As a geeky kid growing up in the early 90’s, nothing hit my radar quite like Jurassic Park. (well…maybe Wayne’s World). I remember when the cool guy who helped me earn my Science merit page in Boy Scouts took me to the opening night of the movie. I had already read my paper back copy of the book several times and was excited about seeing the story brought to the big screen. Jurassic Park was a movie that EVERYONE saw.
I think there is an important lesson church leaders can learn from Jurassic Park when planning worship. I would even go so far as to say it is a timeless message. It is a lesson both worship leaders and scientists creating large and destructive living beings from fossilized DNA should understand. I call it the Jurassic Park principle.
JUST BECAUSE YOU CAN DOESN’T MEAN YOU SHOULD.
You never know when things might get out of control.
Maybe your lighting crew can make a holographic depiction of the Death Star and your Youth Pastor can make it into an illustration on the one Sunday they teach at traditional worship…but should you really?
Maybe you really are getting into ancient liturgy and your community has gotten down reciting the Apostles Creed, but jumping straight into the Rite of Constantinople might go over their heads.
You have a great preaching illustration taken from The Age of Ultron, but the last movie most of your congregation saw in the theater was Driving Mrs. Daisy, will it truly work?
For younger ministers, there is a huge temptation to delve off into unknown creative waters when leading our congregations in worship. We might have seen something cool at a conference or around the internet and think it will be the thing that catapults our worship into truly skinny jean worship leader status…but are we willing to experiment at the expense of those we worship with? How far does that truly lead our churches into a deeper and more incarnational aspect of faith?
What might seem really cool to us and a few others could be the theological equivilent of unleashing a pack of velociraptors in the sanctuary. Remember the most important word in Worship Design is context. Sometimes innovative things will match our ministries well. Other times we need to step back and realize something might not be best for our church. This is all part of the process of discernment. Our job as leaders, whether music, logistics or preaching is to present Christ to people and facilitate the worship of the Triune God in the most approachable and accessible way for the people we worship with.
Just because we can doesn’t mean we should.
For the last few days I have been looking at my wife and telling her “X” days. I have been waiting for Mad Max: Fury Road to come out for years. I was watching the production notes, digging through the internet for still photographs and I jumped with excitement the first time I saw a trailer in January.
Let’s just say I am excited about this movie.
For years I spent much of my time doing something entirely (but not unrelated) different. I spent hours and energy researching, writing, speaking and sharing about eschatological theology with people. Eschatology is the theological study of the end times. Fancy words for a subset of Christian theology that is potentially the largest part of a theological conversation inside of pop culture. We watch zombie films, write pre-teen dystopian novels (like The Hunger Games and the Divergent series) and always get glued to the television when someone makes a crackpot attempt at dating the end of the world.
I even wrote a gigantic Master’s Thesis on preaching Revelation and recovering end times theology in the church. I used plenty of cultural references in my research and conversation on the topic (you can read the paper here).
The place both my recent expectation of Fury Road and this heavier research into End Times theology meet is a conversation about waiting. We all wait. We wait in lines, wait for others and wait for many other things.
Waiting is a necessary part of life.
And I think those who wait well understand things better than those who wait with impatience. As Tom Petty’s sings…”the waiting is the hardest part.”
In waiting we learn to anticipate. We learn to value and to defend. Understanding waiting is the transition point between the immediacy of childhood and the patience of an adult.
So was Fury Road worth the wait?
Absolutely. I went on opening day with a friend. We hit up the 11am show.
I had hoped it would be good. I had hoped for something different from the abomination known as the remake of Red Dawn.
Fury Road looked exactly like what it was supposed too, but even better. For someone who is a gigantic fan of the first three Mad Max movies, it was not only a faithful representation, but a culmination of the vision of George Miller.
It was worth it because it was not only honest about the originals, but went much further past them. It created the “ideal” world for the story, with the ideal circumstances, issues and characters.
It was the exact opposite of a disappointment because it fulfilled the waiting.
This is the lesson we need to learn as each of us, scholar or every day Christian, think about Jesus, the things he promised and what scripture tells us about the world to come. No matter what we can imagine it being…it will be better. It will fulfill all of the waiting we have done.
Part of the season of church planting is having flexibility with Sunday mornings. I have spent most of them helping out other churches, leading music or preaching supply. We have had a couple of Sundays where we go visit other services and see how they do things.
This weekend I decided to do something different.
I skipped church on purpose. And it was glorious. The whole day was amazing.
I did an experiment Sunday morning and spent several hours at my favorite coffee and breakfast spot. It is a higher end gas station serving the exact demographic we are planting Foundry in. Folks can easily come in and spend $5-7 on a great cup of coffee and a breakfast sandwich or pastry.
I was there for around four hours observing who else was skipping church.
I grew up in church. I was there easily 5 days a week. I’m a preachers kid! I remember thinking about folks who skipped church when I was younger. I don’t know if it was subliminal or someone actually told me, but I viewed skipping church as a fast track to a stretch in the penitentiary. The folks who skipped church were the true dregs of society, sleeping off what was most certainly a debaucherous night worthy of Hugh Hefner and company.
Then I went to college and started skipping church.
Recently Carey Niewhof has spent considerable time on his blog looking at the phenomenon of declining church attendance (here, here and here). He, like others, gives weight to the theory that many of our churches aren’t declining through significant departure, but instead declining frequency of attendance.
My time over the last few years in ministry has shown the same thing. We rarely had a family leave my previous church-but when we crunched the numbers of average attendance vs. who was there at least once a month we found either more frequent attendance (in growing services) or declining (in shrinking services).
So with these facts in mind I decided to skip church and observe folks skipping church (I guess that sociological research degree is paying off).
Observations from Skipping Church
1. Folks are spending their time with family
Earlier in the morning (around 8-9am) I saw plenty of families together. Some of them came to get a family breakfast before church. Others were heading out to a day at the lake or the camp. Some families came in and spent 30-45 minutes with each other and other families rushed in and out.
I did see 3 different groups of Dads and kids together. I assumed (due to the lack of wedding rings and one conversation with one) this breakfast was the last big event before Dad ended his weekend with the kids and brought them back to Mom.
2. Hanging out with friends
I saw several younger couples of groups of friends come in early to grab breakfast and hang out. They stayed at least for an hour catching up and sharing stories. One of them even talked about a Bible study they were in! The common thread in their conversations was life change and transition.
3. Growing themselves or taking care of other responsibilities
I saw a people come in, sit down by themselves and pull out an iPad or book and read during a cup of coffee. I saw people journaling. Others came in to grab a quick bite before running errands or driving to see family.
4. Different people at different times.
Earlier in the morning I saw more families come in. Around 9:30 younger people came in and people swung in to grab stuff to go. Around 10/10:30 I started to see college kids come in or folks that probably had a hard Saturday night and were just getting going. At 11am or so it swung back to families with kids coming in to sit down.
So what did I learn?
People are skipping church for good reasons.* Like I said earlier, I had a magnificent day. Meredith and I spent great time to ourselves and part of me thinks the relaxing morning I had reading and reflecting was something to do with that. I wasn’t stressed out on Sunday morning
People were spending time with important people. Whether it was their kids, spouses, significant others or friends-they filled Sunday morning with relationships.
Folks used Sunday to do what mattered to them. Saturday is quickly getting filed up with responsibilities. I recently read over 30% of the workforce works on the weekend. With sports and other obligations, Saturday is now a work day with more comfortable shoes on! Sunday is the new Saturday, a time to relax and refuel yourself.
So think about that. These people aren’t skipping church for malicious reasons. In fact, they are skipping worship for the very reason worship is important! Worship should be relaxing (not stressful or awkward), it should be about relationships and connecting with the body of Christ. Finally, worship should be a time to press reset and reorient life. This isn’t about creating a consumer driven service,** but we have to realize God never meant worship to not matter!
I don’t offer any thing besides this. I have my own theories, but they are contextual.
What I am doing at Foundry is thinking about what our weekly services will look like and asking questions along these lines. Church shouldn’t be a drag. I promised our launch team I would do everything for worship to not suck or be embarrassing.
Church leaders need to get really honest with themselves and be willing to ask the hard questions. I think many people quit going to church not because they no longer believe, but they slowly stopped thinking Sunday morning in church was worth it. That worship mattered. And we as Christian leaders need to own up to this and do what we can to fix it.
*Let’s think about what would subliminally drive someone to not attend church. We can sugar coat it as much as we want, it can be disagreements, lack of opportunities, janky worship services or many other things. For many people it is simple being too busy. What it boils down to is the experience of corporate worship isn’t as important as other things-it doesn’t carry the beneficial weight. This isn’t saying worship isn’t important, but we have to be honest with ourselves about what we are presenting as worship to people.
** I honestly think many people experience God in worship. I have rarely met a mature disciple of Jesus who hasn’t been positively affected in and by worship numerous times. Worship is an important and heavy thing. Because of that conviction I think worship needs to be excellent. It needs to engage context, senses and sensibility. Expecting people to experience God in a worship service completely out of touch to them isn’t a holy excuse. If we want worship to be a priority we need to give it all we’ve got.
How To Get People To Sing In Worship (why repetition matters)
Sermon | Playing House (Building the Worship of God)
The Most Important Word in Worship Design…
Learning About Worship From Iron Maiden
At the end of 2014, Meredith and I traveled. We probably spent close to 20 hours in the car driving. Both of us love podcasts and we decided to power listen to Serial, the breakout podcast hit of the fall.
If you aren’t familiar with Serial yet, it is a long form, narrative style podcast from the This American Life family. In 12 episodes it told the story of a murder suspect and the crime information that didn’t necessarily match up. The New Yorker called Serial “the Podcast to end all podcasts.”
It was a break out hit and one of the most innovative pieces of media in 2014. There are several lessons the church can learn from the podcast. I think now is the time for any local church to begin learning some lessons from new media.
3 Things Churches Can Learn from the Serial Podcast
1. The new media critical mass has been reached.
For the last 10 years people have slowly been learning to get news, build opinions and discuss things in alternative ways. According to Everertt Rodgers’ research Diffusion of Innovation, we have reached critical mass. New media has reached the late majority level. This means the average amount of persons might not have actually engaged in a tremendous amount of new media communication styles, but they are familiar enough with them to hit mainstream. The more narrative, people based storytelling is now accepted and understood easily (rather than tolerated and confused). The 20th century was primarily a knowledge based society. In many ways it was the apex of the last 500 years of a new system of innovation begun with printing press.
If we look at communication development, the last 5 years have been a shift of innovation away from knowledge/information and back towards narrative as the dominate holder of truth. This written -> oral cultural shift doesn’t downgrade knowledge…but instead shows a development of both together. The storyteller no longer is simply a transmitter of previous information, but now holds authority by not just the truthfulness they tell…but how they tell it.
This means people have now changed the way they digest and listen to media. Think of the communication potential your church now has. Instead of reaching people living inside a knowledge based culture,we have to shift to a narrative based. But isn’t that what the gospel really is? The story of many people being reconciled to the Father, through the sacrifice of His Son and then grasped and empowered by the Holy Spirit?
2. Podcasts have now reached mainstream
Podcasts have been around for 10 years in some medium or the other. Apple iTunes has had podcast delivery built in since 2005. Even though it was almost 9 years ago, this was the first step in accessibility. In the last 5 years, the technology for listening to podcasts has changed dramatically. With the advent of smartphones (and the iPhones ability to download/stream podcasts natively) the accessibility was easier than ever before. In the past, you had to search through the store, download to iTunes and then upload the podcast to your iPod.
Serial broke iTunes download records. They reached 5 million downloads quicker than any other podcast. 15% of our population has listened to a podcast in the last month. People are moving towards podcasts as a primary source of information and entertainment. The hardest part about a podcast is finding the best way to listen.
In the last 10 years, vehicles have slowly started making connecting an auxiliary device to the stereo easier. At first it was auxiliary jacks and now it is bluetooth. I don’t think I have had a rental car in the last 5 years that doesn’t have the ability to route my iPhone audio through the speaker.
This makes it easy for your church to distribute content.
Instead of the old tape or cd based ministry, which necessitated changing delivery systems (tapes or CD’s), listeners now have the content at the same place everywhere. They can start and stop with ease. The average commute is 25.4 minutes.
Podcast technology means your ministry can reach listeners who can subscribe to regular content and listen to it anywhere.And the average person now has everything they need to engage with your content and is probably familiar. Churches have used RSS (podcast code) technology for years to deliver sermons…but that is just the beginning. Read “What’s Behind the Greatest Podcast Renaissance” and think about how you can take advantage of this medium
3. How Serial changed everything (in a great way).
Serial changed everything. Or maybe we can say it served as the example of the great change that has been happening over the last 2 years as far as podcasts are concerned. I have podcaster off and on for 10 years. For 8 of those it was a total bust. Getting 10 downloads was a success. No one knew how, knew what or knew why podcasts were great. It was a total niche movement.
But it was worth sticking with. Apple sat on it for years before it hit mainstream.
Serial showed us how everything changed.
It was a distinctly Generation X/ Millennial product. With the crime in Serial occurring in 1999, there are plenty of cultural references.
Sarah Koenig, the host and primary investigator speaks of adolescence not as a statistical fact, but as something mainstream.* It shows a completely perfect example of a secular moral structure…with casual drug use and sexuality on a sliding scale of acceptability. Language isn’t edited out. One particular person involved coined a phrase used through out the show featuring the F-bomb. It was referenced countless times throughout the show. Unedited. No apologies. Besides the moral framework, the style of reporting this has completely changed. It is no longer a disapproving adult, but instead someone who remembers (and even identifies) with the subjects. I can’t imagine Barbara Walters doing this style of reporting.
Serial also served as an amazing example of power listening. We have been familiar with power watching, the practice of back to back viewings of entire television seasons, ever since DVD sets became affordable. Netflix, and other streaming services, have made this a regular part of life.
Serial was the first podcast to seriously look at power listening. People would plan out blocks of time (the holiday season was perfect…because the show had just ended) to listen to the entire 12 episode season.
So ask yourselves this. Are you in the content business or the sermon business?** The church has used technological advances for years in media. If fact, it’s one of the areas we have done really well in.
I think this gives us two questions to ask ourselves.
1. How can my church create or adapt a content strategy influenced by power watching/listening and the consumption of narrative media.
2. Do we speak the communication language of Generation X and the Millennials or are we still directing our digital media towards the style of engagement created by older generations.
Serial has been a great example of the tipping point of new media and any church leader needs to be asking these questions.
*Note. I don’t agree with the information below-but it’s of the utmost sociological importance.
**But let’s think about what a sermon is. It’s an intentional packaging and communication of the Story of God. For me, the basic assumption of preaching/sermonizing is the assumption and goal of a person being affected and making intentional decisions because of the word of God. The lines between the sermon and content are decently blurry.
Podcasts are one of the single best learning (and entertainment) tools you have access to today. They are (essentially) free to listen and enjoy. The number of podcasts produced grows every day. Every few months I like to mention my new favorites. You can find the previous posts at the bottom of this post.
My Favorite Podcasts (Volume 3)
Stuff you missed in History Class
This show is in the same genre as Stuff You Should Know (shared in volume 2). Back in the day, preachers all had ticker files. These were filled with clipping from newspapers, magazine articles and book notes. I had a mentor once tell me to always keep a swiss army knife with me so I could use the tiny scissors to cut something out if necessary.
In the digital age I think much of this isn’t necessary. What I do think necessary is to always be listening, learning and absorbing the power of stories. These two podcasts are the cream of the crop of this genre. Every time I listen I learn something knew and store away things for future use.
Stuff You Missed in History Class
I am a fan of motorcycles. More specifically, my Harley Davidson and the culture of motorcycles. Currently, there is a great resurgence of biker culture in the younger crowd. Chopper Prophet interviews folks active in this group and gets great questions in. Not only do you learn from builders, culture creators and known folks in the community, but Mike asks some really great, deep questions. The added benefit is learning about the power and influence of sub-cultures.
Thom Rainer (Rainer on Leadership)
Thom is the president of lifeway and does great research about church leadership/pastoring and church dynamics. His podcast is short, to the point and full of great information. No matter what denomination you are in, I think his show is a must listen.
What I appreciate the most about Thom and his podcast is his willingness to talk about some pretty serious leadership issues and what it takes for both the pastor and the church to grow through them.
Rainer on Leadership
Copyblogger has been putting this great podcast out for the last few months. It is a super practical look into what it takes to write great content copy. Overall, The Lede is a great mini-school teaching the skills to do great marketing on the internet. You might be thinking marketing isn’t important for you, but everyone is a content marketer today. I wrote a blog post on why church leaders need to be listening and learning from content marketers. The Lede is a great way to start doing this.
I hope this series of posts encourages you to start listening to these and other podcasts. Let me know what you are listening too!
My Favorite Podcasts (vol 1)My Favorite Podcasts (vol 2)
Why Pastors Should Podcast
My Podcast Toolbox
Anyone in ministry spends time and energy researching the best forms of communication. From the beginning, we see this trend in the Christian church. Some scholars think the letters of Paul were the first widespread use of leaves of pages (instead of papyrus or scroll) being used for permanent communication, the development of the printing press energized the reformation and John Wesley took advantage of cheap printing and the popularity of leaflets to resource and educate the growing Methodist revival. Closer to our own time, the 20th century found churches and preachers utilizing radio and later television to spread the gospel. Also, many preachers quickly grabbed the idea of using powerpoint presentations to provide visual illustration and aid in listening during sermons.
The church has always been in lockstep with communication technology.
Why Pastors Should Podcast
It is no secret I am a fan of podcasting. I produce and host two shows currently, The Productive Pastor and The Threshing Floor. In addition to this, I listen to around 10-15 podcasts regularly. I believe in the medium.
I think podcastings greatest use in ministry is yet to come. The church is just now beginning to understand the power of podcasting and the benefits it gives.
For many churches, the first foray into podcasting is sermon audio. It makes sense. The success of tape and CD ministries in the past make using podcast technology for sermons a no-brainer. The Sunday sermon is tailor-made, perfect content for a podcast. It is updated weekly (sometimes more) and people want to listen to it. It is content made once and delivered (on-demand) for the future. As long as you leave it posted! But we need to open our minds a little.
If we are only using podcast and RSS enclosure technology for sermons, we are missing a HUGE tool.
What other content does your church have (or you personally) that can fit the format?
What about Bible studies and classes?
Listen to this scenario. Someone teaches a Bible study with 4 meetings. The study is over. A few months in the future, several people regret not being part of the class. The teacher (and the group) have already moved to a different book, so it wouldn’t be possible to repeat the lessons. If you had recorded them and uploaded them as a podcast, anyone can always go back and utilize the resource.*
Think about how podcasting can be used to communicate many different things about your ministry.
What if you could consistently record 2 minute vision moments? If you live in an urban commuter environment, you could do a 10 minute synopsis of the sermon every Monday. Do you struggle with multiple announcements? Put them in a podcast! Are you trying to build a unique culture with your church? Check out group podcasts (the Relevant podcast is a great one) to see how you can build internal and external culture with a running conversation between 4-5 people.
You could open up a running conversation about leadership and answering other life issues. This could be specific to your community. Think of the topics which would never really work in a Sunday setting or other class, but you could totally have a conversation about for 15 minutes.
The possibilities are endless for using podcasts in local churches. Podcasting is inexpensive (it can be free) and offers a great return on investment. It is the field preaching of the 21st century!
If you have some questions on how to podcast, I wrote a post for you.
So here is my question…How can you use a podcast in your church?
*Two of my friends are great examples of this: JR Forasteros and Jeremy Sarber.
Bogdan Kipko is another pastor with an amazing podcast also.