How Not to Suck
Dr. James Emery WhiteJames Emery White is the founding and senior pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, North Carolina; President of Serious Times, a ministry which explores the intersection of faith and culture (www.serioustimes.org); and ranked adjunctive professor of theology and culture on the Charlotte campus of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. Dr. White holds the B.S., M.Div. and Ph.D. degrees, along with additional work at Vanderbilt University and Oxford University. He is the author of over a dozen books.
- 2010 Dec 09
It's become a running joke at Meck.
My highest compliment to someone, tongue firmly in cheek, is "You didn't suck."
But joking with staffers aside, it's actually strong praise.
To "suck" is to do poorly. Sucking is when you do such a poor job of presenting, speaking, performing, leading, organizing…that it can be said that you, or it, sucked.
A recent TechCrunch article was titled "Why Products Suck (and How to Make Them Suck Less)." It was an interesting collection of "sucking" insights, including:
"It only takes one person to make your product suck."
"It's easier to suck more than suck less."
"There are more ways to suck than not to suck."
It's surprising how many people defend sucking, particularly in ministry circles. They point to the fruit of a single person who was moved, or of a small handful who said they liked it - all as a way of justifying the poor quality.
Or they say they were just so darn true to the gospel that of course the "world" is going to look down on their efforts, which seems to suggest a worldview that says "the truer you are to the gospel the more you'll suck in terms of quality in the eyes of the world."
Or they lay claim to being a real church, as opposed to all those high-tech, lights and cameras, stage and curtains, overly produced megachurches. So if your worship is being led by someone with a kazoo, at least you can be full of your own virtue.
Let's cut to the chase, shall we?
We are not called to suck.
We are called to excel.
This is a character issue, because sucking is about the quality of your ministry - a quality you control by the degree you are willing to work and invest. Do I really need to list all of the verses that speak to giving God our very best in all that we do as an act of worship, whether it's work or ministry, service or relationship?
As people called to do all things for the glory of God, we are called to strive for excellence. Excellence has never been about big budgets and big staffs; excellence is doing the best you can with what you have to work with.
This is also a witness issue, because sucking undermines the message. Ever heard the old line, "who you are is speaking so loud I cannot hear what you are saying?"
Think about it: what impression is given when a first-time, unchurched person comes to your service and sees typos in the program, hears poorly performed music, and then listens to a talk that sounds like it was pulled together the night before?
I'll tell you what they will think: "I'm not so sure about this…if all this Jesus and God stuff was really true, they wouldn't do church this way. They wouldn't dare."
So how do you not suck?
Here are five things any church or ministry could do before this weekend and, yes, stop sucking.
1. Rehearse Beforehand.
At Meck, every service is rehearsed. A lot. Band members and vocalists receive their music well in advance and practice on their own. They come to a Tuesday night rehearsal the week of the service. They return again on Saturday, just after lunch, and work another three or four hours ending in a full run-through of the entire service before the first of our weekend services.
That's just the band. Our MecKidz team rehearses; if someone is giving an announcement, they rehearse; if a stagehand is going to move a prop out for the talk, they rehearse.
And yes, privately, in my study, before the first of the weekend services, I rehearse my entire talk.
2. Script It Out.
At Meck, we script just about everything. The service follows a detailed script in terms of the flow of the service - who does what, when and where.
If someone is going to give an announcement, they have been given a verbal script; our communicators in MecKidz are all working from scripts.
And yes, I engage in the discipline of writing a full manuscript for each and every one of my talks.
Now before the tired old line of "where is the Holy Spirit allowed to ‘move'" is thrown out, I have a question: where does it say a lack of preparation and a lack of form is what allows the Holy Spirit to move? Couldn't the Holy Spirit have been involved in the writing of a speaker's manuscript?
The goal is to be so prepared that you are able to present effortlessly. Though I work from a full manuscript, I have worked with that manuscript enough to not be "tied" to it or simply reading it, but allowing it to allow me to bring the message to life - but with discipline and precision.
3. Study Up on Guestonomics.
You've heard of economics, well, let's throw in guestonomics. The word "economics" is built off of two Greek words - one meaning house or household, and the other meaning "laws" or "rules." So economics has to do with the governing rules of managing the income of a household.
Guestonomics has to do with the governing rules for managing the "income" of guests!
If you don't want to suck with your first-time guests, then think through what it's like for them to come as a first-time guest. Think through your external signage, your parking, your entrances, your internal signage, the cleanliness of your bathrooms, greeters, friendliness, how they can get more information, how they can get connected…the list can go on and on. But think it through in light of what it would be like to experience it as a first-time guest.
We have an entire ministry called "Guest Services" that is completely devoted to this cause, including police officers for traffic control, parking lot attendants, greeters, hospitality teams serving coffee, bookstore personnel, the "blue crew" (ushers), Connection Center staff, MecKidz sign-in and more.
Our goal is simple: sensitivity in every possible way for those coming to Meck for the first time.
4. Get Kid Friendly.
I wrote about this recently. You can read it here.
5. Ask for Feedback.
Every organization has its share of blind spots. There are areas where you are not excelling, and do not know it; where you are not being sensitive to guests, and do not know it; where you think you have things covered, and you do not.
Getting feedback from the people you are trying to reach helps eliminate the blind spots. Every week we send out scores of letters to first-time guests thanking them for attending - but also inviting them to give us feedback in three areas:
What did you notice first?
What did you like best?
How can we improve?
You don't have to do these things. You don't have to rehearse, mess with scripts, think about your guest's experience, invest in children's ministry or ask for feedback.
Really, you don't.
You can keep sucking.
James Emery White