Excellence vs. Authenticity

Craig Groeschel touches on something in his book, It: How Churches and Leaders Can Get It and Keep It…

Craig Groeschel touches on something in his book, It: How Churches and Leaders Can Get It and Keep It, that’s been on my mind quite a bit lately.  It has to do with finding the balance between doing things in our churches with “excellence” while, at the same time, keeping the atmosphere natural and authentic.

I pastor a church called The Orchard Community in Aurora, IL. We are a missional church community journeying together to become more like Jesus and make a difference both locally and globally. Over the past year we’ve added some pretty significant elements to our weekend gatherings in terms of media and technology.  Yet as we’ve taken those steps, we’ve also worked diligently to assure that our gatherings don’t come across over produced or inauthentic in any way. And honestly, it helps that most of us involved in the creative process hate anything that feels too produced or plastick-y. Our radars are always up when things feel too canned.

This got me thinking about some of the things we try to be intentional about in order to make sure our gatherings are both full of quality and authentic at The Orchard. Here are a few elements we value when it comes to our worship gatherings.

Element 1: Down-to-earth language. We are intentional about avoiding overly used “churchy” words and phrases during worship and teaching. Our communication style is very conversational in approach.  Still passionate and full of life, but mostly conversational.  We don’t go from sounding like regular people to Southern Baptist radio preachers once we hit the stage.

Element 2: No manufactured hype. We are very careful not to over-hype everything we do.  What’s great about this is that when we do show excitement or buzz about something, people really do believe and expect that something unique is getting ready to occur.  Avoiding over-hype builds excitement equity with people.  I intentionally shy away from overusing words like “awesome,” “off the hook” and “amazing,” because using these hype-inducing words too liberally cheapens them, and over time, causes them to lose effect.  Plus, the phrase “off the hook” just bothers the crap out of me.

Element 3: Don’t try to cover-up every ministry misstep. We don’t try to hide or overcompensate for production mistakes. Not that we encourage them, but we do play them off pretty well.  We’ve learned to laugh and make light about slip-ups during our gatherings.

Element 4: Don’t overdo it. Our style of music lends itself to that raw feeling.  Don’t get me wrong, it sounds and feels amazing, but it doesn’t sound like an overproduced band–like this one.  OK, that was a horrible example, that’s not over-produced, that’s just downright scary.

Element 5: Avoid scripted performance. We stay away from anything that looks, feels, or sounds rehearsed or canned. We try to engage the church in a way that feels fresh every time.

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Element 6: Use media for a purpose. We seek to use our moving video backgrounds and lighting strategically.  Too much motion can get old fast. We want to keep it original and surprising, but we also want the media we use to enhance our ministry experience and not distract from it.

Element 7: Dress to connect. We are intentional about dressing in a way that communicates to people, “Hey!  We’re normal!  Just like you.”  And then after a few weeks, everyone realizes that there’s nothing normal about us whatsoever!

These are just a few of the values that have helped us pursue excellence but stay authentic along the way.

So, I’m curious, is this a challenge for you?  If so, what types of things do you do to work towards excellence while keeping a real and authentic culture in your church? Where’s the balance for you and your ministry?

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