Want more “goosebumps factor” in your worship? I’ll bet you know what I mean by that! The “goosebumps factor” isn’t just production value; it has real spiritual purpose. Threshold moments occur when we feel transported to a higher or deeper level and open to the presence of God in profound ways. Such moments can make the difference in how we experience the rest of a worship experience.
As we currently move through Holy Week, I recognize that the concept I teach called the “threshold moment” is something that most churches actually practice…but only a few key times during the year. I’m speaking of lighting candles in the Advent wreath, with accompanying song refrain and usually a litany or reading of some sort; or of observing the tension and sorrow created by the Good Friday service, and the subsequent joyful celebration of Easter morning resurrection.
I think lighting the Advent candles and practicing Good Friday before Easter Sunday are so popular in churches for the same reasons that “threshold moments” can be a powerful way of ushering us into a much deeper spiritual journey, no matter what time of year it is. Essentially, we humans need direction: suggestion and gentle guidance to center our ever-busy brains that usually run at break-neck speed. We need to settle, and our brains love novelty as well as familiarity. Threshold moments give us all of that when we utilize them over the course of a worship series.
Here are some ingredients for a threshold moment:
Pause - If your threshold moment comes after welcome and announcements, lead the congregation in “switching gears” and settling in. A deep breath works. Moving yourself as the leader to a different location (get closer) works. An invitation to take a moment to begin to open to the Holy certainly works.
A sustained sound - Random ringing of handbells, a deliberate drumbeat, a chime that takes its time ringing out, thunder and rain sound effects, an introduction to a song or a solo a cappella voice are all good examples. Whatever you choose for a series, repeat the same or similar sound every week of the series.
Instrumental piece - Sometimes creating a place for a meditative instrumental piece is appropriate at this point.
A well-written synopsis - A couple of sentences by a tuned-in leader pointing us to the spiritual journey we are about to take that is spoken in just the right tempo and tone with some music underneath can really set a scene, set a mood, and draw us into the story.
A visual symbol connected to a ritual action - Drawing folks in can happen aurally (with sound) and can also happen visually with a key image. The entrance of light (candle, acolyte, lantern, etc.) is one visual example. Don’t hide this in the midst of a hymn when people have their heads stuck in a book or eyes on a screen; give the light a focused moment when attentions are undivided. A somatic (body movement) transition could occur by engaging the body or watching others move through space; for example, outstretching the hands in preparation to receive.
Repetition and variety - A good worship series will offer “threads” that repeat each week to provide a sense of continuity through the season/series. The threshold moment should be such a thread. The sound, music, visual, or action you use may be the same each time, but may also vary slightly (two candles instead of one, a different musical arrangement or more voices singing, and of course a different synopsis describing the aspect of the journey that will be explored this week).
The heart of this message addresses the need to make more of what we usually do in a “call to worship.” The transition to worship needs to be more intentional. More artful. More sensory-rich with music, words, visuals, and action layered into the moment. We need to be called more deeply into an experience of God’s presence. During this holy week, I invite you to notice the elements of your Good Friday and Easter service experiences and ponder how a repeated “threshold moment” like this could enhance the “goosebump factor” in your next series as well.