You are not in Kansas anymore…

by vernsanders on August 5, 2011

(with apologies to my good friend Doug Lawrence, who recently moved to Kansas…and all the other great people in that state…)

What does summer bring to mind at church?

Right…everybody travels, and that means not everybody is at church…at least not at the church they normally attend. I’ve written elsewhere about why summer is when ALL the “A-Team” should be on the platform all the time (hint: people with children move between school years, and consequently are church shopping more during the summer, when they’ve first arrived in town…), and here, about how to turn that “down” Sunday after a holiday into a highly anticipated Sunday.

I’m revisiting this topic now because of a blog post I just read entitled View from the Pew, written by Frank Weller. In this post, Weller gives a church that he has visited a “report card” on the experience. You can read the whole post here, but Weller asks the question that I think goes to the heart of making a shift to the “summer is important at church” paradigm:

What – 2 out of 5 stars
I wanted to to learn what Wave Church is about. What is their mission? What makes them unique? What makes them tick? One week, certainly, isn’t enough time to figure that out. Or is it?

It turns out that Frank loved the way the church welcomed him, and the worship. But the theme for the morning was “summer movies.”

Good news: popcorn and sodas in the “lobby” for everyone

Bad news: they showed a movie in place of the message…albeit, and “edited” version, with the senior pastor interrupting it 3 times (on screen!…makes you wonder about copyright issues) to “interpret.”

Here’s my point. Weller went to this worship service with friends who lived in the town. He quotes the friends as saying this:

“This is the second time we were here. We came Mother’s Day, too, and both then and today there was no on-site preaching but, instead, video presentations. I doubt we’ll be back.”

Does that put the problem in perspective?

Now in the spirit of not being the first one to throw stones, we had “one of those services” last Sunday. A combination of a new computer being used the first time, and a new computer operator (in retrospect, probably a bad idea, right? …you can see what’s coming…) meant that the projection of the words for congregational singing was, to be generous, sporadic. One song had to be eliminated; replaced by another sung from the hymnal (not the end of the world, believe me). One song was supposed to have 4 verses (eliminating the 4th), but when we got to the fourth verse, the 4th verse went up, so we figured, OK…we’ll just stop there. But the 5th verse went up at the end of the 4th, so we figured, OK…we’ll sing the 5th anyway, since nobody knows we were only going to do 4. But then, after one line, the screen went dark (I assume that’s because the re-read the instructions and figured “uh-oh”). So what to do?

The church at which I serve is casual in a good way, so we just stopped and I said “put that verse back up…we need to finish what we started.” And so (after a pause and some shuffling) they did.

I hope that first time visitors got that we are not inflexible, and that we’re not afraid to admit that we make mistakes…oh…and that all of this back and forth was done with respect, and in a friendly tone of voice. We didn’t “call out” the projectionist(s) in public…we tried to communicate that we wanted to sing that 5th verse.

What would a first time visitor think? I don’t know, obviously. Maybe they went away thinking that we were incompetent. But I hope not…because the sermon, and the music, were great.

The difficulty, of course, is that staff need time off too. So the choices seem to be two:

  • admit that the A-Team is gone, and spend the resources to provide as good or better worship
  • develop a “second” A-Team by training staff/volunteers to do what you do at the qualitative level at which you do it

A dilemma, eh? Please leave a comment and let me know what you think.

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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Janice August 22, 2011 at 12:51 pm

Well, since we have a 2-member “A Team” we do our best throughout the year to coordinate our Sundays away and are not usually absent on the same Sunday.

I also am rather belligerent with the finance people about paying my subs adequately to ensure that we hire the most competent people to play the service when I am away. Sometimes the choir sings without me (depends on the sub) – I like that they are independent!

vernsanders August 23, 2011 at 10:05 am

I heartily applaud two things in your comment: paying subs (in fact any church musician) what they are worth (and that goes both ways), and teaching your volunteers to be independent. Both attitudes/outlooks pay enormous dividends in the long run…

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