by Eddie Pipkin

Image by Julien Tromeur from Pixabay

I was at the Friday night NASCAR truck race at Daytona International Speedway last weekend – always an evening of high-speed thrills and great people watching – but one of my favorite parts of the evening was watching the amateur “hype man” in the stands.  All night long he kept the crowd motivated, lifting everybody’s spirits with his antics, cheers, and calls for folks to get on their feet.  There were a lot of cautions for crashes during the race, and too many of those interruptions can sap a fan’s enthusiasm, but the hype man in our section of the bleachers never let the energy drag.  It got me thinking how every church, large or small, can benefit from a good hype artist.

I wrote hype artist in the closing sentence of that last paragraph (not hype man), because there is certainly nothing to preclude women from fulfilling this role.  Basically, the need is for someone with personality, flair, and an engaging public persona to reinforce the message and get people excited.

Here’s Wikipedia’s definition of hype man, in case you are unfamiliar with the concept:

A hype man, typically in hip hop music, is a backing vocalist who supports the primary performer with exclamations, interjections, or ad-libs in an attempt to increase an audience’s excitement or engagement.

Often the hype man will use call-and-response chants, in order to excite the crowd. For example, they will exhort the crowd to “Throw your hands in the air” and “Everybody say ho!”, phrases coined by MC Cowboy.

The hype man’s interjections are also planned to give the MC an opportunity to breathe, and give the illusion of an unbroken flow.  Music writer Mickey Hess expands the term as follows: “a hype man is a figure who plays a central but supporting role within a group, making his own interventions, generally aimed at hyping up the crowd while also drawing attention to the words of the MC.”

Here’s a fun video example on TikTok of the disciples with a hype man (he’s on the right side of the screen in the video).  His job is to keep the flow going and add energy to the proceedings.

In my example from Friday night at Daytona, our hype man in the stands would turn and face the crowd at pivotal moments and actively urge everyone to get to their feet and cheer – which they did, again and again, led by his unbridled enthusiasm.  I talked to this guy after the race was over, and he said, “I don’t make a lot of money, so I save up for this weekend all year long, and I just want to get the most out of it I possibly can – and I want everyone else to get the most out of it too.”

Getting the most out of “it,” be it a local church program, event, or service opportunity sounds like a pretty good motivation for having someone give each and every one of those things an extra promotional push.  I’m certainly not the first person to latch on to the idea using a hype man or hype woman as ministry motivators – you can get a t-shirt here.

The point is that for many local churches our presentation of opportunities to engage and get involved continues to be pretty terrible.

They’re flat, uninspiring, repetitious, unimaginative, badly scripted blurbs, often delivered with an air of embarrassment, as in “Sorry we’re wasting your time making you listen to this.  We know it’s boring, too, and that you’re probably not interested.”  We’re talking about the dreaded ANNOUCEMENTS worship slot here.  And, by the way, if you take a badly scripted blurb in all its flat, uninspiring, repetitious, unimaginative glory and convert it to a digital version for your social media feed, repeating those words on a digital platform does not suddenly make them COOL.

There are cool people in your midst, however.  And they would love to do some hype work for you, given the opportunity.  There are men and women with larger-than-life personalities, often popular people who are frequently described by others as “fun,” people who are genuinely excited about the work you are doing and the vision you are leading, and these are the people who should be routinely providing the hype.

It is one of the all-time weirdest things of church-y weird things that pastors who are not great at doing enthusiastic expressions of ministry opportunities (or even getting the details right!) and who often begrudge this necessary work as beneath their core calling . . . insist on being the ones to do those boring announcements!

One of the things that stood out to me in the Wikipedia hype man definition was this phrase: “The hype man’s interjections are also planned to give the MC an opportunity to breathe.”  Let pastors do the praying and preaching and pontificating, and let the hype folks bring the energy around ministry opportunities.

  • Possibilities for Finding Your Hype Artist. Some local churches are blessed by obvious options for this role.  Key staff members or volunteer leaders are gifted at this kind of enthusiastic emcee-type important work.  Sometimes even the designated worship leader is great at this.  Sometimes it’s the youth leader.  (Conversely, it’s sometimes assumed that either of those roles is also good as the hype artist, but even though they have many useful gifts, this may not be one of them.  Don’t fall into the trap of stereotypes and assumptions.)  Identify who is best at this work, and encourage them to own this identity.
  • Kids can do it, too. And youth.  And older folks!  Really, age is not a factor, although you may want to have “special guest” hype artists who supplement the person who regularly fills this role.
  • Lay leader. For those of you who utilize a lay leader in your leadership structure, this can be one of the chief factors determining who that person will be.  It’s arguably one of the most important roles in the job description.  As noted in the first bullet point, though, if you select a lay leader based on their strategic planning skills, don’t force them into the hype role if they are not also gifted in that area.
  • Online Presence. The hype artist does not necessarily design your online presence – hopefully you have specially gifted people for that work who are creative and proficient in the digital space – but they should be the chief cheerleader and principal responder in that space.  They should actively hype the conversation.
  • For announcements. Just to be totally obvious, a hype person should be leading whatever form your announcements take at worship and other communal gatherings.  This is the most important and impactful use of this role.  It can translate to video and an online presence, but the in-person experience will have the most dramatic effect.

Delightful results can happen when the hype artist / pitch person takes on a stylized, regular performance that comes to be identified with the promotion of your vision and your specific ministry opportunities.  This person (or this team of people) performs a ‘character’ who makes frequent appearances, and done thoughtfully and well, this character becomes a beloved part of your community.  People look forward to seeing him/her.  That goodwill and excitement leads to congregational engagement.  Even if people would not be automatically be drawn to the involvement pitch, they are more willing to listen to the hype artist’s presentation of it.  They are more open to possibilities.

Don’t feel threatened by the hype artist.  That’s silly!

Sometimes pastors and other leaders have a defensive reaction to the popularity of such pitch people and adorable characters because they feel as though their leadership role is being usurped.  Stay humble – celebrate the employment of the right gifts for the right moment.  It’s a team effort.  Keep the goal in mind (getting people excited and engaged).

By the way, none of this advice is intended to supplant the basics of strong communication: Be clear; Be detailed; Indicate why participation matters (what beneficial impact it will have); and Repeat the message in multiple formats in multiple forums.  If you don’t do those things, the hype will be stymied.

Does your ministry have a go-to hype artist?  Are you trying to fill that role yourself and finding yourself frustrated in your inability to bring the appropriate energy and enthusiasm?  Is it time to turn the hype artist in your midst loose to do their thing, untethered and unlimited?  Gift it a go and let us know how it goes!  “Put your hands in the air, and go to comments and share!  Hey, ho!”