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So You're Leading Worship

Best Practices and Pitfalls for Worship Leaders

At WorshipWeb, we believe that words have power. By offering these worship materials to you and your worship team, we hope that your service will be more meaningful, articulate, or inspiring than it might have been without the collective creativity of this site.

The power of worship, however, goes far beyond the words we use—beyond content. Effective worship also arises from how worship leaders set the desired tone and hold the space for the worshipping body.

Worship doesn't serve a single, static purpose; rather, we gather for a multitude of reasons and needs. Whether it's on Sunday morning in a sanctuary or in a small group in someone's home, our people arrive for worship for many reasons: they long to be inspired, comforted, changed, opened, challenged, loved, forgiven, lifted up, seen, connected, or filled with wonder (among other needs).

By weaving together different components, a worship service serves the whole -- the common good -- and offers a shared emotional experience. Each worship component has its own relational purpose: a particular reason for connecting us to one another and That Which Is Larger Than Us.

Many Unitarian Universalist worship services, each in its own way, follow this general outline:

  • Arriving or Gathering
  • Connecting to One Another, Our Community, Our Tradition
  • Receiving "The Word" (what Von Ogden Vogt called "Declaring the Possibilities")
  • Responding to Life's Gifts or Returning to the Service of Life

Worship has a shape and a flow; its pieces are connected, and the transitions are as important as each component. As worship leader, you get to decide how and when energy will shift from big and bold to powerfully quiet (although the wise worship leader also responds and follows if those in worship -- or Spirit -- has other plans).

To learn more about how and why worship elements are woven together to form a whole, please explore Worship Elements Explained.

More recent Skinner House publications that explore the art and craft of worship are Worship That Works: Theory and Practice for Unitarian Universalists by Wayne Arnason and Kathleen Rolenz; and The Shared Pulpit by Erika Hewitt.

InterConnections, the UUA's newsletter for congregational leaders, has also published many articles about worship theory and practice.

Any and all of these approaches can help those who weave worship better understand what it is that they are doing and why it is that they are doing it—both crucial in understanding how to go about doing it well. There are many resources that can take you deeper in your understanding of the theory and practice of the worship arts. 


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