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Save Some for Later: Continuing the Christmas Momentum

 

Christmas Momentum

 

There are only a few days left until the biggest day of the year in the church. Christmas Eve is here and with it comes a flurry of activity. Music is being rehearsed, messages are being written, candles are being pulled from the closet, and every little detail is being mulled over with a fine toothed comb.

 

It’s not news that Christmas presents our greatest opportunity to reach those who might not normally be with us in weekly worship. Many churches work hard to raise the bar on Christmas Eve. It’s one of the most joyous and exciting times of the year, so upping the ante on creativity, music, message and more only makes sense.

 

I love Christmas worship. It’s easy to go all out. It’s also easy to work so hard in preparation for Christmas that we have nothing left for the days that follow.

 

If Christmas Eve is one of the high points on the christian calendar, the Sunday after probably ranks as one of the lowest where creativity is concerned. We charge so hard toward December 24th, that we simply have nothing left for the Sunday following. Many of us even take the next weekend off to rest and be with our families. Of course that’s not all bad, but our best opportunity can easily be squandered if we’re not careful.

 

The potential to reach new people on Christmas is thrilling. With all of the extra effort we put into the big day, visitors are bound to get inspired at some level. If we’re done our due diligence, when our C&E crowd shows up for their yearly visit, if it all goes right, they may just be intrigued enough to come back the following week.

 

I can remember one Christmas Eve where a family member who didn’t regularly attend church said to me, “Wow, is this what it’s like here all the time? This isn’t what I expected to experience at a church.” Of course, I knew that if he returned just a few days later, the experience would be less than stellar, and not just because it’s not as polished.

 

When it comes to this season,  we rarely ever save anything for later. The weeks following Christmas Eve are as important if not more in hooking those who are curious about engaging (or re-engaging) church. When someone comes to our well-designed, well-thought out Christmas Eve experience, our under-designed, minimal effort weeks following can only serve to solidify the “oh never mind, this is what worship is really like” mentality.

It doesn’t have to be that way! With a little pre-planning and some extra attention to creativity, the weeks following Christmas can continue whatever momentum we’ve established with Christmas Eve.

 

A pastor friend and I have been meeting for several weeks to partner on post Christmas worship. While it won’t have all of the bells and whistles that Christmas Eve will, we have creative moments infused throughout the experience. From original animation, to tactical take-away objects;  interactive moments, to a very powerful metaphor;  the post worship experience will be one that should be memorable and meaningful. Best of all, it should keep the bar raised creatively, and will feed into the next series that has been given the usual branding and production efforts.

 

While there aren’t weeks left to develop and implement a grand plan, there is still time to create something worth coming back to. Assuming that your Christmas is planned (or mostly planned), what can you do make the most of weeks to come?

 

I’m always amazed at what a short brainstorming session with a few like minded creative folks can generate. I’d encourage you to huddle and see what can happen!

 

Have a blessed Christmas! And may the creativity continue to flow for weeks to come.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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How NOT to Think of Screens in Worship

 

 

Screens In Worship

 

Screens- many of us use them every week in worship. In the last decade, churches large and small have embraced visual technology to the point where they’ve almost become standard fixture along side pews, organs and altar tables. But do we really understand how to use them properly?

 

When I began my work as a media minister 16 years ago at a large well-known church in Ohio, leaders were just beginning to think about using screens in worship. For more than half of those years, my focus was mostly on convincing pastors, musicians and laypeople that screens had a place in the church. Things shifted several years ago. The the majority of people I speak to at seminars and in my consultation work have installed screens and are now trying to figure out why they haven’t magically transformed everything about worship. The fundamental problem is that we don’t fully understand the medium.

 

If we’re honest about it, many of us installed screens so that we could get rid of our hymnals. The funny thing about that is that most of the time, we hang on to the printed hymnals and the screen is just a repeat of a technology we’ve had at our disposal in worship for ages.

 

Of course, there is a segment within the population of the church thinks that the page is mightier than the fabric. In other words, the hymnal is seen as more holy or sacred than the screen. We end up providing both options to keep everyone happy.

 

At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter if hymnals are present or not. Truth is, the screen is underutilized and is often misused when we think of it as an enormous page-less book of songs.

 

The basic problem is that we treat the screen as if it’s a giant piece of paper. We put everything that used to be in the hymnal on it; we project bible verses, sermon points, and bulletins (announcements) on it; and the screen ultimately becomes a medium of support rather than one of transformative interpretive communication. Beyond random nature footage, out of focus lights, free floating particles, and other holy blobs of color, we are rarely intentional about the use of images on our screens.

 

The screen is NOT a giant piece of paper! A better metaphor for the screen is that of a canvas where we can paint powerful pictures that draw people in at a heart level. Image is an interpretive medium, with the power to help people see “more” than they otherwise could. The screen is like stained glass that we can change out every week.

 

We live in an image hungry, screen obsessed culture. From smart phones, to tablet devices; giant flat screen TVs, to movie screens; image is all around us – and we love it.

 

A 2005 study revealed that 65% of people are visual learners. The same study found that the brain processes visual information 60,000 times faster than text, and that 90% of information that comes to the brain is visual. Visual learning improves learning and retention by 400%.

 

Since image is the native language of the brain, it actually takes more mental energy to process and convert text into images than it does to simply take images and interpret their meaning. We also tend to have a more difficult time retaining what we read versus what we see.

 

When used properly, the screen is an incredible catalyst for growth. It can improve learning, create deep moments of connection and it greatly increases retention. The right images, when given the proper context, have the ability to lock a truth into our minds for a lifetime. When those truths take hold, they lead to personal faith development and a desire to change the world through missional action.

 

Here are 5 ways you can use the screen to be more visual in worship:

  1. Visual scripture – Rather than putting text on the screen when scripture is read, try using a single image that captures the story.
  2. Visual Points – Instead of typing characters on the screen, what are visuals that can say the same thing in the native language of our brains?
  3. Show, don’t just tell – If you’re telling a great story, grab an image (or images) and show it as you’re telling the story.
  4. Use b-roll – B-roll is the technical term for the footage you see running in the background during a news report that shows the scene where the news took place. I’ve seen pastors effectively use everything from an Olympic snowboard race to people on a mission trip run in the background in the background during sermons.
  5. Use the screen as a backdrop – Like in the theater, use the screen to create a scene.This works well for biblical and other types of storytelling.

 

What can you do this week in worship to engage and inspire the mind by painting pictures that will last a lifetime?

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Making Easter Last Beyond Easter

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Easter. It’s a well-known fact that it’s one of the annual great opportunities to reach people who normally don’t attend worship on a regular basis. Statistics show while attendance goes way up on Easter, the spike is often short-lived and numbers revert soon after the big day is over. Such an opportunity should not be squandered with the “same old, same old.”

We’ve been designing worship for fifteen years and every year we face the Easter challenge. For us, it’s been always been difficult to find new and fresh ways to creatively and visually present the story. Once you get past all of the standard imagery of empty tombs, crosses, and lilies, where do you go? Is it possible to create powerful worship for Easter that inspires, retains and even transforms the influx of visitors that will walk through our doors on that special Sunday morning?

Telling the story through metaphor

ButterflyConsider metaphor. Metaphor allows us to tell stories in a ways that connect with the everyday experiences of individuals, believer and nonbeliever alike. We’ve come to define metaphor as a tangible way to express an abstract story, thought, or idea. Metaphor allows us to make the foreign familiar. It puts the gospel into everyday language both oral and visual.

Metaphor is sometimes perceived as an advertising industry buzzword that has little or no place in worship. Those who fail to explore the power of communication that comes through metaphor fail to understand that it was the exclusive method of Jesus’ public ministry.

Mark 4 relates a story from the early part of Jesus’ public ministry, in which he tells the parable of the sower. It’s a long parable, the longest in the Gospels (vv. 3-9). Afterward, when the crowds had left and the disciples were alone with Jesus, they revealed to him that they had no clue what he had been saying. He took the time to explain the entire parable to them, actually spending more time on the explanation than he had on the parable itself (vv. 10-20).

What is really interesting is what happens next. Instead of concluding that such a creative presentation of the Good News didn’t work, and returning to the religious style he had learned in the Temple (Luke 2:41-52), he continued to speak in parables, telling the parables of lamp on the stand (vv. 21-25), the growing seed (vv. 26-29), and the mustard seed (vv. 30-32). He was on a roll!

The best moment comes in verses 33 and 34: “With many similar parables Jesus spoke the word to them, as much as they could understand. He did not say anything to them without using a parable. But when he was alone with his own disciples, he explained everything.”

Parables were Jesus’ exclusive public style! He didn’t simply use parables as an alternative for the dumb ones in the crowd. Metaphorical teaching was his only public method. Jesus understood that to communicate ideas with effectiveness he had to present his teaching in a means that made sense to his audience. Our audiences today aren’t any different. People listen best when spoken to in a familiar language. This is the essence of metaphor.

Applying a metaphor to an Easter story

For many, the idea of an omniscient deity sending his only son to earth to die for the sins of humankind, only to be resurrected from the dead, can be rather difficult to grasp. Through metaphor, we can frame the story with familiar objects, settings, and experiences that make the story easier to understand.

A few years ago we began brainstorming metaphors for an upcoming Easter season. We were focusing on John 20:1-18. In the story Mary returns to the tomb on Sunday morning, distraught that Jesus’ body has been removed. After encountering two angels, she turns toward who she believes is the gardener and pleads with him to tell her where the body of her Lord has been taken. He responds by calling out her name, revealing to Mary that he is in fact Jesus. Overjoyed, she cries out “Rabboni” (“teacher”) then, we inferred, reaches out to embrace him.

Some might say Jesus’ response was a bit harsh. He responds to her affection with, “Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet returned to the father.”

Why were his first words to push Mary away? Was he still the Rabboni, even after his death? After much discussion, we began to get excited with the idea that Jesus was telling Mary to let go of what she formerly knew of Jesus. No longer just the earthly man she had known, now he is the risen Christ.

Implicit in Jesus’ statement to Mary is the human tendency to try to hold on to our experiences of God. Call it “camp high,” if you will. We have a fear of losing our awareness of a connection with God, or what some even perceive as losing God or having our connection invalidated. It is ironic that for many, the very fact of grasping onto these memories devalues them. Faith is about living in the daily presence of God. It is through a mutual journey toward the cross that our connection with God is daily renewed. We must be willing to let go of former experiences, no matter how powerful, and continually redefine what it means to be a follower at every stage of our life.

Further, faith for Christians is a communal experience. Our faith experiences are meant to be shared, not bottled up. Jesus says to Mary that life for her will come not just from remembering that experience, but also in sharing it with others.

To capture the bittersweet feeling of having to let go, and after much brainstorming, we decided to use the metaphor of a child catching and releasing a butterfly. If we selfishly hang on to old notions of spiritual highs, religion, church and faith, whether in personal devotion or in our church communities, we can starve them of life, to the point they are no good to anyone. But just like releasing a butterfly from a jar, if let go of them, we open ourselves up to new experiences – fresh, vital, risen Lord experiences.

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Tech Rehearsal: Why it Should be a Non-negotiable

 

Twenty to twenty-five minutes – that’s how long it can take to regain the attention of someone who has disconnected after a distracting moment occurs in worship. According to numerous studies, the average disruption takes about 20 minutes to recover from. Whether in the workplace, at a live performance, while watching a movie or TV show or while in the live worship setting, distractions create disengagement.

As a culture, we have a sort of collective Attention Deficit Disorder. It doesn’t take much to get us off track. An awkward transition between elements in worship, a muted or feeding back microphone, a misspoken line, a poorly timed graphic, a miscued video or worse, can all break the awareness of the presence of the Spirit in worship.

Recovering is tough, and in some instances can be impossible. Distractions mean missed opportunities for engagement in worship. Since worship ultimately leads to personal faith development and a desire to engage in mission, missed opportunities have a huge consequence.
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What’s already in your hand? Making Worship Better With What You Already Have

 

 

I was recently speaking at a conference in the Baltimore-Washington Conference of the United Methodist church, and had a little extra time on my schedule to meet up with a friend for dinner. We hadn’t seen each other in a few years, so I was really looking forward to it. We set a time and location; all I had to do was show up.

I must confess, I’m completely directionally challenged. God blessed me with several gifts, but an internal compass is not one of them.

The way I’ve gotten around this issue for the last several years is to carry a GPS (in the form of an iphone) everywhere I go. My GPS app of choice is TomTom. The main reason for that is that, prior to the iphone, I carried around a TomTom unit with me. Basically I know the software.  That said, I don’t use the Apple Maps app very often.

I hadn’t updated TomTom’s maps in some time, and was headed off to meet my friend. When I got onto a toll road that was suggested by someone at the church I was speaking at, my GPS got totally freaked out. I was driving in what used to be a field or something because it was spinning around in circles and didn’t know where to tell me to go.

I went from arriving a few minutes late, to running very late. To make matters worse, with the GPS in a constant state of recalculating, had no idea when I’d arrive or if I was even going in the right direction. I called my friend and he said, “Don’t you have an iPhone 4S?” I said, “Yes, why?” He replied, “Ask Siri”.

For the uninitiated, Siri is Apple’s digital assistant application. Among other things, she’ll make appointments, find directions, read texts and dial numbers for you. In theory, it’s like having an assistant at your side at all times.

When I first got my iPhone 4S, the servers that make Siri work were so overtaxed by users experimenting, most of the time, Siri would just say to me, “I’m sorry Jason, I cannot complete that request right now. Try again later”. After a few weeks of this, I just stopped trying and I never did get into the habit of using the app. I’ve been told that things have improved significantly since that initial period.

When I asked Siri to find directions to the restaurant, she found them immediately. She mapped it all out for me, and all of a sudden I knew when I’d arrive and how I’d get there.

It occurred to me that I’ve been carrying around a powerful resource for half a year or more and hadn’t been using it at all.  It was always right there in my hand. Until that moment, I’d failed to recognize what I had with me all along. Since then I’ve used Siri to schedule appointments, look up movie times, call numbers and more.

Yes… I’m an Apple fan. No… this isn’t an advertisement for iphone 4S.

I began to think about how often we do the same thing in ministry. We picture bigger better things. When more creative and engaging worship seems out of our reach, or when we believe that we don’t have the resources to make it happen, we fail to recognize that what we need may be right in our hands.

Take for instance the “Children’s Moment” or “Children’s Sermon”. This brief segment of worship is built around the “what’s in your hand” principle. The person who preps the Children’s Sermon will often make a stop at the toybox, bookshelf  or maybe even a desk drawer. The next step is to build a relatable lesson around an object or story – one that the kids can grasp.

As a consultant, I can share with you one universal truth about the Children’s Moment: It is the single most engaging time in worship for children and adults alike. I’ve never seen adults strain their necks they way they do to get a better view of what the kids are seeing up close. Smiles and bright faces last from the time the Children’s moment begins until the time the kids are sent off to Sunday School.

It’s the most creative moment in many of our worship services. Why then do we finish and go back to less creative, boring “adult worship”. Why not plan the entire service like it’s the Children’s Sermon? The adults are just as engaged if not more so than the children, yet we limit our creativity to a 5 minute portion of the overall service.

I believe that the Children’s Sermon is a good model for what worship in general should look like. It relies on 5 fundamentals. They are:

1.)  It’s simple – one big idea.

2.)  It’s built around a metaphor – an object, idea, or story.

3.)  It’s creative – it uses things you already have to communicate truth in a more compelling way.

4.)  It’s designed for a specific audience – communication is intentionally designed for the target audience of children.

5.)  It’s participatory – there’s almost always a back and forth conversation between the preacher and the participants.

As you design worship in the coming weeks, think about what you already have at your disposal, and how you can use what you have to capture the imagination of children and adults alike.

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