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....
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.