Should you have a dress code?
Should you enforce a dress code for church services? Fortunately, the Scriptures clearly indicate how to handle this issue involving the worship of God. We find our answer in the book of James.
Now then, if a man comes into your synagogue wearing gold rings and dressed in splendid apparel, and there comes in also a poor man in lowly apparel, and you give preference to the one who is wearing the splendid apparel, and say to him, "Seat yourself here in the best place";
and you say to the poor man, "Stand over there," or, "Sit here under my footstool"; Then have you not passed judgment among yourselves . . .? (James 2:2 - 4, HBFV)
It is easy to understand why the average human, upon seeing someone's dress, would treat a person arrayed in fine clothes differently than someone who is not. We tend to favor someone who, on the surface, seems successful as opposed to someone who lacks even the basics of life.
We may even believe, as the first century Pharisees and religious leaders felt, that wealth is a sign of God's blessing (Satan can bless as well, see Luke 4:5 - 7). Superficial judgments regarding whom we should accept or reject, based on things like dress, are many times wrong because we do not take into account a person's character and heart.
Did not God Himself choose the poor of this world, rich in faith, and heirs of the kingdom, which He has promised to those who love Him? . . . Do not the rich oppress you, and do they not drag you into the courts? Do they not blaspheme the worthy name by which you are called (James 1:5 - 7)?
God tells us he does not judge based on how people dress or what they physically look like but by their heart (1Samuel 16:6 - 7). Christ himself commanded we are not to judge others based strictly on their outward appearance (John 7:24).
While the Bible condemns a strict dress code requiring those who attend services to wear expensive or fancy clothes, it may be expedient (as well as required legally) to have a common sense policy regarding clothing. For example, some restaurants post a "no shoes, no shirt, no service" sign on their door. This is because local ordinances regarding protecting public health and safety require it.
Church groups, especially those who meet in facilities they do not own (e.g. hotel meeting rooms, banquet halls, etc.) should adhere to the appropriate attire guidelines and laws of the place they meet at and any local code. If there is flexibility, however, a more lenient dress code (if any) should be adopted.
Setting up a church schedule
How can you set up a basic church schedule for a fellowship group? Some groups operate quite successfully with little more than a starting time and place for their meetings. Others print a timeline for services each week and largely stick to it.
In general, more scheduling is needed for larger church groups and less for smaller ones. Long-time friends are comfortable with each other even if the service is delayed and they end up waiting for half an hour talking. People just beginning to attend for the first time may be uncomfortable if they do not know what to expect or if there is nothing to do. Nevertheless, no church schedule should be so strict that it cannot be changed when the Holy Spirit provides direction.
The items that will go into a schedule for church will depend largely upon the people and the spiritual gifts available. Most plans will include opening and closing prayers, congregational singing, special music, prayers for those in need, announcements and some either Scripture reading or a message with comments and questions.
Some church schedules include a time for people to prophesy or speak in tongues and interpret. Some hold a communion service (bread and wine - 1Corinthians 10:16; 11:17 - 33) every week, others only occasionally. There should always be a time reserved for any member who believes he or she has something God wants them to say to the congregation.
Church activities and teachings directed at younger people in the congregation are an essential part of any church schedule. Find the brethren that are most gifted at teaching young people. This author has seen much debate about whether young people should be separated from their parents during a service.
Lessons directed toward children can be presented with adults present. The children can learn and the adults can frequently learn something from the children. The overall plan of your services should be based upon the congregations and its needs.
Breaking the church schedule up into sections with a short break in between allows people to come and go for the parts of the service most applicable to them. Some groups have youth lessons before the main service. Others have a praise service of all singing for 30 to 60 minutes. Still others have a prayer service. People can then attend those sections that are important to them.
When people begin a new service, especially if they are participating in it, they often want to stay a longer time than usual. This is a very good thing, but it also makes serving food important in the form of either a snack or a full meal. People simply stay at any event longer when there is food, especially if it is good food. Groups that have several different segments to their church schedule, or a service followed by a Bible study may want to serve the food between events.
Setting up church music
Many believers understand the need for church music and have a good idea as to how they will implement it in their new congregation. Still others, however, formed their group centering on doctrinal reasons and 'making a joyful noise to the Lord' may be the furthest thing from their minds. Any plan to start a new congregation should make praising the Eternal an integral part of service.
Church music must utilize the kind of praise that those who attend are capable of producing. You must start with what is available. Many congregations prefer to use overhead projectors or computer projection to provide song words to their congregation. Others prefer hymnals. Even with projection equipment, a certain number of copies of hymnals are usually needed for choirs or musicians.
A new congregation must also decide what will be used for the source of congregational music. If most of the people forming a new congregation are from a previous group, the simplest thing is to keep using the same tunes. However, it can be quite a problem. The old denomination may refuse to sell hymnals to independent groups. Musicians and leaders of the congregation will simply have to make a decision to procure the most appropriate materials available to begin praising God at the new services.
A worship team with a choir and instruments is the best. Make the most of whatever talent you have and do not try to imitate some other group. Accept imperfect musicians as long as the overall effect is enjoyable for most people.
Lacking a choir or band, a piano accompanist is probably the most flexible. Finding a piano is not the problem it once was. Electronic pianos that sound and feel much like the real thing are in stores at a reasonable price. The smaller keyboards may need an external amplifier (a portable home stereo can work). If your congregation does not have a piano player, most songs can be played by someone with a guitar, accordion, or auto-harp.
Encourage everyone to get involved in music and praise. Those who can play instruments should be encouraged to do so. Since no instruments are specifically condemned in the Bible, we conclude that we may use any of them. If someone sings or plays an instrument poorly, do not shut them out, but every few months or so encourage them to do something that they have learned well.
Anyone can buy or borrow pre-recorded songs, listen to it, and bring the best to play during the church music section of services. Part of the listening job is to listen for words that have an acceptable message. Accept a wide variety of styles. While some styles may be too devoted to destruction and negativism to be useful in a service, most popular styles can be used for positive, uplifting praise.
Use wisdom in trying not to offend others with church music that they are not used to. It should be a force for unity, not for division. If you have visitors that like only older hymns, that is not the day to bring out your most energetic songs of praise. Paul clearly instructs that services should be conducted "decently and in order" (1Corinthians 14:40). People should never be wild and "out of control" no matter how excited they are to praise God.