In every organization, serving the model becomes our mission.
I see it all the time, including—or especially in—the local church. Think about it: Perhaps you created the model! Or you inherited the model others still love AND assume is “just fine, thank you very much.” I bet your congregation is a bit resistant to changing things. And, of course, there are always those who believe THEIR way of church is THE theological prescribed version of the gathering.
One thing we can all agree on: We need to gather in person. And we need to adjust and improve our in-person gatherings.
Creating Experiences at Woodstock City Church
When I began leading our church, we didn’t use the “experience economy” language. Still, we understood the experience was a draw. We celebrated how great the band opened our service with “Faithfully” by Journey. We even had a term for these secular songs: Openers. “That opener was so cool!” I remember working to find a way to use pyrotechnics on the stage!
If this seems ridiculous, don’t laugh too much. It worked back then. Our church grew from a couple hundred to thousands on a Sunday—not just because of our secular “openers,” but that was part of the secret sauce. We created a church service worth attending. It felt unmissable. It was predictably great but unpredictable. And, if you missed it, you couldn’t come back next week for it.
In this experience economy, the experience still matters. But, the experience today must be unique to where people are today.
What Experiences Do People Want From Their Church?
Most, if not all, church models in place today were built before the introduction of the experience economy. We didn’t say it this way, but churches provided a “service” back then. We literally provided services, but our gatherings focused on offering attendees a service of worship, sacraments, and sermons. Especially sermons!
Content was king in the service economy, but content is a commodity in the experience economy.
For 2,000 years—or at least for the past 40 years—content was the king of the gathering experience. You had to be in the room if you wanted to hear the sermon. To experience worship, you had to be in the room. If you didn’t want to miss out, you had to be in the room. Content was king…until the internet made content a commodity.
Think about how much has changed.
As I said, I began leading a church in 2008. The internet wasn’t new in ’08, but we weren’t exactly leveraging it inside the church, either. Back then, if you wanted to hear the sermon, you had to (1) be in the room or (2) have a friend purchase the CD. And BTW, that CD was only available to purchase as you left the room! I remember standing in the back of our auditorium, watching our production volunteers duplicate CDs for sale!
It’s crazy how much and how quickly our world has changed. Today, I can listen to any pastor preach on just about any topic anywhere I am. I can hear, or watch, or listen and watch. Content is no longer the driving force of the in-person gathering. Now, content certainly has a critical and essential role to play in our in-person experiences. But if you assume people will come for content, you’re thinking wrong. I bet your attendance is telling you that, though.