Designing A Seeker Sensitive Service
1 Corinthians 14:23) [NRSV] If, therefore, the whole church comes together and all speak in tongues, and outsiders or unbelievers enter, will they not say that you are out of your mind?
Colossians 4:5) [NIV] Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity.
Most churches rarely attract unbelievers to their services because members are uncomfortable bringing them to church.
Why is this? There are 3 reasons:
- The target of the messages is primarily the Christians.
- The services are not designed for unbelievers.
- Members may be embarrassed by the quality of the services.
Consider why members don’t invite their unsaved friends:
- The messages are for the Christian.
- The songs are for the Christian.
- The prayers are prayed in terms the Christian understands.
- Even the announcements are for the Christian.
In order to grow our church we must get more people to visit us. No one becomes a church member without first being a visitor. A crowd is not a church, but to grow a bigger church we must first attract a crowd.
What is the most natural way to increase the number of visitors to your church? The answer is to create a service that is intentionally designed for your members to bring their friends to. We must make the service so attractive, appealing, and relevant to the unchurched that our members are eager to share it with their non-going church friends.
Plan the Service With Your Target In Mind:
At Rick’s church their target is Saddleback Sam, and his wife Samantha. We have to discover who our target is, and when we do we’ll call the couple “Walk of Grace Wally, and his wife Wilma” or, “Walk of Grace Gene, and his wife Gena.” if you have a thought where the names begin with either “W” or “G” let me know.
Most evangelical services conclude with an altar call. The problem is that the first 58 minutes of the service was aimed at the believer, and the final 2 at the unbeliever. The more logical approach would be to plan the entire service for the unbeliever.
Make It As Easy As Possible To Attend:
We Americans are conditioned to expect things to be convenient. Our goal should be to remove as many barriers as possible so that the unchurched will be more likely to attend.
1. Offer multiple service times. This gives people more than one opportunity to attend. Saddleback has 4 identical weekend services for the unchurched: Saturday at 6 PM and Sunday morning at 8 AM, 9:30 AM, and 11:15 AM.
2. Offer surplus parking. If we want people to come to church we have to supply them with a place to park their cars.
3. Offer children’s Sunday school simultaneously with the service. The unchurched don’t want to deal with restless children, either theirs or someone else’s.
4. Put a map to your church on all advertising. It can be frustrating trying to find a place without a map. I grant you that 803 Ave. F ought to be easy to find, but a map never hurts.
Improve the Pace and Flow of the Service:
TV has permanently shortened the attention span of Americans. In one timeout during Monday night football you’ll see a replay, 3 commercials, and a news brief. They don’t want us to get bored. MTV might show us a 3-minute music video with thousands of images.
In contrast, most church services move at a snail’s pace. When Angie finishes the time of worship she leaves the platform to go to her seat. When I notice that, I finally get up to go to the pulpit. Believers are used to the pace, but unbelievers aren’t. As soon as one element ends, another should begin.
Saddleback regularly times each element of their seeker services: the prayers, the songs, the announcements, the message, the closing, and the transitions in between each of them. Then they ask themselves, “What took too much time and what needed more time?” Their services normally last about 70 minutes.
They encourage us to keep our prayers short in seeker services. The unchurched can’t handle long prayers; their minds wander or they fall asleep. In addition to speeding up our service, we need to work on its flow. Rick believes the difference between an average service and an outstanding one is the flow.
Saddleback uses the acronym IMPACT to remind them of the flow they desire to create with their music.
I – Inspire
M – Movement
Their first song is picked to inspire movement in order to wake everyone up.
P – Praise
They then move to joyful praise songs about God.
A – Adoration
Then they move to a more meditative, intimate song to God. The pace is slowed here.
C – Commitment
The next song gives people to affirm, or reaffirm a commitment to God. It’s usually a first person singular song like “I Want to Be More Like You.”
T – Tie it all together
The very last song they sing is to end the service on another short, upbeat song.
Make Visitors Feel Comfortable:
Visitors will form an opinion about our church in the first 10 minutes after they arrive. Visitors are deciding rather or not to come back long before I ever get up to speak. First impressions are very difficult to change, so we need to think through what first impressions we want our visitors to have.
WE NEVER HAVE A SECOND CHANCE TO MAKE A FIRST IMPRESSION!!!
If a visitor is truly unchurched, then their first emotional response will be one of fear. They’ll wonder “What’s going to happen to me here?” “Will I have to say something?” “Will I be embarrassed by anything?”
Our first objective, then, is to help them to relax. Here are some ways:
1. Reserve the best parking spots for visitors. This would mean that our parking along the fence line would be reserved for visitors.
2. Station greeters outside our building. Saddleback believes that welcoming visitors is so important that they have 4 different kinds of welcome ministers: parking attendants, greeters, hosts, and ushers.
Parking Attendants: They direct traffic. They offer the first smiles visitors will encounter.
Greeters: They stand in the parking lot and patio areas, casually greeting people as they approach.
Hosts: They’re stationed at information tables. Instead of giving information, they personally escort people to where they want to go.
Ushers: They greet people inside the service, pass out programs, assist in special situations, and receive the offering.
These are the most important people in seeker services because they make contact with the visitors in the first ten minutes. We need to use a variety of ages in these ministries so that whatever the age of the visitors they won’t feel that our church doesn’t have anyone in that age group.
Rick suggests that greeters never wear badges. If they do then visitors will feel like officials of the church, instead of just regular folk, are welcoming them.
3. Set up information tables. It’s o.k. for these folk to wear badges because visitors need to know where to go to ask questions.
4. Place directional signs everywhere. Help visitors to know where the auditorium is, and especially the bathrooms. Visitors should not need to ask where the bathrooms are.
5. Have taped music playing when people enter our building. Why do so many stores play taped music? Why do some airlines play taped music when you’re sitting on the runway waiting to take off? Why do many doctor’s offices play taped music? The answer is because music relaxes us. Silence is scary to unchurched visitors.
6. Allow visitors to remain anonymous in the service. Once visitors are seated we shouldn’t bother them or single them out. We should allow them to watch the service without publicly identifying themselves. We want them to feel welcomed and wanted, but we don’t want them to feel watched. One reason large churches attract so many visitors is because newcomers like being able to hide in a crowd. In a small church everyone knows who the visitor is, and the visitor knows everyone knows.
7. If you use a registration card, have everyone fill one out. When everyone registers, visitors aren’t singled out.
Saddleback’s Welcome Card is a vital communication tool.
We use it many different ways:
- To register attendance,
- To record spiritual decisions,
- To gather prayer requests,
- To take surveys,
- To sign up for events and programs,
- To recruit leadership,
- To evaluate services,
- To update membership information,
- To gather sermon ideas,
- And, to start new ministries.
It’s the vital link that allows Pastor Warren to keep his finger on the pulse of their growing church. Those cards are worth their weight in gold to Saddleback.
On the card there’s a place for the guest to indicate whether it’s their first, second, or third visit to our church. In each of those cases they receive a different thank-you card.
8. Offer a public welcome that relaxes people. The first words from the stage set the tone of the service. Each week one of the pastors of Saddleback say something like this, “Welcome to Sunday at Saddleback! We’re glad you’re here. If you’re here for the first time, we want you to sit back, relax, and enjoy the service we’ve planned for you.”
9. Begin and end each service with people greeting each other. We are told 5 times in the New Testament to greet one another, so at the beginning and the ending of each service we tell everyone to turn around and shake hands with 3, or 10, or 20 people.
10. If we use name tags, we must make certain that everyone gets one. If visitors get one, then everyone else should get one. If visitors don’t get one, then nobody should get one. We don’t want the visitor to be singled out.
11. Offer a refreshment table at each service. Visitors will hang around longer after a service if we can get a cup of coffee and a donut into their hands. This also gives members a chance to meet them. Jesus did much of His teaching when people were walking or eating with Him.
Brighten Up the Environment:
Facilities and physical environments have a lot to do with what happens in a service. We have to use what we have, so let’s do our best to create a brighter atmosphere in this building. Let’s do what we can to create an environment of celebration. We’ll have to get our thinking caps on.
Lighting: Let’s keep the building as well lit as possible. Rick believes most churches are far too dark. He believes the church building should be bright and full of light.
After all, God is Light!
1John 1:5b) [GW] God is light, and there isn’t any darkness in him.
Light was the very first thing God created following the creation of the heavens and the earth.
Genesis 1:1-3) [GNB] In the beginning, when God created the universe,
2) the earth was formless and desolate. The raging ocean that covered everything was engulfed in total darkness, and the Spirit of God was moving over the water.
3) Then God commanded, “Let there be light”—and light appeared.
Rick believes that God would like to say to thousands of churches in America, “Let there be light.”
Sound: Rick tells us to invest in the best sound equipment we can afford. He says that if we’re trying to cut costs, do it in some other area. Saddleback grew for 15 years without owning a building, but they always had a state-of-the-art sound system. He insists that a tinny, fuzzy sound system can undermine the most gifted musician and incapacitate the most profound preacher.
Seating: Both the comfort and the arrangement of our seating dramatically affects the mood of the service. Rick says, “The mind can only absorb what the seat can endure.”
If we’re using movable seats, which we are, Pastor Warren suggests that we arrange them so each person can see someone else’s face. He claims that it will dramatically improve how people respond to the service.
Space: The one rule about space is this: Don’t have too much or too little! Either extreme will limit your growth. When our service is 80% filled, we need to start another service.
Temperature: The temperature can destroy the best-planned service in a matter of minutes! If people are too hot or cold they can’t wait for everything to end quickly.
He does believe the temperature should start out a bit cool so that when body heat takes affect it will raise the temperature to the correct level.
Plants: Rick encourages us to use plants, trees, and greenery as decorations in our facilities. They hauled them in and out of rented facilities each weekend. Plants say, “At least something is alive in this place!”
God didn’t place Adam in a concrete skyscraper; He placed him in a garden. The natural beauty of God’s creation inspires, relaxes, and restores people. It’s no accident that Psalm 23 is the most beloved Psalm. People can easily imagine the refreshing scene of still waters and green pastures.
A SIDE NOTE: Everyone knows what a cross is, but the unchurched can be confused by doves with fire coming out of their tails, etc. Keep Christian symbols simple.
Clean, safe nurseries: If we want to reach young families, we’ve got to have sanitized, safe nurseries. There should be no mop bucket in the corner, and the toys should be cleaned each week.
Clean restrooms: Visitors may forget the sermon, but the memory of a foul-smelling restroom lingers on….and on….and on! Rick says that you can tell a lot about the morale of a church by checking out the quality of the restrooms.
ANOTHER SIDE NOTE: The sad truth is that many churches need a completely new building. They’ll never reach their community in the building they’re using.
We need to begin with what we have, but understand that we might have to do something different later. Going to rental properties greatly increases the work load of those in charge of music, and those who volunteer to carry everything in and out of that building each week. BUT IF THAT’S WHAT IT TAKES, THEN THAT’S WHAT IT TAKES!!
Our goal in everything we do regarding all of these things should be:
Titus 2:10b) [NIV] so that in every way they will make the teaching about God our Savior attractive.
Create An Attractive Atmosphere:
Atmosphere is that hard-to-define, but unmistakable feeling you get when you enter a church service. It’s often called the “spirit,” the “mood,” or the “tone” of the service. It definitely impacts what happens in our service. It can either work for our purpose or against what we’re trying to accomplish.
If we don’t purposely determine the type of atmosphere we want to create in a service, then we are leaving it to chance.
Saddleback uses 5 words to describe the atmosphere they seek to create:
Expectation: Visitors often comment that they feel a sense of expectancy among the people of Saddleback. Rick mentions that there is a pervasive enthusiasm at the start of each service that says, “Something good is about to happen!” Members are excited because they feel lives are about to be changed. Visitors often describe the atmosphere as “electric.”
- What causes this spirit of expectancy?
- Members praying for the services all week,
- Members praying during the services,
- Enthusiastic members who bring their unsaved friends,
- A history of life-changing services,
- The sheer size of the crowd,
- Celebration style music,
- And, the faith of the team that leads the services.
Rick challenges us that our opening prayer should always express the expectation that God will be in the service and that people’s needs are going to be met.
EXPECTANCY IS JUST ANOTHER WORD FOR FAITH!!!
Matthew 9:29b) [NIV] (Jesus said,) “According to your faith will it be done to you.”
Celebration: Consider this verse:
Psalm 100:2) [NIV] Worship the LORD with gladness; come before him with joyful songs.
God wants our services to be a celebration, so we should cultivate an atmosphere of gladness and joy. When we’re up front we must not be afraid to smile. We must enjoy the presence of God, and show that we do.
Worship is a delight, not a duty.
Psalm 21:6) [GNB] Your blessings are with him forever, and your presence fills him with joy.
Psalm 42:4) [GNB] My heart breaks when I remember the past, when I went with the crowds to the house of God and led them as they walked along, a happy crowd, singing and shouting praise to God.
Do these 2 verses describe the atmosphere of our services?
Affirmation: Consider this verse:
Hebrews 10:25) [GNB] Let us not give up the habit of meeting together, as some are doing. Instead, let us encourage one another all the more, since you see that the Day of the Lord is coming nearer.
There’s so much bad news in the world; people need a place to go where they will hear some good news, and be encouraged.
Our services should be encouraging. Even if the message is confrontational, the service should begin and end positively. We can change a person’s behavior far quicker through affirmation than through criticism.
Incorporation: Saddleback works hard to create a family atmosphere in their services in spite of their size. It should be easier for us; many families are larger than our congregation. The way they greet each other at the beginning and ending of each service, the way the people on the platform interact with each other, and the way the pastors speak to the crowd all say, “We are a family! We are in this together. You belong here.”
1 Peter 3:8) [TLB] You should be like one big happy family, full of sympathy toward each other, loving one another with tender hearts and humble minds.
In a world that’s becoming increasingly impersonal, people are looking for a place where they can feel they belong.
Restoration: The world beats up on people all week. They show up at church with their spiritual and emotional batteries depleted. Our job is to supply spiritual jumper cables that will charge their spiritual batteries with the restorative power of Christ.
Matthew 11:28-30) [MSG] “Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest.
29) Walk with me and work with me–watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you.
30) Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.”
Rick believes that most evangelicals have it backwards. We take ourselves too seriously, and we don’t take God seriously enough. He’s perfect; we aren’t. IT’S NOT A COINCIDENCE THE “HUMOR” AND “HUMILITY” COME FROM THE SAME ROOT WORD. If we learn to laugh at ourselves we’ll always have plenty of material.
Liberation: Consider this verse:
2 Corinthians 3:17) [GW] This Lord is the Spirit. Wherever the Lord’s Spirit is, there is freedom.
We must avoid stuffiness, formality, and any kind of pretentiousness in our services. We should cultivate an informal, relaxed, and friendly atmosphere.
What people wear to church is a cultural issue, not a theological one, so we don’t make a big deal out of it.
Print A Simple Order Of the Service:
Unchurched visitors are less anxious when they know what you’re going to do.
Describe the service in nontechnical terms: Don’t use terms like invocation, offertory anthem, invitational hymn, benediction, and postlude.
Include explanatory notes: Saddleback’s bulletin gives an explanation for their Welcome Card, the offering, the time of commitment, and other parts of the service.
Minimize Internal Church Announcements:
Train your members to read the bulletin: Say something like “Be sure to read the bulletin so you’ll know what’s going on this week.
Announce only events that apply to everyone:
Continually Evaluate and Improve:
Saddleback uses the First Impression Card, the Welcome Card, and a Worship Evaluation sheet.
Remember Whom You Are Serving:
2 Corinthians 4:5) [NIV] For we do not preach ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake.
Walk of Grace Chapel, Council Bluffs Church