Worship Reordered

Church #3. Meet Mary JJ Keelan. She is the Director of Youth and Family Ministry at Holy Trinity Lutheran Church in Manasquan, New Jersey. With a vibrant staff, Holy Trinity has average worship attendance of 250 people a given Sunday.


Keelan, Youth and Family Ministry and Worship and Music committees asked: “What do youth need in life? Many of our kids grow up in a nurtured environment but they need deeper conversations.” Keelan uses the analogy of a rope to help parents raising young children that they have role in leading them in faith.

She says, “Everyone needs a rope to hold onto. Someone who will pull you along when you need help and to swing you across to the other side. Faith is what tethers us to the rope. It is a part of our everyday lives”

But the problem is that parents did not know where to start. Like many churches, parents were dropping their kids off for Sunday School and leaving. They were not attending worship to gain the knowledge and skills they needed to grow in faith with their children.

Acknowledging that something had to change, Keelan dug deep into her certified project management skills and asked three questions:

  • What’s the behavior? By observing what was going on with families, Keelan understood why parents were dropping off the kids and leaving.
  • What’s the benefit? By asking questions, Keelan understood the changes that needed to take place to equip parents with faith skills and how they would benefit from the changes.
  • What’s the goal? By setting goals and casting a vision, Keelan successfully implanted change that stopped the “drop and go” problem.

Because of the team’s keen observation and vision, Holy Trinity made a bold move. Get this – they decided to flip the order of worship. Starting together in the pews, here is how the families and congregation now worship:




Eucharistic Prayer

Holy Communion


Hymn of the Day

Kids travel during the hymn of the day to their respective classrooms.  When the parents return to the narthex you can see them breathe a sigh a prayer before entering the sanctuary. The balance of the service contains:

Readings/ Sermon

Prayers of Intercession


Sending hymn

When the parents return to the pews they can fully embrace the word with little or no distractions. It also allows the children to receive the message in a classroom/interactive environment.

Keelan says, “The rearrangement of worship was to reach families.” Guess what? It is working! By aligning priorities, the drop off affect has vanished. Parents are now attending worship with their kids and getting the nourishment they need to lead their kids in faith.

Why does this new arrangement of worship matter? It matters because of what Jesus says in Luke 11:9: “So I say to you, ask, and it will be given you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you.” The problem is that churches don’t ask; they talk at young people and their families as if they already have all the answers. Keelan says, “In order for a shift to occur we need to take Jesus’ advice. In our congregations, we should be asking, searching and questioning the why and how of what families need to raise their children in the faith.” When you do this, expect change.

To learn more about this story, please contact Mary JJ Keelan at Mary.Keelan@yahoo.com or (732) 223-0533.








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  1. Pingback: Church Innovation | StoryBoard

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