Mistakes You’re Making in Your Weekend Experience
In the last 4 years alone, our Unstuck consultants have been on the ground in 250+ churches helping evaluate their in-person Sunday experience—from parking and facilities to the message and production. And while there are many aspects of those services that are excellent, we often see churches of all sizes and denominations make similar mistakes.
That’s why, this week, we’re kicking off a new series unpacking “Mistakes You’re Making in Your Weekend Experience.” Throughout this series, we’ll help churches identify 5 common mistakes in the areas of their worship service, guest services, kids ministry, and facilities and offer solutions to elevate their weekend experience.
COMMON WEEKEND SERVICE MISTAKES
In this episode, Amy and I discuss five common mistakes churches make when it comes to their weekend worship services—and how to fix them. Join the conversation as we discuss:
- Creating a cohesive worship journey
- The purple cow principle
- Why the lead pastor shouldn’t be over the weekend service
- The importance of application and next steps
This Episode Is Sponsored by BELAY:
It’s easy to feel like we have to do it all. But doing it all is not only impossible—it’s a recipe for burnout. Great leaders know the secret to a long and healthy career in ministry is delegation. It’s about prioritizing what only you can do and finding trusted talent to take on the rest.
If you feel like you’re overwhelmed trying to do it all, our friends at BELAY can help. BELAY is a modern church staffing organization with fractional, U.S.-based Accounting and Virtual Assistant services. They’ve spent over a decade helping busy leaders just like you accomplish more and juggle less. To help you learn what you can start delegating today, BELAY is offering a free resource for our audience, the Top 25 Tasks a Pastor Can Delegate to an Assistant.
Other Episodes in This Series
- 5 Mistakes You’re Making with Your Guest Services – Episode 304
- 5 Mistakes You’re Making with Your Physical Space – Episode 305
- 5 Mistakes You’re Making with Your Children’s Ministry – Episode 306
Leader Conversation Guide
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Welcome to The Unstuck Church Podcast, where each week we are exploring what it means to be an unstuck church. In just the last four years, The Unstuck Group has evaluated the weekend services of over 250 churches. And while there are many aspects of those services that are excellent, there are also several similar mistakes that we see churches of all sizes and denominations making. On this week’s podcast, Tony and Amy kick off a new series on Common Mistakes Churches Make on the Weekend with a conversation about similar issues we see in worship services. If you’re new to The Unstuck Church Podcast, before you listen, stop and go to theunstuckgroup.com/podcast and subscribe to get the show notes in your email. When you do, you’ll get resources to support each week’s episode, including our Leader Conversation Guide and access to our podcast resource archive. That’s theunstuckgroup.com/podcast to subscribe. Now, before we get into this week’s conversation, here’s a word from Tony.
If you’re like me, it’s easy to feel like we have to do it all. But doing it all is not only impossible, it’s a recipe for burnout. Great leaders know the secret to a long and healthy career in ministry is delegation. It’s about prioritizing what only you can do and finding trusted talent to take on the rest. If you feel like you’re overwhelmed trying to do it, all our friends at BELAY can help. BELAY is a modern church staffing organization with fractional US-based accounting and virtual assistant services. They’ve spent over a decade helping busy leaders just like you accomplish more and juggle less. To help you learn what you can start delegating today, BELAY is offering a free resource for you; it’s the Top 25 Tasks a Pastor Can Delegate To an Assistant. Just text UNSTUCK. That’s U-N-S-T-U-C-K to 551 23 to stop trying to do it all and start delegating with BELAY.
Well, hey, Tony. Good to see you. Hope you had a good 4th of July weekend. I know I always like when I have a four-day weekend. Thank you for that, by the way.
Yeah, Yeah. We just decided for our staff at The Unstuck Group to, you know, that Monday was just kind of in between the weekend and the holiday, so we just decided to go all in this year. And it was a four-day weekend for The Unstuck Group, so I kind of enjoyed that, too, Amy.
Yep. Nice to have a little finish line once in a while.
And today, Tony, we’re kicking off a brand new series today, and it’s one that I’m personally very excited about. You wanna explain where we’re headed?
Yeah. In the last four years alone, our Unstuck consultants have been on the ground, and this is hard to believe, more than 250 churches helping evaluate their in-person Sunday experience from parking and facilities to the message and worship production. And we often see churches of all sizes and denominations making similar mistakes. So we’re seeing good things, but we see some common mistakes. And so, throughout the month of July, we’ll be unpacking mistakes that your church is making when it comes to your weekend experience. And we wanna help churches identify five common mistakes in the areas of their worship service, guest services, kids ministry and facilities and then hopefully offer some practical solutions to elevate their weekend experience in all of those areas as well. And we’ll get some outside voices involved, including some members from our team and from other outside experts in these areas as well.
And Tony, I think this series is gonna be extremely helpful for our listeners and offer some really practical, actionable takeaways. And, you know, all churches are different. They’re in different contexts, different communities, but I think the things that we’re gonna cover really transcend all sizes of churches, all types of churches. So, I’m really excited to dive into this.
So for those that may be new to the podcast, you may not know this, but prior to joining the Unstuck team, Amy served as the executive director of Weekend Services at Eagle Brook Church, great church in the Twin Cities, the, the lovely Twin Cities, where this time of year you actually do have warm weather. Is that true, Amy?
Not only warm but hot weather. It’s awesome.
That’s good. But in that role, she helped the church grow from one location of 3,000 people every, every weekend to six locations with over 20,000 people gathering each weekend. So, you could say she’s knowledgeable and passionate about this specific topic. I mean, this is, this is her wheelhouse. And for that reason, I think I’ll ask the questions this week and let you take the lead. Amy, are you good with that?
Yeah, and you know, I’m passionate about this because I believe in the power of the local church. It, you know my story, it changed my life, my family’s life, and I’m literally on this podcast today because of the local church and how it transformed my faith. So yeah, let’s go.
All right, Amy. So what’s the first mistake you see churches making when it comes to their weekend service?
Yeah, we’re talking about the experience like in the auditorium today, and I think the first mistake is that there’s no cohesive journey to that experience. And, you know, if you’ve been around the church world long enough, you’ve probably been to a service that went something like this, Tony. There’s this countdown video on the screen. It hit zero. Then we get some announcements, actually a lot of announcements. And then we’re told to stand, and the music team says we’re gonna learn a new song. We sing for another 15 minutes. Next, there’s this awkward pause before parents and babies load the platform for a baby dedication. Next, we hear a sermon. And after a somber ending and a closing prayer about repentance, the band jumps back into a rowdy, upbeat song and then sends you on your way. Does that sound familiar, Tony?
It does sound familiar. But speaking of new songs, Amy, Brandon Lake has a new song out that churches, every church should be doing this: “Praise You Anywhere.” It’s a great song, but it will be one of those new songs that the worship leader will be trying to teach the congregation. So, I get it.
Did you just pull that up on Spotify while I was talking? Is that what you did?
I’ve been listening to it the last couple of days. Yeah.
I’ll have to take a listen. By the way, new songs aren’t bad. We should learn a new song, but we probably shouldn’t do it at the top of our service. Anyways.
There you go. There you go.
Yeah. So in that example, it might be a little bit exaggerated. I tried to make it exaggerated. I hope it’s not too accurate, but it just, it demonstrates three key points that are required to create a cohesive journey in your service. You know, first, the service needs to flow together with natural fluid transitions between each element. Second, the service elements need to be intentionally placed to create a journey versus just putting whatever segments right next to one another. You know, for instance, where else do we watch a countdown clock lead into boring announcements? Nowhere, right?
Nowhere. Yeah, nowhere.
Right? By its nature, a countdown infers something amazing is about to happen, and announcements just aren’t amazing. Anyways. Third, the journey needs to be continuously engaging. You know, attention span is already a challenge in our culture. And, and can you imagine attending a play at a theater, a concert by a well-known performer (we have, we had Taylor Swift in town a few weeks ago) and having an experience like the one I just described. When you’re trying to reach people outside the church, that’s the standard, you know, that we’re up against. And honestly, even for those of us that are churched, we’ve all been in those times where that service just is not continuously engaging.
You’re a swifty, aren’t you, Amy?
I’m not, but my daughter is.
Well, I, I agree with what, what you just shared, and I mean, if I go to a service that feels clunky or unrehearsed, my mind naturally goes to thinking, “There wasn’t much time, effort or intentionality put into this.” And I think, especially for new people, that communicates a lack of importance around what you’re doing. And I don’t think that’s the message most church leaders are trying to send, especially to the folks that are showing up for the very first time. So, on that note, Amy, is there a piece of advice you could give for working on this common mistake?
Yeah. The, the answer to solving this is simple, but it’s not easy. But before I go into the, the bigger fix, there’s low-hanging fruit here every weekend. Any church service I’ve ever just checked into, there’s a couple of things they could have just taken a few minutes to think through to cover a transition or using scripture to bridge us from one song to the next song, to be thoughtful about how, you know, what we just came out of before, what we go into next. So any church anywhere can do that if you just looked at the service flow before you hit the platform on Sunday. But the, the less easy one but the more important one is just planning well in advance. And by, and by planning ahead, I don’t mean that the lead pastor has to provide every scripture, every next step, a full manuscript three-to-four weeks out. But I am saying that if you’re a lead pastor, worship lead or a leadership team that starts thinking about this coming Sunday on the Wednesday or Thursday before the weekend, honestly, it’s highly unlikely that your weekend experience will be amazing, that it will be a cohesive, continuously engaging experience. And trust me; I understand the ministry whirlwind of trying to put on a Sunday experience week after week. But that’s why planning is so key. It creates, when you plan, it creates the systems and the processes that make your weekend better. Plan ahead, and you’ll have enough time to gather ideas and stories and more space to seek and hear from God. Plan ahead, and you’ll have enough time to develop, rehearse, build your graphics, select your music and video elements that will complement the message. Plan ahead, and you’ll have enough time to create an engagement strategy to help people stay plugged in throughout the series. You know, things like email campaigns or, Tony, some churches do small group curriculum with that. Plan ahead, and you’ll have enough time to create promotion strategies to encourage people to invite a friend or family member to join them. Plan ahead, and you’ll have enough time to create more space to leverage the gifts and talents of your volunteers. And, you know, it might, I could keep going on, but it might take some adjusting, I think, of rhythms and thinking farther in advance than you’re presently used to. But even small, incremental changes to get the planning pushed out, they are worth it.
I think that’s spot on, Amy, but let’s just keep going. What would you say is the second common mistake churches make in their weekend services?
Hmm. I think the second mistake, Tony, is that there are just no surprises anymore. Meaning there’s a lack of creativity in that hour on Sunday. You know, and I’m, maybe I’m just going back or I’m dating myself, but, you know, in my lifetime, I found the church to be extremely creative at times. And I don’t know if it’s been the multisite movement or what it’s been, but I just don’t go to churches that surprise me anymore. I feel like if you’ve been to one service, you’ve been to them all.
Hmm. I think I think you may be talking about just that ongoing rhythm of announcements, three songs, 30-minute message (if we’re lucky), a prayer and a closing song. Is that, is that what you’re talking about?
Hey, you said it, Tony. Not me. No, I, to be clear, I’m not speaking against consistency. Right? I think it’s important that to some degree people know what to expect when they come to your church, especially when it comes to their willingness to invite other people. But the consistency piece is more about the quality of the experience you’re delivering each week, rather than having every single service follow the same order and rhythm. People need to know what to expect to feel safe to invite other people, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t do things within that service that just create a little bit of surprise and wonder.
Yeah. I know this is a topic that you’re very passionate about, Amy, and over the years, you’ve talked a lot about Seth Godin’s Purple Cow Principle and how that relates to churches. Could you explain that a bit?
Yeah. That book came out again a decade ago, but the essence of the Purple Cow Principle is that to avoid becoming invisible, what you offer must be remarkable. You know, think about the marketplace, but I think it translates to our weekend services because something remarkable is worth talking about and it’s worth noticing. It’s interesting, like seeing a purple cow if you were driving down the road, whereas boring stuff that’s invisible, like brown cows that you see so often that you barely even notice them anymore. This is maybe a Minnesota/Wisconsin thing, but there’s a lot of cows in this area of the country. Maybe it’d be remarkable in another state. But services that follow that same routine and rhythm week after week after week, honestly, are a lot like a brown cow that becomes background noise over time.
It’d be like a tree with purple peaches here in Georgia, Amy.
See what I did there?
But if it had blue peaches, that would be remarkable.
Yeah. I think it’s important to note, too, that this isn’t about doing flashy things for flashiness’ sake or creating a spectator church. After all, Jesus and His teaching—that that was remarkable. People encountered him, and they felt compelled to respond. But a remarkable experience can really compel someone to respond to a next step towards Christ, but an invisible experience, that rarely does. So how do you recommend churches begin to approach the shift of moving their weekend services from invisible brown cows to more of a purple cow experience?
Yeah, I think start somewhere. I mean, assess your weekend. And if you have found, you have not done anything very creative in a really long time, if you haven’t created one of those moments that people, you know, responded to, you know, gave you feedback on if it’s been a brown cow, I think the first part is just pick a few dates to commit to doing something remarkable. When I led the church, you know, we kind of said, every weekend needs to be a purple cow for new people, you know, so those were the things around excellence and feedback and all this. But then we said, even that becomes brown cow after a while. So we had a rhythm, Tony, of about every six to eight weeks, we wanted to do something, whether it was in the front end of the service, whether it was during the message, whether it was, you know, something just for fun. But pick some dates, find something remarkable to do, put a team around it and just start waking up that creative muscle again. That’d be the best next step, I think.
That’s so helpful and practical, Amy, and you really are on a roll. So, let’s just keep going. What’s the third mistake churches make in the weekend service that you’d like to address?
Well, this one is a big one, Tony. And honestly, solving this problem can really help leaders solve a lot of the other ones that we’ve been talking about. But so often, I see churches make the mistake of having the wrong leader over their weekend service. Especially in large churches, the senior lead pastor really should not be the person over the weekend service. Their input definitely matters. They’re a part of the weekend, but I think the primary person leading the weekend needs to not be the lead pastor.
Yeah. I actually was just having another conversation this morning, Amy, with a pastor, and we were talking about a key aspect of their ministry. I said, “You should not be taking responsibility for this.” So everybody just, all the senior pastors just heard you say that and said a loud amen. But who should be the primary person over the weekend service then? Should it be the worship leader, as an example?
You know what, Tony, I don’t think it should be, and honestly, this is where most churches default. Of course, that lead pastor often hovers over the weekend because that’s their main deliverable each weekend. But the guy or the gal who plays piano or guitar is kind of in the same boat, I think, as the lead pastor. These are people on the platform who are part of the creation of the weekend. But the most, I, I think, the most successful way to structure this is to have someone, a leader, an off-platform leader, who is actually designing all the systems, leading all the people and overseeing the lead pastor’s vision for the weekend service. Of course, this has to be someone who the lead pastor trusts and, you know, believes they’ve got their eyes and ears for the weekend. But having an off-platform leader, they just have different gifts than some of those on-platform leaders. Now, it doesn’t, you might have someone who has spent time on the platform. I, I had done some of that. But it’s really about designing that journey and coaching everyone to do the very best they can and owning and driving the systems that consistently create reliably excellent weekend experiences.
Yeah. It’s interesting, Amy, thinking back through the years when I was on staff at churches, the, the person that was leading in this role that was leading the weekend service experience, there was a teacher at one church. There was someone in sales at another church. There was someone that was in insurance at another church. And so that, those were their kind of professions before they stepped into church staff team and were responsible for the weekend services. And so they were brought into those roles because they were great leaders. They knew how to lead creative people and create experiences.
It wasn’t because they were a talented musician or a gifted vocalist or, or a gifted teacher.
So it’s just getting the right leader that can help you create the experiences and then build the teams to actually execute it. So.
It’s a really good point because pastors often ask me, where do we find these people? And I often say, they’re in your congregation and they’re probably working in the marketplace right now.
That’s right. That’s right.
But let me just say one word to the smaller churches because, you know, I, our church was about 1,800 when my position was brought on board. And I just, I challenge you, even in smaller, mid-sized churches, you can find some high-level volunteers or a high-level volunteer who could really come alongside and start to bring some leadership to that experience. So don’t write it off if you’re smaller, just go at it in a little bit more creative way.
Well, it’s an important reminder that we have to get the right leader leading this experience, and we have to identify the leader. There may be a whole team of people that are trying to pull together great weekend experiences, but I’ve, I think I’ve heard you share this analogy in the past. If we think everybody is responsible for pulling off great weekends and we don’t identify the leader, it’s, it’s, how do you say it? If everyone’s responsible for feeding the dog, the dog never gets fed. Is that what, how you say it, Amy?
Yeah. The dog will starve. Yeah. If, if eight people are responsible for feeding the dog, the dog’s going to starve.
So someone has to be responsible for thinking about this in the long term, getting that big picture perspective, or else, we’re just going to be scrape, scraping by and running the same playbook every week. Alright. Amy with that, I can get a little passionate about this topic, too, as well, Amy.
I know you can.
So what’s the next mistake that you want to cover?
Yeah. The fourth mistake has to do with the message, actually, and it’s that there’s no real relevant life application coming from the teaching. And I’m not just referring to life application for people who are new to church. This is for everyone.
And I think especially of late, in the new reality that we’re all living in where there’s divisiveness, cultural issues, I think this is an area where teaching on felt needs with life application is needed more than ever for believers, too. But the miss is, we hear this, this teaching, and we don’t know what to do next as a result of it.
Yeah. I couldn’t agree with you more, Amy. I think that’s because of all the complex issues in our culture topical teaching is more important for believers than ever before. And part of that is because many times believers are just as confused, stressed and anxious about these cultural issues as the non-believers are. And part of that is because believers need help forming their worldview. I, I think the biggest reason why we need to lean into more topical teaching in this season is because believers need to learn how to have these difficult conversations within their homes, among their family, with friends. And they need to know how to do this in a way that demonstrates both truth and love. In other words, we need to help believers learn to love God, to love others within our current cultural context. And that’s why, I mean, we used to talk about topical teaching being primarily for the unbelievers. In today’s day and age, I think it’s more needed more than ever for the believers.
Yeah. I couldn’t agree more. So in order to be practical, here would be my challenge for any of you that are teaching on the weekend. I would say these are some real-life application questions here that you can review each week when you’re writing and delivering a message. The first question would be, did the message provide ways to apply God’s word to everyday life? Was I challenged to believe, think or do something differently as a result of what, you know, you’ve taught? Was it applicable to both Christians and first-time attenders? And lastly, was it memorable? Was, was that takeaway or that next step clear? If you just ask those four questions every week, have some accountability within your teaching process to ensure that no matter who hits that platform, we’re gonna provide answers to those four questions, I just think it’s gonna create a leap for people in understanding how to leave church differently than they came in.
That’s right. And this, Amy, is just a key area that we look at when we do our secret shopper experience. That’s a part of The Unstuck Process because it’s often a real good indicator of the health of the weekend service as a whole. And by the way, because we commonly run into some opportunities for improvement around life application with the teaching pastors, we want, we want the teaching pastors to hear advice and recommendations for improving in this area. And we kind of pull that out separately from our secret shopper experience so that we can speak directly to the pastor and not be talking about the teaching in front of the entire team because I don’t know that that’s helpful for anyone. But that does bring us to the last mistake that we wanted to talk about today. Do you wanna unpack that a bit?
Sure. I think the fifth mistake I see out there is that they’re not leveraging the weekend to preach the announcements related to the key next steps that Jesus followers need to take. And by that I mean, they’re giving announcements about groups, serving, giving, inviting, but they’re not preaching on them enough. And I got that phrase, Tony, preaching the announcements at a conference that TD Jakes did about 20 years ago. And I stole the phrase, and I used it in my leadership of the weekend because if you really want people to take those next steps so that they look more and more like Jesus, just giving announcements about them isn’t really gonna move the dial much. You’ve gotta preach on money and stewardship. You need to preach about biblical community. You’ve gotta preach on the body of Christ and so on. And sometimes, you know, Tony, when I say preach the announcements, sometimes, it’s a series on one of those topics. Sometimes, it’s a message within a series on that topic, and sometimes, it’s just part of a message. But, you know, like back to the purple cow concept, I think when you do preach on those critical next steps every Jesus follower needs to take, man, give your ministry leaders a heads up so they can do something remarkable to come alongside that message. You know, if it’s finances you’re preaching on, bring in Financial Peace University to help people take their next steps. If it’s on biblical community, launch a six-week kick-the-tires-of-a-small-group event. You get the point.
But ministry can come alongside to really make that above and beyond what it would’ve been if we would’ve just preached on it.
Amy, that’ll preach. I, I love that. Yeah. And as you’re saying that, I’m thinking this is absolutely critical for engaging or re-engaging people on the mission of the church as well.
Yeah, absolutely. I think, and I do think, Tony, most pastors do this at least annually. They’ve got some type of vision series to re-envision people where they’re going. But as we discussed in our webinar last week, most churches are in need of re-engaging people in their mission on this side of the pandemic. They’ve been focused on other things, and we kind of took our eye off the ball on that one. So as ministry leaders, you know, we’re in it all the time, right? But our people are attenders; they aren’t. And they need to be inspired and reminded of why the church exists and what bold moves your specific church is taking.
Well, that was fun, Amy. It’s nice to sit back a bit and actually listen during our podcast recordings, especially when you’re sharing your wisdom in this area. And I wanna say to the church leaders who are listening: if you’re not sure how to, how you measure up in these areas, including your worship service experiences, one of the best things you can do to reveal blind spots is to invite an outsider to experience your service for the first time. And through that, invite their candid, candid reactions, as well. And as we’ve mentioned, we offer a secret shopper experience as part of our Unstuck Process, where one of our ministry consultants will help you view your services through the eyes of an unchurched member of your community. And it often shocks the churches that we’re serving how helpful that small step in our process really is. If you wanna learn more about what the process looks like, you can learn more at theunstuckgroup.com or start a conversation at theunstuckgroup.com/start.
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