Regarding Worship and Daily Life: Explanations and Questions

© 1999 Brian R. Paulson – All rights reserved.


Here you will find a modified form of James Spradley’s approach to an ethnographic interview. It was designed to elicit information regarding the ties or disjunctions between worship and daily life. Throughout this guide, written in the first person, you will notice a series of category headings for ethnographic elements as well as interview elements that Spradley defined in his book, The Ethnographic Interview (Fort Worth: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich College Publishers, 1979). This is a format is able to be employed, with adequate preparation, by pastors and peers in local congregations. Following is a guide of explanations and questions that was developed and used for interviews in a 1999 doctoral project.

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At the start of every interview there was a brief explanation about the nature of the interview and the research in which I was engaged. The explanation was comprised of a variety of ethnographic elements that were defined by James Spradley.

Explicit Purpose

At first I offered an explanation about the interview to informants as they first arrived for the interview. What follows was my attempt to be clear from the outset regarding the purpose of the interview.

The reason I have asked you to come and share with me is so that I can learn about your experience of worship. I am not interested in knowing how you like my sermons or what you think Orangewood ought to do with its worship life. You may choose to share that information with me along the way but that is not my purpose. What I do want to learn about is the way in which you experience worship and the way in which worship relates, or does not relate, to the rest of your life.

At the end of all of the explanations that follow I repeated the last sentence of the paragraph above for emphasis.

Project Explanation

What follows next is the explanation I shared with informants about the way information from their interview would be incorporated into the final project.

This research will help me to learn about the way in which worship shapes the people who regularly participate in it. I will take the information I gather and study it to discover which aspects of worship are most formative, how they form and why.

Recording Explanation

There were some technical issues that I needed to address from the outset with informants, which I did as follows.

I’d like to write some of this down as I go to help me better recall what you have said. If I may have your permission, I would like to tape this interview so that I can go over it later and not be tied to pen and paper as we talk; would that be OK?

Native Language Explanation

It was important to emphasize to informants the fact that I was seeking information on their own terms. This was especially important because the relationship I had with each informant as their pastor was bound to skew the results in some way or another. What follows is the way I approached this issue.

I am not really interested in technical language about worship unless you already think in that way. Since I am your pastor, you may have the temptation to search for the "right" answer. There is no predetermined "right" answer. The best answers in all instances are answers that sound like you and use language you would usually use. So as you talk, I’d like you to talk about these questions in the way you might to a family member or friend.

Interview Explanation

During every interview the informants were asked to examine a worship bulletin to further jog their remembrance of a worship service. Some of the informants also viewed a portion of a worship service on videotape. What follows is my explanation in advance of what the informant should expect in this regard.

Along the way, I may ask you to look at a bulletin or a videotape to illustrate something you have identified. Since we are meeting at the church, we may choose to stand up and walk to the worship space you are defining. This kind of detail will help me to have a better understanding of your experience.

Question Explanation

Since I did not want them worrying about giving the "right" answer, in the following way I let them know at the beginning that I was looking for something different than what they were offering.

If I am looking for a different kind of information, I will let you know that we are moving into a different kind of question as we talk.



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In the course of each interview the pattern of questions varied according to the kind of responses that were provided by each informant. The general pattern was to stand in the narthex and offer the explanations listed above. We then moved to the place where they ordinarily would sit as each informant described their arrival into worship on a typical Sunday morning. From their pew they described the details of worship in order as they remembered them. I then asked them questions relating to the experience of their daily week. Then a copy of the worship order was presented and they talked about their experience of worship once more. Finally I would review my notes from the questions and ask any clarifying questions that were not already asked in the course of conversation.

In what follows I do not list questions in the general order of asking noted above. Rather the questions are listed by type according the structure defined by James Spradley. For a detailed understanding of each type of question, I refer you to Spradley’s The Ethnographic Interview.

Descriptive Questions

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Spradley defines a number of questions that help us to understand the experience of those whom we interview. What follows are questions whose answers describe the experience of informants.

Grand tour questions.

Could you walk me through a typical Sunday morning that includes worship? Start with activities at home that are different from other days and continue through the steps until you have arrived home from church.

Can you tell me what a typical week of daily life would look like for you from beginning to end?

Specific grand tour questions.

Tell me about a recent worship experience you can remember from the moment you arrived until the moment you left.

Can you tell me about the last time you thought about something from worship in the course of your week? Tell me what was happening and why you thought about it.

Guided grand tour questions.

Could you show me where you sat the last time in worship and describe for me some things that you experienced as you sat there?

When you thought about something from worship during the week, did it affect what you were doing in any way at all? Can you describe the way it affected you?

Task-related grand tour questions.

As we sit here, I’d like you to look at an ordinary bulletin. Walk me through the bulletin and identify what you can remember experiencing in the worship order as you go through it.

If you pray during the course of the week, can you describe to me when that might be? Could you describe what you found yourself praying about the last time it happened during the week?

Mini tour questions.

You mentioned one part of your typical Sunday morning routine. Can you share with me some details about the way that part of your routine works?

You named one of the weekly activities that you were doing when you thought about something from worship. Could you describe what is typically involved in the activity you named?

Specific mini-tour questions.

When was the last time you experienced that part of the Sunday morning routine? Can you describe the way it took place that time?

After you thought about worship that time in the middle of the week, did you in any way change the way you performed the weekly activity you have described for me?

Guided mini-tour question.

Can you show me what happens during the specific part of the Sunday routine that we talked about?

Task-related mini-tour question.

Can you describe what you are thinking or feeling as you move through that part of the routine you are showing me?

Example question.

Can you give me an example of the kind of worship event you find yourself remembering during the week?

Experience question.

Can you tell me some of your favorite experiences in worship?

Direct language question.

How would you describe the way you feel when you remember something from worship during the week?

Hypothetical-interaction question.

So if you were telling a friend about an experience that you had in worship, how would you describe it to them?

Structural Questions

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An important dimension of questions in an ethnographic interview is to be sure to avoid the use of non-native terminology whenever possible. As a consequence, I made sure I did not insert my own liturgical language for events or experiences that informants described. To keep the language in the hands of the informants, I used a number of clarifying structural questions throughout the interview and at the end of the interview as well. It is difficult to understand he way these questions worked without a review of the transcripts. What follows are types of questions that I used in which letters refer to terms of worship or experience that informants used.

Domain verification question.

You described some different ways that worship has impacted your weekly routine. You said that you felt X because of what you had experienced in worship. Are there different kinds of ways to feel X?

Included term verification question.

When you say that this part of worship was Z, is that also part of X?

Semantic relationship verification question.

Are you saying that when you do Y it is because of X or is it just something similar that happens?

Native language verification question.

Would you usually say X to your family or is that just a term you are using with me because I am your pastor?

Cover term question.

You said a specific part of worship affected you. Are there different ways that it has affected you?

Included term question

Are you saying that X, Y, and Z all feel like the same kind of worship experience for you?

Contrast Questions

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One of the best ways to clarify a term is to set in contrast with another term used by the informant. What follows are a series of such questions I used during the course of my interviews.

Contrast verification question.

You said that A, B and C in worship all had an impact on you. Did they each impact you in the same way or are they different in some way?

Directed contrast question.

You said that you usually remember a certain aspect of worship, A, during a particular kind of weekly action, X. Do you think about the worship experience, A, differently when another weekly action, such as Y or Z that you mentioned, takes place?

Dyadic contrast questions.

Can you tell me the difference between A and C in worship? Can you think of any other reasons why C would be different from A? So A and C are different, have we listed all the ways?

Triadic contrast question.

Is B related to A or C in the way you experience them or are A and C more related to each other than to B?

Rating question.

How would you rate the experiences we have just named in their ability to impact your daily life?

© 1999 Brian R. Paulson – All rights reserved.