Thursday, March 26, 2009

Easter? (Part 3)

Just in case you think I'm crazy in my thoughts about Easter Worship Services, Russ Hutto had a few similar things to say about the topic Here.

And, if you've got about 15 minutes, check out This Podcast (The Power Of A Combined Service) by Nelson Searcy concerning multiple worship services...there's a few good minutes talking about Easter Sunday as well.


Easter? (Part 1)
Easter? (Part 2)

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

(Bump) Easter? (Part 2)

In Part 1, I asked the question: "How does your church do Easter Services" and gave you the options of "We Put More Time and Energy Into Easter than Any/Most Other Sundays" or "We Put the Same Time and Energy Into Easter as Any Other Sunday".

Although there wasn't a huge turnout of opinions, the results seemed split down the middle.

Here's how our church views Easter.

Easter is one of the only Sundays of the year that many people will enter our church building. Most of those people who only show up on Easter are far from God, either because they have never really met Him, or because they have chosen to run from Him.

We also realize that most people are not going to change their minds about church and God and Christians based on one Sunday morning, no matter what we do. Most people come to know and appreciate God based on personal relationships with those who already know and appreciate Him.

We aim to be excellent in everything that we do, all of the time. We certainly come up short a whole lot, but we try to put the same amount of energy and time and creativity into each and every Sunday. Our goal is that, a person will be interested in our church (and our people, and our God) just as much or even more during their second visit as they were during their first. The only sincere way to make sure that happens is to be constantly good every week at what we do.

It's for these reasons (and a few more) that we do not go all out on Easter Sunday to try and attract or retain first-time, unchurched guests. We don't do a big cantata (what the heck is a "cantata" anyway?) or musical, we don't invite a fire-breathing evangelist in as a guest speaker, and we don't cover the church with purple cloth and white flowers.

Now, I'm not saying that, if your church does any or all of those things, you're doing something wrong. All I'm saying is that we've decided doing those things would be wrong of us. We've figured out that none of those things are going to attract or retain first-time, unchurched guests in our culture/community (in fact, most of those things would probably repulse them), and none of those things in any way, shape or form represent who we are the other 51 Sundays of the year.

We want people to like us for who we are, not for who we are on Easter Sunday. We want people to come to know the God of every day, not just the God we might want to present on Easter Sunday.

And, I'm not saying that Easter is no different than any other Sunday. Easter is the one day that all of Christianity sets aside to devote completely to remembering what Christ did for us by dying and rising from the dead. We do a few things differently on Easter...we always present a clear opportunity to begin a relationship with God for the first time (we don't do this so emphatically every Sunday), we usually introduce a new song or two because it's so easy to do with such a clear theme, and we always anticipate a larger than usual crowd.

And, just in case you were wondering, we had our largest crowd ever this past Sunday! A dozen people indicated that they were starting a relationship with God for the first time, and several first-time, unchurched guests indicated they are interested in coming again!


(Bump) Easter? (Part 1)

So, I'm interested to know how your church does Easter. Easter is the biggest Sunday of the year (as far as church attendance goes) in the US, and most churches tend to pull out all of the stops for this one Sunday.

I'm guessing that we do Easter a little differently than most other churches.

Please, take ten seconds to answer the poll below (which is now closed) by leaving a comment explaining your answer. Then, check out Part 2 for some more discussion!



Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Great Blog/Church Cartoons

I've just discovered ASBOJesus, a funny and biting view of the modern church through the eyes of a cartoonist. The cartoons aren't the most artistically stunning you'll ever see, but they get the point across. Here's one of my favorites...


Wednesday, March 11, 2009

A Place for (the) Community

Part of the vision we had when designing and building our newest facilities was that it would be a place where our community would feel welcome...not just on Sundays. Several organizations (not directly affiliated with our church) in our community have used our church building in the past few years, and a few community groups use it on a weekly/monthly basis, including the local AA Group who meets here once a week.

As I was sitting in my office earlier today, one of the women who attends the AA came in looking for something that she thought she may have left here after their last meeting. After a quick search, she was on her way out, she stopped, turned, and said, "By the way...we just love being able to meet is so nice and disabled accessible, and we just feel very comfortable and welcome here." I smiled and thanked her for sharing that with me, then she left.

That comment totally made my day...I had spent an hour or so this morning helping to clean out one of our huge storage rooms, taking for granted the space we've been given and even grumbling a little under my breath about the other work that I needed to do today. Being reminded that this is God's building and I'm partly responsible for being a good steward of it by keeping it a welcoming place for our community was a great kick in the pants from God.

I think I'll look a little differently at the handful of AA folks who meet here every week, and maybe go out of my way sometime when I see an opportunity to serve them. I am the church, and I am here for those who don't yet know God...this building is simply a tool for me to use to share God with others...


Wednesday, March 4, 2009

The Gallery

Some friends of mine at the Church of the Outer Banks are getting ready to open up The Gallery, a local alternative art gallery featuring the work of local artists. The Gallery also has a stage for small venue concerts and free wi-fi. I'll be checking it out soon...having seen a few things like this before (in other locations), I'm a little skeptical if it will work or not, but it should be interesting either way.


Tuesday, March 3, 2009

(Bump) New Team Members

It took me several years (note, "several years" to a 20-something may not really seem that long to some of you old people) to finally figure out the need for a very clear and purposeful way to introduce new team members to our band, tech teams, etc. The following is a basic outline of how and why we do things the way we do them when bringing on a new member to our band. Much of this is transferable to any ministry team that I lead.

I never use the word "recruit"...that's a military term, and ministry should NOT be militaristic. I use the word "invite". Ministry should be an enjoyable experience, and I'd much rather receive an invitation to something fun than be recruited for a task. When I do invite people to join our team, I cast a vision of our ministry by explaining the purpose for our team.

You must be a member of our church to be involved in any kind of week to week ministry. I know of some awesome churches that hold to different standards than ours, some are more strict and others are more casual, and that's OK. But, this is what works for us.

We rarely invite brand new church members to be on the team because we want them to get to know us and us to know them very well before we put them in an on-stage, leadership ministry position. I try to remind our team that, because they are placing themselves on the stage, even if they're "just" playing an instument, they are being looked upon as leaders in some way, shape or form by our church, our community and our God. I want to be able to learn at least a little about a person's character before I place them in that leadership position.

Other members on our team can suggest that I invite people to be on our team, but I do NOT allow other members of the team to do the inviting unless they have talked with me first. Because I am on staff, I am more privy to some things (issues in people's personal lives) than most of our team members.

Musicians and vocalists MUST audition for me. One of our values is to do all things with excellence...if it ain't real good, we don't do it. NOTE: We also value people doing their best, but a lot of people can do their best playing an instrument or singing a song and it doesn't come close to what we consider excellence. Every member of our church has the potential to be excellent in at least one ministry, and our goal above all else is to help our members find the ministry they're most excellent in. One of the biggest hindrances to corporate worship is unqualified musicians and vocalists. The same can be said for any other ministry team in our church, which is why I am NOT involved in children's ministry.

I always have what I call the "audition before the audition"...I tell people who want to join our team, "if you want to audition for the band, you must first agree that you will accept my decision with grace and a good attitude, without holding any grudges toward me or anyone else because of my decision." If they can't promise me that, they don't get to audition. If somebody's going to get mad at me, I'd rather them get mad about not allowing them to audition than telling them "no" after they've auditioned.

If an audition goes well, I explain as much as I can about what our team is all about: why we do things, what our purpose is, what our values and expectations are, etc.. If the person is still wanting to give it a go, we then begin a two month "trial" period in which the person becomes a limited member of the team. This period usually consists of the person coming to as many rehearsals as possible to become familiar with our music and schedule and chemistry. The person usually begins practicing with us by singing or playing un-amplified, and is not brought onto the stage for rehearsals or services until I feel they are ready. At the end of two months (sometimes this trial period needs to be extended, sometimes it's shorter) we both get together and assess whether we feel this ministry is the right fit for this person.

The reason I do a two month trial period: if somebody is willing to come but not "preform" for two months, and maintains a positive attitude throughout, it's a good sign that they're in it for the right reasons. Above all else, we're looking for qualified people with servant's hearts...people who are truly wanting to serve God and others by using their gifts to lead in worship. Two months of coming to practice and not being placed on the stage usually weeds out any potential egos and allows the true servants to rise the top.

If, at the end of the trial period, we all agree that this is a great fit in ministry for this person, he/she is welcomed as a full member of the team, put into our rotation, and hopefully, everything goes well after that (and it almost always has). If we decide that the band is not a good fit for their personal gifts, it becomes my priority to help them audition for another ministry team...I will personally hand them off to another team leader. Again, if my priority is to help every member of my church serve on the team God wants them serving on, everybody wins in the end.

Those are the basics for us. How do you bring in new members into your band/worship team?


Monday, March 2, 2009

Exodus: Give Love Away

Exodus' latest album "Give Love Away" has just been reviewed by Worship Leader Magazine.

Exodus is a band out of Liberty University...these guys are friends of mine and have hearts to serve and lots of skills to go around. The majority of the songs on this album are originals, and although the production of the album is a bit under par at times, it's still a good pick-up, especially if you're into Hillsong United, Chris Tomlin type stuff.

We've been using the title track "Give Love Away" for a few weeks...a great, fun song to play and sing with a solid message that can't be overused.

The only track I do not like is their cover of Hillsong's "Hosanna" which just sounds really cheesy and loses the anthemic energy it was meant to have.

These guys are really solid live and have a worship leading maturity that you don't often find at their age. They led worship recently for a youth conference our church hosts and during our normal Sunday morning gatherings, and I'd definitely invite them back.

You can find their album on iTunes.


Gag The Worship Leader!

One of the HUGE things I've learned over the past several years of worship leading is, the less I say while up on stage leading worship, the better. I used to feel like it was my responsibility, as a worship leader, to really help move things along by attempting to read a scripture, share a thought, or lead in a prayer before every/most song(s)...I'm a bit older and wiser now.

And, it's not like I'm a shallow thinker or a poor public speaker. Most of the time, when I say something from the stage, I think it's something that is really important, and, I am a pretty good communicator...but maybe not so much when I'm improvising. I discovered that, most of the time, even though I was attempting to add something to the worship, I was actually detracting from it. A .300 batting average is good for Major League Baseball, but not so much for communicating while leading worship.

One of the methods that helped me wise up was to video record some of our worship gatherings and watch/listen any time I would say anything from the stage. It's amazing how, when I was speaking on the fly, what seemed like 30 seconds actually amounted to 2 minutes, or what seemed like a short encouraging statement actually turned out to come across as something of a sermonet.

I've also learned how to plan and prepare more. The Worship Director at Willow Creek explains how he trains/equips his worship leaders to "speak" as they lead worship (thanks to Fred for this):

1 - don't speak at all.
then, once you mastered that...
2 - write down what you will say, let me approve it, and read it.
then, once you mastered that...
3 - write down what you will say, let me approve it, then memorize and share it.
then, once you mastered that...
4 - write down what you will say, and memorize and share it.

I wish somebody had shared something like that with me a long time ago... Why do we prepare so much for the music (our band spends about 3-4 hours every week just practicing together), but leave our speaking parts totally up for improv? Why do we expect our pastor to figure out (and even script out) what he's going to preach, but the WL thinks it's cool to speak on the fly?

I realize that many churches place a high value on being free and open and "spontaneous", but that doesn't mean we can't plan ahead...I've seen and heard (and have even said) a lot of really stupid, irrelevant and confusing things because people didn't plan ahead...unfortunately, I have also heard some rally bad and cheesy stuff come out of the mouths of those who did plan ahead.

I've also discovered that, when I get the chance to not be up on stage and can simply participate in worship without leading, I get really distracted and frustrated by worship leaders who are constantly interjecting their own personal worship in the middle of a set or song. If I've got something personal to say to God while I'm leading, I now almost always step away from the mic so that I don't distract others. The bottom line is, it takes a really special worship leader to say something intelligent AND relevant that clearly helps encourage and edify those he/she is leading. As Abe Lincoln put it, "Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak out and remove all doubt."

At Nags Head Church, we've developed a culture in which we give people the freedom to worship and respond to God in their own way...although we spend a lot of thought planning out our worship gatherings to focus on a Big Idea, we also don't want to box people in by telling them how to respond to God and the truth(s) that He's showing us. Usually, when I'm on stage and attempt to interject my personal thoughts and feelings about what is going on right in that moment, I get the feeling I've actually done more to squelch what other people were thinking and feeling in that same moment than to actually help them worship.

We've also developed a culture in which our people tend to love to sing, a much so, that, if we end a few minutes early, people will sometimes shout out for us to play another song. The more I talk, the less we get to sing together, and since we only get to do corporate worship/singing a few times a month in a big group like we do on Sunday mornings, I figure, let 'em sing. Most people need all of the responding-to-God time they can get. I rarely get comments about anything I say...I DO get a lot of encouraging comments about how a song really connected with people.

All that to say, I still do speak as I lead, but 95% of the time, it's something I've either planned to say, or something that I say every Sunday (like, "Welcome to Nags Head Church...we invite you to stand and worship with us."). But, most of the time, I now just prefer to get the corporate worship ball rolling and then step out of the way as much as possible.

So, what do you think? Have you, as a worship leader, found yourself putting your foot in your mouth because you thought you had something good to say? Have you, as a worshipper, ever been distracted and confused by a worship leader who won't shut up?


If you enjoyed this post, you may also want to read the other posts in the Rethinking "Worship" series:

Fire The Worship Leader!

Terminate the Worship Team!

Death to the Worship Service!

Burn the Sanctuary!