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Saturday, December 12, 2009

worship practices survey

One component of my D.Min. degree was a field study related to the topic of my project. I chose to survey fellow pastors and musicians in my presbytery regarding worship practices and planning, as described below. I share the description and conclusion of that study below, with a link to the full report for those interested in the data and more detail. For anyone involved in the planning or implementation of worship, I think this study would be helpful for self-analysis and growth.


The questionnaire, "Worship Philosophy and Planning," was mailed with a cover letter to 134 churches in the Presbytery of Charlotte, Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) in May of 2007. Most of the questionnaires were returned within six to eight weeks. These churches were selected because the Presbytery of Charlotte is an easily identifiable and reachable audience and the likelihood of response was high.

The Presbytery of Charlotte is the fourth largest presbytery in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), with 134 churches, approximately 291 ministers, and approximately 41,000 members. It serves seven counties in and around Charlotte, NC: Anson, Cabarrus, Mecklenburg, Montgomery, Richmond, Stanly, and Union.
Of note, it also has the largest population of predominantly African-American Presbyterian (U.S.A.) churches in the denomination.

The target interviewees were senior pastors and musicians. Duplicate surveys were sent to each church, with one addressed to the pastor and one to the music director. The questionnaire was designed to collect basic church information, measure actual patterns of worship planning and practice, and collective subjective responses defining "worship philosophy."

The first part of the questionnaire (questions 1-7) collected basic information, including number and times of worship services, number attending, and a description of worship style. For the latter, four choices were offered: "traditional," "contemporary," "blended," and "other." Data was also collected regarding church membership (active roll), age of church, tenure of person being surveyed, and hours worked. Responses to membership were verified against Presbytery records. Pastors were asked about the degree of musical training. Musicians were asked about the degree of their musical and theological/biblical training.

The second part of the questionnaire (questions 8-15) dealt with worship planning. This part included questions about personnel, frequency, duration, and lead time of their worship planning. One question asked about the pastor’s sermon preparation habits, how far in advance it happened and what tools were used to select the sermon text. There was also a question about worship planning tools, from hymnals to computer software, with several common options listed and room for more to be added. Next the questionnaire sought to measure the
frequency with which music is used in different liturgical locations in the worship service. For example, is music ever used for the "Confession of Sin" or for the "Assurance of Pardon?" Space was provided for a "short description of… worship planning time" in a more narrative form. Finally, a list of potential motivations for selecting hymns or songs was provided, with a five degree scale offered to measure degree of influence. Two "other" choices were also provided. The purpose of this question was to gain some sense of factors guiding music selection.

The third part of the questionnaire (questions 16-18) addressed worship philosophy. This section was purely subjective and narrative, asking for a definition/purpose of worship and an evaluation of whether worship practice matched this ideal. A final question asked if there were any areas where change was desirable.


By way of final remarks on the field research, I would thank the pastors and musicians who responded so quickly and helpfully on the surveys. I am a member of the Presbytery of Charlotte and these churches and pastors are dear to me. I am also passionate about worship and am responsible for the worship life of the presbytery as chair of the Ecclesiastical Affairs committee. The responses have, for the most part, born out some of the presuppositions of early chapters. These presuppositions included the thought that churches are struggling with worship, facing challenges of cultural change, staff conflict, shrinking membership, and lack of teaching about what worship is.

I was encouraged by the degree of thoughtfulness and planning evidenced by some and discouraged by the carelessness and procrastination shown by others. I feel for musicians who are hamstrung by pastors who either will not plan ahead, will not communicate well, or who otherwise hinder these servants of the Lord.

I was surprised at how many pastors had musical training or experience and at how few musicians had biblical or theological training. I was also surprised by the range of qualifications for the musicians, from virtually none to multiple degrees, including several with doctorates. In the musician responses, a staggering number of instruments were listed under proficiencies. I wonder if local churches are hearing accordion, flute, trombone, autoharp, dulcimer, and percussion from these musicians.

I was pleased to discover some of the resources used by the predominantly African-American churches for worship in a blended, Gospel style. I plan to find my own copy of
The African-American Heritage Hymnal.

Finally, I was encouraged to find out how many churches are actually using newer styles and forms of music in worship. What could not be ascertained through this survey was to what degree services really were "blended" or if that word was used to describe minimal use of contemporary music. But, it is the direction of this project to argue that style is not the primary consideration. If the Church can be directed to the true and humble worship of God, style will find its appropriate place.

Link to Field Study Document (pdf): bit.ly/8yX9dz
Interested in the whole book?

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