What Will We Offer At Christmas?

Worship Image

     I am convinced that any church that fails to have a Christmas Eve service is missing out on an extra Sunday of attendance for the year.  Christmas Eve services in most churches are one of the top two services for the year.  Any church that cannot boast this fact needs to seriously examine what they are currently offering.

     Christmas Eve is a special time for worship and one in which families normally choose to worship together.  Even though it is not a bad idea to offer something distinctive and unique, there are certain traditions that simply must be kept on Christmas Eve.  There are certain experiences that folks expect on Christmas Eve, good music, a relevant message, and candlelight are all things folks want as part of this service.

     Personally I believe that every Christmas Eve service must include at least one fine solo or choral piece.  This means that pastor’s and music directors must work far enough in advance to assure that the choir or soloists have adequate time for preparation.  By the worship team preparing well in advance it will enable them the opportunity to share hopes of how the music and the message will enable those who do not normally attend worship to enter into the sacred space of worship and draw closer to Christ.

     It is also always good for the worship leaders to get together for prayer prior to every service throughout the year.  It is especially true that this must be done on Christmas Eve and Easter.  There are few occasions during the year when the music and the message will have greater potential to communicate the total message of a special celebration in the life of the church than on Christmas Eve.  Trinity UMC is truly blessed to have a very talented group of musicians and instrumentalist and this needs to be highlighted at this service.  The highlighting of special music also gives members a great opportunity to invite friends and neighbors to attend something special.

     It is also very important that the sermon on Christmas Eve be a clear proclamation of the Gospel that is engaging and only as long as it needs to be to communicate the love of God demonstrated in the incarnation.  It is not that the sermon needs to be short, as much as it needs to be memorable and compelling to any guests who happen to be in attendance.  This sermon always needs to be prepared with visitors in mind.

     Every piece of information from the church office and website must clearly state that at the conclusion of the service folks will get to sing Silent Night and light a candle.  As simple as it might seem folks wait all year for this experience.  If there is nothing else throughout the year that moves them, this is one thing they know that will.

     It is also a good idea for a church to give a modest gift to all Christmas Eve visitors, such as a Christmas ornament, cookies, or any item which will remind them of their visit.  It also has to be remembered that since most folks attending the Christmas Eve service will come as a family that it is important to have special elements prepared for small children.

     Many churches have a fear of collecting an offering on Christmas Eve in fear of it being intimidating to non-churched folks.  Statistics show that non-churched folks eagerly will give to something which they know helps others.  So this is a great time to do a mission offering where a well known need is receiving a boost during this season a giving.  Folks love to see a church reach beyond itself to help others and are glad to be a part of this.

     This will conclude my ramblings on church growth and making Trinity UMC dynamic.  It is now time to begin putting some of these elements into practice.  My future blogs will be reduced to one weekly blog, with a either a report of what is going on, or upcoming, to which you are asked to be a part, or a Biblical message.  It is time to move forward….


Special Day Worship

Trinity Pentecost Picture

     It is common knowledge that most United Methodist Churches will experience their largest yearly attendance on Easter and Christmas Eve.  So it goes without saying that the greatest opportunities churches have occurs during these services.  We spend the rest of year in committee meetings trying to figure out what we can do to reach neighbors and friends and get them to participate in the life of the church.  The Lewis Center administered a survey and found that on Easter Sunday attendance is 180 percent of the previous year’s average attendance.  The survey also found that of the churches which had Christmas Eve services the average attendance was 150 percent above the previous year’s average attendance.

     This survey seems to suggest that many members and visitors will attend worship on Easter and Christmas Eve – even if they do not darken the door the rest of the year.  It almost then goes without saying that we must be involved in planning to meet these special times in order to reach current members and to connect with new people.  These special times need to be viewed as starting points for building attendance and for reaching others in the periods which follow these two special days.

     On Easter Sunday 2018 Trinity UMC had a combined total of both services of 274 folks worshiping with us.  The 2017 average attendance at worship at both services was 170.  These figures clearly show that these special services bring more folks to worship.  The worship number for this past Easter was accomplished primarily without any major effort at promotion.  It would certainly be wise to set a yearly goal to exceed the past years special service attendance   and to make a more concerted effort at promotion.

     This promotion can be something as simple as reminding folks of the importance of worship on this the most holy time of the year.  Think about it, something is just not right if folks are not in worship during Holy Week and on Easter.  We can easily promote special worship without shaming them.  All we have to do is to talk about what people have experienced in Holy Week, Easter, and Christmas Eve services throughout the years and what it has meant to their spiritual development.

     Another possible to increase special worship services is through the use of special music, (soloist, and different choirs, instrumentalist).  It is almost a given that the more folks that are involved in worship the more folks there will be that attend the service.  Perhaps the best example of this is to look at the number of parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles that attend any time children are involved.  The church must beware that the rule of anything that is done in worship must be done the best that it can be done is not violated.

     It is also very important that when planning the Easter service to assume that the church is going to have more folks in worship than has ever attended and plan for that to happen.  This means that all Easter planning must assume the largest crowd ever and prepare for it.  This means every aspect of church on that Sunday.  Thus more bulletins will be printed, the building will be cleaner, the music will be spectacular, the sermon will be the best of the year, etc.

     It is imperative that the church make special worship days spectacular.  It is even very wise to use these special services as a time to announce other upcoming special services, cantatas, sermon series, children’s programs, etc.  This perhaps will be the only opportunity we have to woo new folks to return and become part of the Trinity UMC family.

     Join me next time as we will talk about what we offer on Christmas Eve 2018…


Understanding Where We Are In Our Current Worship

Who Is Missing Image

     As I have stated previously, it is never a good idea to change worship just to be changing it.  There must be either good theological reasons or there must be good local reasons based on staff leading worship or congregants participating in the service.  So before planning worship for the future, it is a good idea to take a close look at the current state of our worship, especially as it is experienced by our congregation.

     Before planning worship we need to take a look at what we are currently doing with worship.  There are a few basic questions we can answer to get this basic understanding of our current worship.

   Who is currently participating?   Church growth experts tell us that many first time visitor’s report that there is tremendous energy from those leading worship and from the music leaders but that they do not sense the same level of energy from the congregants.  It is important that we understand what the word liturgy actually means.  The origin of the word liturgy meant “the work of the people,” not something that a few leaders did for a congregation.

     Therefore, worship is always something that involves the participation of the entire congregation.  It is always important to look around and see just how much engagement there is from those in the congregation.  This assessment is always a great tool for leaders of worship and musicians to use to remind them that their first responsibility in worship is to encourage and lead the congregation into worship participation.

     Who is leading worship?  It is always important to take a look at who is participating in leading worship.  Who does the congregation see standing before them leading worship?  Do those folks represent the vision of the church?  Do they represent those the church is seeking to reach?  It is always important to remember that people “hear what they see.”  EVERY person serving as a leader of worship MUST be able to do their assigned task efficiently.  Far too often folks who read poorly are allowed to stumble through reading Scripture.  Folks who poorly trained are allowed to perform differing functions of worship in a less than proficient manner.  When this occurs is it really surprising that the congregation is not involved in worship?

     What is the tone of our worship?  Would someone who attended for the first time say our worship is joyful and uplifting?  Do folks experience excitement and passion from our worship leaders?

     What are our attendance patterns?  What are the big days and/or seasons when more folks are in worship?  There are two times in which almost every church has much larger attendance, Christmas and Easter.  Yet many churches spend less time planning worship during these seasons due to the knowledge that attendance will be higher.  It is essential that the church be on its “A-Game” on these days.  Many folks will decided on Christmas and Easter whether they will attend any other times or simply tolerate two Sunday’s a year.

     It is also wise for worship planning teams to plan a number of special Sundays throughout the year.  As a general rule “Special Sunday’s” will increase normal worship attendance.  With this knowledge it should be common sense to add more Special Sunday’s.

     Join me next time as we will talk more about “Special Sunday’s”……

Who Are Not Present?

Who Is Missing Image

     Perhaps it would do us all good to look around during worship and take note of who are present and who are not present.  When we come together for worship who are those God has given us and who from the immediate community surrounding Trinity UMC are worshiping with us?  Who are those that are missing from our congregation?

     Folks who are most likely missing from worship in many churches are: Young adults, Singles, Racial and ethnic groups which differ from the make-up of the church majority, Youth, Children, and Men.  We must keep in mind that low numbers in any group makes it less likely that others from that group will be present.  So the good news is that if we can make even a small change in the numbers of folks from groups presently not present it becomes easier to change that make-up of the current worshipers.

     Once we have decided on the group or groups that we are seeking to reach, it then becomes imperative that we become familiar with the demographics surrounding Trinity UMC and determine if the group is present in the community and we are just not reaching them or if that group just is not present in the community.  It is vitally important that we not only track those who show up each week, but that we also track those who are not present.

    Who from our community do not attend Trinity UMC or attend any other church – folks we work with, our neighbors, our children’s classmates, etc.  Once we have identified these folks we need to answer a few questions seriously regarding them.  What are their concerns?  What do they value?  What are their questions?  It is vital that we have answers to these questions if we are to ever reach these folks.  When I was growing up on Barkley Lake we did a lot of fishing.  It was understood that you had to know something about the habits, diet, spawning, and water temperature etc. of the species you were fishing for before you would ever be successful.  We thus must also know some things about the groups we are trying to reach as a church.  Perhaps this why we were called and sent to be fishers of humanity.

     Another opportunity that many churches miss is in not getting information from those who visit our church for the first time.  Most visitors are glad to fill out a feedback survey telling the things which were good, bad, and indifferent about their experience.  With this information in the hands of the church leadership it becomes much easier to identify and correct or enhance what we are currently doing.

     Personally I feel it very important that worship planning be taken very seriously.  Worship is our primary entrance point for new folks coming into the church and thus it can never be taken for granted.  Studies across all denominations within the U.S. have consistently shown that one thing that distinguishes mainline denominational churches from other churches is that much less time is spent on the planning and preparation for worship services.  The old adage is correct that if we fail to plan we will plan to fail.

     Church growth experts teach us that growing churches:

  • Spend much time in planning for worship long term and weekly.
  • Prepare extensively for each service.
  • Regularly evaluate and revise what they are doing.

     When I first entered ministry full-time it was very common for clergy who were serving churches which were not growing to visit churches which were growing, learn what they were doing and bring this information back to their church and duplicate it.  This proved a disaster!  Our goal should never be to copy someone else’s way of worship nor should we defend our own.  Our worship needs to be unique to our setting and specific to the needs of those we hope to reach in the name of Jesus Christ.

     Join me next time as we examine specifics of worship planning…

Planning Worship for Those Outside Trinity UMC

Worship Image

     It is not easy to plan worship for those who are not within our realm of influence nor already a part of our church.  Even if we start with the best of intentions it is hard to know what those who are not already a part of the church need.  Our congregation is thus a relatively poor place to search for the needs of the non-churched.  It most cases churches have over time become far different from the culture surrounding the church and thus for the most part are nonresponsive to the very people they are seeking to reach.

     It is most times certain that the most active church leaders are the least likely to see the church in the same way as those outside the church do.  The longer one is part of the church the less likely they are to experience Trinity UMC the same way as someone outside Trinity UMC would.  So if you are a long time member of Trinity UMC it will be almost impossible for you to have an outsider’s perspective.

     So, what can we do?  Perhaps we acknowledge our limits and use them to our advantage.  Perhaps we need to think of ways to use folks on the periphery of Trinity UMC who would be willing to help us identify first impressions and clues to help us see things from less of an insider’s perspective.  Perhaps there are even friends we have in the community who do not attend Trinity UMC that we could get to help us see the church as they see it.  This could even be of great value in helping us learn about ourselves from the perspective of the newcomer.

     Over the course of the next year we could invite folks from the community that we know, who do not attend Trinity UMC, to come to Worship Committee meetings so we can learn from them.  It can really become eye opening to invite folk who are from outside the broader community that make up the church presently or those we are seeking to reach.

     We could invite folks from our community to attend as “mystery worshipers” and ask them a few open-ended questions that will help us learn about Trinity UMC from the perspective of those we are seeking.  These questions might include:

  • What meant the most to you as you worshipped at Trinity UMC?
  • How is our worship similar or different from that of other churches you have visited?
  • What would improve our worship?
  • If there is something about our worship you would never change, what is it?
  • If there is anything you could change, what would it be?

     In order for this to be an effective tool there must be some ground rules in place.  As a Worship Committee invites those outside the church and ask them these questions, the committee must understand that there are only two things that can happen.  One the committee LISTENS.  Second, they say, THANK YOU!  No one can or will debate anything with these guests.  Any sign of disagreement or defensiveness will destroy the purpose of this exercise.

     Join me next time as we will take a look at the kinds of people we are reaching and those who are missing….

Outside of Box Thinking and Outwardly Focused Worship

Trinity Stained Glass

     It is easy and common for churches to think inwardly.  There is always great emphasis placed on doing things that please the folks who attend regularly.  No church leader intentionally does things they know will incite regular attendees.  As a result a lot of churches state very clearly that “this is who we are and what we do” and make it very clear that this is what we have to offer.  We then find ourselves wondering why more folks from our communities are not worshipping in our church.

     When we allow ourselves to turn this around and focus “outside to inside” we begin to think of our worship from the perspective of those we are trying to reach – those who are not part of our church, those we are trying to reach.  When we allow ourselves to think outside to inside we change the dynamics and increase the potential to reach the very people we are seeking.

     It is always very helpful for us to look at church and worship for the perspective of those we seek to reach.  What questions do they have?  What concerns do they deal with?  What are their values?  What stirs their hearts and fulfills their spiritual needs?  What music moves them?  If they could create a church that would meet their needs what would it look like?

     Most all of us would readily state that we want more people at Trinity UMC.  But it is also true that when we say that, we never think that we might have to change in order for those folks to show up.  Just in the last few days I had someone in my office who stated “things are looking good at Trinity UMC but we still need about twenty-five more families.”  The question for me is where this number of twenty-five comes from and are we willing to change in order to get them?

     A national survey was conducted a short time ago which showed that a vast majority of churches want young people in their church, but at the same time they said that they were not willing to change their worship, their budgets, or their way of doing business.  It seems strange when we focus on the same things that have happened within the church for the last fifty years and somehow expect different results.

     So how do we begin to turn this trend around?  Dynamic congregations focus outwardly and declining congregations focus inwardly toward member preferences rather than what is needed to make their church more welcoming.  Nowhere is this more evident than in worship.

     One of the first lessons I learned as a pastor of United Methodist churches was that when going to a new appointment it was instant suicide to attempt to change an order of worship the first year.  Most churches feel that when a pastor changes worship that they are being told that they have been worshiping wrong but now the pastor is going to show them how to worship correctly.  So how can we plan worship with our focus on those not present?

     Some churches address this by having someone join the Worship Committee for the sole purpose of keeping the planning sensitive to the needs of those who will be present for the first time.  Some churches include folks from the group they are seeking to reach on worship planning teams.  The goal of the worship planning team should be to develop worship that brings together historical, theological, and pastoral considerations in a way that builds current disciples and at the same time reaches those who most need the power of God’s love in Jesus Christ.

     The problem any worship planning team faces in complex.  It is never easy for us to plan worship for those who are not part of the worship planning process.  Even when we start with the very best intentions we are likely to fail due to fact that we really are unaware of what those not present seek in worship.  Our congregations generally are poor places to find these answers because we have so few relationships with non-churched people.

     Join me next time as we will discuss planning worship outwardly focused…

Worship Restores Us and Is The Basis Of Community

Trinity Stained Glass

     Quite a few years ago I was serving a church that had a single mom of two hired as the church accompanist.  She was a wonderful musician and she and her two children were truly assets to the life of the church.  Her children were very intelligent, studious, outgoing, and everything a parent could dream as far as their children goes.

    Four years after being at the church this lady’s son was preparing for high school graduation.  He was an honor student, had multiple offers for scholarships to prestigious schools, his future was as bright as the sun itself.  One week before graduation while driving home one night he witnessed a car leave the roadway, go down an embankment, crash through a fence at a high rate of speed and come to rest in the middle of the field.  He pulled his car to the side of the road, got out of his car and began running toward the car now sitting in an open field to provide aid to those in the car.

     He got nearly to the car and while running fell into an open cistern in the middle of the field and died.  It was later discovered that no one in the car to which he was offering assistance was hurt in any way but all of them were on drugs and/or drunk.  As can be imagined, his family felt that their whole world had suddenly gone dark.

     This young man’s mother told me that at the time she was bitter at God.  She confessed that she no longer could pray, read Scripture, sing, or play the piano.  She would attend worship every Sunday but at first she admitted that she was present in body only.  One Sunday at the end of worship she walked the aisle to the altar and fell on her knees before God.  After I prayed with her she stood up, faced the congregation, and with tears streaming down her face, thanked the congregation for carrying her family during the time that her faith was weak.  She said to that congregation, “Your faith and the power of our worship are restoring me!”

     There is tremendous power in worship.  There is in worship power to restore us when we are down.  When our faith is weakened worship will transform us and restore us.  It will carry us when we are not able to carry ourselves.

     When we come together to worship we experience the basis of what community is supposed to be.  When folks enter our worship they are looking for community.  Many times the church fails to recognize this fact.  We allow ourselves to focus far too much on individuals or ourselves when we worship.  We find ourselves making arguments such as, “I like traditional worship…I like contemporary worship…I like this hymn….I like this creed.”  When worship becomes solely about individual experience and individual relationship with God worship has ceased to be biblical.

     Community occurs when we offer our praise together with all who are worshiping, when we pray and confess our sins as a congregation, and when our diverse voices blend together in harmony to God.  When we share together sacred space, dedicating ourselves to serving Christ, these acts brings us unity, and identity, and community.

     Weekly worship is absolutely necessary for true community.  It is never about a particular style of worship.  In worship we learn that God is our center and this allows us to live the lives to which we have been called.  We need worship!  We need the power that worship offers.  We need the fellowship we can only find in the community we share at Trinity UMC.

     Join me next time as we consider those we seek to reach through worship…