Recently, I was listening to Carey Nieuwhof’s podcast (a round table discussion with Clay Scroggins and Brad Lomenick – listen here.) and Carey talked about how we’ve made church experiences downloadable – watch online, listen to a podcast, listen to worship music on iTunes or youtube – AND how we need to create ways for people to want to come to experience church in community.
(There’s a lot to be said about WHY that’s truly important to build community, and the podcast covers that very well).
In my time travelling (learn about my family’s time on the road visiting churches here), I’ve had the opportunity to visit many different churches, and I wanted to share 3 ideas that I’ve seen to help avoid making your church experience downloadable – that is, to create the desire for people to want to be there in person and feel like if they’ve simply watched online or downloaded the podcast, that they’re missing part of the experience.
Avoiding “Downloadable church” is more difficult specifically for churches with multiple campuses who show a video of their speaker from their main campus.
When someone is watching a screen during your church service, it’s not much of a stretch for them to think “I could have just watched this on a screen at home” so while these examples are applicable at most churches, my first ideas includes a focus on churches with campuses.
1: Integrate elements of your service so they overlap
Modular service programming easily turns our minds to think that a service is simply a series of pieces; Pieces that we can pick and choose from on our own time.
Having music end when someone does a welcome, then “turn your attention to the screen” is like creating modules for people. We have a music module, then a “announcements, welcome, giving” module, then we watch a video module.
We’ve been to campuses like this. It’s handing people the line “I could have watched this at home” on a silver platter. This piece ended, and that piece started instead of “This is how our experience is continuing.”
At the Elevation Campus in Raleigh, NC, the services across campuses were in sync with each other when we visited.
For the last song in worship, the band at our location was playing the song, but the screen showed the lead singer from the Charlotte campus (main location). We could see and hear her singing while we were worshiping with the band and backup singers at our campus. All of the lighting styles, colors, and movement at our campus matched the lighting that we were seeing on the screen for the worship leader at the main campus, so it really felt like an integrated experience.
After the lead singer was done, Steven Furtick came on stage while our campus band continued to play and slowly died down while he prayed to transition to the message.
There was no clear line between “We’re done music and now turn your attention to the screen to watch the message.” (I’ve heard they run an audio channel from their head campus’ music director so each campus’ band can listen in their monitor and get directions to play/sing along.) There was a welcome and giving talk before the last song so that the transition went smoothly to the main campus during the last song.
The experience was just like Steven Furtick had been at our campus, walked up on stage close to the end of the last song as the band kept playing and following along with him.
At Potters House, Dallas, they had the band set up in the center of the main stage. (There was another drum kit setup it looked like on a top side tier of the stage, so I would guess having the band in the center wasn’t a typical setup the day we were there).
At the end of worship, Bishop TD Jakes came up and started teaching about how God has created us to be instruments of worship. He walked through each instrument on stage (literally walking around the instruments while he was speaking), talked about how each instrument produced sound and gave each instrument the opportunity to play a solo, creating an overlap between music and the message.
I’m not sure how they edited that podcast, but blurring the lines, creating overlap and integration makes your service happen as a single experience, rather than modular pieces that can be downloaded later.
2: Have a response that is done in house
We visited Christ Fellowship church in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida a few years ago and they were talking about God’s promises. Part way through service, they handed out small white flags (The kind that you would see in the ground where a water line or gas line is marked – this picture is from their facebook page).
On the flags, people had written something that they were praying for – maybe a scriptural promise, the name of a friend or family member they’re praying for, or debt cancellation – and on the way out of church everyone took that white flag, and stuck it into the grass somewhere around the campus on the way to their car.
We visited 3 campuses and each parking lot island, patch of grass at the front door and planter box was filled with these white flags. (one of their campuses meets in a mall, so they couldn’t leave the flags outside. They had built multiple “grass patches” for inside their foyer – boxes 4 feet tall, two feet wide and probably 8 feet long with a strip of sod on top for the flags.)
This kind of experience can’t be downloaded. Could someone who only watches online still get benefit from the service? Sure, but their experience wouldn’t compare to seeing thousands of white flags coming and going from church.
3: Create an experience at your church
The environment and atmosphere you create are factors in how people experience your church.
Your Church’s Environment:
The environment of your church can be a draw for people to actually be there in person.
Do you have seating areas where people can hang out with their friends after church, a coffee shop so people can come early and stay late to be with each other or a playground area where the kids can play and the parents can get to know each other?
Do you decorate your lobby or campus for special events (like a certain series or time of year) in a way that creates a “wow” factor worth inviting others to come experience?
Have you ever had a BBQ after church in the parking lot with bouncy castles or water balloons for the kids to invite the community and kickoff VBS?
Do you set up a photo booth for Easter or Mothers Day or special holidays?
The physical things you do to make a “wow” experience are the things that will have people taking pictures, sharing on Social Media and inviting their friends to come see.
Your Church’s Atmosphere:
I can’t exactly speak to how to make this happen, but I can attest that it’s more fun to go to a concert than it is to listen to an album in your car. There’s something about an engaging crowd (even a silent, yet highly-focussed crowd at a symphony) that can’t be reproduced in a download.
There is nothing downloadable about the way the people of Potters House respond to Bishop TD Jakes when he’s preaching, or the way that Elevation worships together, or the way it feels to be in a room with 10,000 people praying together at Lakewood or see people around you respond to someone giving their testimony on stage before being baptized, or seeing people around you stand up to make the decision to follow Jesus.
If your church isn’t an expressive-style church, that’s ok. Have a text number where people can text questions to have a Q&A about the message or take a poll via text about the next series topic or have members of your church participate on stage during different points in service to illustrate your theme or read the scripture.
So how will you integrate service elements, create in-house responses and offer an experience at your church to avoid making your church simply downloadable?
Leave an idea below so we can all learn together!