Attendance Naturally Declines When Services Are Predictable and Not Compelling
This is our last episode for 2018! In case you’re new to The Unstuck Church Podcast, we first launched in September 2016, but this was the first full year that we released a new episode every single week. We had more than 150,000 downloads this year, and you made that happen!
To wrap up the year, we wanted to take a look back at the conversations that seemed to have the biggest connection—the topics pastors kept bringing up when we talked with them, and that kept getting downloads and shares on social media.
In short, we wanted to make sure one of the most important conversations we had this year got a second chance.
So, today we’re revisiting the conversation from our most downloaded episode of 2018. It happened a while ago (the original was Episode 28). You may have missed it the first time around. But even if you didn’t, we’d encourage you to listen one more time.
This conversation has the potential to help you make some effective shifts to how you’re doing weekend services.
In this conversation, I shared with Amy the three most common issues our team has collectively seen plaguing weekend church services—the things most pastors don’t see that keep the overall experience from giving people a compelling reason to show up and invite friends.
You’ll get a fresh perspective on the services you put so much effort into providing. All of the issues we share are fixable once you see them—but you have to see them first.The common issues that make weekend church services mediocre are surprisingly fixable once you see them—but you have to see them first. Click To Tweet
In this conversation, we discussed:
- Why mediocre services are a bigger problem than most of us want to admit (or address)
- “The 75% Rule” : What it is, why it may make some people uncomfortable (even you), but why it could radically change how effective you are at connecting with the people you’re trying to reach
- A few ways to evaluate who should be on the platform during your weekend services
- What makes a service “compelling,” how you could look at it differently and how to have a conversation about the purpose of the weekend
- The biggest issue we regularly see with the sermon/message, that is actually very simple to improve, but that few pastors seem to recognize is an issue
Join the Conversation
We’ll be talking about this more on Facebook and Twitter this week. Listen to the episode and then join in. Some things we are hoping to discuss:
- What allows us to let mediocre weekend experiences continue on and on for years without it ever feeling urgent enough to address?
- How do you break out of ruts and breathe new life into your weekend services?
- What do you think about “the 75% rule”? Have you given it a try?
- What process do you use to improve the “memorability and applicability” of your messages?
- What churches do you know who consistently deliver a compelling weekend experience? How do they do it?
More Resources on This Topic
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Sean: 00:42 Welcome to The Unstuck Church Podcast. My name is Sean Bublitz, filling in on hosting duties, and this week we’re revisiting our most downloaded conversation of 2018. In this episode, Tony and Amy explore practical ways to make weekend services more compelling. If you missed this conversation the first time around or could just use a refresher on the topic. We hope this quick listen helps your church get and stay unstuck. Here are Tony and Amy.
Amy: 01:04 Today. We’re talking about the weekend service and common issues that tend to plague churches with their weekend services. So Tony, I know you’ve got a couple topics right off the bat that have been on your mind lately. Why don’t you just jump in with those?
Tony: 01:17 Yeah, so I want to just remind everybody before I dive into this. First of all, we’re going to have pastors listening and they’re going to be thinking, wait a second, Tony was in my service. He’s talking about my church, but you have to remember that The Unstuck Group… I think in the last year now have been in a hundred different churches and so we’re experiencing services, weekend services in many different types of churches and many different locations, many different sizes of church. But what we’re going to share today, Amy, I think really work. These are some common trends or challenges that we’re seeing as we experienced worship services in those 100 churches or more. For you that are listening that are friends of mine, don’t worry, I’m not picking on. We’re actually talking about the combined experience of everybody on our team, so the first thing you may think has nothing to do with the service and yet actually probably has everything to do with the experience that people are engaging and that has to do with who is on the platform and one of one of the common issues that we’re seeing with weekend services is that the people on the platform don’t reflect the people that the church has said they’re trying to reach.
Tony: 02:44 And so Amy, you know that we, when we engage in a planning conversation with a church about where the church is going, where they believe God’s taking the church in the future. One of the core conversations that we have has to do with who are you trying to reach outside the church and commonly someone that’s also outside the faith. And we get a description of who that person, who that church is trying to reach and then we experienced their weekend service and their platform looks nothing like it. And so part of what is generating some thought around this for me is recently I read a book, it’s called For A New Generation, about a church in the Pittsburgh area and that church, one of the kind of, they call it a rule, they call it the 75 percent rule and what this rule is all about is making sure that 75 percent of the people on the platform reflect the people that they’re trying to reach as a church.
Tony: 03:49 Now, that of course is going to encourage churches hopefully to look at several factors commonly age. I think that’s one key thing that churches need to consider. But then also if you as a church are trying to reach a diverse community than you need to on your platform, have a diversity reflected on your platform as well. So does this mean everybody on the platform has to look like the person we’re trying to reach? No. In fact, senior pastors I’ve heard asked me several times, Tony, I’m actually getting older now than the person that we’re trying to reach as a church. Is that an issue? And I don’t think it is, unless everybody on the platform is the age and the senior pastor, then it’s a problem. And so whether it’s the 75 percent rule or not, I do think you need to get more intentional about making sure your platform reflects who you’re trying to reach as a church. Amy, I know you get to also visit a number of churches and experience their services. Anything you would add on this topic?
Amy: 05:01 Yeah. And also Tony, you know this, but this is what I lead at my church for 12 years, just who is on the platform. And there’s a couple of things. So I liked what you said just about that 75 percent rule for who they’re trying to reach. But also I see a lot of churches, they just don’t have gifted people on the platform. So if we just take the music time for a minute, you know, obviously you need people with some talent, right? Who can play. But beyond there, there’s this intangible ability to be able to actually lead people in worship. You need to be able to, you know, in a sense, capture their attention so that they can kind of, you can build some trust with them, but then you have to have this gift to get out of the way and to be able to point people to God during this worship experience.
Amy: 05:43 And so I see when we talk about age, I’ve seen 50 year olds who do that very well. They can get out of the way and they’ve got amazing talent and they’re very relevant in how they’re leading. I’ve seen 30 year olds who can be just the opposite of that, but when we put people on the platform who are missing in one of those areas, whether its relevance or talent or that ability to lead worship, what happens is that you end up spectating while you’re at the service, you kind of get caught by, I don’t know if its quirkiness or their discomfort on the platform or maybe they actually love being on the platform too much, if you know what I mean. You can just kind of tell when that’s kind of the motivation. So moving through those transitions to kind of guard your platform, it can be some of the hardest conversations, but for church leaders, it’s one of the most important things. Church leaders just have to guard who is going to be on the platform.
Tony: 06:35 That’s right. Yeah. By the way, Amy, you probably, I think you’re aware of this, but I used to actually be on the platform in my churches as a piano keyboard player and I would just say as somebody, I have some talent but I don’t have a lot of talent around that and that playing the piano. I liked it and appreciated it when the person over the worship experience at our church came to me and said, “Tony, you’ve offered your gift through the years. You actually play well. But for where we’re going, you have so many other gifts in so many other areas. This is probably not the best investment of their time.” They said it in a much nicer way than that. But I actually appreciated hearing that from the folks that were leading me and just encouraging me to use the gifts God has given me, another areas which we’re having a much higher impact.
Tony: 07:39 And so I think it goes back to what’s the primary reason that we do church? Is it for the people that are already connected to the faith and already believe in Jesus and taken steps in their faith journey or is it because we have a mission to share the good news of Jesus Christ and we’re called to make disciples and baptize people and teach them and help them get on mission as well. So if you’re trying to reach people outside the faith and outside the church, it really does change the focus then of who do we invite to be on the platform.
Amy: 08:12 Yeah. Really well said. Alright, what else? Tony, what else have you been thinking?
Tony: 08:16 So second area that I am finding and conversations within our team and then my own experience, that tends to be a common issue around the weekend services has to do with the experience itself. In many times it’s just not compelling. It doesn’t provoke people to come back for another service. It’s not compelling enough that people not only want to be there themselves, but they want to invite their friends to come as well. And you and I have had a lot of conversations. In fact, I think we did a previous podcast on this really dealing with the predictability that’s in churches right now and I just want to encourage. This is probably a challenge for churches to really go back and look at their purpose again for the weekend. What? What is the purpose? What are the next steps you want people to take?
Tony: 09:14 And then in the same same conversation, maybe go back to square one and revisit how. How can we create a compelling experience that encourages the next steps we want people to take. And my hope in that is that some of the predictability to will begin to fade away. That we will reengage a creative process to support everything that’s happening in the service and will make it easier for people to want to be a part of the worship experience. And then also want to invite their friends, amy, again, it’s common knowledge that the number one way, number one reason why people show up to church for the very first time is because a friend invites them and those invites will never happen if the people that are already connected to our church don’t find value, don’t enjoy and engage in the experience if the experience of the worship isn’t compelling and that goes to everything in that worship experience from what gets communicated from the platform before and after worship and message the the worship music video that sews the teaching that happens. I’m talking about the whole part of the worship experience. It has to be compelling and again, you’ve led in this area and a church for many, many years and so you can probably as an artist and a worship leader, give some specifics here that I’m not able to offer. All I know is when I walk into a service, it doesn’t compel me. So how can you coach up churches in this area so that people want to be there and they want to invite their friends?
Amy: 11:05 Well, first I just have to acknowledge to create a very compelling weekend experience, you have to make it a priority and you have to resource it. And this is where Tony is. We talk about all the time churches have to pick what they’re going to put their energy into and of course the more complex we get, the more that energy gets spread out. But to have reliably what I would call a common experience every weekend. You’ve got to give time and resource to it because it’s always Sunday as every pastor knows. So one of the great books I read on this, which is actually just a secular book, it’s called The Purple Cow. It just goes back to how remarkable things have to be to really be captivating. And they talked about sneezers that when something’s really a purple cow or remarkable, people sneeze about it and that’s what you’re talking about with the inviting.
Amy: 11:58 So I would say step one is you’ve got to be predictable with your quality. You can’t be great one weekend and then lousy for three. And then great for one because people won’t invite them, so you need systems and processes that create a great experience every week. And if I had to start somewhere to say that the experience is compelling, I would probably start with just message application and maybe I should say relevant application, meaning that when people finish that message, 30, 35 minutes that they have heard from God in a remarkable way and know how to apply that to their life because that’s typically the end of the service and if that isn’t compelling, that’s what they’re going to remember and they’re not going to come back or people aren’t going to invite to that. So that’s actually where I would start and put energy and creative energy and how can we surprise people. And if you can’t do it every week initially to do something above and beyond, at least try to do something above and beyond every four weeks. Just start somewhere to build those creative muscles.
Tony: 13:02 Yeah, that’s. That’s very good. But you actually are bleeding into what my third a common issue was and that actually has to do with the message itself. And so again, I sure hope my, my close friends aren’t thinking, Tony, do you didn’t like my message and you didn’t say anything. Again, this is the combination of the experience of everybody on the onset group team, but what we’re finding is that in almost every case, it’s not that it’s not biblical teaching, it’s not that it’s not solid teaching. The core issue is that it’s not engaging the audience, the people that you’re teaching to and leading to a next step of life application. In other words, what we’re seeing is the teaching, the knowledge doesn’t necessarily move the church forward and move the person that’s attending the service. What moves them forward is the combination of great biblical truth, great teaching, giving, sharing that knowledge, that wisdom coupled with the encouragement to take a specific next step and making sure that what you’re teaching actually speaks to the life of the person that’s listening so they can recognize, here’s a truth from scripture that I’m hearing now, how do I take this truth and live it out in my life?
Tony: 14:26 What’s that next step that I can take to make sure I’m leveraging the truth and I’m actually doing what scripture says. I’m not just hearing scripture, I’m actually doing it as well. So it’s making sure that the message actually engages the audience, the people that you’re communicating with, and it leads to life application. So again, amy, you, you hear lots of messages. What encouragement would you give to teaching pastors as it relates to this specific issue that we see?
Amy: 15:00 Yeah, I think maybe one thing that I would add is when you’re kind of testing that application piece is to ask yourself, is this applicable to both Christians and first time attenders because God’s word I think is applicable to attenders and Christians alike. And then is there any way that you can make it memorable? Some way that you open up their hearts for the Holy Spirit to bring a thought back. And of course that comes through amazing stories and illustrations from real life that often opens it up. But if you can make it applicable to both and make it memorable then people I think have even more of a chance to take a next step out of that experience.
Tony: 15:40 Yeah, it sure does. And Yeah, don’t, don’t forget the power of story. In fact, I’ve really been encouraging some of the teaching pastors that I’ve connected with recently to look for opportunities that they can either included live in the service itself or prerecord a conversation with somebody that has gone through the journey and taken the step that you’re asking people to take so that they can get a firsthand experience of how this truth has applied to somebody’s life, or to hear from somebody actually outside the faith. So if you’re going to be talking on a topic to engage a conversation prerecord or somehow include in your service so people can understand, those of us that have not yet committed are alive. The Jesus haven’t begun this faith journey. This is their perspective. This is the filter through which they look at this truth that we’re going to unpack today. And I think that will help your audience, the people you’re trying to communicate with, connect with why that truth is so necessary to understand. But then more importantly, like I said, what we’re looking for is how can we encourage people to take that truth and actually apply it to their daily life?
Amy: 17:04 Yeah, that’s really good. All right, well I think what we covered was number one, does your platform reflect the people that you’re trying to reach? A. Is the experience overall compelling? By the way, it’s great to have fresh eyes, someone else to come take a look at your weekend service because sometimes we can’t see what we’ve gotten kind of habituated to, but is it compelling? And I would. I would look at every area of your service. And lastly, does the message really engage the audience and lead to life?
Sean: 17:33 Well, thank you for joining us today. If this conversation or any of our podcasts have helped you, we’d love it if you’d consider leaving us a review on itunes so that’ll help more leaders find these conversations. Next week we’re going to take a break from the podcast for the holidays, but look for a brand new episode on the first of 2019, and as always, if you’d like to find out more about how the unstuck group helps churches get unstuck, visit us theunstuckgroup.com.