Get On Board!

We’ve just this past Sunday started our new Summer series, snappily titled Boats Of The Bible. This is the stage decor we’ll be having for the next six weeks!

Get On Board!As you can probably see, we have utilised a lot of inflatables! The boat came with a pump, but the neon inner tubes were purely manual…I had to stop half way through so I didn’t black out!

All of the materials came from Amazon or eBay, all in we spent less than 100 pounds and much of it can be used again. And I put it all together in a couple of hours one evening, again using paperclips and cable ties to mount everything to our curtains.

Small Effort + Big Impact.

I’ve mentioned before about the impact which can be had from changing your scenery or decor, and it doesn’t have to be expensive or drastic to be dramatic. We do have the added benefit of having a good selection of lights as well, but again, these are pretty budget (the LED Par Cans are around 30 pounds each) but still effective. To add some interesStaging Ideast, I mounted a couple of the Par Cans on microphone stands which you should just about be able to see either side of the neon inner tubes.

Of course, with a series titled Boats Of The Bible, we had to get a boat on stage as well! Now I cannot guarantee this is an authentic replica of a 2000 year old fishing boat, and taking into account how quickly it is deflating between services, I wouldn’t wholly trust it for a spot of beach paddling let alone fishing. But it is big, yellow, has oars and looks really cool on our stage, along with a  couple of decorative fishing nets and some strings of cardboard fish.

Summer Season

Boats of the Bible?Our summer series runs from the end of July to the end of August, and as it is holiday season we change our service pattern so there is one all age service at 10:15 on a Sunday. This eases the pressure on rotas for bands, leaders and the like, but also means we have one big loud service…it’s great!

The response from everyone has been overwhelmingly positive, the bright and bold colours having an effect on all ages of our congregation. There is a debate as to whether the neon rings are giant doughnuts or oversized fruit polos…but either way, they are creating a buzz and conversation, which is exactly what we want to be doing. And more than that, the effort which we put into decorating our stage is another small reflection of the effort which we put into Sundays as a whole.

So I again encourage you to put a bit of thought and effort into how you set your stage, even if it is something as simple as making sure the cables, chairs and stands are tidy. And if you’re looking for bigger ideas for how to dress your stage for future services, check in back here, or have a look at my Pinterest page where I’ve started pinning ideas…there is so much out there, I don’t know where to start.

And if you’re local, Get On Board with us this summer at EBC, it’s going to be splashing…I mean smashing…!

 

5 Observations from Joint Church Services

We have just this weekend had a great joint service with our friends at FBC. This is the second event we have done together, and it was great! So I though it would be a great opportunity to look at how we worked together, and maybe some pointers for other congregations who are dipping their toes into churches together or joint events. I have used the acronym of the 5 C’s…just because it panned out that way….

Common Ground

Together!

We are similar churches in terms of ethos, locality and congregation, which naturally draws us together. When planning for this joint service, we looked at the things we had, and did, in common and aimed to meet in the middle as far as possible. As I’ve discussed before, all churches and church services have a template whether they realise it or not. Our services are not very far apart in terms of order and content, so we had a straightforward starting place. Rachael and I were leading the music together (as we had before last summer), so we compared song lists and picked out those songs common to us both, as well as a couple which were new or we were wanting to introduce to the congregations.

Communication

This is crucial in all aspects, as we are two different churches in two different locations planning other services and events as well as running the day to day. So regular emails and planned meetings were the order of the day, and we had been planning for this one joint service from about November, having earlier penciled in the date we would be holding it. We put point leaders in place, so we would know well in advance who would be responsible for the main aspects of the service.

Community

This was and is all about coming together; we may be two different churches in different locations, but having a joint service is all about sharing what we do together, growing our congregations and learning together. Over the course of our joint events so far I have made many new friends and experienced different ways of working, worshiping and communicating together. We also planned to have a big lunch after the service that all were invited to (and expected to) attend. Community is also a long term relationship, which leads us into…

Commitment

We have held two joint events so far, a great summer celebration followed by a barbecue, and this service where the weather wasn’t quite warm enough for barbecues but we did get to play outside once we’d eaten together. And we are now gearing up to a joint weekend away in May with combined music teams, leaders and congregations. We are committed to doing this together, and I hope we will continue to meet regularly and have big shared events (and smaller joint gatherings) in the future, as they work so well; they encourage, uplift, and share our numerous resources.

Celebration

After all of the hard work, planning and execution, it’s great to kick back over food and drink and just enjoy how well it worked. Job well done! We will have a debrief, review what worked well, what needed tweaking, and what we do next. And, to just celebrate a job done well!

Have you had any experience of joint church events?

A New Wooden Box

So this Sunday I was delighted we had a couple of new band members, Yatrik and Anouch. I’m always keen to grow the team, and they did great. And aside from all I’m about to say, the church is always encouraged and happy to see new faces on the stage!

Not the most graceful of instruments to play...

Not the most graceful of instruments to play…

What was of most interest to me though was what Yatrik was playing. He’s a keyboard player, and a bit of a drummer (which I intend to make full use of at a later date), but he’d mentioned he had a Cajon he plays. And as this Sunday was a communion service (as are all of our second Sundays), I thought the Cajon would be a great addition to our more contemplative band lineup for the week. Now accepted that the Cajon is not the most graceful of instruments to play, and a lifetime of percussing on it will probably result in a really bad back. But the sound it produces is really superb, and we amplified it through our system but putting a bass drum mic in the sound hole at the back…instant sub bass along with some snare slaps from the wire at the top. We were delighted in rehearsal!

What’s That Box?

I had so much feedback from the congregation, as did Colin (who was leading) and Yatrik. “Where did the drums come from”?, “Was there a percussionist?”, “What was the box you were sitting on?”, “How does it work?”, “How do you spell that?” and so on. It was amazing the effect having a different instrument on stage had to the congregation.

We didn’t do anything else drastically different, the band lineup was keys, bass and four vocals (some great harmonies as well), and the song selection was from our usual list…nothing “new” there. But the impact from making as small a change as having a Cajon in the band made a significant difference to those who were listening/singing/worshipping.

So this January, as we continue to look at goals and new things for the year, why don’t you try something different in your music team? You may not have someone talented enough to play a wooden box, but maybe you could have an all acoustic week, or an all electric week? Try something more hymnal with some harmonies, or if you regularly have a choir, put in a contemporary song. Guitarists, try a higher capo or different pedal. Bass players, experiment higher or lower on the neck. Drummers, buy a Cajon, use a shaker, change your set up. Don’t play!

A Change Will Do You Good

Change is always good, and as I’ve discussed before, we revise our song list every term, use different band lineups every week and mix up the different sorts of media, drama and interactions which we use in our services. But all of theses changes are subtle and none too drastic…in order to keep the congregation with us.

So this Sunday, why don’t you try something new? See what a difference just a small change could make to your services.

I want to add that Anouch had a great voice, which received plenty of great comments as well!

The Toilet Brush Christmas Tree

Just this past week we completed our annual Community carols, a tradition we have had for many years now, which is growing year on year. We bring together several of the local primary school choirs together to perform some Christmas songs to their friends and family, which we chain together with carols, a generally silly Christmas theme and a short talk. This year the theme was Weird Christmas.

Did you know Germany created the first artificial Christmas tree? But, what was it made out of?Toilet Brush Tree

  1. Hedgehogs?
  2. Feathers?
  3. Toilet Brushes?

Now the correct answer is 2), feathers. They dyed goose feathers green and attached them to rudimentary branches. But, answer 3) is also vaguely correct. The Addis company, who made (and still do) toilet brushes employed the same factory equipment to make fake Christmas trees…in fact if you look at many of the artificial trees we have today, you can see the resemblance. And as if to prove the point, Amy our youth worker and I presented out schools with an extremely authentic and hard to find antique toilet brush Christmas tree. I can guarantee you will not find another one of these in the shops!

We also looked at weird facts about Santa (did you know there’s a Santa Winter Games every year in Sweden, and the Chicago Tribune holds an annual “Scared of Santa” photo competition?), Weird Food (did you know KFC has marketed it’s fried chicken as a delicacy to the Japanese, and that in Greenland there is a dish called Kiviak which is made by stuffing 500 auks (cute penguins) into a seal carcass, smothering it all in whale fat and then burying it for 7 months. The aroma and flavour is akin to a strong stilton apparently….)

And then our final round was Christmas injuries. Can you believe 4 people broke their arms last year in cracker pulling incidents, several were injured by out of control Scalectrix cars, and over a 141 (I am sure men) had injuries from not removing the pins from their new shirts….

But Why?

You may ask, what is the point of all of this? I would say, its Christmas! We share the event with primary school children, and for many it is possibly their first experience of church. And if the statistics are to be believed, then a majority of them may not even associate Christmas with the birth of Jesus. So if we can find a way of including them, sharing Christmas traditions and messages with them, and making it as interactive as possible, for them and their families, then at the very least they will leave with a positive impression of us as a church, and also some stories as to why Christmas is Christmas and what we believe.

Both nights were really warmly received, the six choirs (we had three schools each night) did some great singing of a variety of Christmas songs, and we already have the schools booking in for next year…what an endorsement!

Same for Sundays

I apply the same mentality to planning this as I do Sunday services: humour, real life and common experiences will always go a long way to communicating to any audience.

So this Christmas, or next year, I encourage you to think of creative and interesting ways to communicate the Christmas message to all ages. And if you need some help, drop me a line! I have many years of material stored up in my archives!

Poppies

We will remember them

You can’t fail to have missed the coverage that has been going on at the Tower of London this year. We visited over the summer, and already there were hundreds of thousands of handmade poppies in place around the landmark. The first poppy was laid on the 5th August, marking the first day of Britain’s full participation in the First World War 100 years later.

When the last poppy is laid this Sunday, on Armistice Day, there will be 888,246 handmade poppies in place, each one remembering a British person who died during the Great War. An estimated 4 million people have come to visit and pay their respects, and as the installation is due to draw to a close this Sunday the queues and number of visitors are growing.

Armistice day is recognised every year, the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918, when the battle on the western front ended and the First World War officially ended. We have a remembrance service on the Sunday which is nearest to the date, as do many churches, to recognise the sacrifice given by those who gave their lives in the war, and subsequent conflicts.

Today

Life is very different now, and the likelihood of us being called to a war of the same scale is fairly slim. There are no survivors from the First World War left, and those who served in the Second World War are now also of advanced years. Which is exactly why we need to remember them…stories and experiences need to be passed down from generation to generation, to understand how we got here, and the price that was paid for our peace and freedom.

My children are shocked enough that when I was growing up there was no such thing as broadband, you had to use a library if you needed information, and all of our telephones had cables attaching the receiver to the base. As we, and they grow older, we distance ourselves further and further from our history, and it is something we need to preserve and share. I am who I am, and I am where I am because of many who served before me…my grandparents served in the second world war and I have other family members who gave their lives…but I don’t know their stories. This coming Sunday is an opportunity to just take a few minutes out to acknowledge this, and remember.

They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them.

 

 

A Change Will Do You Good

We just had a great service this past Sunday, celebrating and sharing some of what our young people had enjoyed at this year’s Soul Survivor. I put it together with our youth worker, Amy O’Melia, we led together and she also did the talk…her first (and a really good one!)

Change roadsign

A change is on the horizon

We had known for a while that we were going to do this, and although it was a special service, we were still continuing the current series from The Story, and it was also an all age service (as it was the last Sunday of the month), something else we wanted to keep. But to try and give a bit of a flavour of the Soul Survivor experience, we changed a few bits around. So:

  • We took half of the chairs out of the hall, and asked our congregation to bring picnic rugs, blankets and cushions (we did keep half of the chairs in the hall for those who might struggle to get up from the floor!)
  • We extended our time of worship at the beginning so it was a longer block of music, and we also got more of our young people involved in the band.
  • We picked songs that had been used at Soul Survivor (we did already have a lot of them in our list, but we leant more heavily on them when choosing for the Sunday)
  • We put some tents and camping chairs up in the centre of the stage
  • The first “talk” part of the service, we put together an interactive “24 hours at Soul Survivor” experience.
  • After the second talk we had a time of extended prayer, again copying the Soul Survivor style and presentation of praying for each other to make it more accessible for the younger people.
  • And after the service, our young people served up Hot Chocolate Mountains in addition to the usual teas and coffees.

It was great!

The whole thing was a great success, we got so much positive feedback from the congregation, and Amy’s confidence in her preaching has taken a leap…I can’t wait for the next one! And it has also led to us thinking about implementing some of these changes for future services, so:

  1. For our all age services which we hold at the end of every month, we’re going to try taking the front few rows of chairs out as a permanent feature…the children and young people prefer to sit on the floor, and their parents (especially of toddlers) find it easier.
  2. Rearranging the stage, something we had initially done the week before for baptisms, has made us realise that we can comfortably put the band to the side of the stage while improving sight lines, communication, sound and also the look of the stage.
  3. Being able to involve the youth for this one service is a great opener for getting them to serve and lead at other services…this is something that we have been working towards as a band, but hope to be able to do for all aspects of our church services.
  4. Amy: we as a leadership and preaching team have been talking about getting Amy to preach…well, she did, it was great, and she is a fantastic addition to our preaching team. I can’t wait for the next one!

Now some of these things may have already been in the process, or maybe in time we would have got the younger people more involved and moved the band. But the opportunity to do it at one special service meant we were able to experiment and try different ideas without getting too much pushback for being too different….we had already flagged up that it was a one off special service, and given notice of the changes they would experience. But because the congregation did experience it, and found it a positive thing, when we come to implement some of the changes outlined above, it will be a natural progression rather than the shock of the change!

Templates versus change

Andy Stanley talks in his great book Deep & Wide about templates, and how all churches have them for their Sunday services (even if they don’t realise they have them!). And your template will give you the results you get for your Sunday services. We have a template for our services at EBC, it is something we have developed over time and we stick to the basic structure as it works for us. But a template is just that, a guideline or framework for how to structure our services. And although we changed a lot of the content, presentation and personnel for our Soul Survivor Sunday, we still didn’t deviate very far from the template and structure. Just in the same way that all of our services use creative content, unusual ideas and sometimes colourful presentation…but the message remains the same.

So I encourage you to take a look at what you’re doing on a Sunday, and work out what you could do differently, how you could involve other elements and other people, and see if a subtle change (or a big change!) will do you good!

 

Review All You Do

My car passed its MOT last week, we’re meeting with my eldest daughter’s tutor tonight, and I have an objective reporting and setting meeting with EBC next week. We review all the time, often formally (appraisals), sometimes legally (the MOT), maybe not always as often as we should (medicals, servicing, finances…). But do you take the same approach with your services? After all, if you’re putting so much time into planning, rehearsing and programming your services, would it not be wise to also review them after they’ve happened.mechanic-bum_2479768b

What is the purpose of a review? Well if we look at some of the examples I’ve outlined above, I would say they boil down to three key things:

  1. Is everything working as it should?
  2. Are there any causes for concern?
  3. Is there any room for improvement?

So with my car MOT, it passed (everything is working as it should be), the rear tyre is worn within required limits (cause for concern) and my clutch is quite worn but working (room for improvement).

The Sunday follow up email

I talked about routines and habits on Monday, and one of the habits Chris, our senior pastor and I have got good at is the Monday review email. It’s nothing too formal, but most Mondays we mail each other about the previous day’s services while it’s still fresh in our mind, after there has been some breathing space. There’s nothing worse than critiquing yourself or someone else straight after you’ve done it…(although I do find there will always be members of your congregation who think it’s the best time to remind you of the wrong chord/forgotten words/faux pas which you made in the talk). We cover exactly the same three things:

  1. What worked,
  2. Were there any causes for concern, and
  3. What could we improve?

This doesn’t feed into any great review system, we don’t do five star ratings and if the guitarist put his capo on the wrong fret (me two weeks ago….), it doesn’t reflect in their appraisal. But what it does allow us to do is to continually tweak and modify our services, much like tuning an engine, so we can get the best out of our teams, our facilities and our content, and the services we deliver every week can communicate the message in the best way possible. We have made great leaps in previous years with our facilities (we had a major spend on sound, lights and media), our teams (using the facilities and changing the way we rehearse and organise our bands) and our messages (the structure and delivery of our sermons), so arguably we are already creating really good services. Going back to the engine tuning analogy, once you’ve made the obvious big changes and made huge leaps in performance, anything above and beyond that consists of small adjustments for small percentages of difference. But they’re worth doing, and doing regularly. Look at time and money which is spent on Formula One cars, measuring, adjusting and refining so they are at their absolute peak performance when the difference between first and second can be fractions of a second, any performance benefit no matter how small can make a crucial difference.

Picking holes?

So a clumsy transition, a typo on a newsletter, withered plants in the lobby…none of these things are going to make a big difference to the content of the message, or diminish the truth of what is being shared. But they are small things which can make an impression on visitors, and when viewed as a whole, can decrease the effectiveness or our services. If our God is so worthy to be praised, if He is the great provider and source of every hour, if we as the church care so much about seekers and the lost…why are we His church not making the effort to at least keep the place tidy and serve good coffee?!

We continue to review weekly, our emails mean we tweak and adjust each week, we regularly praise, appraise and train our volunteers as to how and why they are serving, because vision leaks, and we do need to be reminded. And the more we do this, the better our services become, the bigger our congregation grows, and the message we deliver becomes clearer, goes deeper and remains memorable long after it has been received.

So the next time you’re in one of your services, whether serving or observing, try and look at it with different eyes, and see what small improvements you could make to go from good to great…great to awesome….awesome to spectacular…and so on!

Do you review all that you do?

New term, new songs

Well I think we’ve made it through the summer without too many injuries, avoided the worst of the weather and are now scrabbling around to find school uniform, work bags and car keys as we get back into the swing of things after extended holidays. And similarly, now we’ve completed our extended run of summer services we’re looking ahead to this coming Sunday when we resume our Manuscriptusual pattern of two morning services, a new series and new band rotas for the autumn. How about you?

Song Lists

Something I do on a termly basis is revise our song list*, and I particularly enjoy doing this after the summer break as so many from our congregation go to conferences such as New Wine and Soul Survivor, so have heard a great deal of new music. I always tap up those from the band, in charge of the youth, those with a good ear, even our senior minister, to get the low-down on what they thought was good, stood out and worked well in a worship and congregational setting.

There are so many good songs already in circulation, and so so many songs being released on a daily basis, it can be daunting to know where to start. We have a relatively small song list which has shrunk in number over time from the whole spectrum of the Songs of Fellowship book (circa 2000 +!) to our current list of 60 ish… but I do a regular rotation of this list three times a year, retiring some songs off of the list to make space for new songs while retaining some classics, some hymns, some popular favourites.

Sourcing songs

There is always a balance to strike between the desire to introduce the new and trendy as opposed to sticking with the comfortable old favourites…I have to work hard to resist introducing all of my new favourites, as the real danger is leaving the congregation behind and alienating your audience. Which is why I find this approach covers so many bases…getting feedback from a cross section of friends whom I trust, coupled with keeping an eye on the CCLI lists (we tend to look at the US version of the site) and new releases from artists who are a good fit with our style of worship at EBC (for us it’s Passion, Hillsong, Brenton Brown, David Crowder, Matt Redman, Chris Tomlin, Soul Survivor) gives me a generous selection of songs to start with. I then go through them and listen out for songs that are playable by our bands and singable by our congregation…which may warrant a key change, and may need rearranging to fit with our line-up.

I spent most of yesterday refining this, including a complete overhaul of our children’s/all age worship songs, so once this is finalised I’ll post it up in the resources section so you can all see what we’re doing for the next four months.

How do you pick and organise your songs?

*I will look at how we organise our songlist in a post soon.

Keep It Shut – The Sequel!

Last week I posted with the title Keep It Shut!, which looked at keeping the main hall closed during soundcheck and rehearsals so that the congregation would not distract or comment while the band and Sunday team were refining the service. I realise that the title could be construed as referring to something other than just the doors…but for the sake of politeness, we’ll cLocked dooroncentrate here on keeping the main hall closed during rehearsals…

We put it into practice this past Sunday at EBC; clear and courteous signs were placed on the closed doors with a specific opening time and a polite request for early arrivals to stay in the lobby or back rooms. Everybody adhered to it, and there were no quibbles or questions. Or attempts to break down the door.

Lock the door!

The most positive effect was in the band and tech team who were able to rehearse and sound check without distraction. We don’t hold rehearsals over the summer, so our current band time before the service is even more precious as it is the only opportunity to run through the song arrangements as well as soundcheck. My wife was leading this week, and I arrived later with the kids for the service. There was such a palpable difference on stage, the whole band were relaxed, more happy and freely leading and worshipping. The sound was noticeably better than the previous week, with a good balance between the instruments and voices, and a clear lead. The musicians were almost enjoying themselves! And all of this, just from keeping the doors closed for an extra 30 minutes or so.

I have subsequently contacted the relevant people to make this a permanent arrangement for our morning services, (one of the benefits of my role is that I can make decisions like this without several meetings with elders and planning teams…) as it is clear that it benefits all. Well, with the exception of the early arrivals waiting outside. But then, does anyone really need to be at church that early before the service? Cakes are only put our after the 10:15 service. And there are usually plenty.

Happy Band, Happy Man!

Now I’m aware I am possibly preaching to the converted. You probably do this already. If so, great. And drop me a line about some of the other things I need to know about! But, if this is a new concept to you, and you’ve had many months, maybe even years of an audience for your soundcheck and preparation time, I heartily encourage you to Keep It Shut before the service.

Come as you are

I cannot quite believe it’s over 14 years since I purchased David Crowder*Band’s “Can you hear us?” album. I remember reading a review at the time where the journalist had dismissed it as a nice album that would get lost in the midst of the avalanche of worship band releases. I thought the cover looked great, and it was on offer in my local Christian bookshop (remember those days…), so I bought a copy anyway. And I loved it…it still gets regular rotation now, and the songs are just as impactive as they were when I was a 20 something drummer.

David Crowder*Band always were a bit, well, a lot different, incorporating all sorts of effects, toys and computers into their music. Their Illuminate album even came with a demo version of Propellerheads Reason on the disc, and when I saw the Remedy: Live DVD and Crowder leading worship songs with a Guitar Hero controller…well I was captivated and excited by it all. (I wholeheartedly recommend you watch it…)And of course great songs with great musicians…but most of all, they were having a ball. They were doing serious music but not too seriously…they clearly understood how to bring a sense of fun into their worship which is a difficult thing to pull off.

Banjos and Moogs

Fast-forward to 2014, and David Crowder*Band is no more, but in its place we have The Digital Age continuing as a band and Crowder, David’s solo career. Neon Steeple was released this year to critical acclaim, and while undoubtedly different, it still possesses the Crowder quirk, instantly familiar music but with an added eccentricity. Crowder calls it “Folktronica”: folk music with a dash of electronica, and who am I to argue. Banjos and Moogs were clearly made to play together, it was just no-one had quite figured out how the pieces fit.

The album is full of great tracks, but the one I want to bring to your attention this week is “Come as You Are”, a glorious and deeply personal song which was on the Passion album this year, which is also where the video comes from. For me, it doesn’t get much more raw than this…the words and the vocal performance are heartfelt and sincere. I used it this Sunday as a response to the talk, and I have also used it recently during communion, as the words are just a perfect fit for such a time.

Lay down your burdens, lay down your shame

All who are broken, lift up your face

Oh wanderer come home, you’re not too far

So lay down your hurt, lay down your heart

Come as you are

I am already getting slightly lost in it now. Find a quiet place, press play on the video, and just be.

Earth has no sorrow that heaven can’t cure.