Carlton L. Coon, Sr.
As a full-time evangelist, my first revival was with C.L. Mizell in Pinedale, Louisiana. His mother, “Mama” Mizell lived with this good man and his wife. In the best Louisiana tradition, all three of the Mizells were good cooks, but the three of them cooking didn’t always make for good dinner.
Midday, when Bro. Mizell awoke somewhat recovered from his third shift job, he’d walk through the kitchen and sample whatever was cooking. Often, he’d add a bit of salt or spice. In a while, “Mama” Mizell would come through and sample from the pot. She would add a bit more seasoning. At some point Sis. Mizell would add her own touch of flavoring.
On several occasions, dinner was tense, interesting, and from the perspective of 35 years later, humorous as the dear folk would have a most serious conversation about who got the gumbo so salty. It was nobody’s fault and at the same time everybody’s fault.
Nobody was overseeing the thing and paying attention to what everybody else was doing. Good church can get ruined in the same way. Some people add their own flavor and seasoning to the point that Jesus, the main course, becomes a less pleasant experience.
Some decades ago I visited a church where the service was somewhat a mess. None of the things that make for good church were consistently happening. I had an opportunity to be in that same church some years later. What had been “stop and go” now had continuity. The pastor explained, “In our church service, the way we did things seemed to get in the way of God doing things.” This issue focuses on five specific areas he noted that seemed to stop the flow of the service and what can be done to adjust them:
* A Service Plan
* Prayer Requests
A Service Plan: “The service must flow without starts and stops.”
1. Have a plan for the service before it starts, and write it out. (Not three pages of staging instructions, but simply a half-page list of activities and components.) A caveat at the bottom of the service plan should read, “Everything on this schedule is subject to change as the Spirit leads.”
2. Ten minutes before church, meet with service participants and your preachers in training. (Even if the preacher in training has no responsibility in that service, you are training him or her how to do things.) Go over the plan and give a copy to service participants.
3. End the pre-service meeting with prayer and then go out and get with the program.
4. If you have a chorale or choir, before church the director should give the option of three or four different songs. Song options are varied as to pace and message (slow, fast, praise-oriented, worship, etc.) The pastor should select what will be used in a service. At times, the chorale or choir may not get used at all, though they were on the schedule. If the pastor feels no specific direction, then the decision is left to the choir or chorale leader. Pastor, it is important to express appreciation for this flexibility to both the director and the entire audience. It makes it easier for the person to swallow the next time you ask for a rather radical shift in direction.
5. On a rare occasion, a singer edifies a group by saying something before they sing. Most of the time a singer spending time talking does not build the service toward its destination. Coach your folks, “We have asked you to sing, not to speak. Get in place and sing! If I needed an explanation of the song, I’d have asked for that too.” Never forget – the objective is not to entertain but to create an environment to allow God to work.
6. Have ushers and singers in place and ready to do what they are scheduled to do. If a singer is sitting in the audience, it becomes a drag waiting for them to make their way to the front. Dead space is distracting and disrupts the spiritual flow of the service.
7. Don’t introduce each person, singer, soloist, and participant in the service.
8. Be creative with your service plan. Sameness is the path to boredom. A service schedule needs to be different from week to week. You can do different things like:
* Be preaching five minutes after church starts. At times, the message is the main thing and the church is ready to receive it. Everything else is to flow from the preaching. It does not mean the preaching is the only thing; simply the first thing. The choir can sing later, a soloist, an offering, but the preaching can be primary.
* At the beginning of service, gather people to the front for prayer and praise. Scattered minds must be gathered. To attempt to have great church when people are still mentally at work is a challenge.
* Offerings can be last, even as people exit the building. (Pastor Tim Dugas says the offering is one thing to never forget.)
* A service may become a prayer-meeting where God moves and calls people to repentance, or places a burden within them.
* Some seasons call for a celebration. On occasion, put aside the sermon to lead people to rejoice in the Lord.
9. Lead the thing! Services tend to be unfocused if several different local preachers each have responsibility for a certain segment. Often it becomes a competition of who can share their latest sermon thought. Though the thought may be good information, the timing isn’t right. Many hands ruin the soup-or the service.
Announcements: “Time spent on events that could be promoted in some other way.”
1. Put announcements in a bulletin and/or on a screen. When you start doing this, you’ll need to ask people to review the announcements. It will take a while (and you’ll get a bit of heat when Sis. Gertie misses Abbie’s baby shower because you didn’t announce it) but kindly stay the course. Apologize to Sis. Gertie, but mention that the church has been having quite a few such events, and doesn’t it make sense to save the time. She still won’t like it, but don’t be reactive. Also, make sure the text in the bulletin or on the screen is large enough for elders to read it. An Arial, size 8 font won’t work.
2. Make a monthly calendar available.
3. Make announcements at the end of service and have a voice distinct from the pastor. (Alternate using different ladies the audience does not often hear; believe it or not people get weary of the pastor’s voice.)
4. Use “captive audience” locations to post monthly or weekly calendars. This might include some strategic locations on restroom mirrors, etc.
5. Website calendars and church Facebook pages must be kept current.
6. Twitter, text message and email about coming events.
Offering: “Bogged down the service instead of adding to it.”
Offerings add something if people are invited and encouraged to honor God with their tithe and offerings. If people are compelled to give “of necessity”, the energy level goes down.
1. Moses received a great offering with a word of direction. A missionary said he felt each offering opportunity was a “word of direction” opportunity. He believed one should pursue the “giving word” for each service. A “giving word” brings life and focus to the giving.
2. Involve others in receiving the offering. Have the finance manager bring a fresh and relevant word to the church for the appeal; it gives a different perspective from the pastor.
3. Offerings are a good time to use the testimony of some faithful person God has blessed.
Testimonies: “Rambling discourses with no intent.”
I have survived hundreds of testimony services. Some were good, some mediocre, and quite a few were dreadful to the point of later becoming hilarious.
1. Open the service to “whosoever will” testimonies on a seldom to never basis.
2. Learn stories that need to be heard by staying connected to positive things happening in people’s lives. The testimony can be healing, a financial blessing, etc. While the event is fresh in the person’s life, have him or her share.
3. New convert testimonies are great. Art Hodges uses this to good advantage by videoing the story to make sure the convert does not offer too much information or wander on.
4. Testimonies also make excellent inserts into a sermon, if the testimony communicates a point you are driving home. Believe it or not, the fact that it is not the preacher saying it carries a lot of weight with visitors and new converts.
Public Prayer Time: “Ineffective and unfocused”
Were prayer needs really prayed about, or did we spend ninety seconds going over a list of needs and thirty seconds of unfocused conversation with God? Too much information was provided.
1. Flow into need. Jesus took note of need; we should too. Rather than limiting the prayer time to 50 names on the screen or 20 names we read aloud, how about including a time for people to share needs with three people around them. That small group then prays together about those specific needs. It makes the prayer time personal and effective. Pastor, this is a time to get into the audience, allowing God to use you to minister.
2. Prayer for the sick. Use multiple bottles of oil and let others (non-preachers) be involved in praying about needs. In the interest of building faith and participation, there may be certain times to have new converts, young people, and children pray for the sick. Everything is an opportunity to train people to serve in the future.
Good Church Reviewed
Go to church with a destination in mind to come into the presence of the Lord Jesus Christ. To just begin with the idea of “we’ll see where we go today” is a waste.
Direct the service as ordered by the Holy Ghost: sensitively, flexibly-planned, but not rigorous, and focused on the God moments. Don’t have anything planned that cannot be changed.
This article “Revival in a Plain Brown Wrapper; Have Good Church” by Carlton L. Coon, Sr., was excerpted from the magazine Home Missions November/December 2010. It may be used for study & research purposes only.