As a pastor, I hear it all the time—“Why did we play THAT song?” Maybe you do, too. Or maybe you ask it. Every time we begin our church service with a song from a non-Christian radio station, I know it’s coming.
I understand. We recently began our church service by singing these lyrics: “A singer in a smokey room, a smell of wine and cheap perfume. For a smile they can share the night, it goes on and on and on and on.” OK—seeing it in written form feels a little sketchy (or a ton sketchy!). I may have a few questions for myself, now!
But let me ask you a question: What song is that lyric from? Did you smile as you read them? Or sang them? Are you still singing?
Here’s why we occasionally begin our services with music from Journey or Disney—because people like it. I know, that’s not profound. And I realize it’s certainly not theologically sound, but it is powerful. People like fun, familiar music. And that’s extremely important, because I’m convinced if people don’t like how their church experience begins, odds are they will not like how it progresses or ends.
To say it another way: If we hope to influence people toward their Heavenly Father, we must engage them emotionally in the beginning of our service to engage them spiritually during the service.
So here are five things to consider if we hope to create a church experience that leads people from where they are to where we want them to be an hour later:
1. Consider the diversity of your audience.
You must answer this issue first. If you have unchurched, nonbelievers in the room, they walked in somewhat skeptical of the church, God and the pastor. They are predisposed to be disengaged and at arm’s-length. So, if you hope to engage the unchurched in your church, you must first find a way to emotionally connect. The more diverse the audience, the broader the connection. If you have Christians, non-Christians, atheists and everybody in between, you need to start really broad—maybe even with Journey!
2. Consider the power of first impressions.
We know how powerful a first impression can be—mostly because you only get one shot! But while the sermon actually begins in the parking lot, people’s first experience in the service is critical to engaging them throughout the service.
The first thing I want people to do is drop a barrier, smile, laugh or relax (or all of the above, if possible). People are on edge when church begins. An nonbeliever is skeptical. A churched family might have argued the entire trip. Finding parking could be stressful. Either way, how the service begins can make or break an attendee’s entire experience. Worse, it may determine if they ever return!