Closed vs. Open
I went to a Gungor concert the other day. If you've never heard them, they are absolutely outstanding. It ended up being one of the better concerts I've been to. The performance was centered around their latest album, Ghosts Upon the Earth. Seriously, if you haven't heard it, stop reading and click the link:
The lead singer of the band has dubbed this a concept album, meaning it follows a storyline and each song is a part of that story, meant to be played in the order found on the album. The cool thing about the concert is that they went one step further and not only played the album from beginning to end (with one or two exceptions), but added the artistry of a spoken word reading between certain songs and a board on an easel designating different acts, as if part of a play. The whole thing was seamless from beginning to end… no pauses, no jokes in between songs… the concert as a whole was a piece of art that told a passionate story of redemption.
I recently just finished Steve Jobs biography, a massive 600+ page giant of a book. I've remained an Apple aficionado since my college days, and it was quite interesting to read the back stories that explained why I found myself drawn to many of their products through the years. One of the lasting philosophies held firmly by Steve Jobs, and therefore Apple, was this idea of closed vs. open. Steve wanted nothing left up to chance. To control every aspect of the user's experience… the hardware, the interface, the design, the packaging, and even the look of parts unseen… would ensure that the customer would not only be satisfied, but have an encounter with a product that was both magical and memorable. He believed that if even one part were left open to an outside developer, the whole experience of using the product would be compromised. On the other side of the argument are companies like Microsoft that creat products that are open to modification by any techie desiring to mix and match and create their own system. Windows is a good example of this. It will run on virtually any brand of computer out there, while the Mac OS will only run on Mac hardware. While this approach seems to offer more "freedom" and "choice," time has revealed the difference between the two. Microsoft products are less integrated, clunkier, and ultimately more frustrating to use, while Apple products have an intuitive beauty about them and are known as products that "just work." People may disagree with that statement depending on their loyalties, but there's no arguing that Apple has recently become the most valuable company in the world, and I believe it's because closed yields better results than open.
So what can we learn from this in the church setting? More often than not, our weekend services become a mixed bag of different elements thrown together in no particular order with little sense of which deserve high priority and which do not. It's become an open system in which one ministry leader has an important announcement so we throw that in, and the worship leader is really feeling Crowder-like this week so we add a bit of that, and the pastor has a great sermon on grace so we be sure to leave time for that, and then there's offering and communion and announcements that we can't forget to include somewhere. By the time Sunday morning rolls around, the congregation is led to hop, jump, and skip from this topic to that without any idea if and how any of it ties together.
What if our Sunday experiences could look a little more like a closed system. One in which, like the Gungor concert, the focus is on an over-arching story, and every element in the service supports the theme and the message. Where transitions are seamless and artistry abounds. One in which, like Apple, a deep and meaningful experience is crafted and closely guarded from outside distractions and competing voices. A closed system allows us to focus on communicating the most beautiful and compelling stories ever told. It's not about shutting people out, but about narrowing our focus in order to draw more people in. People are constantly filtering out so many voices, ads, messages, and noise these days, that unless the church can recognize the importance of communicating with a clear and uncluttered voice, it is also in danger of being tuned out. Let's move the church forward and begin by crafting services with a singular focus, supported from beginning to end with creative iterations on the theme, and minimizing the time spent in the gaps and seams. In doing so you'll be curating an experience rather than checking items off a to-do list.
If this is your first time thinking about the benefits of creating branded, streamlined Sunday experiences, why not start a conversation with someone who can get you going on the right track?