By Eddie Pipkin
February 25, 2016
If you have been following the presidential election circus (and it’s kind of impossible to avoid, isn’t it?), then you may have seen an incident with Jeb Bush that went viral a couple of weeks ago. In the video clip, former governor Bush was speaking to a room full of potential voters and covering an in-depth policy topic, and as he finished his point, an awkward pause followed, so he added, “Please clap.”
Ridicule ensued. The press and the Twitterverse had a blast making fun of Bush for having to beg people to express enthusiasm for his speech. But in the guy’s defense, it’s hard sometimes for a crowd to pick up on cues and know how to respond. This is actually a familiar experience for worship leaders. Sometimes it would be very useful for us to be able to put up a slide on the screen that says, “Please clap.” Or please stand. Or please assume an attitude of reflective prayer.
We do a lot of things in worship, liturgically and out of habit, that can be confusing for people who aren’t with us every single week. How to use a hymnal (or for those accustomed to the mechanics of a hymnal, how to interact with a video screen). How to sing along successfully. How to find a scripture passage. How to participate meaningfully in a congregational response. How to pass the offering plate. How to queue up for communion. If someone attending our worship service is disoriented by the correct manners of a given process, he or she is more likely distracted from the deep experience of worship, which is meant to be about letting go of the trivial logistics of daily life and entering the sacred space of fully engaging with the presence of the Holy Spirit. We don’t want worship participants to feel uncomfortable. We don’t want them to feel like they stand out or aren’t “getting it right.”
And this doesn’t just apply to worship. Our speech, our newsletters, and our web sites are filled with insider language and assumptions that people understand our churchy terminology. Here’s a great parody video from Igniter Media celebrating a Christianese Speaking Person in their Real Christian of Genius series. We fail seekers and visitors and newbies in the faith when we engage in practices that make them feel like they aren’t “part of the club.”
That’s why it is very important to regularly communicate why and how we do what we do. We should make a habit of putting theological terms in easy-to-grasp language. We can offer easily-accessible reference tools that give people a comfortable option for finding answers when they are confused or unsure. (This is even a good practice for our regulars, who sometimes are uncomfortable indicating they have a gap in knowledge since it appears everyone else knows what is going on—or sometimes even regular attending folk THINK they know what something means, but in reality they don’t).
So, the three forums for keeping them in the loop and deepening their faith by helping them understand and articulate our ‘whys’ and ‘hows’ are in public worship, in small group settings, and in published communication. Here are some ideas for how to keep everybody on the same page:
• Make it a habit to explain why you do what you do in worship. Give a little history. Explain why it matters to our faith. Even brief occasional reminders are useful. For instance, right now it’s the Season of Lent, which is traditionally associated with Prayers of Confession. It’s good to remind people of the purpose and power of such prayers.
• Slightly tweak the way you use the liturgy or prayer as one way to get people to think more deeply about how we routinely use liturgy and prayer. By interacting from a slightly different angle, they may understand it in a way they haven’t before.
• Have a guide, brochure, or web page (or links to publicly accessed material produced by others) which people can turn to when they have questions. You may develop something in-house (“This is What We Believe” or “This Is How We Worship”) or you may use some great existing resources like the United Methodist “Church Knows Church” video series—highly entertaining and highly educational.
• Designate a person or email address for people to reach out to if they have questions, and publicly promote it/them. Routinely reinforce that it’s good and healthy to ask questions and encourage people to do it. Then periodically address the most often asked of those questions.
• Be proactive about routinely training small group leaders to be sure they are on the same page with your church’s leadership and vision. At these sessions, which can serve multiple purposes as refresher courses, pep rallies, and debriefings, you can reinforce this concept of making the church’s terminology and practices transparent to all.
• Make it a point to have a clearly designated path of discipleship. All faith bodies should have a clearly navigable path for new members of the community to engage more deeply (membership classes, mentors, relationship partners, info sessions, progressive discipleship classes, etc.). There are many creative options, and you want to find what is the best fit for you and your congregation. BUT the key is that people should not be wandering around cluelessly in the wilderness. There should be a clear path and clear guides (people guides and written guides) along the way.
Attention to why we say the words we say and do the things we do can have many positive side effects. It makes us all a little more mindful, even if we are long-term disciples. It helps us refine strategies that are perhaps not working as effectively as we thought they were. And it makes worship and ministry engagement a deeper and more comfortable experience for everyone. What are some of your success stories connected to this topic (or some of your comic or tragic fails)? Share in the comments section.