I am back in the office after a weeklong vacation. Living in Missouri almost requires that you take a trip to Branson at some point, so last week my wife and I made the journey. We had a good week as we saw the sights, did a little shopping and took in some shows. As a preacher, my eyes are always trying to see things from the perspective of the Church and the services we offer each week. While I do not believe the people who attend Church are there to be entertained there are still some lessons that we can learn from the entertainment industry. Here are a few thoughts from my time in Branson and what they might mean for the Church.
1. The Value People Place on Entertainment. I am continually amazed at the amount of money people spend on a ticket to any entertainment. It could be a ballgame, a concert or even a small variety show in Branson. Twenty dollars is cheap in the entertainment world. People will spend almost any amount of money on things they enjoy.
2. The Power of Music. Branson has few people performing original songs. In fact, there are probably very few songs written in the last 20 years. At one show there was a song playing through the speakers at intermission, and most of the crowd joined in singing. People have memories and emotions tied to songs of all types.
3. Know Your Audience. One show we attended did throw in a couple of newer songs. The old man next to me kept asking his wife, “What is this song?” He told her in an exasperated voice, “I don’t know this song.” She shrugged her shoulders, and they both slumped back in their seats. Every age group has different expectations and ideas about how things should go. It is crucial to know who is in the seats.
4. High Quality is Important. Even in small theaters, there is an expectation of quality sound and lighting. No one should overlook the necessity of a quality production, even in the Church.
5. Be Interactive. Every show we watched, I mean every single one of them, had some part that involved audience interaction. I could not help but replay my sermons in my mind and wonder how many times I include the audience in what is happening onstage. It might be as simple as people shouting out a favorite song to involving people as part of an object lesson.
6. Use Humor. Another feature of every show was a touch of humor. Even a group of a cappella singers included some comedy in their presentation. The more people laughed, the more the show connected with the audience.
7. Service is Key. It doesn’t matter how great of a show you put on if your staff are unfriendly. My wife and I attended a show with dinner included and the lady who waited on us was stern and unkind in her actions. It made everything less enjoyable, and we will not return to that show in the future. How many people attend our Churches and are turned off by that one person?
8. Piggy Back Similar Items. Branson is full of shows designed for senior adults. I also noticed a number of antique stores. I saw some places that focused on veterans. Other sites focused on the nostalgia of the 1950’s and 60’s. If you have a group of people in one place with similar characteristics, it is wise to offer multiple forms of connection.
9. Most People are Open to Religion. I know this also connects to understanding your audience and the age of the people attending, but most performances do not shy away from introducing faith. The shows we attended in Branson included gospel songs and a production of the nativity. God was spoke of with conviction even in a secular setting. No one walked out or shouted obscenities or showed any anger at all. People seemed very open to the story of the Bible.
10. Under Promise and Over Deliver. A show that promotes itself as “the best” or “special” or “awesome” had better deliver. Quite often I find that the best and most enjoyable shows are those with little fanfare. I go in with low expectations and then see people working hard to deliver the best program available. I thought of how many Church events are billed with much praise only to let people down.
I feel like I need to remind everyone, I do not view Sunday morning as a show that the Church puts together for the pleasure of the crowd. No, we gather to worship, and God is our audience. I do still think there are some lessons we can learn from the world around us if we will only pay attention. My week in Branson was a nice downtime from my work in the Church, but I still learned a couple of things that I hope will make the Church I serve even better.