Attracting a Crowd

When UMs talk about growing and exciting UM churches they tend to point to Ginghamsburg, Church of the Resurrection, and Windsor Village. I’ve heard almost no mention of Granger Community Church (in Indiana) in UM circles, though I hear about it all the time from non-UM sources. Curious, isn’t it?

Here’s a piece by some of the Granger crew on “Attracting a Crowd to Your Church.” Some of there advice sounds downright manipulative:
Worship services must be upbeat to encourage guests to come back. The worship may be meaningful, but if people are less energized when they leave than when they arrived, what good is that? The message may be full of truth, but if listeners are thinking of their to-do lists for after church, what good is that? Services that lack energy will not be attractive to people who are deciding whether to return.

Here are some ways to raise the energy level in worship:

• Begin by pumping up the volume. The impact of the same song sung by the same talented artists played at the same tempo will vary according to the volume. Louder music creates more energy. You should also consider the volume of the music played before and after the service. If it’s loud, people will begin to talk over the music, and the energy level in the room will increase.

• Increase the tempo of the music. When you’re trying to create introspective moments, a slower, more contemplative selection is appropriate. Generally, however, songs that are upbeat and more celebratory in nature will generate a positive response from the cogregation. People will become more engaged in the service when they feel comfortable clapping their hands and tapping their feet as they sing.

• Add smiling faces to the platform, and make sure those faces are well lit. Your musicians and vocalists shouldn’t just rehearse their music; they should also practice looking happy. Happiness is contagious. Also, the lighting on the platform should be bright enough and positioned so that those watching can see the facial expressions of the vocalists and the teachers.

In addition to these factors, make sure you’re strategically using humor, paying attention to the pace of the service, and making effective use of variety. All of these will help you reduce the drool factor and fuel the energy levels in your services. That’s helpful for growing a crowd, and it reduces the possibility of sugarplums doing the boot-scootin’ boogie in your head.

I suppose we can safely assume that all the people we’re trying to attract are of a particular generation that is turned on by noise (oops! loud music). If you can’t have the Holy Spirit or spiritual substance, at least pump up the volume. As for happy faces, I suppose they’re better than unhappy faces. Even if they have to fake it.

They then turn to subjects to address, advocating the “felt needs” approach:

So what do pre-Christians need? What will get their attention? Here’s a short list:

• They need help with their marriages.
• They don’t know how to raise their kids.
• They aren’t sure how to handle their teenagers.
• They want their lives to count.
• They want to live within their means.
• They want help being better employers or employees.
• They’re beaten down and need encouragement.
• They’ve messed up and need forgiveness.
• They’ve been betrayed and need to know that Someone can be trusted.
• They’ve been through a crisis and need to make sense of it.

These are just a few of the issues people face. Does the Bible have anything to say about these topics? Can Jesus Christ give people strength and wisdom to deal with their marriages? their kids? their money? Absolutely!

Preaching biblical wisdom is essential, not merely as a tactic for increasing the crowd, but for building disciples. Unfortunately, when needs are defined by what non-Christians feel, it is very easy to end up with a variant of Moral Therapeutic Deism – and a god who serves as a butler to meet our every need. He’s there not only to help us with our marriages, kids and finances, but also to help us feel better and – getting more spiritual – to give us eternal life. If we’re going to successfully preach biblical wisdom, we will have to find ways to simultaneously take apart the secular narratives and world views people come in with, so they don’t just become innoculated against the faith.

Their next point I agree with whole-heartedly: go to multiple services. It’s more work for those of us on a church staff, but it’s worth it.

Next they tell us to “Embrace Entertainment:”

We’ve heard people say, “Your church is about entertainment.” And they’re right in a way. We are about entertainment to the extent that it allows us to captivate the minds and hearts of those who don’t yet know Jesus. Yes, we still talk about all the tough topics. In fact, we’re positive we’ve taught about every topic Jesus covered in the Sermon on the Mount. We’ve talked about sin, broken relationships, heaven and hell, the end times, the need for a Savior, and the cost of following Christ. There is a way, however, to present biblical truth so that a crowd shows up. There’s a way to offer a new life in Christ without dulling the minds of those who need him most. And sometimes that way can be downright entertaining.

I’m against entertaining in church. I’m all for captivating people with the Gospel. So – if as these guys claim – entertainment is about grabbing and holding people’s attention, I’m all for it. Long gone are the days when we could depend on people coming to church with a sense of duty to listen. Every time I stand before my people I work from the assumption that I have to earn their attention.

They have more to say, so go read the article. Although much of their style is not mine, and I think much of what they are doing would be significantly easier in a new church plant (than a 150 year old congregation), I’m all for what they’re doing. Go get ’em Granger!

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2 Responses to Attracting a Crowd

  1. What a great way to put it: that we have to earn their attention! I don’t think they teach that in seminary, but they ought to!

  2. Tim Stevens says:

    Richard – unfortunately the article in Rev magazine was just an excerpt. What they missed was this key thought from the introduction to the book: “Underlying all the principles in this book is our belief that attracting a crowd to your church is not the goal. It is just a means to an end. Your goal is to attract a crowd so that you can turn that crowd into believers who are growing and making a difference in the world. Without that, your church is just an inspiration station.” The editors of Rev randomly merged three chapters out of 99 we presented in the book, so you didn’t get a whole lot of context.

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