new book on lively worship

One of the problems I’ve been chewing on is the demographics of the typical Protestant church (this includes UUs): average membership in most congregations is in the 100-200 range. This is not in the Saddleback or Willow Creek category, so I have to wonder “where does the musical talent and experience come from to kick staid worship practices into gear?”

Maybe this book has the answer:
From a Mustard Seed: Enlivening Worship and Music in the Small Church (Epperly, Bruce G. and Daryl Hollinger. Alban Institute, 2010)

I have not read the book yet, so can’t offer any personal opinions of it, other than to say that the description looks promising and that the authors promise “excellent worship”. That’s a keyword that grabs my attention. As others have noted, quality music contributes greatly to effective worship, while half-baked music detracts from otherwise good worship.

Check out the reviews on for an encouraging look at it: Amazon reviews


About liberalreligiongetsloud

Contemporary Music and Worship Director (retired), First Unitarian, Albuquerque NM
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6 Responses to new book on lively worship

  1. KatDaddy says:

    UU World recently featured an issue on diversity and growing our congregations. More revealing than the articles were the responses…pages and pages of ’em! And I thought to myself, “Do we really WANT to be a megachurch? Can we support the Wal-Mart-ization of our tradition and still be true to our UU principles? Should we be striving for quantity over quality?” Megachurches thrive, by and large, by “dumbing down” Christianity. Imagine faith as existing somewhere on an emotional/intellectual continuum: at one end, you have the whoop-de-do hollerin’ and speakin’ in tongues of camp meetings. On the other end, you have the solemn meditation of the ashram, monastery, or yeshiva. Where do we fall within that continuum? Where do we want to be?

    • I’m afraid I can’t agree with your spectrum and its implied value judgments. Traditional and modern worship styles have nothing to do with the depth of the theology associated with them, and to characterize worship that involves multisensory aspects and physical participation as “dumbed-down” comes across as condescending, and perhaps ill-informed.

      Let me draw some musical analogies. You can have excellent, deep content rendered uncommunicative by poor performance. If you gave me a cello and a Bach sonata, I would not do justice to the content. What you want is depth of content, along with excellence of performance. Similarly, an excellent performance of a third-rank composer may still be more satisfying than my Bach rendition.

      I know you have heard plenty of soulless pap on the radio, but with very high production values. This stuff is the currency of the popular culture, very successful. Rendered by a cheap karaoke track and a talentless singer, this is revealed for what it is.

      Where do we want to be? Please see my other posts: we want to be where we can communicate with people with the greatest transparency of the message. My bottom line is that we must engage the congregation before the message will get across. Megachurches aren’t mega for the sake of being huge. They’re huge because they speak to people in a compelling way, and because they are expert at engaging people during worship and during the rest of the week, too.

      Do we want to change? We already make people change in order to accommodate to our ancient worship styles – why shouldn’t they be able to just come in and immediately engage with the style, and immediately get the message?

      This assumes, of course, that we have a message to get across (see “Noted in passing”).

  2. Kaye says:

    Are you familiar with the work of Marcia McFee? One of the Chicago UU churches sponsored a day-long workshop with McFee in 2008. I thought she was fantastic. Her emphasis is on planning worship that is engaging, relevant, diverse, interactive, and meaningful. She encourages team planning, and involving multiple sensory elements in worship design, including music, movement, and visual arts. I really like how she sees music as an integral part of the whole worship experience, and not something separate. To learn more and check out her resources including her book “The Worship Workshop: Creative Ways to Design Worship Together,” go to her website at Although her primary affiliation is with the United Methodist Church, she works with many different faith groups. In particular, she works well in a UU environment and I think her message would be very beneficial for many UU congregations, clergy, musicians, and worship planners.

  3. Steven Rowe says:

    What’s your source for ” typical Protestant church (this includes UUs): average membership in most congregations is in the 100-200 range.”. I note the most recent issue of CHRISTIAN CENTURY and the last UUA Directory has the average membership of both protestant and UUA as less than 100 (yes, i counted the UUA congregations listings myself).

    • I don’t remember where I saw that, to be honest, so it may (or may not, according to your data) be accurate. I’ll see if I can dredge it up, but in the meantime, I think the general idea still holds, even if the numbers are bad. Small congregations, whatever they are, need special help.

  4. Recently U.S. Congregations completed a survey of church congregation leaders in the United States. The survey includes all denominations and faith groups. The average congregation size in the U.S. is about 130 active participants. The median number of a place with only one priest/minister is 100.


    I still haven’t been able to track down a source for the number I heard as the UU average (100, IIRC). Still looking. If you divide the number of registered members by the number of congregations, you get 157, so it sounds like we’re still in line with “mainline Protestant” denominations. (That’s the number on the rolls, not “active participants”, so the number is probably closer to 100 for UUs, but that’s my guess and may be subject to confirmation bias.)

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