By Eddie Pipkin

Last week I was introduced to the “Wilhelm scream.”  I consider myself a pretty well-informed cultural geek, especially as concerns all things Star Wars, but this sound effect which has been a decades long inside joke among sound editors had completely escaped my attention.  Apparently, all of us have been hearing a version of this scream as part of a treasured movie making tradition, and it was in the news recently only because the directors of the most recent Star Wars edition decided (controversially!) to let the custom die.

I’ll let an article from Gizmodo explain more fully:

Since 1977, every film in the main Star Wars franchise (aside from the spinoff Rogue One), has weaved in the aural Easter egg that is the Wilhelm scream, the wailing shriek of a soundbite named after the moment Private Wilhelm catches an arrow to the leg in the 1953 Western The Charge at Feather River. Whether it’s accompanying careening Stormtroopers or Naboo palace guards taking a hit, the scream has cropped up in every chapter of the Skywalker saga… that is, until The Last Jedi came along.

It turns out we have been experiencing the Wilhelm scream in literally hundreds of movies and TV shows for generations (here’s the explanatory article from Wikipedia, and here’s an entertaining compilation video of its many and varied uses).  This sound effect has been subtly woven into the fabric of our entertainment lives, even though most of us (except for the hardest core geeks) never even realized it was there!

That got me to thinking about the best strategies for communicating ministry vision.

When we have a clearly articulated vision or ministry goal in mind, we could take a lesson from those cheeky Hollywood sound editors to subtly mix in a mention of that vision or goal at every available opportunity.  If for instance, we are working to make congregational hospitality a priority, we should look for every opportunity to inject a hospitality lesson into the normal flow or worship and congregational communications.

Our normal routine—if, for instance, we had identified invigorated hospitality as a focus—would be to identify two to three minutes during announcements to talk about hospitality, and that would be it—but what if we also worked in repeated, creative references to hospitality in other segments of the worship service:

  • Mentions of hospitality during the sermon, in which we note the way the Scripture passage for the day illustrates hospitality or the way the day’s focus on grace can be lived out in expressions of hospitality. I’m not referring here to a sermon series focus on hospitality (although there’s certainly nothing wrong with that).  I’m referring to the way a hospitality reference can be integrated into a sermon on a completely different topic (forgiveness, integrity, compassion, God’s covenant with us, etc.).
  • Hospitality mentions during the prayer time, either expressions of gratitude for the ways we have experienced hospitality or exhortations for the wisdom and strength to be agents of hospitality.
  • A focus on hospitality during worship transitions: we can use transitions to the offering or to communion or to a time of congregational greeting or “passing the peace” as a focus on hospitality.
  • Opportunities for people to actually practice hospitality with each other and with visitors during the worship service. Give people unexpected moments (beyond the congregational greeting time mentioned above) to engage one another.  Imagine a prayer time in which, before the pastoral or congregational prayer, you brought things to a full stop so that people in the pews could turn and ask their neighbors for a prayer need and then had a time of silence for the people to lift one another’s needs to the Lord.
  • Give shout-outs, stories, quotes, and narrative examples of the hospitality theme in your weekly newsletter—maybe even a competition among ministry areas for showing how they are bringing hospitality to life—and in your social media feeds.
  • Use signage, slogans, PowerPoint slides and other visual means to support your theme. Get cute.  Get catchy.  Get corny.  Get it stuck in people’s heads.
  • Be sure the leadership of your individual ministry areas is clear about your vision / goals and is using their team meetings to emphasize these concepts. It should be a topic of discussion whenever leaders get together, and you can often frame discussions through a lens of the featured concept—okay, we are hosting this Easter week event; how will hospitality be a big part of what we do?

I used hospitality as an example, but you can see the ways that this concept could work for whatever your leadership has decided to focus on as an emphasis for your local ministry.  The key is to take advantage of organic opportunities to work these reinforcements into the natural mix.  That way it’s not just an occasional “lesson” you drag out, but it instead becomes part of the fabric of habits and attitudes that define the culture of your ministry participants.  It’s analogous to the way in which we work a little healthy movement into the routine of our day in a bid for enhanced overall physical fitness.

I began this discussion with the phrase “clearly articulated vision or goal,” and it is an important caveat for the Wilhelm scream strategy that we have a clear understanding of what our vision and our goals are.  And I am a very big fan of the good that comes from having clearly defined goals for the year (or for smaller, clearly defined increments of time).

For instance, imagine if you identified a congregational goal for the year of an emphasis on generosity or an emphasis on service.  This doesn’t mean you would only speak on the selected topic for those 52 weeks, but it does mean that in addition to that topic being stressed through special series, seminars, and events, it would be used as a lens to explore and energize all existing events, activities, and ministry, even the liturgical calendar.  This is a powerful strategy for promoting creativity and fresh ideas.  It helps leaders and ministry participants stay focused and think in new ways.  It leads to successful options for marketing, putting a new spin on familiar programs, and helping to organize our long-range planning.

What have been your own experiences with the subtle working-in of goals and stated visions for the people you lead?  Have you seen this done well?  Have you seen it done with a heavy-handedness that defeated the purpose?  Have you ever realized later that you have experienced a Wilhelm scream moment when you had a vision or goal reinforced that you didn’t even realize was happening until you reflected on it later?  Share your experiences and stories with us here.