Let the Spirit lead – unscripted, participatory worship meetings (not as scary as you might think).


Steve Simms and his wife lead a non-traditional, participatory, interactive Salvation Army church in Nashville, Tennesee. He blogs regularly at Free Gas For Your Think Tank. I asked Steve to share a little about their congregation and experiences…

As a freshman in college in the 70s, I walked into an unscripted, unprogrammed campus meeting and saw the living, resurrected Jesus Christ in action in the words, actions, and faces of ordinary people. I went back to my dorm that night, a changed man, with the fire of Christ burning in my heart. The rest of my college days I met weekly with this group, seeing the Holy Spirit prompt ordinary people to do amazing things.

After graduating I began to search for a church like those campus meetings (even moving back and forth across the country a couple of times). However, it was all to no avail, because I never found anything even a little bit like those meetings.

Then in 2008, the Salvation Army in Nashville approached my wife and me (who were employed by them), and asked if we would like to start a “non-traditional corps” (church) in East Nashville. We saw this as a God-sent opportunity to begin meetings similar to those I had experienced in college and The Army agreed.

We began to ask a different person each week to lead us in Spirit-anointed worship that goes anywhere from 20 to 40 minutes as the Spirit leads. Afterwards, we encourage the people present to listen to the Spirit and say or do whatever He says.

The results are always amazing. People share testimonies, Scriptures, prayer needs, short teachings, words of encouragement, prayers, gifts of the Spirit – and each week it all blends into a common theme.  It is obvious to all present that this is not random, but is being led by God.

Since we’ve started we’ve had more than 60 different worship leaders. Several have become regular attenders.

Here’s the amazing thing; in all this time (although we’ve had several hundred people meet with us at least once), we’ve never had anyone share false doctrine or something inappropriate.  In such a whacky world as ours, that’s got to be evidence of God’s presence and protection.

Several times we have literally seen this Scripture fulfilled in our midst as a first time visitor opens her/his heart before God:  “But if all prophesy, and an unbeliever or an ungifted man enters, he is convicted by all, he is called to account by all; the secrets of his heart are disclosed; and so he will fall on his face and worship God, declaring that God is certainly among you.”  1 Corinthians 14:24-25

In unprogrammed church meetings, you see people transformed right in front of your eyes. One Hindu man began to attend. We welcomed him and loved him. After about a year, he came to me and told me that he is no longer a Hindu, but is now a believer in Christ. Now, several years later, he is a mighty man of God who testifies, prays with people, witnesses, and reads the Bible one to two hours a day.

When we have a conversation with a friend or family member, we don’t want every word to be scripted. We want a two-way conversation that is spontaneous and from the heart. Why should church be any different?

I encourage everyone to step into unscripted, participatory worship meetings. If you can’t find one in your town, start one in your living room. It only takes two or three people (see Matthew 18:20). Everybody gather, listen to the Spirit, and do whatever He tells you to. You will be astonished by the results!

17 thoughts on “Let the Spirit lead – unscripted, participatory worship meetings (not as scary as you might think).

  1. I think this may have been the final motivation I needed to host such a gathering. Thank you brother Steve and sister Kathleen!

  2. May Father bless your willing heart “to host such a gathering”, Erik.
    Steve’s writing here is very encouraging, and as I’m able to testify to similar gatherings while traveling through 48 US States. There are also reports from many places in the world reflecting the work of God among ekklesia, even as from I Corinthians 14.

    To “never had anyone share false doctrine or something inappropriate” is not guaranteed, and even so, need not truly be a set-back to see or hear something that is false or inappropriate because we have received confidence from God in Christ, Who will then bring us to be responding in one mind, and one accord together; in His children being able to correct, attune, reprove one another.

    “worship” is actually a misnomer for gathering. In truth and spirit, we worship (bow down before) our God every day & hour, and without having first to come together (as formerly did the people of the Old Testament). Coming together does bring forward our praises of God shared; all joyfully bringing news of His presence and works throughout the week.

  3. I have been participating in totally free and open, Spirit led gatherings since 1976.
    And not once have I witnessed a gathering like this spin into heresy or out of HIS control. The Spirit is fully capable of empowering and leading meetings such as this. I am so glad that I hear more and more people everyday who are seeking and finding these sort of gatherings.

  4. “…we’ve never had anyone share false doctrine or something inappropriate.”

    This is a really powerful testimony. It seems people often object to the idea of an open meeting because of their fear of what might be shared.

    • Thank you, David! It’s so good having you and your family as a vital part of our body in Nashville. You guys are such a blessing and minister to me in such powerful ways!

  5. Thanks again Steve for your article, and everyone else for the great discussion. I’m especially praying for Erik and others who are inspired to step out in faith and trust the Holy Spirit to lead their gatherings – may God come through for you and lead you into all truth.


    Kathleen 🙂

    • And thank you, Kathleen, for the opportunity to share on your blog. May untold millions of people begin to regularly experience the living, resurrected Jesus actively leading and directing His people when they gather in His name!

  6. This is great. Can I ask how large your gatherings were? Do you think this could only work in a small group (eg less than 100 people)?

    • Hi Lu, thanks for your question. I have certainly seen this done in groups larger than 100. Sure, a large group makes it awkward to sit in an intimate circle, so it can look a little different – e.g. groups gathered around tables, or even sitting in pews as usual but with a roaming mic or an invitation to stand where they are and speak up.

      One of the most powerful techniques I’ve seen and been involved in is called “Open Space Technology”, which has been around for some time. It allows a framework for people to self-organise into small groups to discuss topics and issues that deeply interest them. We’ve used it in our home church and it went very well. It is used with groups from 5 people to 2000 people. I’ve written about it here; http://www.churchinacircle.com/2013/08/06/open-space-harnessing-the-power-of-circles/

      – Kathleen

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