Symposium to Explore Future of Worship in The United Methodist Church

United Methodist clergy and laity will join seminary worship professors and doctoral students for a symposium on the Future of Worship later this month to explore what is likely to affect worship for congregations and ministries in The United Methodist Church.

The invitation-only symposium, sponsored by Discipleship Ministries, will be hosted by United Theological Seminary in Dayton, Ohio, on Sept. 24-25.

“Our purpose is to bring together voices from both the academy and churches who have been successfully leading alternative and contemporary worship services to think about where worship is headed in The United Methodist Church,” said Dawn Chesser, Director of Preaching Ministries at Discipleship Ministries.

“We're trying to look forward about 15 years by looking to professors who teach in this subject, particularly those who have been interested in more contemporary, nontraditional forms of worship, and also pastors who have a solid track record with that type of worship,” she said.

Discussions in Dayton and following the symposium will inform planning for a church-wide event on the future of worship in 2016, Chesser said.

During six two-hour sessions, participants will consider these topics: Worship Design: Models, Order and Implications, Music, Sacramental Practice, Preaching, Technology and Sacred Space and Pulling the Threads Together: What Are We Learning? Each session will be livestreamed on the Internet at beginning at 9 a.m. EDT on Sept. 24. After the event, they will be available for viewing online from Discipleship Ministries at

“People can tune in to watch all of it, or just the parts that interest them. They can watch it live, and they can watch it later,” Chesser said.

“This symposium is not about recommending that churches with traditional worship change their services at all, she said. “We really are seeking to understand the future of worship in all its expressions within our church, and to discover how all of them may be offered in ways that are faithful to our approved standards for worship as United Methodists.”

Many churches with successful nontraditional services do not necessarily follow the basic Order of Worship that is recommended in The United Methodist Book of Worship, she said.

“Their teaching style is different. They tend to not follow the Lectionary. Their sacramental practices sometimes are very different from what is called for by ‘This Holy Mystery,’ which is our official statement on communion, and also ‘By Water and the Spirit,’ which is our official statement on baptism,” Chesser said. “So part of what we want to talk about is how we maintain a strong United Methodist identity, even while doing nontraditional worship services. How do we do that well?”

Chesser said the hope is that United Methodist seminaries will benefit from the symposium discussions on the future of worship and begin to include more academic offerings about the variety of worship styles our churches are likely to offer.

“Students graduate from our seminaries and are, in many cases, asked to lead a different style of worship than perhaps what they were trained to do in seminary. There's a huge gap there,” she said. “There are a lot of reasons for that, and very good ones. But the fact is if students want to lead a nontraditional service, they have to go to either a teaching congregation … or even outside of the denomination to learn how to use technology in worship, how to choose music that's not part of our hymnody in worship, how to order a worship service in this style.”

Besides nontraditional worship currently not being taught in most seminaries, it also is not really being addressed by the general church, she said. “So part of what we're trying to do in this symposium is to listen to those who have been teaching it in large churches,” Chesser said.

The church-wide event on the future of worship, tentatively planned for early 2016, will be organized by Discipleship Ministries’ worship staff, hopefully with help from symposium participants, Chesser said. “It will be a national event, the first of its kind in the United Methodist Church,” she said.