In 1902, various presbyteries adapted overtures relating to the standardization of the forms of such services as marriage, baptism and communion. The overtures spoke of "a great diversion of practice amongst the ministers of our Church" and requested that the General Assembly (PCUSA) "prepare and authorize a manual or book of forms for the use of the ministers of our Church." The 115th General Assembly (1903) appointed the Special Committee on Forms of Service to write such a manual.
Henry Jackson Van Dyke chaired the eleven-member committee, which met for the first time in October of 1903. The committee members agreed upon those services requiring standard forms: these included infant and adult baptism, first communion, regular communion, marriages, funerals, ordination, dedication of churches, special services such as Thanksgiving, and regular services on weekdays and Sundays.
During 1904 and 1905, the committee members worked on compiling material for the manual, for which they had chosen the title The Book of Common Worship. It was completed in 1906 and remained in use until a committee for its revision was appointed in 1928.