by Eddie Pipkin

Image by SplitShire from Pixabay

I was at a wedding with chosen family this past weekend in Atlanta, and what a joyous time it was.  The venue was beautiful, as were the bride and her mom, our dear friend from way back.  The food was delicious, the ceremony heartfelt.  The live band at the reception rocked the room and had everybody dancing.  In retrospect, a great wedding shares characteristics with great Sunday morning worship.  All the proper pieces must be in place: in addition to a great pastor preaching a great Gospel, they include a warm and welcoming venue, outstanding hospitality, and engaging music.  But those are the basics.  It’s the extra touches that make a gathering special.  At weddings and on Sundays, too.

People are primed to have a good time and enjoy themselves when they go to the trouble to show up for a wedding.  They are invested in the happiness of the couple and the jubilant vibes of the event.

Likewise, most everybody who shows up for worship at your church on Sunday is hoping to feel inspired, engaged, and invigorated by what happens while they’re there.  (We’ll acknowledge that there is a distinct minority who have been dragged along to placate their significant others or have ‘guilted’ themselves into attending – but even in those cases, people are more than willing to be pleasantly surprised by the experience).

If you’ve been following along in this blog for years, you’ll know the premium we place on getting all the essentials right.  Don’t distract people with bad signage and cold coffee.  Don’t embarrass them with directions that are hard to follow.  Don’t bore them with a lifeless litany of announcements.  Etc.

Do feature warm and friendly hospitality (welcoming but not pushy) and a message that meets them where they are, expressed creatively and with confidence. Give them a clear, practical take-away from the teaching and a direct way to respond.  Bless them with music that invites them to participate joyfully and prayer and litanies that meet them where they are.  Make sure the technical support is consistent and excellent.  Put forth leaders who are allowed to let their distinctive personalities shine, who represent a cross-section of all the people who make up your congregation.

That – to repeat myself – is the list of BASIC requirements.  All thriving congregations are doing these things well.  Beyond the foundation of those essentials, It’s the ways in which they let their unique identities shine, the “community flavor,” that differentiates them from each other which helps people find a home that’s right for them.

And that’s where those extra elements of fun and clever engagement come in, the proverbial icing on the cake.

At the wedding I referenced, we experienced several of those, distinct and perfect in capturing the personality of the couple who were getting hitched.  The post-service ‘cocktail hour’ featured beers from breweries that had been dating destinations for the young couple.  At our seats for the reception, we each found handwritten notes from the bride and groom with personal message about the impact we have had on their lives.  There were multiple opportunities to participate in documenting the special occasion, including an app that had been sent to everyone for posting reception pictures which could be enhanced by fun filters.  There was a throwback, old-timey rotary phone on a table where you could leave an audio message of good wishes – I hadn’t seen that one before.  The live band rocked multiple tunes that had special significance for the friend groups in attendance (including – and I was told the band had to learn this song because it was not part of their normal repertoire – the song which is the anthem for our 4-decade-strong friend group, Garth Brooks’ anthem, “Friends in Low Places”).

The touches were distinctive, playful, thoughtful, captured the essence of who these wonderful young folk are, and each one invited us all to jump in with enthusiasm and actively join them on their journey.

Do you think people attending one of your regular weekend worship services would feel the same way?

There are direct parallels to the specific touches I noted at the wedding reception:

  • Personally written cards – either as something that people receive from leaders and volunteers or as something that people have a chance to write in response to a message they’ve heard. The whole idea of having a chance to offer a prompted response (written down or spoken and recorded or even by video) is powerful, and churches use it far too rarely.  Whether posted to a bulletin board that people walk by or posted on social media, it’s an excellent way to share and build exciting momentum.
  • Special songs that everyone can sing along to. It’s great if your congregation has some praise song, some hymn or chorus, that is “your thing.”  In times of joyous celebration and in times of sorrow and grief, people can band together to sing it as part of your community identity.
  • Special food can work the same way. I had a thought as I was writing this that wouldn’t it be cool at the hospitality snack table if instead of just the same old Costco cookie tray, your snack table featured favorite recipes from families in you congregation, with a little placard explaining the story behind each.  Or snacks and goodies unique to your local community.  Whole meals can (and have) been built around such concepts, but why limit them to infrequent special occasions?

None of this happens by accident.

It’s why I’m such a big advocate of having a C.F.O.  (Chief Fun Officer).  Or a D.o.C. (Director of Creativity).  You might get inspired by a blog like this and do a one-off version of some of these ideas, but they take time to plan and effort to execute and often they fizzle out after a couple of attempts.  The only way to have a sustained version of these extra playful touches is to build a culture that looks for ways to implement them, and the only way to do that is to have a person whose dedicated mission is focusing on these kinds of creative ideas.  It can’t be just one more additional job duty piled onto your already hyperextended staff people.  It has to be someone who is all-in and energized by the concept.

What special touches does your congregation add to help people engage in playful ways that reinforce your identity as a faith family?  Do you have a process by which you regularly encourage leaders to think of these kinds of sources of engagement?  Do you think it’s too much work?  Too silly?  Too distracting?  Or do you embrace it as a strategy for helping people feel special and extra connected?  Be honest in those comments below!