By Stephen Brewster
When it comes to programming a service we tend to work really hard to find a tidy little bow that we can use to bring each week to a conclusion. Culturally, we love pretty little bows. I like them as well. We like the idea that God is going to help with our conclusion, and often times He does. Inside of 60 minutes we move from a cold stand off, through worshipping an invisible God, we address issues of conflict, through an inciting incident, and to a conclusion that attempts to make sense. Bows help us create that conclusion, tie all of this together, and when we do it traditionally helps us to provide practical applications of our message for people to apply to their lives. It not only is “feel good”, it can be very life giving and constructive.
But what if we decided to forgo our style and abandoned tying our programming together? How would we end a service? What if instead of a conclusion we created a cliffhanger? What if we decided to choose tension over completion?
Ending with a little tension may be just the right thing to accomplish the goal our communicators are looking for on a particular week or series. Tension could create the mode or feel necessary to communicate a specific topic or force people to digest content a certain way. Tension forces us to be an explorer. We are forced to examine and challenge what we believe. It raises questions as to why we feel a certain way or how we have become comfortable in our feelings and beliefs. Tension forces us to explore what God is trying to do in our lives and, even more importantly, what He might be doing in the midst of situations we may not understand. In short, tension is not going to be comfortable. Not for you, not for your team, and likely not for the audience.
At first blush we may feel that leaving our services without a bow and choosing to find tension is easy, but that could not be further from the truth.
Tension has to make sense. We can change or disrupt things. That part is easy. But doing it in a way that still accomplishes a specific purpose is actually very challenging. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking tension is just a different ending style. It is a unique tool crafted to accomplish a specific purpose. We have to know why we are creating tension for it to work. Without a clear why we will leave people confused and potentially waste a chance to share the gospel.
After we understand why we have to identify the emotion we are looking to create. What should this tension feel like? How are we creating it? Is it created through art, in the message, as a pre-service experience? Tension for the sake of tension can be very damaging or at least confusing.
It’s not really that one style of service is better than another, or that we have to alter the entire tone of our services either. Tension can be created in multiple sizes and ways to accomplish what we need. So before we make the decision, we should probably understand the conclusion. We don’t have to choose “bow” vs. “tension”. Rather we should ask what we are trying to accomplish and identify the absolute best way to arrive at that place.
Church programming is a funny thing. It is one of the most visible ways to identify the DNA of a church because it is one of the practices, and the largest gathering, of its evangelists. From traditional to charismatic, attritional to contemporary, everyone is different and tension will look different for each different style.
People have an expectation when they come in and it is healthy to stretch and develop that expectation over time, but remember to be intentional. We can create great moments, with a bow or without, but we have to make sure that whatever we are creating supports our overall goal, fits our series, and communicates what we know has to be communicated.