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On our service planning team, we have this saying that gets blurted out in a meeting every so often: ?The weekend comes every weekend!? And isn?t that the truth? It?s the reality of our situation as overseers of the weekends in our churches. It never stops. Every weekend, we are tasked with presenting the gospel message without it feeling like we just heard the same message last weekend. It?s a tall order, but one that is important and should never be taken for granted.

As with anything that has a recurring cycle, there is an inherent danger for our weekend services to feel repetitive, tired, or just plain old boring. On the other hand, we also face the challenge of keeping things excellent and not deviating too far from the norm. So we don?t create a culture of unwanted surprises and give people an opportunity to question whether or not they can share this experience with a friend. It feels like a tightrope walk. So how do we navigate it?

Creating a culture of evaluation is absolutely key! Over the years, at our church, we?ve woven critical evaluation into the fabric of our planning process. For us, that plays out it in a few very specific scenarios. On each one of our campuses, we have multiple weekend services. But before the first service begins, we run a full band rehearsal and then a full technical rehearsal. After the technical rehearsal, we gather all of the key players ? producer, worship leader, technical director, and teaching pastor ? and give direct feedback into every part of the technical rehearsal. We dialogue specifics in each element (ie. how the music felt, how the lighting design looked, how smooth the transitions were, etc). Then after the first service, that same group of players gathers again to give critical feedback and direction on any adjustments that need to be made. Beyond that, we meet every Tuesday morning to rehash the weekend and talk through the individual elements to see how things landed across the board. Creating this culture of evaluation has served us very well over the years and has allowed us to improve in several different areas, as well as dial in very specific elements and transitions each weekend.[quote]Creating a culture of evaluation is absolutely key.[/quote]

The culture of evaluation is all well and good, but remember, the weekend comes every weekend! So how do we avoid repetitiveness in our services? How do we get past the numbness of seeing and planning the same kind of service every. single. weekend? Well, as with anything that presents a challenge, it?s certainly easier said than done. But there are some key things that I?ve learned over the years to help develop fresh eyes for evaluating our services.

1. Think like a first-timer.

Have you ever considered what your service feels like a to first time attender? If you were to walk into your church building for the first time ? with brand new eyes ? what would you see?[quote]Have you ever considered what your service feels like a to first time attender?[/quote]

In my opinion, there is one key trap that many of us fall into: We think and program like a church programming professional. We?ve done this before, literally more than a thousand times; we know what we?re doing! The danger we face in thinking like a church programming professional will almost always cause us to forget about the first time attendee. Some practical ideas to avoid this trap: Try parking in a different parking lot and walk into your church building through the front door ? instead of the private access staff entrance ? shake the hands of the greeters on the way in, and stand or sit in a different part of the room while observing the service ? not the front of house booth. I?ve always felt like putting myself in the position of a first time attendee gave me a fresh perspective and allowed me to give more critical feedback to the experience.

2. Visit other local churches.

One of the easiest ways to put yourself in the shoes of a first time attendee is to actually be a first time attendee at another local church.

These is tremendous value in visiting other churches, beyond just getting the experience of a first time attendee. One of those key areas of value is getting a higher-level perspective of the Kingdom of God at work beyond your church. I can?t over-state how valuable this is! We?re a part of an incredible movement, and getting that perspective outside of our normal setting is such a refreshing and encouraging experience.

But be sure to use your experience to help shape how you will plan your own weekend services. Take notes of how things felt as a first time attendee. What made you feel comfortable? What made you feel awkward? What made you smile? What worked and what didn?t? One word of caution: Try your best to find a healthy balance between learning and being critical. Let?s do our best to avoid any negative chatter on how churches do things and instead learn what might or might not work for you in the context of your church.

3. Bring an unchurched friend.

Have you ever brought a friend or family member to church and asked them for direct critical feedback?[quote]Have you ever brought a friend or family member to church and asked them for direct critical feedback?[/quote]

We all have those folks in our lives ? the ones that have never set foot in a church or haven?t been in 20 years and probably have no desire to ever attend a church again. Not only are these people our mission field, but they can also be a great sounding board for critical feedback. What if you were to ask a friend to come to your service just to evaluate it for you? Asking for sincere and direct feedback from a trusted unchurched friend could provide invaluable insight. And what if just getting them through the doors of your church actually enabled them to experience God in a way they never have before? Of course, there?s no guarantee that would happen, but the opportunity for them to give feedback might just be the incentive to attend that they?ve been looking for.

These are just a few of the things that have worked for myself and my colleagues over the years, but I?m confident there are many more ways to a fresh perspective on our weekend services. Creating a culture of evaluation is key, but developing fresh eyes for that evaluation is a discipline we can all stand to improve on.

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