Give Us Rest

We’re in the middle of our Life Apps series (something we bought from Northpoint Community Church), and this weekend we looked at the rest app.

In my day to day life I can email and text from anywhere, work from home, commute relatively easily and have a house full of time saving gadgets (dishwasher, microwave, tumble dryer, broadband and Tivo). Yet I am busier than ever just keeping up…and so often forget to just stop. And for those of us who work or serve at church, our Sabbath is often just another work day. But we know what will happen if we don’t rest, something I can attest to having just come out of a particularly busy season. Which brings up the question; why don’t we do it?

Our EBC Opener for The Rest App

We started the service with an opener, first this cute clip (something all of the mums at least could recognise):

There are some well known people who have strange sleep patterns:

  • Mariah Carey sleeps with 20 humidifiers, and insists on 15 hours a night.
  • J-Lo, Jeff Bezos and the Dalai Lama all aim for eight hours a night (although obviously in different beds)
  • Charles Dickens always slept facing north, as he believed it improved his creativity.
  • Michael Phelps sleeps in a special high pressure chamber which replicates being at around 9000 feet above sea level. The thinner air works his body harder…so he’s effectively training while he sleeps!
  • Leonardo Da Vinci had a 20 minute nap every four hours
  • Nikola Tesla followed the same sleep pattern, and slept for no more than two hours a day!
  • Margaret Thatcher famously (or infamously?) got by on four hours a night when she was Prime Minister (as did Bill Clinton and President Obama)
  • And possibly our most revered Prime Minister, Winston Churchill, took a two hour nap each day at 5 to allow him to work late into the night… as this clip demonstrates!

Now these are some extreme examples, but all of us need to rest no matter our circumstances. And those famous people above who regularly had a very short nights sleep didn’t sustain it forever…there was a point when it caught up on them. Marisa Mayer, the current CEO of Yahoo apparently works very long hours (140 hour weeks!) and doesn’t sleep for any useful amount of time. But she then takes a holiday every four months where she sleeps…and sleeps…and sleeps…

But for those of us who don’t have the luxury of regular holidays, or weeks off where we can rest interrupted (I have three children who seem to be in the habit of going to bed late and waking up early….), we have to try and find a way of switching off and resting sensibly.

But How?!

There are many who have posted about rest and sleep, with ideas and pointers much better than I can offer (being a self confessed Night Owl who has to get up early most mornings). If you’re interested, this post by Michael Hyatt says it all brilliantly, and he has a whole archive about rest here, I highly recommend you read them (I read everything he writes, I think you should too).

So rest. Stop when you get opportunity. Don’t work every Sunday, just “be” at church sometimes. Take time out when you can, even if it’s just for a couple of hours. We watch movies, and I don’t multitask with movies…I just watch them and unwind without a laptop, phone or anything to fiddle with (other than popcorn or a drink). Plan your holidays in advance for the year, and if possible, be strategic with them (as we have kids, they naturally have to fit in with school holidays which are spaced out fairly evenly).

How do you rest, or more importantly, how often do you rest?

Stop!

We had a holiday last week, as it was half term. We found the most amazing converted barn in the country around four years ago, and have been going back there ever since for our annual October half term holiday. There is no broadband, very little 3G or mobile coverage…(there is electricity and heating!)…so we find it just the perfect place to retreat to, kick out, and relax. We are all off of our computers for the week, no access to emails, no work commitments, just the opportunity to play games, watch movies, stay in our PJ’s until lunchtime and visit a few places with good food. Heaven!

Stop!

Stop!

We at EBC did a series at the beginning of the year called Breathing Room which looked at elements of this, and I am aiming to read Richard Swenson’s book Margin at some point in the very near future. Stopping in our current climate is something we’re not always very good at doing…life and work and church and home and children and and and and…we are just busy!

I was thinking about the impact just stopping has in so much we do. So I’ve already looked at stopping for holidays, for breath, for time out to refresh. Which, maybe is an obvious one (or maybe not…)? But what other areas can have impact from a stop, however brief? How about:

  • Songs: Do you arrange stops with your band? I mean, aside from all ending together (and hopefully at the same time), arranging stops, or stabs in your songs can be really impactive. Of course, if you’re not actually doing any more than just playing the song, quite often everyone starts at the beginning, everyone finishes at the end, and you play the song all together… But a proper arrangement will involve musicians stopping and starting, verses without guitar, different singers taking the lead, maybe a complete stop and silence before you go into the chorus. Simple arrangements, easy to grasp principles, hugely impactive sound.
  • Service Orders: Do you put stopping time into your services? For instance, after the talk, is there a time to respond, to digest and take in what you’ve just heard? If you’ve ended your worship set on something quiet and responsive, do you as leader allow the time for people to just be? I’ve been in too many services where a song like this was followed by a reading, or public prayer, and instead of stopping and experiencing the moment, it was broken by footsteps down the aisle as the next part of the service had to happen…order trumped the moment. If you can see there is the opportunity, or likelihood for the Spirit to be working, people to be responding, times of quiet, then put it in. We regularly set aside specific time in our service orders to preserve this, and then will add space off the cuff as and when needed. Be sensitive to it. Stop!
  • Drama: I don’t claim to be a director or actor (although I have performed in the past…), but I do write scripts and skits regularly, and one of the key things (especially if using comedy) is judging the right amount of pauses. Jokes can be completely lost if the space is not inserted to absorb the humour. Dramatic scripts lose their impact hugely if they are just read through…a talent as an actor and director is putting in the right spaces…the pregnant pauses…the raised tension by stopping.
  • Service Content: Do you have a media every Sunday? Drama once a month? Always start with an uptempo song, and a standard 3:2 line up of songs in your service (three at the beginning, two at the end?). Stop! Shake it up a bit. Go 2: 3 with your songs. Have a series of related skits for a series. Drop the media one week. Try flipcharts, or interaction, or slides instead? Simple and subtle changes from the norm can have the most impact, without alienating or shocking your congregation. Familiarity is great for week to week services, as it gives your congregation a confidence in what to expect, and in inviting (they know you’re going to present a good service each week which they are comfortable bringing their friends to). That said, familiarity can soon evolve into complacency for all involved if you’re following the same order, songs and presentation each week…stop from time to time and just shake it up!

Now we’ve had that brief stop for half term, I’m back and ready for the Christmas run…you with me?

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.

 

 

Editing Ideas

So in last week’s post I looked at some of the sources I use for collating ideas, along with how I start finding them. This week I wanted to continue the process with how I edit and refine them into something useful.

Where to cut first?

Where to cut first?

To start with, we have a completed service outline that has an overview of the subject, what we’re wanting everyone to learn and take home, as well as a hope of how they will feel. The outline of the talk is there as well, and I’ve hopefully found a good selection of creative ideas that will support and enhance the message. It is at this point that I’ll meet with whoever is preaching for that service, so that we can start to sort through the ideas together.

This discussion allows us both to get a better feel for how the talk is going to go, where the emphasis is going to be, and what the one line take home is. We always aim to have a take home in the talk, the rationale being that whatever has been said, and no matter how long, there is a line that will resonate and stick above all the others and so be easy to remember and apply long after the talk has been heard. Knowing what this is will then influence which elements we choose to use.

There may also be timing issues to take into account, if there is a lot happening one week (we have communion once a month, we had a gift day this month which took up extra time, and several times through the year we have a “What’s Up With That” slot which gives more of an overview of some of the other things happening day to day at EBC which our congregation may not be as aware of.

Every story has a different angle

We’ll also weed out things that become irrelevant or unrepresentative once we’ve established the main thrust of the talk…every story has a different angle. And we try at this point to make sure that whatever we’re using is culturally relevant to our church. This is a pretty personal thing to understand, and can only really be sensed when you have been part of your church’s community for some time. For example, as we looked at last time, I may choose to refer to The Great British Bakeoff, Strictly Come Dancing, The Apprentice, as they are all current TV shows that are relevant and understood by a majority of our church. Old TV series like Friends and The Simpsons seem to remain relevant even 20 years after the event. And many movies, especially family movies, will work if they are popular and recognised…or they may even encourage the congregation to seek them out and watch them in a different light. But at the same time, I am pretty sure that Big Brother and Jeremy Kyle are not big crowd pullers at EBC, so they probably wouldn’t entertain a mention.

There are times when the clip is so good that it warrants inclusion, so we used a Big Bang Theory clip called The Friendship Hypothesis a while back which went down really well. But we’ve also used clips from popular movies like Mr and Mrs Smith and Defiance which just didn’t cross over, possibly because our set up wasn’t clear enough, or they simply didn’t appeal to our congregation.

Who is as important as what

With regards to music, often we can find the perfect song that reflects and illuminates the talk perfectly, so the only question becomes do we run it as a media or do we perform it as a band. And for that, we have to make a call as to if it is playable by our musicians within the time frame. We do try and get a balance of this, as the impact of having a song performed live is much higher than simply watching the video…although of course if it is done badly then that impact is significantly diminished! And we always make sure that the words are displayed whether it’s a live performance or video…just to make sure that everyone gets the words!

So in summing up, it’s great to have a lot of ideas to choose from so that you can then edit them down, and when you edit, think of the specific point you’re trying to deliver to the congregation, think about who is going to be delivering it, and think about your congregation

Our Templates

Last week I looked at templates, how we all have them (even if we don’t realise it), and why its important to use them. This week I thought it would be good to look at the evolution of our templates at EBC.

In The Beginning

What does your Template achieve?

What does your Template achieve?

When I first started at EBC our service order consisted of an A4 sheet which had a basic order on one half, and a list of songs and their corresponding Songs of Fellowship number on the other. It was primarily so the musicians were able to locate the songs in the book, and in those days the musicians did use books (including Baptist Praise and Worship), so we also had super strong reinforced music stands that were up to holding several large music books, as well as a significant supply of post-its to mark the pages. The music didn’t flow quite so well, especially if the first song was in book 1 and the second song on page 557 of book three, but the music team did have good biceps from carrying several kilos of hymn books around with them each rehearsal and service.

The first transition we made was to get rid of the two half sheet and condense it into one…each week we used to rip it in half, the musicians would take the numbers and the preacher would take the orders. And when I questioned “why” we did it this way…well, we always had. So we just had one A4 sheet which had some basic details on it (service leader, worship leader, preacher etc) as well as the basic order. We started putting in some detail for transitions between items, so we could introduce some flow into the service purposely, rather than as a happy accident!

The second minor adjustment was to get rid of the songbook numbers. By this point we had stopped using Songs of Fellowship, we had condensed down our song list and were mostly using our own chord charts which were in standard, singable keys and regular arrangements. This was a gradual transition as the church office liked to be able to use the numbers to make sure they had the right song…and in fairness there are some songs with similar titles…we did have one Sunday where I had chosen “Great is Your Faithfulness (Unchanging)” by Chris Tomlin, only to be greeted by the hymn. But generally this wasn’t a big issue.

The sea change came after our visit to Atlanta, to the Drive conference at Northpoint where we learnt about the “funnel”, or their Rules of Engagement and how to narrow the focus during a service. Off of the back of that we created a new template which had the three elements: Engage, Involve, Challenge, highlighted down the side, so we could then fill in the template accordingly. We also expanded the columns to give more direction in terms of technical notes and cues, so our Sunday team had a better idea of how it all would fit together and we could have some more control of the flow.

EBC Service Order 26-05-13 10.15

Our current template takes all of these things into account, again it has evolved over time to fit with what we do, just as we have. The template extends over 2 A4 sheets (we now have a double sided copier!), and as we also now have a more complex lighting set up with moving head spots and a full DMX set up, we include lighting cues with our technical notes and information. This is what also necessitated moving some of the service detail to a second page.

EBC Service Order 26-05-13 10.15

You can see from the templates I’ve put up here that they contain more or less the same information, and our actual structure and order is not wildly different over the course of the years. But now we have an understanding of it, and are intentional with it, we can achieve much more comprehensive and impactive services. The elements that we put into our services, be it music, drama, media, interaction, along with sung worship and the talk can be arranged so that they have the most impact and effectiveness in communicating the message that we want to get across that week. And the feedback we are receiving from our congregation would suggest that this template is working.

What does your template look like? And more importantly, what results is it getting?

Templates

Last week I wrote about how we had changed the format of our Sunday service for a “Soul Survivor Special”, and how off the back of it we had discovered some really useful changes which we were applying to future services, both in order and setup. And on of the things I mentioned was templates.

I realise that this is the longest blog post to date. Sorry. But it's good. In the words of Miranda...bear with....
Templates

Do you have a template?

 

In 2013 I was fortunate enough to attend the Drive conference at Northpoint Community Church, Atlanta. We went as a group of emerging leaders from EBC, and the three day conference looked at many different elements of church leadership, from being on the stage to small groups, music to drama, welcoming and hosting to the graphic design and presentation of your materials. It really did cover everything. Now I could probably start a completely new blog devoted to the take homes from this event alone, but to give some semblance of planning and continuity, lets look at templates.

Every church has one

As we learnt at the Drive conference, every church has a template, whether you realise it or not. So the order you run your service, the way you present the words of the songs, the format, folds and font of your service sheets and notices…they all follow a template. It may be that someone has consciously designed these templates, they may have evolved over time, it may even be that you do it that way because “it’s always been done that way”….whichever way you do it, you are following some sort of template. So take five minutes out and think about your last three services: how did they start, where did the songs happen, where were the offering and announcements, how was the talk or sermon introduced, how did it end? Chances are, unless you have some sort of freeform meeting that you hope people turn up to and then see what happens…that yes, you have a template…you just didn’t realise it!

 

The second thing to learn, now we’ve established you have a template, is your template generates the results you are getting. So attendance, attentiveness, engagement and response will all be affected by your template. Which can be tricky if you didn’t realise you had a template in the first place! At Northpoint they use the principle of a funnel, with the start of the service at the wide open mouth, and the end of the service being the point, narrowing the focus throughout the service. You can find it here. This is broken down into three separate sections, Engage, Involve, Challenge. Let’s unpack that:

 

Engage: is just that. Your congregation most likely comes from different walks of life, a mix of ages, men and women, workers, retired, long serving christians, new believers and visitors for which this may be the first time they’ve visited a church. So we need to engage them and ensure that we’re all starting on the same page. A great way of doing this is a straightforward welcome and a genuine warm smile. You cannot assume that everyone is a regular, so introduce yourself and talk a bit about the service, today we’re looking at x and we’ll be together for about an hour. Then it can be useful to have an opener. This can be a set of slides, some observations about the week, a short media clip from a relevant TV show or movie, or a song. The important thing here is commonality…something that everybody can relate to. I always find that if you can use some gentle humour  that everyone can laugh at, it relaxes people, breaks down some of the walls that may exist and starts everybody off in a happy place.

 

Involvement: follows afterwards, this for us at EBC is sung congregational worship. Again, we explain what is happening, so for those that are new it isn’t a great surprise. If I stand up and say “we’re going to worship together” then for a visitor, what does it mean? I could be chanting, lighting some candles or incense, possibly even some strange dance? If I say “we’re going to stand and sing a few songs that express how we feel about Jesus”, even if your visitor doesn’t know the songs, there is an understanding of what you’re about to do. And the funnel principle applies to the songs as well. Assuming you have a mix of songs in your repertoire you probably have songs that profess how great God is and aren’t butterflies pretty, through to how He died on the cross and His blood washed away my sins. Now this isn’t the place to have a discussion about the biblical accuracy of how pretty butterflies actually are…but if you start your set of songs with something that is lyrically broad and musically upbeat, transitioning into songs that are more personal and challenging, you have a better chance of taking the congregation with you.

 

Challenge: This is the second half of our service. In terms of the funnel, we are starting to sharpen the focus. You’ve engaged the congregation at the start so they’ve come together, and then involve them through singing, maybe shared dialogue, a pertinent clip or drama that sets up the talk. But that doesn’t mean that you have a license to challenge from the start. If I were to have a conversation like with someone, I wouldn’t lay into them from the start: Hey Steve, you suck because… It would be the perfect setup for a fight, and the net effect would be that I had lost a friendship (and probably gained a black eye). No, again we employ the funnel all over again, so the talk is about engaging, involving and challenging. And the challenge comes towards the end. Now I don’t preach, so it’s not my place here to say how you should do so. But having been on the receiving end of many talks, and also with the job that I do, I think I have pretty good understanding of a good talk structure.

 

So there you have it. A simple, three part guide to your template. Now having a template doesn’t mean boring, routine, or the same service each time. As I said last week, we mix it up often. And a template is just that, you slot things into it. So we don’t have drama or media every week, sometimes we have three songs at the beginning and two at the end, sometimes we flip it. This Sunday with communion we’re only going to have four songs to make more space for reflection. When it’s all age we have a completely different template. But it does make for a consistent and familiar service, it means that we’re not starting with a blank sheet of paper each week, and it gives us the space to be creative in the spaces that we make for ourselves. 

 

And finally, it’s our template. Northpoint has been a huge influence…as has Willow Creek, New Wine, Soul Survivor, and so on. But we don’t try to clone their services and steal (all of) their ideas. Having it explained in such a clear way, and experiencing it first hand gave us a really good understanding of what it was all about, which then enabled us to look at what we were doing and then work out how we could apply the ideas and principles in a way that was beneficial for us and our congregation.

 

So I hope that this does just the same for you. Feel free to steal and use anything from this blog…that’s what it’s there for. But you’ll do it your way, in your church, for your congregation. And I hope to hear back from you what happened as you did it.

If you want to read more about this, then I highly recommend Andy Stanley's book, Deep and Wide, where this is covered in much more detail.

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?

Dive In!

Well I’m back from a (partly) sunny week away, today is the 1st September and the autumn term is beginning again after the summer break. The kids go back to school this week, our final all age summer service was yesterday and now we’re back into rotas, normal Sunday services and (believe it or not…), Christmas planning! So I thought I’d start this September with a carry over from one of my summer posts:

Steven Curtis Chapman is easily one of my favourite artists of all time, and this, the opening track from his amazing album Speechless is a great song. In fact, every track on the album is a doozy from start to finish, and if you’ve never heard any of his works, Speechless is an excellent place to start. It is one of the few albums that deserves to be played from beginning to end…all killer no filler as they say.

My heart is racing and my knees are weak 
as I walk to the edge

I know there is no turning back 
once my feet have left the ledge

And in the rush I hear a voice 
that’s telling me it’s time to take the leap of faith

So here I go

I’m diving in, I’m going deep in over my head, I want to be

Caught in the rush, lost in the flow, in over my head, I want to go

The river’s deep, the river’s wide, the river’s water is alive

So sink or swim, I’m diving in

Now clearly the video hasn’t dated at all…but the song is all out superb. “I’m diving in, I’m going deep, in over my head I want to be”. This Sunday, as we completed our Barbecues of the Bible series, one of our team was preaching about Elijah and his challenge to the prophets of Baal to get their gods to set fire to the sacrifice that had been prepared. For many hours they danced around the offering, calling on their god, chanting, eventually self harming to show their dedication. And nothing. So Elijah rebuilt the altar and arranged the pieces of the sacrifice on the wood. And then Elijah had the confidence to pour gallons of water on the sacrifice, soaking the wood and the sacrifice and filling the trench that was around the altar. Then he prayed to God, “O Lord, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Israel, today let it be known that You are God in Israel and that I am your servant and I have done all these things at Your word. Answer me O Lord, answer me , that this people may know that You O Lord, are God, and that You have turned their heart back again.” And God answered Elijah’s prayer, and fire rained down from heaven and consumed the offering, the altar, the wood, the stones, all of the water and even the dust from the ground.

Elijah didn’t sit on the fence. Steven Curtis Chapman sings about walking to the ledge, and then taking that leap. Now that summer is over, now that a new term is beginning, now that we are (hopefully) rested and ready to go, I pray that you don’t hold back, you don’t approach any of your worship halfheartedly, and you just dive. right. in.

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.