Intentionally Planning an Authentic Church Experience

POINT OF THE POST...

Learn how intentional planning can enhance the organic experience, foster connections, and create a celebratory atmosphere.

Is “Organized Organic” and Oxymoron When It Comes to Church? 

Church leaders love the feeling of an organic church service. “Organic” goes by several other names, such as “authentic,” “vulnerable,” “real,” and “spirit-led.” 

I love these, too. Unfortunately, church leaders feel they need to neglect planning and organizing in an effort to be more authentic and organic.

It’s like we are forced to choose one or the other. 

This conversation isn’t an anti-spirit-filled diatribe. As you may guess, though, I am, by nature, more organized, systematic, and strategic than organic. For a long time in my church leadership journey, it felt like these options were binary. Our church services were organized. Our nights of worship, on the other hand, were highly organic. I was highly involved in the planning and execution of our church services. I remained away from nights of worship planning, allowing our music director and others like him to create these more organic experiences.

Over time I found that organizing the organism of the body of Christ isn’t antithetical to the organic nature of the church. And it’s not working against God’s vision for the church.

In this conversation, I’d like us to address how your church can become more intentional without losing its authenticity and organic nature. 

I Didn’t Expect Auburn Community Church (ACC) to be so Organized!

I wrote about my recent experience at ACC in this post

I’ve known Miles for a little while. He’s a wonderful pastor, communicator, and leader for ACC. Yet, my initial impression of thee church was that it’s a “church as an organism” kind of place.” Before I attended a service at ACC, I stopped by while passing through to visit with him and his leadership team. While there, this topic came up.  

Talking with his team helped clarify my approach to church leadership a bit more. I love the local church. And I love the organic nature of the organism. Yet, I also knew from years of pastoral leadership experience that a disorganized church cannot be a growing church. Growth requires scale, and scale demands organization. 

At Woodstock City Church, we were highly organized by choice and requirement. As a campus location of North Point Ministries, our multisite matrix organization demanded skilled orchestration. Our campus hosted 6,000 – 8,000 attendees per Sunday pre-Covid. I’m unsure how many people a church can have on Sunday without some amount of organization, but it’s much less than 6,000. Heck, it took 1,000+ volunteers coordinated across 8 ministries to execute a church experience for 6,000 attendees! 

Assuming Miles’ bend toward the organism side of the church, I was unsure what to expect. As I watched their entire service, from the parking lot to the front door to the auditorium and back again, it was highly orchestrated. I attended a baptism service where ACC baptized 25 people. It was their fourth such service of the day (yup, they baptized 100 people that day). Everything about the experience was planned. Well thought through. It was organized, yet it felt so organic. 

So how did they do it? 

Getting Your Organism Organized

A few years ago, I may have commented something like, “the Holy Spirit” is available to join your planning meeting, not just your Sunday service!” While that statement is accurate, sarcasm aside, what I felt at ACC wasn’t just good planning. It was a unique kind of planning. 

Most pastors plan what will happen in a church service. Using Planning Center or something similar, church leaders plan when to being preservice music (iTunes, etc.), when to conduct the welcome or opening song, what songs to sing in what order, when each song should theoretically start (if the welcome doesn’t run long or the worship leader doesn’t preach a sermonette between songs), when the giving moment occurs, when the sermon will start and, again, theoretically end, and if there will be closing song or dismissal. 

That’s the plan, right. We do this first, second, third, and so forth. 

You should plan. You should time your services to strategically accomplish your intended goals. 

ACC does this. But I think they add one more thing to their plan. 

ACC planned what they wanted to do. They also planned what they wanted me and the other attendees to feel and experience. 

This is a secret to creating an organized organic church experience. 

Great church services plan what they will do and what they want you to feel.

What Do You Want People to Feel? 

Is this question part of your ongoing planning process? Defining what you want your attendees to feel during your service allows you to organize and orchestrate what will feel organic to the attendee. 

My ACC visit is a perfect example. Here is what I felt, and what I suspect was planned for me to feel: 

1. Expected and Welcome

When I entered their property, parking volunteers were everywhere, directing me to open parking spaces while leading those exiting to the road. I was a family member of a person being baptized. This is a big deal, and ACC knew it. They were expecting me. And they were expecting, as a guest, I wouldn’t know where to go or sit. They had huge, clear signage outside the front doors directing families (like me) to check-in. There, we met our volunteer host for the day, who guided us through the lobby and to our seats. That volunteer remained with our family throughout the entire service. 

Finally, Miles began the service by explaining the day’s purpose and what we could all expect. Once again, they planned for my comfort. 

Not once did I feel uncertain or confused. I felt comfortable. I felt expected and welcomed from parking lot to parking lot. 

Your Potential Question: How can we better organize to ensure everyone feels expected and welcome? 

2. Connected

The service was highly organized. In this planning, the ACC team created spaces for connection. They didn’t feel their way through the service, hoping they were reading the room correctly. They planned for the room and for me. From the welcome to the music to Miles’ message and all the baptisms, it was a connected experience that allowed me to feel connected to each person’s baptism, Miles, the band, those around me, and ACC as a church. 

ACC knows content is a commodity, so they build services around connection – something better and more emotionally engaging. 

Your Potential Question: How can we help people connect to God, each other, and themselves during their church experience? 

3. Excited! 

I’ll touch on this in a future blog, but it’s apparent that fun, energy, and celebration are valued at ACC. 

I imagine part of this is derived from Miles’ passion. I suspect it’s also planned. After all, if “Jesus Wins,” then we should celebrate! Church should celebrate Jesus, life change, and transformational opportunities weekly. 

To be fair, I attended a baptism service where 25 people went public with their faith. That’s pretty easy to celebrate! But, and this is important, ACC planned for the celebration by adding energy and enthusiasm to the experience. They didn’t dunk people and golf clap. They selected more celebratory songs for the service. They orchestrated how to give 25 people space to tell their two-minute testimony without losing momentum. Miles planned his message to be much shorter, knowing the day’s purpose was not a message. And they gave all the families confetti canons to add to the baptism moment. 

It was a celebration! And it was exciting. Not by accident but by intention. 

Your Potential Question: What is worth celebrating in our service this week? 

Don’t Be Afraid to Organize the Organism 

One of the worst things you can do as a church leader is refuse to organize. The more you plan, the more margin you create to be great. And the more you’ll experience the organic nature of the church organism. 

How do I know? 

Well, I learned this initially from the staff creating our nights of worship. They didn’t walk into the experience without a plan! They planned the entire thing! But they didn’t just plan what to do; they planned what to feel. 

I’d love to know what experience questions you use in your planning process. Drop them in the comments below or email me directly. 

P.S. If you want to think more about organizing the organism, check this out: Strategies to Launch A Healthy Church or 6 Organizational Requirements Growing Churches Embrace.

Plan away, 

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