Sunday Surprise

Over the summer, my music director/worship co-consipirator and I read several articles about congregational singing that popped up on social media. We decided to craft a “hymn sing” service to give us an excuse to play with some of the variables mentioned in the articles.

We sat down with a bulletin and our hymnals, and we chose a hymn that could serve as each liturgical element, from the Call to Worship to the Benediction. We intentionally went for familiar hymns and/or tunes, so that people could sing confidently. We also needed to get them to sit closer together and provide a little quieter accompaniment than usual.

The original plan was to tell some of the stories behind the hymns or hymn-writers, but I realized it was also a great opportunity to teach about worship. And, by involving multiple readers we could reinforce the Priesthood of All Believers (no need to have the paid professional up there all the time).

As the service took shape, I was a little sad we had scheduled this for a date I would be gone. Thankfully, we had an opportunity to host a neutral pulpit for a local church and a candidate on that Sunday I was away… so we bumped Surprise Sunday back a week. Here’s how we pulled it together:

Created a Surprise Worship Script

  • Prepped a paper bulletin that ONLY named the elements of worship and assigned readers as Liturgist 1, Liturgist 2, etc.
  • Wrote 1-3 paragraph description and theological context for each of the liturgical elements and placed them in envelopes marked with numbers to match the bulletin
  • Created simple slides for each element that revealed the hymn (and verses) we would sing (and lyrics for hymns in the secondary hymnals)

Moved from the Sanctuary to the Fellowship Hall

  • set up chairs so that everyone was grouped closely together
  • used the piano with no amplification
  • set up a simple table with a cross, Bible and Christ candle
  • brought over the hymnals and offering plates

Worshiped with an Element of Surprise

  • Included the reason for the location move in the announcements (let’s sing!)
  • Gave out envelopes to people willing to read (including some who don’t normally get to assist in worship because of mobility issues)
  • Described what each liturgist would do and invited Liturgist 1 to start us off
  • Assured that the mic was passed and we moved as smoothly as possible through the order of worship.

Did it work? Yes – Everyone was surprised but responded positively. People sang beautifully and with gusto. Readers participated with enthusiasm. That said, I’ve been cultivating a sense of worship as joy-filled and playful over the past several months while treating the content of worship with respect and appropriate reverence.

Note – The service could easily be done without the surprise elements – enlisting readers ahead of time and providing greater detail in the paper bulletin.


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