The members of my congregation like to chat when coming into the sanctuary before the service. Sometimes it has been difficult to call the congregation to worship because the conversations tend to taper off slowly. This has spurred a little debate between whether people should talk and socialize at the beginning of a service, or enter into the sanctuary for quiet meditation. Personally, I believe that both are important.
1. We should socialize at the beginning of the service. The congregation represents the body of Christ at work in the world. The service begins with the gathering of the body of Christ, and it is a joyful reunion. During our week, we have all been in service in different ways, and have experienced different things. It is important to be able to share our experiences with each other. I do believe, however, that our socialization easily gets carried away from the purpose of worship and so it cannot stand alone.
2. Quiet meditation is also an important part of our worship, but it is very different than conversation. Where social conversation encourages interaction of the gathered body, meditation focuses on an individual encounter with God. There is still a corporate element, though, as there is definitely something special about meditation with the gathered body around us. In a world that seems to limit and impede our quiet time, it is important for the church to help facilitate these quiet encounters with God.
With these things in mind, I redesigned the opening of our worship service in such a way that would encourage conversation as the body gathers, and then call the congregation into the other facets of the worship service. In order to do this, I pulled out a tool that has been used for centuries: bells. The Christian church, including (and perhaps especially) American Methodism, has a great tradition of ringing bells to call people to worship. The chimes still have an incredible effect today. When the chimes sound, people end their conversations, and look to the pulpit for direction.
So now when we gather in the sanctuary, we talk to each other. I encourage this gathering time by walking around and shaking as many hands as possible before the service. When it is time to call the congregation into a more quiet and reflective mode of worship, our pianist sounds the chimes. Then I may easily invite people into the order of worship, which may include a time of prayer and meditation. We have sounded the chimes for several weeks now, and the chimes have received more compliments than any other change that I have made. It has been an easy change to bring order to our worship.