How do you make Sundays go smoothly?

October 14, 2010
Fake church sign

A couple weeks ago, Sunday morning didn't quite go as planned.

As usual I was the first to arrive at church. I unlocked the door and stepped over the threshold, and then things fell apart. Due to a miscommunication, nobody had set up for communion. We didn't have any bread or grape juice, and the store didn't open until half an hour before the service. Also, our dutiful deacon got confused about her duty dates, so we didn't have coffee for a while. Soon I realized I had overlooked at least three typos in the bulletin, and more significantly, completely left out the Lord's Prayer and the Prayers of the People.

When I finally secluded myself in my study for a moment to type and print out the eucharistic prayer for World Communion Sunday, I found that the copy of the prayer had been thrown away. Fine, I thought. I can write a prayer. It wasn't until I was passing the communion elements to the elder that I realized I left out the epiclesis. I mumbled a sort of prayer under my breath. (Sorry, Holy Spirit, totally my bad.)

When I walked into the service, I was already a few minutes late but had to speak to several folks I had asked to serve communion just a few minutes earlier. It turned out they didn't need to serve after all-the original communion setup person had asked three other servers at the last minute.

We then had 20 minutes of announcements, all of which were important and well delivered but which threw me off my game for the entire service. Mid-service I realized that I had forgotten to print out the Prayer of the Day, so our liturgist was left helplessly shuffling her papers at the pulpit in search of the nonexistent prayer. I ended up turning on my portable microphone and leading it from my spot in the front pew.

Those of you who are pastors, I could use your help. Is this just a fact of life in a small church—from time to time the announcements will go long, and the communion preparer will forget, and typos will hide until Sunday, and your mind will be on ten distracting details? Is this inevitable from time to time, or am I just a bad pastor?

What strategies do you employ to make Sunday morning go smoothly? Do you, like me, prefer to write the Prayers of the People on the day of worship so that they're current? Do you put your foot down after three announcements? Please, can you help a brother out?


sounds so familiar

You are not alone! These things happen to many of us, we just hope that it's not all on the same day.

Announcements are really tough, because they are important. We just keep coaching people to keep them brief.

I really have no solid advice, just sharing your pain.


Smooth Sundays

I'm an elder currently heavily involved in planning the services now that we're without a pastor and no, you're not a bad pastor. These things just happen from time to time and I serve in a large, evangelical church where there are multiple people involved in worship: ushers, greeters, lighting, sound and projection people, worship band, speaker and anyone else that might be included on a particular week. I would say with multiple people involved, that might be more room for error because the more people that get involved, someone is bound to be left out of the loop. One of the things that we've recently instituted is a worship coordinator whose role is to work with the pastor in pulling all the elements of a service together. This person would be the main one interacting with all the various people ensuring that everything is in place and that there is a good flow to the service. If you don't already have someone like this, you might consider it. That way, there's one central person responsible for pulling the details together and they aren't distracted the way a pastor is by their sermon, prayers, greeting people, etc.. Not that any of these things is a distraction in and of themselves, but a pastor is usually trying to be in tune with the Spirit and to have their attention divided by many, many details can be daunting. No wonder you're tired at the end of a Sunday. As for announcements, we generally only do three and of course there may be someone running up to you before service asking that their announcement be made, but for the most part we keep it to a bare minimum. After all, that's what the bulletin is for.

Worship Woes

I, like Pam, feel your pain. I prefer to think of the things that might throw us off course as the Holy Spirit reminding us not to get so tied to rote and ritual that we forget to leave room for the Spirit

Flustered Sunday

I am not a member of clergy, I am parishoner (sp), God gets a good chuckle now & then, it's nice to know that the man in the pulpit has "those" days too. Just take It as a test of your resolve, a testament to your ability to recover & punt. Share it with your congregation, we ALL understand, & can join in fellowship with your pain.

LOL--you just described my life

This past Sunday I happened to look to the end of the aisle during the hymn after the sermon, and I saw the ushers standing there preparing to receive the offering. A quick glance at my bulletin confirmed that after about 5 proofreadings, we had accidentally use the communion Sunday order (sermon hymn offering doxology prayer communion) instead of the regular order (sermon hymn prayers offering doxology prayer).

I think I might have been the only person thrown off by that, but WOW did it mess up my rhythm for the whole morning (including the next service, even though I knew it was coming in the "wrong" order!).

Sometimes stuff just happens...I think God just chuckles at these things we think are important (and they are, in the moment, but not in the grand scheme...).


I read the Wiki article before I asked the question. But like so many Wiki articles, it is so technical it serves only for the knowledgeable as a definition, not as an explanation for those who don't already know. I still don't know what an epiclesis is, except that it has something to do with communion, I'm a Baptist, and I may have gotten through life thus far without ever seeing or hearing or feeling or holding an epiclesis. Am I spirutally stunted? Do any Baptists ever epikaleo anything or anyone during communion? Who does? Who or gets epikaloed? People? Officiant? Elements? God? If I were the forgetful preacher, I wouldn't worry; I doubt God gives a doodle about whether there was an epeclesis or not, although some snooping bishop might. It's evidently important for some people, but apparently they use grape juice.

epiclesis - come holy spirit

The epiclesis is the moment in the prayer when the person praying (presider) asks the Holy Spirit to bless the elements of the Eucharist and in some form to bless us as we receive - at least normally. To bless or to sanctify.

It sounds like this on Sundays here at Grace,
People "We pray you, gracious God, to send your Holy Spirit upon these gifts that they may be the Sacrament of the Body of Christ and his Blood of the new Covenant. Unite us to your Son in his sacrifice, that we may be acceptable through him, being sanctified by the Holy Spirit."

I have the whole congregation say it as a sign of the whole body's call to embody the priesthood, because I, too, grew up Baptist.

Glad I'm Not the Only One

Oh, we all have those days.

Yes, I write the Prayers that morning. No, I don't limit announcements.

Our children have just started a joint Sunday School with the church next door, and now they have to leave at 10:15, whether or not we've gotten to the children's sermon. On the 3rd Sunday we did this, the announcements went long. Just as I stood up to summon the children forward for children's time, they all walked out the back door. Oh well--we went on with it anyway. And now people don't take so long with their announcements. :)

Even Better Today

Then, this morning, I was walking my three year old into the sanctuary about 1 minute before church started, via a step down at the front of the pews. I missed my footing and fell flat on my face in front of everyone, still holding the hand of my three-year-old, whom I dragged down the step with me and he burst into tears. In front of the entire seated and waiting congregation. It was lovely. I consoled him, we were both (thankfully) unhurt. I sat him with the nursery worker, and started church with lots of jokes about God's grace being for those of us who have no grace of our own. And thought of this blog post.

Sundays gone awry...

Yesterday was such a day, and in our small church there are few that go exactly as planned. One element that can be counted on to throw me off is any major change in the typical order of things. For yesterday, I had decided to have the choir sing a response in the Psalm reading instead of having everyone sing it. It sounded very nice, as I anticipated; but I had forgotten that I would be needed to sing with the choir (as the only bass) and had not asked the Law Worship Leader to do it. So, I had to lead the psalm from the choir, after instructing the sound manager (in front of everyone and at the last minute, of course) to "turn me on when I read and off when I sing." We also had problems with the mic volumes, despite attending carefully to set-up before the service; but when DON'T we have sound problems?!? We got through the prayer pretty well and the parts of worship that came right after; but then I forgot the anthem and had to be reminded by the Lay Worship Leader, Music Director, and Choir! Once things start going wrong, they often keep going... but after the anthem, things were fine.

That is, until shortly after worship, when my son-in-law came to me with an urgent message to call home: My wife had fallen as she left home for church! So, I had to leave our guests to their after-worship programs and hope for the best both at church and at home. The rest of the day was spent in a slow-moving E.R., while I missed our CROP walk (where I was to have co-led the opening prayer), the assessment of a piano for our church, and a pastoral counseling appointment. No wonder I sometimes count the days until retirement!

Is there a way to avoid such difficulties? I don't think so, although I try to do it with careful planning and preparation. So, I suggest that we simply acknowledge that life in church on Sunday mornings reflects life beyond church on all the other days for all the other people -- unpredictable, hectic, challenging, occasionally rewarding, and never dull!

Been There...

1. Announcements: we have a staffer give announcements. The limit is 3. After that, people stop paying attention.

2. Prayers: I pray spontaneously, including the names of those who have been lifted up for individual prayers that morning (we have prayer requests listed in our program and also ask for written prayer requests to be turned in during the service).

3. Everything else: sometimes I forget things. Once I completely forgot the prayer time - after I'd promised to pray for one parishioner's grandfather individually. I finally remembered at the very end of service - and prayed... and he was miraculously healed (of stage 4 brain cancer).

Once I forgot the offering, and at the end of service, this normally quiet, conservative, non-charismatic church was full of people waving their offering envelopes.

Know that sometimes things happen - often because the Enemy wants us to be distracted and "off" while we lead worship

Gratefully Imperfect

If I ever have a Sunday where something doesn't go wrong, I'll be sure to write you back and let you know. I always strive for excellence, and that includes the best preparation possible, but things always go wrong. We're fully human beings and, unlike Jesus, not also fully divine! Learn to laugh. It'll do you good.

Smooth Sundays?

These kinds of things happen. You will learn to go with it.

I remember the Sunday that the pianist and I had a "discussion" about the closing hymn, just as we were about to sing it. She could not find the music, so she was unable to accompany. I just closed the service with a prayer and went on with life.

smooth Sundays

I've had guest preachers who arrived late, water pipes burst in the front of the church five minutes before the service started, and everything else imaginable. But I know God has a sense of humor about it all. The best example of this was the Sunday I forgot to call for the final hymn until after the Benediction. The title of the hymn? "Not So in Haste, My Heart!"


I have at least learned to attach my offering check to the sermon. It is embarassing to liftup the importance of faithful giving, when my offering is still in my purse, locked in the office.
Rev. Betty Edwards

Sundays going smoothly

You are not a bad pastor; these things do happen and sometimes all in the same morning!
Just a couple suggestions:
I'd limit the announcements because 20 minutes is too long. People tune out. I do the announcements since we don't have extra staff to do it and keep them to five minutes, usually.
You might consider writing the prayers on Saturday and then adding or modifying any that need it on Sunday morning.
Can you get anyone to proof your bulletin? Another pair of eyes often helps pick up typos and missing parts of the service.
God's blessings in your ministry.

I can relate to your

I can relate to your experience and of course you are not a bad pastor because things go awry at times.

But should our focus in terms of Sunday service really be that everything runs smoothly? Sounds more like a show event to me. Does our congregation (our audience) expect things to always be like they've always been and is there any room for God to surprise us?

I believe as long as Sunday mornings are more about having a well-organized service that fulfills people's expectations and do not reflect some of the reality of our fellowship that we have Mondays to Saturdays, the body of Christ that we are, then we are pretty far away from the New Testament understanding of church and fellowship.

worship planning


We switched all announcements to the end of the liturgy just before the benediction. "News of the Community"
is what it's called and because it comes at the conclusion of worship, people make their comments brief. Most of the time the pastors offer "news" that the community needs to hear.

This switch has been well received. We begin with call to worship rather than announcements and what is often called "minute for mission." Minute? Hardly.

We have several prayers of illumination for lay readers printed and laminated that stay in the pulpit. The lay readers receive their materials and bulletin by email on Thursday before Sunday. This has been helpful for having lay readers prepared.

Mistakes happen always. Give yourself a break. You are probably harder on your self than the congregation. All grist for the learning mill.

In answer to your question,

In answer to your question, yes, this is a part of life in a small church: much of the work is done by volunteers, with the pastor designated as the one who picks up the slack, often without notice. I've mistyped page numbers in the bulletin, and had parishioners mention the mistake. Usually, I stifle the urge to tell them to cut me some slack and write it off as a chance for God's grace to be made visible. The first time I had to preach as a seminary intern in a church, I walked up to the pulpit, went through the announcements, and was about to move on to the next part of the service when I saw the pastor in the congregation, waving a Bible at me. When I asked her what she was trying to tell me, she reminded me gently that I'd skipped the sermon. I made a joke and preached the sermon, and we all survived. The previous poster is right: give yourself a break, mistakes are a part of life, and are quickly forgotten if you don't make a big deal of them.