Take Calculated Risks to Create Sermon Series that Attract Newcomers
One time we launched a new sermon series called, “How to Become a Superhero.” I didn’t come up with the title. I didn’t even like it at first. But then, I loved it.
I was planning to do a series called, “The Me I Want to Be” (based on John Ortberg’s book). Our Program Team commented, “That title would appeal more to women than men”, and asked if they could change it. They came up with the Superhero idea.
I wondered if it would fly.
The day we launched the series, our musicians all wore superhero t-shirts. Would people criticize us for being led in worship by people wearing t-shirts?
Plus, Batman, Superman, Iron Man, Spiderman and Captain America joined me onstage for the message. Would people wag their fingers at mixing fantasy characters with the Word of God?
Our superheroes struck poses behind me while I preached.
Between services, they climbed on the roof and waved to people coming and going. Everyone got such a kick out of them, we extended their engagement an extra week. We even had them pose for pictures with children on Halloween.
Why Should you Take Risks?
What I’ve just described may not seem like much of a risk to you, but it did to me.
I was fearful that some of our senior saints would think we had gone crazy, and that some of our more conservative element would accuse us of “selling out to entertainment.”
To my delight, that didn’t happen. Just the opposite.
The whole thing created a buzz. Attendance went up. People told their friends about this crazy thing we were doing. Men started challenging each other to become superheroes of the faith.
New Song is older now. In our younger days, we took a lot of risks. One of our early series was called, “Great Sex.” Now that we’ve gotten older, we think we have a reputation to uphold and we have more to lose.
This experience helped me see that I have slowly grown more predictable.
I want to break out of that box. I believe that “risk” is a synonym for “faith.” I want to live on that edge, rather than on the “preserve and conserve” side of life.
Here’s what I’ve come to understand about taking risks to attract newcomers to church…
What are the Benefits of Risk?
1. Risk can send a signal that you’re serious.
We knew the series had the potential to turn some people off. Just the opposite happened.
It demonstrated how serious we are about reaching and growing people in Christ.
2. Risk can create a buzz.
I like to think that everyone goes home every weekend talking about the life-changing lessons they learned from my sermon, but you and I both know that doesn’t happen all that often.
But during this series everyone was talking about the superheroes on the roof. Several posted pictures of them posing behind me during the sermon.
When was the last time someone took pictures in church, and it didn’t involve their family members?
3. Risk can attract a new kind of person.
If we always do what we’ve always done, we’ll always get what we’ve always got.
Trying something new might just tap a segment of society your church has never touched before.
What Kind of Risks Should you Take?
I have a few cautions, but I think they should be qualified cautions.
1. Risk for risk’s sake is foolish. Risk for Christ’s sake is worth it.
Our goal for the series was to grow our believers while giving them something to invite their unchurched friends to. “The Me I Want to Be” is a great concept, but not a very compelling title (unless you’re deep into self-actualization.)
The audacity of “How to Become a Superhero” attracted newcomers.
2. Take risks in the direction of men.
Much of what is done in church is geared towards women.
I did a survey the week before we launched the series. Women preferred, “The Me I Want to Be,” while men were actually excited about “Becoming a Superhero.”
Women are generally more tolerant and open to spiritual things, so if you can hook the men, most women will go along with it.
Lean towards men.
3. Take risks in the direction of youth.
The more mature we become, the more other-centered we ought to be. So gearing a series towards a youthful audience makes sense.
You might have to hold the hands of your senior saints to remind them to be other-centered.
4. Take risks in the direction of relevance.
Head into Walmart and you’ll find a plethora of superhero t-shirts for sale. Ask your friends under 40 if they own a superhero t-shirt. Most of them do. Survey the big theater hits over the last few years: The Avengers, Thor, Captain America, and my new favorite Ant-Man, are huge.
Superheroes may be make-believe, but they’re connected with our culture.
5. Take risks in the direction of fun.
Because of their sacred nature, church services can have a tendency to turn solemn.
I’ve discovered that having a little fun can generate a lot of joy.
Because we took risks with the sermon series, I saw members of my church dream and pray and work towards becoming superheroes of the faith.
Pastor, get two to three young men together and analyze the title of your upcoming series.
- How can you make it appeal more to men?
- To the younger generation?
- How can you build anticipation for it?
- How can you make it fun?
How can you take a risk?
I think I’ll put more superheroes on our roof. Some of them may not fly, but if we reach a few more for Jesus, it’ll be worth it.
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