The Barrier of Presentation: A Breakthrough in Excellence
Bill was the drama director at First Baptist Church. He did his ministry well and usually, once a month, the drama department at the church would help illustrate the pastor’s teaching with a sketch with humor and relevance. The congregation loved it, and even the traditional service – first skeptical of the idea – grew to love these “slice of life” illustrations.
Pastor Sam was thrilled with how the drama ministry was shaping the teaching and vice-versa. He watched his congregation’s eyes light up each time there was a drama and he knew that if the drama team could pull together something longer for Christmas weekend, their ability to impact their own people and the visitors they brought would be huge. He set Bill to work and a 20-minute modern-day Christmas drama was developed.
After the show was cast, the team went to work blocking and memorizing the piece. All, it seems, except Steve. Steve was a member of the church and worked at the local grocery store as the assistant manager. His hours were long, but fortunately he had a consistent schedule and could make all the rehearsals. Tuesday nights weren’t the problem – but his attitude was.
The deadline to be “off book”, to have all the lines memorized, was November 15. But Thanksgiving came and went and Steve hadn’t learned his part. When other drama team members teased him about it, after the rehearsal on December 10, he said something about it “only being for church” and got in his car. One member remarked, “Only for church? What does that mean?”
Five days before the production Steve still didn’t know all his lines, and although he wasn’t the main role, his character was central to the production and several key lines were dependent upon his dialogue and timing being precise. Bill, the director, had never tried to pull off a 20 minute drama in key holiday services like they were going to do two weeks from then and his blood was boiling. Pastor Sam came to observe a rehearsal a week before the Christmas weekend and left sullen. The show was not coming together and Steve was the problem. When Bill and Steve met the next night, Steve talked about how he would memorize his part “when the time came” and not to worry. “Besides,” he would say over and over, “it’s only for church. It’s not a big deal. It’s not like we’re getting paid to get this job done. It’ll work out fine.”
Unfortunately, Steve’s attitude is pervasive in the church. Unchurched people have come to expect (but not accept) mediocrity whenever they do attend church. And churchgoers have come to accept and expect mediocrity from others as well as ourselves when it comes to presentation-oriented ministry. Few people have the guts to stand up and say, “This is bad. God is not pleased with us offering the leftovers of what we could offer Him.” God is pleased with sacrifice, with excellence, with our best. Consider this warning from Malachi:
“When you bring blind animals for sacrifice, is that not wrong? When you sacrifice crippled or diseased animals, is that not wrong? Try offering them to your governor! Would he be pleased with you? Would he accept you?" says the LORD Almighty (Malachi 1:8, NIV)
Sometimes the attitude expressed by Steve (above) is not only held by lay leadership, it’s expressed by the staff itself! If that is so, then the road ahead for you is long and hard. If you have staff team accepting mediocrity because key players are unwilling or unable to expect better, then they must be re-trained or replaced. You cannot accept a mediocre staff any more than you can afford to accept a mediocre presentation each weekend.
Excellence in your weekend service presentation is critical to your success in taking new ground for the Kingdom. I believe most churches need to narrow their “targets” of excellence. For most churches today, I think of these 3 excellence “targets” as essential:
Excellence in weekend teaching
Excellence in worship and musical presentation
Excellence in children’s ministries
When Carson Valley Christian Center (Minden, NV) was planted and launched (February 1998), it was decided that excellence would be attained in the above three areas from day one. People are attracted to and stay at a church because excellence in one or more of these “top three” areas, and so they simply must have the utmost priority for your entire fellowship. Sometimes, the dark question which few churches have the guts to ask their people is this: “Would you invite your unchurched friends and neighbors to our church if the presentation in one or more of the ‘top three’ areas were improved? Does our mediocrity prevent you from inviting anyone to our church?”
We live in a time where "ought" doesn't cut it any more. Saying to someone that they "ought" to come to church won't budge them from their notions of irrelevance. But, presenting a warm and excellent worship service that touches their heart, stimulates their mind, and engages their soul will break through the barriers of their heart resistance. Paying attention to specific ministry needs (children's ministry, first touch ministry, and age graded programming) with excellence demonstrates commitment to your vision of reaching people.
Sometimes churches are failing to offer an excellent well-rounded presentation on the weekends because the church is trying to do more than it can do well. Obviously, the goal would be to do all of it well. But we challenge you first to do fewer things “well” rather than more things “poorly.” Then work up to more and more as you conquer those challenging areas with assertiveness and excellence.
Growing churches pursue excellence as an evangelistic strategy.
Growing churches narrow their “targets of excellence” in order to succeed at their key strengths.
Growing churches develop a mindset of excellence that is directly related to fulfilling the vision (and not to simply being “perfectionist”).
Pay someone to attend your church and fill out an extensive evaluation form to give you insight into what a new person experiences during their first-time visit to your ministry. Have them rate on a scale of 1-10 what they think about the following:
Teaching: How understandable was it? Did they learn something new from the Bible? Were the stories relevant? Was there an appropriate amount of humor? Was it boring?
Children: How safe did the children’s area appear to be? How fun was the experience? Did the children understand what was taught? Were you and your children welcomed warmly?
Music: Was there an invitation to sing along with the leader(s)? Were the songs easily singable? Could they be learned quickly? Were the words comprehensible? Was the music enjoyable to hear? Was the music played well?
Greeting: Was there a warm welcome at the door? Was there a program handed out? Was it clear where to go and where to sit?
Technology: How well could you hear the service? How well could you see the leaders? Was technology a distraction? Were there major tech mistakes made?
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