Nothing New Under the Sun

Have you heard of the IXI, or the SaeHan/Eiger MPMan? Me neither. I have heard of the Zune, and the Diamond Rio. But most of us know about the iPod…I somehow have three of them.mp3_evolution_1-100350068-gallery.idge

Karl Benz invented what is recognised as the first motor car back in 1885, but it was the Ford Model T in 1908 which became popular, usable and affordable. The English chemist Joseph Swan invented a lightbulb in 1850, but as Victorian vacuum pumps weren’t very effective, it never went into production, so Thomas Edison some 30 years later was credited with inventing the lightbulb (after more than 3,000 attempts).

I’m typing this from my MacBook (Apple Fanboi…), and while Apple is recognised as the originator of the Graphic User Interface, using a mouse and desktop (which was subsequently “borrowed” by Windows…), Steve Jobs actually got the idea from the Xerox 8010. Yes, I had to look that up too…

Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery

I posted the other week about our new stage design for our series “Boats of the Bible“, which consisted of a boat (surprise) and a series of neon inner tubes across our backcloth. While I would love to take credit for this (and I was the one who produced all of the puff to inflate them and put them up), the idea was not mine. It came from Pinterest, which as many of you know is a great source of ideas and inspiration.

Ecclesiastes 1:9 says:

What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun.

The phrase “There is nothing new under the sun” is common in society, even being used by Shakespeare in one of his sonnets. We can make life difficult for ourselves, put ourselves under pressure to reinvent the wheel each week, come up with something new and different every Sunday. I try to write a new drama every Christmas for our Christingle service, have a new theme for our Christmas services and feel bad if we reuse a song or clip rather than something brand new and different.

Everything new?

But we don’t need to. We can source ideas from Pinterest, Facebook, Blogs (like this one!) and sharing with other leaders. We can copy, refine, adapt and integrate ideas, presenting them in a way which benefits our congregation, works in our churches and is achievable with the resources we have. And this applies to all aspects of our worship services…while I’d love to be able to play Cornerstone or Oceans with a Hillsong sized band, we are able to worship with our band of five…even if there is no drummer (and only 1 guitarist instead of 5!) This Christmas (as I have done before), instead of writing something completely new I’m going to adapt a book I’ve found.

Apple didn’t invent the MP3 player, Henry Ford wasn’t the creator of the automobile and while Edison clearly had a lightbulb moment, he wasn’t the first. But what they did do was take what existed, refined it, added their ideas and personal touch to it and made it into something better. And we can do exactly the same.

Beg, borrow, steal?

So next time you’re sweating over a Sunday, struggling to come up with ideas and discarding the obvious or already done…step back, take a breather, beg, borrow and steal and remember there is nothing new under the sun…

Be Our Guest!

We had a great session last week with Nick Cuthbert, the founder of Riverside Church in Birmingham, who came to talk to us about being welcoming as a church.

I don’t know if this is something you pay attention to at your church…we do, but in the business of everything else which happens on a Sunday (music, media, sound, lights, coffee, cake, the talk…note this isn’t a list of order of importance…if it was then coffee would of course be first….), it can get forgotten, or maybe not fully thought through…

Be Our Guest

Nick was great, having led the church for over 30 years and now working with Lead Academy he had a wealth of experience, knowledge and anecdotes to share with us. So I thought I would share some of it with you:

  1. Watch your language: It is said it takes 6 – 12 months for people to become fully indoctrinated into a church…and by then they are used to the language, or Christianese as we like to call it. But if you’re coming to church for the first time and they are talking about being washed in the blood of the lamb at the front, or sharing in the peace together, or practicing the Lord’s supper this morning…what would you make of it? Similarly, how would you react if the service leader stood up at the beginning of the service and said “we’re going to worship now…”? Worship what? And how? Does it involve fire? Dancing? Is there a chant which goes with it? So think about your language…we are going to sing some songs together that express how we feel about our faith. We’re going to stop for a bit to greet each other. Today is communion, where we share bread and wine (non-alcoholic) to remember Jesus. Small changes, but language which is understood. And similarly…
  2. Be inclusive: When it comes to the announcements, or the service order, or publicity, are you thinking about 1st timers? If Geoff is having a mens barbecue at his house on Friday, or Jane is collecting money for Tearfund in advance of her trip to Uganda…it’s all great…but who’s Geoff? What does Jane look like? Thursday Fellowship is meeting this week on…well, Thursday. But what is Thursday Fellowship? Who is it for? Where? When? Why? And when you do these announcements, is it something which the whole church needs to know on a Sunday? If Thursday Fellowship is targeted at our older people, announcing it in the morning service is probably irrelevant to 75% of the attendees.
  3. Coffee time can be a lonely time: We often start and finish our services with refreshments, and its an opportunity to catch up with friends, recover from the previous service and be social. But it can be part of the problem…as we naturally congregate with our friends who we may not have seen all week, any newcomers can be left, in a corner, by the door with their coffee cup for company. Try to keep an eye out for newcomers, and then be social with them! Something Riverside did was have gift bags for 1st timers…a freebie with info and something nice is always well received, but of course, when it comes to coffee time it is clear to the rest of the congregation anyone holding a gift bag is new (or going to a party after the service…?)
  4. Smile! We put so much effort into Sundays, from the creative content, to the music, the talk, refreshments (thinking about coffee again…), graphics, cleanliness, tech… But so often it can seem what people are singing, or listening too, may be well received and understood by their heads and hearts…but their faces aren’t necessarily reflecting it. We don’t go to church to have a bad time. We don’t worship a grumpy, miserable God. Our songs and services are mostly joyful, colourful celebrations…isn’t that what “worship” is about? So what would a 1st timer make of a church full of grumpy looking, sighing people? I wouldn’t come back. A smile is something which can be contagious. And finally:
  5. 1st timers: We’ve always made the point of welcoming our visitors at the beginning of the service, but as Nick pointed out…if you call someone a visitor, does it mean you’re not expecting them to stay? Or come back? So rephrasing as 1st Timers (as you may have noticed I’ve done throughout this post) is another subtle, but inclusive change.

So a short (?!) summary, there was lots more and making sure you are welcoming every week is something which always needs to be addressed. And by everybody…we have a Welcoming Team whose duty is to be welcoming…but really, it’s the job of everybody who is there. Every week. Every day!

All The Time!

So approach every Sunday, every element, every word from the viewpoint of having a room full of 1st timers, and make sure you are addressing all of the above and more.

Shanzhai

No, I haven’t been taking Chinese lessons (although from a business standpoint it would be a useful faculty to have). Shanzhai means “mountain stronghold” and gives a sort of Robin Hood image of taking from the rich to give to the poor. Growing consumer culture, manufacturing techniques and a blatant disregard for international copyrights and local regulations means the Shanzhai manufacturers in China have become experts in not only copying western goods, but also improving on them.

Apple-fake-store-007

The most common Shanzhai products are mobile phones, but you can get versions of sports goods, tools, even architecture! In 2011 a US blogger discovered an entire Shanzhai Apple Store in the Chinese city of Kunming. It was full of Apple products, Apple advertising, there was a genius bar, correct decor and signage, even the staff were wearing Apple uniforms and badges. The staff actually thought they were legitimately working for Apple and had no idea not only was everything in the store a fake, but so was the store itself! The Shanzhai went beyond the actual products and as far as the shopping experience itself.

But this isn’t all! Around Shanghai there is Thames Town, a village built to resemble an English market town complete with a copy of a chip shop from Lyme Regis, cobbled streets, red telephone boxes and even the double yellow lines to stop parking. It’s one of a set of towns planned including Swedish, Italian, Spanish, American and German styles. The Austrian village of Hallstatt was made a World Heritage Site by UNESCO because of it’s picturesque beauty….so sure enough, amongst the tourists visiting in 2011 there was a team of Chinese architects photographing and analysing the village. The Guangdong region is reportedly soon to have it’s own copy of Hallstatt, although whether you’ll be able to ski with the subtropical heat North of Hong Kong remains to be seen.

How To Do, or Can I Help You?

We Christians love going to conferences…I’ve been to many myself, and more often than not they’re led by big churches passing on their experiences, techniques, and trade secrets. These can be really helpful, extremely influential and challenging… I know for all I’ve been to, I’ve come back with a list of ideas, areas to improve and things to look at in order to transform church/get a bigger congregation/whip the band into shape/choose our songlists/re style the senior minister. And on and on and on.

Now I know they don’t really do that. The conferences I’ve been too (Willow Creek, Northpoint, Mosaic, Mecklenburg…) have all shared their experiences, failings, and personal direction to help us with our churches. But they’re always keen to emphasise how it’s their way. Not the correct way, or right way, or the only way.

Be Yourself

I wrote about how we were starting a new rebranding project last week, and how in the initial stages of working with the designers, we needed to outline who we were as a church, what we did, and what we were there for. I know there are some churches who struggle with the questions, or who model themselves on other churches…trying to replicate the Hillsong worship style or Northpoint teaching style, rather than being themselves and being a church who relates to their community.

This applies in many different areas…I know there are times I as a worship leader try to replicate the Passion or Chris Tomlin arrangement of a song with its loops, seven guitarists, gospel choir and Christy Nockels…although on Sunday I have only one guitarist a violin and no drummer. Or those weeks when we’ve come back from Soul Survivor full of excitement and vigour (and mud), wanting to replicate the concert lighting effects and multiple smoke machines which work so well in the big top with 10,000 worshippers…but don’t translate so well into a hall of 200 with a varied age group.

Copy of a Copy of a Copy…

In addition, over the years I’ve seen so many blatant copyright ripoffs or secular industry bandwagon jumping that it almost seems as though there are no new creative ideas in the Christian spectrum today…(Adult christian colouring book anyone? EasyChurch?)

So before this turns into any more of a rant (apologies), can I encourage you to be yourself. Work to your own strengths. Learn about, and serve your congregation. There’s nothing wrong with using film clips, setting up cool lighting rigs in your hall or playing David Crowder songs. But do it your way. And then if someone wants to Shanzhai your work…encourage them, help them, point them in the right direction…and teach them how they can do it better when they do it their way. Just like Frank and….Elvis?…both doing it their way

 

 

Who are you?

30th June, hard to believe we’re halfway through the year already! I’ve mentioned here before I’m currently working on a new project with EBC on updating our website and overall branding. And the question which came up first was, who are you?

Now I’ve been researching logo design, style guides, branding and fonts…all of which has come in useful with my other launch this year. But the prospect of overseeing something so big for a whole church has been quite daunting…so I was delighted to discover that ChurchInsight, the people we use to maintain and host our website not only offer a bespoke branding and logo design package, they are also able to take the final result and transfer it across to our website, reskinning all of the existing data leaving us with a brand spanking new homepage in line with our new branding!

As part of this process I had a long conversation with ChurchInsight so they could get an understanding for who we are. After all, it would be unusual to get someone to choose the clothes we wear or the music we listen to without knowing a bit about us before. It would be like receiving a gift from someone who doesn’t know us at all…you’d either get something which wasn’t you, or a gift card. Its just the same with commissioning a logo…we could say “we want a logo” and whoever we commissioned could say ‘here you are…”, but ultimately it would be a pointless without a bit of background.

Questions to give direction

So I thought I’d share some of the questions we went through so they could get some direction…as the questions which direct the logo design are also questions which provide, or focus the direction of a church. So, without further ado, here is a short list:

  • How would you describe your church services?
  • What are the long term goals of your church?
  • Why do you want a new logo? What do you want your new logo to accomplish?
  • How are you different from other churches?
  • What’s the age range of your target congregation base?
  • What feeling or message do you want your logo to convey to those who view it?

As we were going through the questions, I was quite pleased we as a church had such a clear vision and strategy that it was relatively simple to answer most of the questions…in fact the only ones I stumbled on were when it came to favourite colours and the like… So how about you? If you were thinking about undertaking a rebranding project for your church, or if I bumped into you at a conference and we got chatting about your church, would you have clarity enough to be able to answer the above questions and more?

Who Are You?

If not, then maybe you could take these questions and start to have a conversation about where your church is going, and who it’s trying to take along the way? Of course we all want to be known as churches with doors which are wide open and inclusive, but at the same time we are all going to be known for specific things, or to target specific age groups or demographics. Hillsong is known for its music, HTB for Alpha, Passion Atlanta for…well more music, NorthPoint for its teaching…and on and on. Thats not to say they don’t do children ministry or bible classes or mission…but their identity and their USP are wrapped up in certain well known areas.

We Know Who We Are

We are exploring at EBC what it means to be a 24/7 church, and so although we put a lot into our Sundays, we also run Messy Church during the week, youth events, toddlers and children’s work, and a flourishing older persons ministry which has several meetings across the week. This gives us as a church a fairly broad appeal demographically, but it does mean we can narrow the age focus on a Sunday morning as we know the other age groups are so well catered for during the week at other events.

So like The Who song at the beginning of this post; who are you? Do you know your church’s identity, it’s USP, it’s primary outreach? Or do you need some time as a team to go through some questions to help sharpen your focus? Either way, make sure you know.

How We See

Inside Out is currently doing fantastic business in America, released to overwhelming critical acclaim, everyone is flocking to the cinema. I know we can’t wait to see it as a family (unfortunately it’s not out until the end of July in the UK….just in time for the school summer holidays…)

Inside Out is set inside the mind of Riley, where her five emotions: Joy, Anger, Disgust, Fear and Sadness, try to lead her through life as she moves with her family to a new city. Pete Docter, the director, first began developing Inside Out in 2009 after noticing changes in his daughter’s personality as she grew older. The film’s producers consulted many psychologists and researched the mind in preparation for building its story. Initial drafts were unsatisfactory, and the production was revised significantly with the realization that interpersonal relationships guide human emotions.

Winning With People

We are just about to start a new series at EBC called Winning With People, based on the book by John Maxwell, and the first part is titled How We See. And if its not obvious by now…this Inside Out clip is going to be used to open the service. The story we’re using is from Luke 7: 36-50, where Jesus is anointed by a sinful woman while at Simon’s house. Simon is self righteous and believes he is better than everybody else…and so does not see Jesus for who he is, nor the woman for who she is. Whereas the woman knows herself, and so sees Jesus for who he really is.

Who we are affects how we see other people. Who we are affects our relationships with other people. Just as illustrated in the Inside Out clip, our emotions and the thoughts in our head can often dictate how we relate to one another. It can be as simple as if we’re angry or happy, tearful or sensitive, we can either rub others up the wrong way or misinterpret how others are acting towards us. I know I’ve been guilty of that (although not very often as I’m usually so perfect and fun)….

But at a deeper level we can all have ingrained opinions and almost subconscious reactions whether these are genetic, from our background, from other influences or experiences. It could be argued that certain press and media outlets thrive on these negative preconceptions…we seem to be in the thick of a raft of headlines about “benefits scroungers”, “work-shy”, “immigrants” and “celebs”…and we get hardened to the images and articles we read when often the real stories are somewhat different.

The Lens Principle

John Maxwell better defines this as The Lens Principle (again from his book Winning With People), which he defines as:

Who we are determines how we see others.

The big question is:
What is my perception of others?

This means:

  1. Who you are determines what you see.
  2. Who you are determines how you see others.
  3. Who you are determines how you view life.
  4. Who you are determines what you do.

At its simplest we could define this as stereotyping: all artists are flighty, all singers are divas, drummers hang around with musicians, all programmers are dorks etc… But how we’ve been brought up, who our friends were (or still are), parent’s opinions, the press we read and much much more will have an affect on how we view the world, and how we see people.

W.W.J.S.

163-1468Now I don’t think it’s my place to say what you should or should not be reading or listening to; my point of view, my background, my family situation, the newspapers I read and the TV I watch is possibly the same or maybe completely different to yours. But I’ll leave you with this:

There was a craze in the late 90’s for wearing WWJD bracelets, which, if you were around in the 90’s you’ll know stood for What Would Jesus Do? So maybe a subtle change to this, as we think about How We See people would be to have a bracelet with WWJS on it: What Would Jesus See?

But is it “Christian”?

I’ve been doing this blog for almost a year, and I’ve been sourcing and using all sorts of different artistic media for well over a decade now, and something we’ve always done at EBC is use a mix of Christian music, worship music, and secular music. Similarly our media, TV clips, movie clips and illustrations are sourced from many different backgrounds. Now I know this doesn’t make us radically different to a lot of churches, but at the same time, I would argue that we are still in the minority, especially in the UK.

The clip is a song by Josh Garrels, an artist I discovered just hhis year when he released his new album Home. His voice and artistry is, to me, a thing of absolute beauty. His songs profess an exploration of faith, although maybe not in the traditional church sense. These aren’t songs of worship, but again I would argue that they are worshipful. There is a clear spiritual thread which influences and runs through all he does.

I’ve read interviews with very famous Christian artists and songwriters where they have stated they only listen to “Christian” music, and I’ve also seen shows where the biblical direction to “be in the world but not of it” is taken to a literal extreme…so apart from living on planet earth, everything else (TV, music, relationships, shopping, phones…) is completely unacceptable.

What I’m not saying…

Now I’m not advocating incorporating the latest Lars von Trier movie into our Sunday services, or covering a Slipknot or Eminem track in it’s entirety as part of the benediction. But we acknowledge that our God is The Creator, and that we are all made in his image. So we should not be surprised when we see a spiritual influence and acknowledgement in so much art, be it paintings and drawings by past masters through to modern songs and films.

I am a drummer, so aside from having thick skin and only being able to count to four, I am well used (especially in the past) to receiving general grief from those who don’t believe drums belong in church, let alone secular and contemporary songs. Yet here we are, leading worship on electric guitar, using clips from current TV shows and movies and making use of an extensive lighting array.

…but what I am saying…

And for those who wouldn’t usually set foot in a church, if they get invited and then experience a song, or clip, or illustration which they are familiar with…well it puts that element into a completely different light, and hopefully also gives them a new understanding. We’ve used scenes from Harry Potter at Easter…a better allegory for willingly giving your life for others I’ve yet to find, we’ve used songs by Pink to illustrate family breakup, clips from Big Bang Theory, Friends and Outnumbered which show relationships in a far better setting than we could ever create. And they all raise questions, get us thinking, and set us up to be able  to then answer some of these questions with biblical truths.

The message never changes, it has remained the same and relevant for over 2,000 years. But the medium we use to communicate and share the message has to change to fit into culture. And to fit into culture, we have to understand it, and use it.

Reason To Celebrate!

In January I ran a whole series of posts on the theme “new”, including Play With Something New, All Things New, A New Old Song and A New Wooden BoxCelebration!

Well I’m delighted to report I have a new job! Well, contract. And…business too!

A bit of background: I work at EBC 1.5 days a week as Creative Arts Director, and the rest of my week is spent in the music industry, working with artists, publishers and labels on their royalties. Now in an almost perfectly divine symmetry, I’ve this month set up my own company to manage this…which means I can contract out some of my time…to the church.

So this May I’ll be starting a six month project with EBC to overhaul and refine our communications.

How we got here?

Another bit of background: As I’ve blogged about on this site regularly, we’ve spent a lot of time as a church refining our Sunday services. From the music, to the media content, to the publicity, to the language used when speaking, we even refine down to timings, orders and transitions so the Sunday service experience for any attender is something memorable, effective, and hopefully challenging and inspiring enough that they want to come back for more.

What has struck me more and more over the past few months is, while we’ve got to a stage where our worship services are consistently great, our attention to detail and systems have not been applied to …well pretty much any of our other communications. So our emails, website, social media, paper (lots of paper) while by no means bad are just not co-ordinated, generally have a disparate feel and are overseen separately by several different people.

What to do?

So my new project is to examine all we do in terms of communication output and refine it. We’ll be creating and implementing a new logo for EBC, and setting an overall theme in terms of fonts, colours and presentation so all of our output is consistent, easily identifiable as coming from EBC and beautiful! Our staff emails will all have consistent footers, in a similar font, our website will be much more user friendly especially for first time visitors. And we will finally properly bring ourselves into the 21st century with properly set up and managed social media presence.

I am really looking forward to this challenge, and what I want to do is update regularly here, as I believe it’s another important part of communicating the message for and from the church. So expect to be reading much more about colours, identity and style guides in addition to the ideas and observations already being shared here.

Celebration!

This post also marks EBC passing the 500 regular attender mark, which is a major milestone in church attendance and growth (there were 300 of us in 2008). And finally, I realise this is my 100th post on this site…just before our anniversary (I started it on my birthday in 2014), so yay me! Let’s celebrate!

Small Change Big Difference

I have another day job aside from my day a week with EBC, as a royalty auditor and royalty accountant. This generally involves sorting and manipulating huge amounts of data on big spreadsheets…which requires a decent computer and a good knowledge of excel shortcuts! Recently when I was out on an audit, my computer (which has been getting progressively slower) needed rebooting three times in order to work! I’d already got accustomed to getting into the office in the morning, switching on my laptop, then hanging up my coat, using the bathroom, making a cup of tea and checking through the post…by which point my computer was just about through booting and I could log in. Pile-of-Laptops

Clearly this wasn’t productive, the laptop is only a few years old and pretty high spec…so I got in touch with our IT support to see if it was something worth saving, or whether I just needed to invest in something newer and faster. To my surprise Simon at Response IT said “just replace the hard drive with an SSD (solid state drive), it’ll fix everything. We’ll pick it up and take care of the rest!” So they did…

Now I’m not by any means technophobic, I handle most of the IT issues in our office, and I generally have a good overview of how these things work. And I had already got a decent laptop on which I had doubled the memory…I didn’t think replacing the hard drive would make that much difference. But when I got the machine back…it was incredible!  My three year old laptop was now a sleek, speedy and capable machine again! When I switched it on…it booted in about 20 seconds. It was ready before I was ready. Programs opened seemingly instantly. There were no perceived delays when switching windows. It had no errors, no crashes, no need to reboot. It just worked…but like it did when it was new. I was simply amazed…so much so that my home tower is this week going in for the same treatment!

Small change big difference?

This got me thinking: are there other areas in church life where a small change can make such a significant difference? I’m not talking significant and expensive overhauls of equipment, programs and teams, but the small and life changing adjustments which can make a really large and readily discernible difference. If I look back over the past few years at EBC, I can identify a few small changes which have made a big difference to us.

Our Song List: we cut our regular list of Sunday songs from …well basically the contents of Songs of Fellowship…around 2,000 songs, to a smaller list of around 150, and ultimately we now operate a list of around 60 songs which are revised on a termly basis. Result: The band and the congregation know the songs much better as they are on a regular rotation, so we are all freer to sing them without thinking about them too much.

Lowering music stands: Now I am approaching the other side of 40 (41 this coming May), I am finding I have to resort to glasses when on my computer and reading. We used to be in the habit of having our music stands up pretty high on a Sunday morning…probably because we were still using the small print out of the Songs of Fellowship books and the rest of us needed glasses. But this creates a real barrier between the band and the congregation. So when we revised our song lists and stopped using Songs of Fellowship, we created our own song sheets on A4 paper in big print…so moved the music stands down more to waist level. Result: the congregation can see us worshipping and so follow, we can see the congregation. (in addition to this, when we did our main hall redevelopment we installed a comfort monitor which displays the words to all on stage…potentially eliminating the need for song words on stage at all.

Smiling on stage: So we reduced the height of our stands, and now everybody can see us. Us, the worship band, singing songs about love, happiness, isn’t life great…although we weren’t always reflecting this in our facial or bodily expressions. Now our bands (especially our singers) are reflecting far more what they are singing on stage, which models how to sing in worship to our congregation…and they soon follow. Result: A congregation who are far more understanding and in tune with our musical worship.

Service Orders: I have talked about this a lot before, so I won’t cover it too much here. But suffice to say, if you want your service to run smoothly, to time and coherently, having a planned order with timings, transitions and technical directions will make a big difference to your services.

What else?

There are many more small changes we have made, and are continuing to make which are making big differences to our services, and I know will continue to do so. And you’ll also notice from the small selection above, there was no significant financial impact, generally just a bit of planning and some printing! Why don’t you take a fresh look at how things are operating in your setting, and see what small change can make a big difference?

Horizontal Design

I fully acknowledge I am a bit of an Apple fan boy…my phone has been exclusively an iPhone since about 2009, we have several iPods, iPads, an Apple TV and four! MacBooks between us… There is even an old 90’s Performa in the loft from my university days…when Mac’s came in beige and had less storage than my phone (1.2 gigabyte hard drive anyone?) But there is a reason so many of us choose Macs…they look great, are highly functional, and as the adage goes…”they just work”. Apple Heaven?

There’s been a lot of discussion this week amongst the Apple fans as Jony Ive has done an extensive interview with The New Yorker. Now I read the Jony Ive book last Christmas, and it was a great read; very interesting and inspirational…I highly recommend it. The interview in The New Yorker is possibly the most informative piece of writing on the inner workings of the Apple design studio (the Jony Ive book was pieced together from snippets of interviews and research), and just highlights how central Jony Ive and the creative team are to all of Apple’s output.

Segregated Departments

Many organisations have design teams alongside marketing, development, sales etc…but often they don’t properly hook up together. If you read the Walter Isaacson biography of Steve Jobs (again, another great read), it was apparent when Jobs came back to Apple in 1997 that it wasn’t working…they had a desktop computers department, laptop department, computer monitors, printers, handhelds….and none of them were talking to each other. Hence the design, compatibility and infrastructure were completely disparate…hence the near bankruptcy of the company. What Steve and Jony did was to simplify and reunite all of this…initially the company shelved everything and went back to making four main products…a professional desktop and laptop, and a consumer desktop and laptop.

What is especially apparent from this New Yorker interview though is how central Jony Ive and the design department is to everything Apple does. They oversee from beginning to end, and control and integrate design into the whole Apple experience…from the case to the keys to the software…they even pay special attention to the design of the box so the unboxing experience is a special event in itself.

It struck me that we as churches should pay attention to this. I talked a while back about templates and orders, and how every church has a template even if they don’t realise it. But it is also incredibly important to have a central, horizontal design to our church services. What do I mean by this?

Service Elements and Orders

When putting a church service together, there are several different elements which are pieced together. They may include prayer, music, bible readings or liturgy, drama, announcements, an all age or kids section and a talk or sermon. We may include media, some sort of interaction, sometimes communion and a benediction. I am sure your services will have some or all of these elements at some point. But when it comes to putting them into an order of service, how do you approach it? Do you follow a similar pattern each week: welcome, song, prayer, song, announcements, sermon, song, prayer. Do you make an attempt to try and join the songs with the theme of the talk, or reading? Does your worship leader attempt to create a set which works together musically, in key, tempo and style? And who is in charge of putting this together: the service leader, the minister, the worship leader? Or someone in the office who types up the service order?

As you can see from the examples above, assembling service elements like this is a very vertical, blocky form of construction. We all know of churches who have the hymn/prayer/hymn sandwich as it is called. Which is not to say it is wrong. But if we took this horizontal design approach to all we do, I believe we can construct a much better order of service:

So the opening song or welcome or Opener sets the theme or background to the service…this transitions smoothly into the songs which are also transitioned musically into the next section…maybe a drama or media which illustrates or highlights a question which is going to be tackled in the talk. The talk answers the question and then leaves the congregation with a challenge…this transitions into a time of response…the band come to the stage during prayer and start to play…moving into an end time of worship, which finishes on a prayer or benediction and then an invite to personal prayer and/or coffee.

You can see this overview of a service (which is something you would experience most weeks at our church EBC) contains all of the elements mentioned above, but there is more of a horizontal thought as to how the different elements and sections fit together, link, interact and complement and support the whole message. Part of the reason Microsoft’s Zune never really took off was because it wasn’t a very appealing package….it played songs as well as the iPod, but didn’t look very good. Similarly there are many phones which look stunning, but the software embedded in them is buggy, counter intuitive and slows you down. This can be applied to websites, books, shop signs….and church services. Good design is pointless if it doesn’t work, and the best machinery, software and technology are pointless if no one understands how to work them. This is one of the reasons Apple do so well, as the design is thought about and integrated from the start, and again from the New Yorker article it is clear the involvement happens every step of the way through to completion.

1,000’s of possibilities

There are many different ways of putting a service together, and I don’t believe there is one “correct” way. However, I do believe with just small amount of horizontal design, and thinking this way from the start to the end, it is possible to make service orders, not matter what elements or style, far more impactive to the congregation who are attending them. And this is also easy to do if there is one person responsible for putting the order and elements together…be it a service leader, producer…whatever or whoever, just one person will be able to join the dots. This doesn’t mean they’re responsible for creating all of the elements…but they are able to have the horizontal overview and control.

So next time you’re putting together a service order, try to think of the whole experience from end to end…a horizontal design.

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?