Culture trumps vision every time. If your church has a vision to reach the unchurched, yet your culture is not not conducive to outsiders, your culture will win. One of the biggest influences on our church culture that can easily repel the unchurched is the order of our services.
Here are a 10 ideas to consider in regard to your Sunday morning service and how it effects your ability to attract the unchurched:
- Set a maximum length of your service to 1 1/2 hours. I know to some this almost sounds sacrilegious. But the fact is we live in a microwave, instant society that has a very short attention span. You will find a shorter, concise service will immediately impact your weekly attendance. The key here is to focus more on who you are trying to reach than on who you are trying to keep.
- Consider opening the service with an "icebreaker." We started a tradition about a year ago we call the 5-2. Five minutes before the service begins we offer a special "icebreaker" song, comedy, or skit that will be familiar or comforting to the unchurched. Let's face it, they come in nervous and unsure of what to expect, so the icebreaker is designed to set them at ease. For example, this upcoming Sunday our 5-2 is the popular song "Fix You" by Coldplay. It's a popular song that has topped the secular radio charts and one that most of the unchurched would have heard. This simple familiarity puts them at ease and opens them up to receive from the rest of the service.
- Provide a welcome from the stage that explains what's to come this morning. Again, the unchurched are nervous and unsure of what's coming. So, simply welcome everyone to the morning service and then explain what's coming - what is worship and how they can participate, what the message will be about, how long the service will be, what you are providing for their children etc.
- Only have 3-4 participatory songs. I need to make one thing clear here. I am a worshipper and a musician. I love to worship and especially value the power of corporate worship. However, to most of the unchurched, the concept of worship is unfamiliar. They don't know how to participate. They don't know the songs. And the entire process feels a bit awkward to them. Therefore, consider them when designing your service. I feel that 3-4 songs are enough to spiritually break through into worship for your churched crowd and short enough for the unchurched to stay engaged, especially if your music is good.
- Preach for a maximum of 35-40min. I read a statistic a while back that said if you cut your sermon length in half, you will double your attendance. Although I'm not sure how much validity there is to that statement, the bottom line is shorter sermons carry more impact for both the churched and the unchurched. Shortening the length of your sermon will make you a better preacher and a more effective communicator. Give it a try! The results my surprise you.
- Place your offering at the end of the service. Unfortunately because of the very public moral failures of prominent church leaders in the last two decades, the unchurched have this warped idea that "all the church wants is my money." To relax this notion, we found that moving the offering to the end of the service put the unchurched a lot more at ease. We also instruct our guests every single Sunday, to not give. This is just a simple way to say we value them, not their money.
- Limit your announcements. There is nothing worse than long, drawn out announcements. To combat this we have two simple rules for announcements. The first rule: we don't share any more than 3 announcements on a given Sunday. The second rule: if the activity doesn't affect 50% of the church or more, it won't be announced from the pulpit. We have also used video announcements so that they can be timed for the 4 minutes it takes our ushers to collect the offering.
- Produce your service being especially aware of transitions, ebbs and flows. It's vitally important to be aware of the emotion each part of the service portrays and order your service around these ebbs and flows. There is nothing worse than being jolted out of intimate worship by a loud, obnoxious announcement guy. Ask yourself, what mood will this song create and will that mesh with the next part of the service?
- Be aware of atmosphere. In keeping with the previous point, be conscious of what atmosphere your foyer, lighting, background music, decorations, etc. are setting in your facility. Is that atmosphere conducive to the message you are trying to convey?
- Let your creativity add not distract from your main point. It is really important that you communicate a clear, concise message every Sunday. I prefer a one-point message to multiple points. It's easy to remember and apply because it's simple. We try to direct our entire service to that one point. The temptation is to be cute and funny with your creativity, but if your creative elements don't add to the message, they will be a distraction. Remember, it's the message that's sacred, not the methods!
Questions: Are your services effectively reaching the unchurched? What area should you change first? Do any of these idea just "rub" you the wrong way? If so, why?