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Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Service Elements - The Children's Message

Children’s Message:
Many churches share a children’s message as a way to say to the children, “Come up front, sit down and enjoy. We want to let you know that you are important to us.”
If your church provides a children’s message make it the best it can be.
Frankly, the children’s message is often more interesting than the sermon. It is often an object lesson, it involves the audience and you never know what’s going to happen next. Art Linkletter made a fine living off of simply asking questions of children and taping their responses.
As a top-selling children’s performer for several years I have a few biases regarding successful children’s communication that I’d like to share in point form:
·         Make the children the focus of your attention. Yes, the adults are in the room and yes they are the ones who put the money in the offering plate but the children should be your main focus. This is not to say that you can’t depart by giving a funny comment that the adults grab on to but this should be the exception. Look them in the eyes, and communicate warmth.
·         Ask questions. Then be gentle with what you do with their responses. This is never a time for sarcasm (as much as I like dry Monty Python wit).  
·         Use an inviting voice but don’t condescend. Treat them with respect. Remember that God spoke to little Samuel when the adult priests of the land weren’t listening to His voice.
·         Remember that you’re speaking to children. This will require adapting your vocabulary and presentation so that it is age appropriate.
·         Choose one concept with a simple illustration and take your time with it. If you go beyond one simple concept and illustration you’ll be too rushed to take the time with the children that you need to.
·         The general rule of thumb for attention span is one minute per average age of the child you are speaking to. So, that means that if you are speaking to 4 year olds you have 4 minutes in general to make your point and wrap without them doing handstands on the altar railing.
·         Make sure there’s a point to your object lesson and that the object lesson doesn’t become the point itself. Yes, Cirque du Soleil will catch your children’s attention but all they’ll remember is the guy riding his bike inside the wheel without falling. Make sure your object lesson is not so distracting that the children aren’t just focused on the object itself. Make sure that there is a take away.
·         Stories are gold. When our children were small they’d jump into our king-size bed and I’d make up stories about people called the Dweezledorfs. I’d ask each of the children to choose a character and my challenge would be to weave an interesting story that included each character and ended up with a moral to the story. (Yes, characters like the whale named Merford with legs and that could fly always were a challenge to weave in with the kitty with no legs named Poofy) We didn’t need objects or magic tricks; the story was enough. In the same way, story is a powerful way of communicating no matter what the age.
·         Involve the children. They can hold puppets in their hands or act like waves on the water for Peter to walk on. When they’re involved, they are immersed. Get to know your children. Some are better chosen than others. (Be cautious that little Johnny who is supposed to be a wave for Peter to walk on doesn’t turn into a Tsunami when he gets back to his parents in the pew)
·         Come alive – use your voice, your hands, your facial expressions, your body – you communicate in how you present. This doesn’t mean that you need to be over the top with hyperactivity. Many of the best children’s performers who have blessed children such as Raffi and Fred Penner know how to communicate in multiple ways without looking like they’re on amphetamines.
·         Consider coming down to their eye level. I’m 6’ 4” so it’s a long way down to the floor for me, but I often found that when I shared with the children gathered around that by sitting lower (whether on the floor or on a shorter chair) that the children received the message better. Looking up at a giant can be a little overwhelming.
·         Create safety. Reduce embarrassment for the children (and their parents). Don’t reprimand and don’t insult them if they make a scriptural or theological faux pas.
·         Be Biblical. Make sure that you’re not off on some theologically inaccurate tangent.  
Stay tuned for our continuing series on service elements.
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Saturday, October 23, 2010

Drama Basics - WorshipCoach Blog

In our next drama in worship installment we invite back our friend Chuck Neighbors. If you are new to drama the material below is a great launch. If you've been involved in drama ministry for years you'll pick up some new tips.

Read and learn . . .

Drama Ministry--The Basic Training

A blog is probably not the best place to try to teach acting skills.  You can’t teach someone to sing by reading a book nor can you teach acting by simply telling them the basics.  Both have to be learned through experience, by “doing” rather than merely reading and studying about them.  However you can come to some understanding of some of the basics that need to be considered.  Here is an overview of the basics to be considered for those who want to develop drama ministry in the church

What Does it Take to Make it Work?

Here is a chance at the outset to help people identify some of the things that are going to be required to have a successful drama ministry. The goal is to help people realize that good drama ministries don’t just happen. They take work, planning, and discipline.  Consider:

  People - you need actors, director and support people.

  Material (scripts) - are you going to write your own or purchase?

  Rehearsal space - ideally you need to have not only rehearsal space but an opportunity to rehearse on the actually stage before the performance.

  Leadership/Director- drama doesn’t work well in committee. You need a director!

  Commitment - it takes time to do drama well. . .you need people willing to give that commitment (rule of thumb — one hour of rehearsal for each page of dialog).

  Costumes, sets, and props - even the simplest of productions will have these needs

  Technical support - lighting, sound, etc.

  Good communication between the drama team leader and the pastoral staff.

That last one is huge, especially if your plan is to include drama on a regular basis in your worship services.  And to be honest it is often the downfall of many drama ministries.  Make sure you share a vision with the leadership of the church.

Performance Basics

There are resources out there to help you train and develop your team. I wrote a book based on my drama workshops called Drama Now, which serves as a sort of basic training for drama ministry. 

Here are the performance basics you will need to consider:

  Inhibition.  One of the first obstacles to getting started for beginning actors is fear.  Fear of getting on stage and making a fool out of themselves, fear of blowing their lines, fear of not be accepted by their fellow actors or by the audience.  We need to tackle this fear head on.

  Body Control.  Acting is a visual medium.  Our bodies are instruments to be used to communicate our message.  Often what we say with our bodies is just as important as the lines we recite.  Actors need to become aware of this and learn to use and train their bodies to say what we want them to say.

  Body Movement.  Body Control has to do with becoming aware of our body and how it can be used to communicate.  Body Movement has more to do with the rules of the stage (yes, there are rules!).  This is where we will get into the proper way to stand, sit, and walk on stage.

  Eye Contact/Focus.  Our eyes, while a very small part of our body, are extremely important in the communication process, both in real life and on stage.

  Voice Projection.  Today almost every actor uses a microphone. While this technology has many benefits, it is still important for actors to know how to project their voices.

  Diction.  You can have great projection but if we can’t understand you because you have bad diction or you are talking too fast, then we have a problem.

  Memorization.  An actor’s goal is to know the lines so well that he or she doesn’t have to stop and think, “what comes next?”  The focus should be on character, not lines, when it comes time for performance.

  Characterization.  The real fun and creative part of being an actor is in creating believable characters on stage.  This is where we get to use our imaginations; where we revert back to what many of us did so well in our childhood—pretend.

There is more, much more to consider, but this is a good overview of what you will need to consider.  There is a sort of mantra that people in the church drama movement have adopted and I think this is a good place to insert it:

“I’d rather see no drama than bad drama.”

To do drama well takes time and dedication.  Is it worth it?  I think so... but if you are going to do it be sure you do it well!

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Why Do Drama in Worship? - Guest Blog

A great friend of mine, Chuck Neighbors is one of the finest drama trainers and actors active in church ministry today. Following my drama theme, I asked him to write a blog about "Why Do Drama in Worship?"

Read on for some great insights from Chuck.

Why Do Drama In Worship?

The pendulum swings.  What is in one season is out the next, and then before you know it, it is back again.  This is so true of cycles in worship ministry as well.  Hymns are out, worship choruses are in. . .then hymns come back and choruses are out.  The sermon is a methodical preaching of a chapter at a time through a book of the Bible, and then it is a topical sermon on how to eliminate stress in your life, and them back to the Bible again.  If there is an area of ministry that has felt this pendulum swing the most profoundly it would have to be drama in worship.  Whereas music and sermons are a given (it just changes format), drama it seems is either “in” or “out.”  There doesn’t appear to be any half measures. . .well, except it is always “good for the kids,” so it will often be found in Sunday School, even if not in the sanctuary. 

There are several factors that contribute to this.  If you look at the history of theater in the church, it has always been in one season and out the next.  Historically drama has its roots in the church; the very first plays were religious plays.  But drama has a way of saying things--sometimes too effectively--and runs the risk of offending, so out it goes. Drama ministry also seems to center around the passion of a few individuals.  If you have such people in your church, you might have a drama ministry but if those people don’t exist, or leave, so goes the drama ministry.  Unlike music ministry, there will probably not be an all-out search for the next drama ministry leader.

Sadly, I have to say that drama seems to be on the “out” again, this time not for being too amateur or too edgy, but for being too time-consuming and inconvenient.  Live actors have been replaced by media.  Countless churches that had effective drama ministries are no more.  A few clicks on the computer and you can download a video that can be played in seconds.  The quality can be as good as Hollywood, and slipping it into a worship service seamless.  I wrote more about this in my blog, The First Church of YouTube.

But before we do the proverbial “throw the baby out with the bathwater,” let’s revisit the benefits of doing live drama in worship.

  • Drama has immediacy and energy to it that you cannot get from video.  The sense, when done well, of being “in the moment.”  Connecting to an audience in a way that no other media can touch.
  • Jesus told stories – parables – to get his point across.  Drama does much the same thing.  And doing this live makes it very personal.
  • We live in a culture of entertainment; it is the language of our culture.  Drama is entertaining and entertainment is not a bad thing.  We all like to be entertained.  We may not want to admit it, but the worship services at most churches are well planned.  The pastor wants the service to hold the attention of the congregation.  The best sermons are sprinkled with humor and stories.  Why?  Because if it entertains us, it holds our attention. (For more on entertainment in the church see Redeeming Entertainment.)
  • There is a lot of drama in the various elements of worship.  Consider communion, baptism, responsive readings, etc.  These and many other parts of worship have drama all their own.
  • Drama is visual.  People remember more of what they see than what they hear.
  • Drama has the unique ability to tap into our emotions and our intellect at the same time, and this is especially effective because the audience member will identify and connect with a certain character being portrayed on stage.
  • While the Gospel doesn’t change, our culture does.  We (the church) need to find effective ways to minister to our culture without compromising the truth of the Gospel. In this regard drama is made to order!
  • It provides a place of service and ministry to those who have talent in this area. If the church does not provide a place for this artistic energy to be used, then rest assured those who have a passion for the performing arts will find another outlet for it.

For me, this last point is perhaps the biggest tragedy. The church needs to be a breeding place for the arts.  Not just music, but all art.  Many have chosen to sacrifice good art for the sake of expediency.  Speaking for myself, I would probably not be an actor today if it were not for the encouragement and experiences that I had doing my first church dramas as a kid.  I encourage you to develop a worship ministry strategy that includes a variety of artistic expression:  music, drama, dance, painting, sculpture and more.  All of these can be wonderful expressions of worship to our Creative God.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Worship Theme Introduction

We’re continuing the section on worship elements. Last one covered the Welcome and Announcements. Today, we’ll cover the Theme Introduction.

Theme Introduction:
Why would you want to introduce your service theme? It’s a great opportunity to let people know the direction you’re going. As each of the service elements unfold, and if your elements are well chosen and thematically selected, they reinforce the central theme. This creates the possibility of maximum impact for your congregation. Here are a few ways to introduce your theme:
While related, live theatre and movies are a different medium. Video gives you opportunities for improved lighting, camera angles, special effects, on location sets and more. Yet, live theatre gives you that edge of your seat edge as the actors are playing to live people, live with the potential of forgetting their lines and props falling over, and best of all . . . playing to a live audience. My wife and I love both good movies and good live theatre. They both have a place in the church.
Now: a word of warning. If you can’t pull off great live theatre (drama, skits, vignettes, whatever you want to call this), then please don’t subject your people to mediocrity. We spend years learning a musical instrument to lead our congregation in worship with excellence. Yet, many churches grab anyone who can fog a mirror and place them on the platform as an actor. This is neither fair to the actor or to the congregation. Also remember that well done live drama is a lot of work to execute it well. You often have issues of multiple rehearsals, set design, memorization and more.
Stay tuned, because I will be inviting a guest writer with years of experience in church drama to dig in deep on this subject in a later blog.  This writer will be covering training, execution and drama sources.
In the meantime, you may be looking for resources. Where do you find great drama and vignette scripts? Here are a few places to go:

There are two primary formats of video. One is simply purchasing a well done video short. You can find these at some of the links I gave in an earlier blog. Check these out here:
Yet, another way to present dramatic theme introductions in your church is a combination of your church actors, a well-chosen script and video. Every church, no matter how small has multiple people who have the capability of videotaping a dramatic piece with your local actors, editing it and burning it to DVD or a video file to be played in your church service. The many advantages include:
·         Sets: The ability to place the piece in an appropriate set (without design). If your vignette is about high school, record it in a local school. If it’s a drama taking place in a home, head to someone’s house.
·         Availability of actors: You can flex the recording schedule around people’s schedules. Even if actors need to be gone during the worship service, you can pull this off.
·         Butterflies: People who might be otherwise nervous to stand on a platform can often comfortably appear on video.
·         Script Memorization: If you’re trying to pull off a vignette that is several minutes long, it can be difficult to memorize all the material. When you video tape, you don’t need to worry so much about memorizing the entire script. You can cut one piece at a time.
·         Lighting: If your church doesn’t have good stage lighting, you can easily set this up on the video set. No Budget – borrow some work lights as a temporary measure.
·         Editing: Are you nervous about drama length. The editor has the power to control the time.

Special Music:
A special music number in most cases will not incorporate well into a worship set. Yet, this can be a great place to feature a special song. Songs options are vast. There are millions and there is no reason why you can’t find the perfect song to launch the service in keeping with the theme. For that reason, if you’re reading this blog you certainly have the ability to find the perfect song. I’ll leave that to you.

Our next blog will move into the basics of Worship Song Sets, Children’s Messages and more. Stay tuned . . .

Monday, October 4, 2010

The Welcome and Announcements

The Welcome:
Keep this up-beat and informal in most church services. This is usually done by the pastor or someone who has been designated in advance. They are to welcome people to the church, let them know what the service is about, include an opening prayer and encourage people to greet each other.
TIP: If you go right into an up-tempo song just as the welcome surge has hit its peak in the room you create strong starting energy.
This sets the atmosphere of the entire church service. If the welcome and call to worship are simply read off the page in a monotone voice, the congregation gets the message loud and clear, “This is going to be boring, lifeless and far too long!” If the welcome sounds spontaneous, heartfelt and authentic then it says, “This church is real, they care that I’m here and it might even be interesting.”
Let people truly welcome each other. You may find that a formal ‘Passing of the Peace’ may mean a lot to those who understand this rich tradition but you may also find that it alienates more visitors than it welcomes. How does the non-Christian respond to someone who comes to her and says, “The peace of Christ be with you?” “Have a nice day” doesn’t work. “Yes, it is raining outside” doesn’t really pass the test. Sometimes a simple hello and a handshake can go a long way towards saying good morning. As much as I love ‘Passing of the Peace’ I have also had too many uncomfortable blank stares from visitors. They just don’t know how to respond. It’s a good way to say “You’re not one of us,” and to leave them with the deer in the headlights look at the very start of the service. Think about it.  See what works for your people. Perhaps explaining the meaning of the passing of the peace on a regular basis will develop people’s comfort and understanding.

Announcements are important for any church. Yet, I have been in church services where 15 minutes of the 1 hour service has been surrendered to the tedium of announcements.
So, how do you do these well? How do you have a successful announcement time that communicates effectively and doesn’t take over the entire service?
Here are some pointers:
By moving many of your announcements to the pre-roll (PowerPoint or otherwise), just like in a movie theatre, you can also shorten your announcement time significantly.
Keep them short, upbeat and done by one person.
Why would you keep announcements to one person? The announcement time sets the culture of the church as much as many other parts of the service. If the announcements communicate boredom, an insular attitude (us and them), negativity, or long droll statements you are communicating the culture of the church to be similar to this experience. The other reality is that many people take far too long to get to the microphone and far too long to leave. If you call on Martha or Henry to make an announcement and it takes them 2 minutes to finally saunter up to the microphone, unfold their piece of paper, and tap the microphone then you have already caused a large percentage of your people to mentally check out.
TIP: Email, Facebook, Twitter, Blogs, Website and other forms of Social Networking and Web Networking are all wonderful ways to communicate with your church body as well as to reduce announcement time during a service.
While you want to communicate enthusiasm, also remember to use a natural tone of voice (still with plenty of energy). Perhaps most importantly, be yourself. You want the members to trust you and they'll trust a real person before they'll trust an over-hyped stereo-type.
Another rule of thumb for announcements is that the only announcements that are made from the front affect either the entire congregation or a significant percentage of the people in the room.
Also remember that you want people to do something with the information you’re giving them. This is called a call to action. Here are some call to action pointers:
·         What do you want people to remember?
·         What do you want people to do?
·         What specific action do you want them to take?
·         When must they do this by?
·         What will they miss out on if they don’t take action?
·         If there is limited availability of your offer or opportunity let them know this to create a hunger.
Announcements are an important part of any gathering. If done well, they can create community, as well as growth in both numbers and effectiveness in your mission.
The next blog will deal with Themes, Worship Songs Sets and more. Stay tuned . . . .