A Gift from the Old Seeker-Focused Model
As I start moving deeper into worship service elements, content, flow and design I want to take a little break to write about some of the gifts we’ve been given from the seeker-focused models. If you’re not a big fan of this format (and who could be when so many seeker churches had only pretty people in matching outfits on the platform) please still bear with me. There are many gifts that this older format gave us. Let’s learn.
I’m generally not a big fan of the seeker model of worship service that was so hot in the 80’s and early 90’s. I’m not going to go into why this wasn’t my top choice because too much ink and bytes have already been expended on this. (If you want to read caustic blogs about seeker-focused worship, just use Google to steal days and weeks of an otherwise productive life) When you strip away the vitriol of the naysayers and my own bias it’s important to realize that the seeker models were effective in many settings for many years.
Now that the model seems to have run its course, we need to look back and consider the gifts this model gave us.
Here are some of the many gifts of that the seeker model gave us:
· A greater awareness to those who attend our churches from outside of the Christian subculture. Seeker-modeled churches taught us to be more welcoming. Greeters obviously work at Wal-Mart. Is it so bad to consider this in church?
· It taught us to watch our insider language. (How many acronyms can a person take?) (NOTE: Latin-Lovers hated this change) The seeker model also taught us to either adequately explain the meaning of a rich historical practice or to change it.
· The model challenged us to improve the application portion of the sermon. Sometimes this came at the expense of theological and scriptural depth but many pastors also needed to grow in their life-application content. (As another side note, I believe that both content and application can co-exist in a great sermon.)
· The model challenged us to use real-life vocal inflections. Years ago, in the late ‘50’s my father and other seminary students were taught to speak without a microphone because many sanctuaries had little or no amplification. There was little room for vocal inflection subtlety in the sermon because you were trying to fill a room on your own. Decades later, people woke up one morning and said, “Wait a minute, what’s this thing in my hands? Why, it’s a microphone and if used properly I can speak like a real-life person. Even better than that; the people who come to church will actually hear my whispers as well as my roars. I don’t have to yell at people all the time.”
· It taught us better communication skills in sermons and other spoken, drama and musical portions of the platform presentation. We learned to:
o Adjust content to needs
o Improve our presentation through enthusiasm, confidence, speaking slowly, and showing appropriate emotion.
o Understand that body language is important. This includes walking, stepping out from behind the pulpit, and using fitting hand and facial gestures.
o Avoid reading from a written script.
o Ensure that we have a great opener, great content with illustrations and a powerful closing
o Speak with conviction. Often, perception is more powerful than reality; so if you actually believe in something let it show.
o Make eye contact with your congregation. Speak to people in the middle, front and back. Divide the room into 9 sections and make sure you pay attention to them (front 3 – left, middle and right. Middle 3 and back 3). Use the 3-second rule – focus on individuals for 3 seconds (less makes you appear nervous and more is intimidating).
o Adapt to the room. If you are losing them, you may want to walk right into the congregation or use some other attention galvanizing tool to win them back.
o Pause to reflect. Understand that people need time to reflect on your most important points.
o Not be afraid of humour. (NOTE: IMHO puns are akin to knock-knock jokes – this is not humour). The best humour is often at your expense.
o Use visual aids such as PowerPoint-styled bullets (watch for a later blog on proper use), whiteboards, objects, lighting and video clips.
o Use handouts when appropriate for taking notes or following the outline.
o Adjust your sermon length to your communications abilities. Some can hold thousands of people riveted their seats for an hour. Some can hold you riveted for 15 minutes. Serve the church by finding your personal optimum communications time.
o Change it up. Use interactive sermons with questions and responses, use teaching formats, use impassioned Martin Luther King -styled sermons, use narratives, use drama, use point forms . . . keep them guessing and never be completely predictable.
· It taught us how to use the power of lighting to change focus onto the most important aspect of the service. (Have you ever noticed how much God used the power of light in the Bible to illustrate truth?) Watch for an entire section on lighting in a later blog entry.
· It taught us to improve our sound systems. I’ll have an entire section on this later so I won’t go into details here.
· It challenged us to more excellent musicianship. There once was a time when the church was the pinnacle of excellence in not only music but in many of our artistic expressions. We lost focus and became exceedingly lazy in this area for a long time. The ‘world’ took over in this area of excellence and the seeker models challenged to take this back even though we still have a long way to go.
· It taught us to respect the property. An inviting facility with great parking is important no matter what format your service is.
· It taught us about informal meeting spaces. Foyers were expanded, coffee bars were set up and as a result, community was enhanced. Again, no matter what format of worship service you have, this is an enhancement because it fosters fellowship. That’s always good.
· They challenged us to improve the design of church print materials, websites and other forms of internal and external communication.
· The creative gifts of the congregation were given opportunities for expression. This took place in visual arts, music and more.
· Finally, there truly are people who want the anonymity and lower commitment of slipping into a comfortable chair and absorbing rather than expressing. I’m not saying that this is a good long-term goal but there are plenty of disheveled, burned-out, stressed-out, over-committed and exhausted people who can barely slip into a church and listen let alone throw their hands in their air, clap for joy and sing with unrestrained vigor. A seeker service that expects little may be a blessed entry point for many people who want to just place their toe in the water to see if it’s warm and inviting enough to step in a little deeper.
Now that I’ve tried to highlight some of the positive gifts we’ve received from seeker services I’ll get back to more content tips in the next blog as I cover effective use of Testimonies and Scripture Readings.
NOTE: At Break Forth Canada 2011 we have many great friends coming together to teach about Worship Service Design, Theology, Technical Tools, Worship Leading and so much more. I pray you can take it in. Click the logo below: