3 Things to Be Careful About Saying at the Start of Your Service

by Jared C. Wilson July 1, 2019

Obviously context matters, and there's no need to be dogmatic about how we informally (or even formally) begin a worship service, but here are some common introductory cliches I think worth weighing in terms of their helpfulness to the congregation's worship.

1. "How's everybody doing this morning?"

It's sincere. It's nice. It's interested. But sometimes it's a strange way to try to get everybody "pumped up" for the service. When sort-of shouted by a worship leader, it's also a jarring start to what ought to be a time of corporate exaltation of the living God but instead sounds like the beginning of a concert.

"How's everybody doing?!" is what the lead singer at a show shouts, expecting the requisite -- and equally cliched -- "wooos!" from the crowd. 

In addition, there will invariably be some people, if not many, who have gathered into your service who aren't doing okay at all. They will be carrying in wounds, fears, and worries. The pressure to respond positively can inadvertently reinforce the idea that church is where we're supposed to pretend that everyone's fine. Instead, ask people individually how they're doing. And mean it. But maybe think about saving the corporate cheerspeak. It's not always inappropriate. But it might not always be worth it.

But there's another statement often said from the front that's a little worse:

2. "I can't hear you. I said, How's everybody doing?"

This is where the one giving the introduction expresses disappointment in the level of response from the congregation to his opening query (or "Good morning"). It's funny, it's cute. The intention is that the welcomer wants the congregation to be engaged and lively for worship. That's a good desire. But the way this can come across -- again, not always -- is a kind of shaming of the congregation for not adequately performing for the welcomer.

In the worst case scenario, for the previously mentioned people who may be hurting, this feels like pressure to lie. For others it just feels like we're not measuring up to the welcomer's desired level of congregational performance. For everyone, it's just kind of weird. The welcomer doesn't mean anything negative by this statement, but it can sometimes be a strange way of communicating that the congregation is there to validate or appease those on stage.

3. "Where is everybody?"

I've said it. If you're a pastor or someone who's welcomed a service, you've probably said it too. We don't mean anything negative by it. It's usually prompted by an unusually empty or sparsely attended sanctuary. We're intrigued. We want to know -- did we miss a holiday or something?

But what is meant innocently can sometimes come across to those who are there that they aren't important. "Everybody" may not be there, but some people are. Saying "where is everybody" can sound like "you guys aren't enough." 

Again, it's not anything to be overly paranoid about, but it's certainly something to rethink saying. Consider the way it could come across to sensitive souls who have shown up and are ready to worship and have not prepared to be a part of your disapointment at the expected attendance level.

So what are the alternatives?

Many of us have uttered these introductory cliches before, and many of us will continue to say them. Probably they're not that big of a deal. But if our gatherings are intentionally designed to usher people into the beauty of the gospel and the sacredness of exalting our holy God, it's at least worth reevaluating how we do that. Your liturgy (order of worship) will likely dictate how you approach welcoming people to your service, but there are some simple and straightforward alternatives that can start a worship gathering on the right foot:

1. The traditional call to worship.

Why ask people to stand for a Scripture reading or a simple prayer? Traditionally, many churches begin worship with a call to worship to indicate that we have gathered at the Lord's initative. It's a simple and biblical way to counter the sometimes inadvertent implication that we gather to summon God to us rather than the other way around.

2. "I'm/we're glad you're here."

If your service starts with announcements or another kind of pastoral welcome, how about simply and cheerfully expressing your happiness that people chose to gather with your church this morning? Telling people you're glad they're there -- whether they're a covenant member always diligent to attend or a first-time guest -- is a great way to communicate that you mean to serve them and hope they will be refreshed or changed by the grace they encounter.

3. A simple instruction to stand and worship.

It may sound formal, but if you begin with singing, simply having the worship leader ask the congergation to stand and then saying something brief like, "Let's worship the Lord together" is the kind of cliche that gets to the point of the gathering and communicates the priority of God himself.