
2. Rehearsing the various sections of the ensemble. Is it best to rehearse them all together or separately?

Solutions for a worship team that includes band, orchestra and choir:

1. Music – PraiseCharts.com provides music arrangements for modern worship songs and hymn re-makes for various groupings of instruments and singers. The arrangements match exactly those found on modern recordings from most of the modern worship artists. However, other instrumental and vocal parts are added to the arrangements to allow orchestra instrumentalists and choir singers to join the band. Music is purchased by the song via internet download – chord charts, piano/vocal files, mp3 files, orchestrations, files for choirs and vocal teams and even Finale files.

2. MusicTravis Cottrell and Brentwood-Benson Music. Cottrell’s musicals are sometimes seasonal, but also offer non-seasonal music for band, choir and orchestra. For example, we are currently using his Glorious Day: A Modern Worship Choir Collection which has eleven modern worship songs or hymn arrangements for band, choir and orchestra. Products can be purchased from Brentwood-Benson that include traditional songbooks for choir, a CD-ROM that has the full orchestration, and separate CDs for soprano, alto, tenor and bass. The only product they should add are chord charts for the band that get the whole song on one or two pages for guitarists, etc. At this time, they only provide Rhythm charts which can be three or more pages long. So we have written out our own chord charts for the bands.

3. Rehearsals – We are finding that it’s best to rehearse each ensemble separately before putting them all together on Sunday morning or for a special event. Stan Endicott and others have said that the smaller ensembles can maintain better focus and remain less distracted by other parts when rehearsing separately. For instance, this week we are preparing the band, choir and orchestra for the services on Sunday, and they have five songs they’ll be doing together. On Wednesday, we rehearsed the band (guitars, bass, drums, keyboards) with just the two lead vocalists. On Thursday, we rehearsed the orchestra players with just the piano and lead vocalists. And we rehearsed the choir singers and vocal team with just the piano and lead vocalists. Each group reported that this was much preferred to rehearsing all the ensembles togther at the same time as we have also done recently. It gave the participants more opportunity to ask questions if necessary, they were better able to hear their individual parts, and they felt that their time was not wasted waiting for other parts to be played or explained.