Simplifying your Sunday morning story is no easy task.
We are each gifted a canvas from which we are called to create. Each week, that canvas is going to be relatively similar. That’s the nature of creating in church.
So with this redundancy, how do we even approach simplifying the Sunday morning story?
The first and most important step is making sure we know the story we are attempting to tell.
One thing. One central theme. One story for the day.
One of the greatest downfalls in storytelling is allowing other stories to steal attention. We only have a limited amount of attention that we will attract. Telling more than one story often leaves us telling no story at all.
We have to edit and define what our one story is and what the take-away from the story is going to be.
Becoming a Translator
It’s so important for us to create consistency inside of our weekly, Sunday experience.
In our planning and preparation, we need to make sure we are fully aware of what the point of this Sunday needs to be. We need to be clear on what we are trying to say and keep our one story the center of our creative compass.
This is where we, as creative leaders, have to become translators. The communicator of the day will set the tone for the story. They are bringing us the plot and central theme. We translate it to the others artists helping to tell the story.
Most of us work inside of series’ so we know the umbrella idea of a Sunday. But on a week-by-week basis, it’s vital that we are checking in with our pastors or communicators to make sure the story that we believe needs to be told is actually being told.
Once we have identified the main story of the day and we know our target, it’s time to go to work.
We need to tell that story to our teams. Cast the vision. Make sure designers, worship leaders, and team leaders are clear on what we’re trying to accomplish on Sunday.
Translating the message from our communicator to our teams helps us all know where the target lives and what we should be aiming for.
Beginning, Middle, and End
We have the attention of those who attend our church for 70 to 90 minutes, on average. What we do with every one of those minutes matters.
Story is built in 3 parts: beginning, middle, and end. Great stories have these moments clearly defined.
Experience can start in the parking lot. Is there a way to tell a story in the parking lot that will start introducing what is going to happen today?
Next comes our greeters and lobby. When possible, use these resources and environments to build on the story we are trying to deliver. Remember, this all builds around our central theme for the day.
As people enter our auditoriums, we often have house music playing. Are these songs that are going to contribute to the story we are telling? If they aren’t, we have missed an opportunity to begin creating a soundtrack for our story.
See, story does not just happen by itself.
A story is like an idea. It takes intentional stewarding to make it happen.
On our screens, are our announcements and backgrounds competing with what we plan to achieve today? Sometimes the best aid for a story is simplicity. We have other ways to distribute information. Be creative and don’t allow a laundry list of data to cloud your story.
As our worship teams take the stage, they’re going to set an atmosphere and an expectation. Will this center around our one thing? This is where the arc of our story truly begins.
Creating arc is important because it makes our service feel like it’s moving. Story arc helps move the story and the elements of the day and connect them to each other. Arc creates important momentum and gives you a place to tie a bow around the day – even if your bow is just casting hope in a hopeless situation.
All the work we have done up to this point has been to create atmosphere and acceptance for our one story. The forward has been written and we are now starting to tell the first chapter of the story.
Songs matter. Language matters.
Making sure that what is done in the next 15-25 minutes of worship will set the course. Not just a song, but even the tone of a song tells a story.
How are we building the worship set? Will the set end on an emotional tone that creates a setting for the next chapter to begin?
Connecting the Story
As we simplify the Sunday morning story, transitions are vital.
How we navigate these transitions will ultimately connect our elements to each other. Invest time ensuring that these transitions are correct.
The right language…the right tone…the right message can make our one story soar or totally come off the rails.
The transition from the end of our worship set to the beginning of the message is the first major hurdle to clear for keeping our one story on track. Nothing is more jarring than when a worship set leaves us emotionally in one place then the one helping transition the service comes up with a totally different energy.
Don’t allow someone who’s been disconnected from the elements and messages all week become responsible for reinforcing our one story for the day. Without direction, coaching, and practice it’s really easy for this moment to hijack a service.
We should lean into this moment. Is there a way to connect the language that must be said (a welcome…an introduction…possibly announcements) to our one story for the day?
Of course there is!
We just have to do the work to make sure it happens.
Sometimes stage announcements are the largest trap we face in attempting to tell one amazing story. It’s vital that, if we’re going to stay on message, we find ways to tie our announcements into the theme we are creating for the day.
Whenever possible, we should find ways to move stage announcements off the stage.
If we’re doing a student ministry event, we have the attention of students and parents throughout the week in their own unique environments – a far better place to cast vision for them.
Also, kids ministry has an amazing distribution system for information. Parents are going to pick up their kids about 99% of the time. When they do, we have their attention. Apply a sticker to their child. Hand them a well designed communication piece as they are leaving our kids space.
Use these ways to communicate directly. If we are serious about simplifying our story on Sunday morning, we have to be willing to have hard conversations. We have to move competing messages off our stages and into places where they can find more success.
Back to the transition from worship. At the close of this moment, the setup is key for propelling us to the meat of our story.
We need to give enough information to connect our audience with our story without giving away all of the characters and plot twists that our communicator will deliver over the next 30-45 minutes.
Don’t be afraid to script and rehearse these setup moments. It will only make us better.
Creative elements can also help create some of these transitions. Videos, special music, and other creative moments all have the ability to set the tone and move us from one moment to another with intentionality.
What makes these moments effective is not only that they are cool, but that we execute them with one purpose – the purpose that centers around our one story for the day and connects us back to our message. Without this intentionality, creative elements become cool moments with no meaning and can be momentum destroyers.
Having worked all week on our one story that’s being driven by our communicator, we now watch as they masterfully weave the core of our story for our attendees.
Many times there are props that can help our communicators reinforce the message. Use these tastefully and intentionally, and use them in moderation. Props can often become distracting sub-stories if they’re not executed properly.
Bringing It Home
As the message ends, we move into the final act of our story – the end.
The end carries pressure.
We have the chance to give our attendees a special moment to reflect on the day. It’s what they take away – a special moment from our story they can hold onto.
In our reflective moment, we need to be reinforcing the message that has been cast. It may be through song, video, prayer, communion, or baptism. But all of those still need to support our one story. Without that support, those elements compete against what we have been tasked to accomplish today.
As that reflective moment ends, we tend to move into a closer moment. If you do announcements and offering here, you can reference above where we talk about that subject.
We need to make sure we take a short moment to reinforce our one story without re-preaching the message. Try applying the message to your own life as an example for attendees. If there is an applicable call to action, this is the moment to clearly define the expectation and direct people on what their next steps may look like. Apply the story to your attendees’ lives.
As we approach our weekly services, we should be creative.
Let’s shake the fear and take some chances.
Let’s identify our one story for the day and find new and amazing ways to reinforce that message over and over again. Give people an opportunity to experience amazing life change.
Sometimes the chances we take will be amazing.
Other times, they will fail miserably.
God has called us and created us for these moments.
He delights in our ability to try.
His Word never returns void and He is amused by how we find new and more effective ways to share the greatest story every told. His story.
So tell your story. Tell His story. And never be safe.