4 Essential Elements of a Worship Service

Learn about which elements of a worship service are essential

Each week, Christians around the world gather to worship with their local congregations. How this looks varies from church to church, but there are some aspects that should always be included.

The essential elements of a biblical worship service are singing, prayer, the reading and preaching of Scripture, and the ordinances of baptism and the Lord’s Supper.

Followers of Christ are commanded in Scripture to regularly gather together in worship (Hebrews 10:24-25). As we go about planning and participating in corporate worship, we must ensure that it reverent, orderly, and theologically sound. While there is much more that can be said about each of these areas, every believer should see worship as something that is done purposefully, reverently, Scripturally, and regularly.

The means of worship in our weekly gatherings are to be limited to what God has revealed to be His will in Scripture (Deuteronomy 12:32) – This view is known as the Regulative Principle of Worship. In other words, we seek to worship God His way and not ours. By doing so, we reduce the risk of worshipping God according to the ways of man (Matthew 15:9) or in ways that are not properly reverent to Him.

Corporate worship within a church context should include singing, prayer, the reading and preaching of Scripture, and the observance of the ordinances of baptism and the Lord’s Supper. Corporate worship should be designed to glorify God and edify believers. Each of these areas of worship will be discussed briefly below.

Corporate Worship in Singing

Our songs should reflect the theological richness of Scripture

All elements of worship must be done first and foremost to the glory of God. It naturally follows that these activities will also encourage and equip believers. It is vitally important that our worship is done in a way that communicates the truth of Scripture and this is no less true of our music.

It is critical for church leaders to understand that a lot of teaching is accomplished through what we sing, and so we must ensure that even the lyrics of our songs are sound in doctrine. If we would not teach something from our pulpit, we should not sing it in our worship.

In addition to ensuring we are singing songs that are doctrinally sound, there is also great value in maintaining a connection to prior generations of believers through the use of time-tested hymns and songs. While there is much to be appreciated in newer songs, older hymns preserve both a historical context to our spiritual forbearers and contain rich biblical truth.

Hymns provide both theological depth and a window into the history of Christian life that can be missed if we immerse ourselves solely in our own time and culture. Congregations that entirely ignore classic hymns of the Christian faith do so to their own detriment.

Moreover, many churches deprive themselves of God’s hymn book: the Psalms. There are many excellent options for psalms set to music that can be sung in our worship services and I encourage you to make use of them. (For example, check out these Sing Psalms resources).


Fervent prayer should be an ever-present activity of the church and its members.

“Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” So says 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18, and many other verses of Scripture give similar commands regarding prayer. The Christian life ought to be one of continual and intimate prayer. Additionally, our church services should be marked by a passionate belief in the power of prayer and petition, and we should approach the throne of grace with humbleness and faith.

Through prayer we praise God (Psalm 106:1), confess our sins (1 John 1:9), seek guidance (James 1:5), and petition for our needs and wants (Philippians 4:6), among other things. The Bible is clear that as followers of Christ we are to be people of prayer (Colossians 4:2), and this should be reflected in the priorities and activities of the church.

Additionally, prayers lead during the worship service serve as models that can help teach the congregation how to pray. (For help in leading prayers well, check out John Newton’s Principles for Public Prayer).

Reading and Preaching of Scripture

The Word of God is central to worship and must be searched diligently and preached faithfully.

Worship should include the reading of Scripture and the preaching of the Word (1 Timothy 4:13). Bible reading is profitable both to the believer, who is edified by God’s Word, and to the unbeliever, as faith comes by hearing the Word of God (Romans 10:17).

Some churches read portions of the Old Testament when the sermon is on the New, or vis versa. Others work there way systematically through a book of the Bible one passage at a time. Still others pair readings relevant to the songs being sung. However you choose to do it, having Scripture read during the service (in addition to the sermon) is a vital aspect of our worship.

The preaching of Scripture is another central aspect of a worship service and must be both an exposition of Scripture and an exhortation to submit ourselves to its truth. Preachers are not called to be motivational speakers or entertainers. Instead, they are called to faithfully study, proclaim, and explain the Bible to their congregations and help them apply biblical truths to their lives. Ministers of the Word must preach the whole counsel of God and remain faithful to the text of Scripture.

While a worship service is first and foremost for the building up of believers, it must be recognized that a typical church service will be made up of both Christians and non-Christians. This should drive us to be all the more diligently to expound on the Scriptures and to communicate the Gospel with clarity, knowing that “faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ” (Romans 10:17).

As stated in the London Baptist Catechism, “The Spirit of God makes the reading, but especially the preaching of the Word, an effectual means of convincing and converting sinners, and of building them up in holiness and comfort, through faith unto salvation” (Question 96).

The Ordinances

The ordinances of baptism and the Lord’s Supper are to be faithfully observed by all believers.

There are two ordinances to be administered by the church and observed by all true followers of Christ: baptism and the Lord’s Supper. Baptism is an ordinance which serves as a public profession of our faith and is carried out in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit (Matthew 28:19).

Baptism itself is not the means of salvation but is a visible declaration that such saving faith is present in the converted believer. Scripture teaches that baptism is to be administered to professing Christians (Acts 2:38, 8:12; Mark 16:16). We do not find explicit examples or commands in Scripture to baptize the infants of believing parents, and so I hold to a view of credobaptism as opposed to paedobaptism. (For more on why Christians differ on baptism, check out The Source of the Baptism Debate).

The second ordinance of the church is the Lord’s Supper, also known as Communion. The Lord’s Supper was appointed by Christ to be regularly observed by believers (Matthew 26:26-29). By participating in the Lord’s Supper, we remember the atoning and sacrificial death of Jesus on the cross and proclaim His death and resurrection (1 Corinthians 11:23-26) and we are called to examine ourselves to be sure that we partake of it in a worthy manner (1 Corinthians 11:27-31).

While baptism is to be observed but once in the life of the Christian, believers should regularly participate in the Lord’s Supper. This is not to say that these ordinances must be observed every single week, but they should be observed regularly in the life of the church.

Participation in these ordinances serve as outward signs of our membership in the body of Christ and make visible the saving power of the gospel in our lives. Because these are the only ordinances instituted by Christ, these are the only ordinances which are to be observed in the church.


There are, of course, other elements that might rightly be a part of a worship service, such as the reading of a creed or a confessional statement. Such a practice is simply a means of teaching sound doctrine and expounding Scripture, so that would still fall under the Regulative Principle. Even so, this is certainly not essential and may or may not be included in your weekly services.

What is essential to a worship service are the elements of singing, prayer, the reading and preaching of Scripture, and the ordinances of the Lord’s Supper and baptism.

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