Church Services: It's a story

Matt Destry - Creative Director Discovery Church VIC


MG: Hey Matty, I’d love to pick your brain about church services regarding putting them together. To give people a bit of context, what is your role during the week at church regarding the church service.

MD: So I am the creative director at Discovery Church in Melbourne and I look after everything that happens on a Sunday. So the experience from somebody who comes, drives off the street into our driveway, into our carpark, walking through the front doors, checking their kids in to kids ministry, getting a coffee, walking in through the auditorium doors, finding a seat, being part of the worship service, hopefully connecting with God and being part of that process of transformation that then helps them live their life differently, then out again into community with maybe another coffee and some hot chips. And then home. That process; everything in all those steps is one of the things that I do.

MG: What goes through your mind when planning a Sunday?

MD: So I start with the presumption that every service tells a story. So what’s the story that we are inviting people to be a part of. So I grew up in a church culture and context where the purpose was more information to help me know more about God. That was the unstated, but clear by what we did, aim of it. Whereas, the big picture for me personally is what story we are inviting people into and what do we want people to experience. So, how do we want them to feel and then you can go from there into what metaphors do you want to use around that. But we definitely start with that; what is the story that we want to tell.

Assuming as well that your church service isn’t going to be just for Christians, like the people who already know what to do, you will have some people in your service who don’t know what to do. They don’t know the conventions, they don’t know the lingo, they don’t know how everything goes. So I try to commit myself to the discipline of new experiences quite often because I want to remind myself what it’s like for someone to pluck up the courage to go to church for the first time. Walk in, being nervous, “ahhh, where do I go.” So we have visitor parking and a lot of churches don’t, you might be parking on the street, and that’s a different thing. But just trying to make it easy for people to get there, to be in the service. And that’s all still part of the story. Because if we believe that God wants to be experienced by all we want to make it as simple as possible for people to engage with gathering together.

A lot of the time if you are a family, you are thinking are my kids going to be safe. So making sure that the kids area or the sign in area which a lot of people have now, and you get the little slip and all that so not anyone can just come and grab your kids from the end of the service, making sure that it’s all really well sign posted and really well manned, so that if I’m a family i’m going “Yeah, I totally trust these guys that my kids are going to be safe in their care,” if you are putting them into some kind of kid’s program, that would be one thing I’m thinking about. I’m just thinking about stuff like how easy it is to find everything. Are the toilets easy to find? Is the auditorium easy to find? But then as well it’s also the opportunity you have right at the beginning to start telling that story more specifically. So maybe you are doing a series on Colossians and the big pictures about how big Jesus is. He is the king of the universe and the cosmos, everything was created by and for him and all of that. What are the cues visually and are there cues you can give people before they even get there that start telling that story. And you could do a number of things, using graphic design or using images or using pictures, and it doesn’t have to be all highly professional, but just well thought out. Ways to start telling that story before you start the service.

MG: And then Matty, take us from people have come into church and then what has gone through your mind in planning for the church service part. 

MD: So again, what story are we telling, be really clear and it affects the songs that you choose. You want to pick songs that either accentuate that point or add like a counter note to it. It doesn’t have to be always banging on the same thing, but maybe if you are talking about the bigness of Jesus you want to be singing about the intimacy of Jesus, as a counter-point to that. So I’m starting to think more now about are there other creative elements that keep hammering that same point home. So is there a way of exploring those ideas that you want to explore in a creative way, is there someone who can make a film or can you source a film. Is there someone who can dance or can you source someone to come and dance. Are there other ways of being able to tell that same story that creates a moment in the service where it goes, “Ok, this is not just information now, this is more that filling my head with stuff. I have experienced God in a way that I wouldn’t have if watched this on live-link from my bedroom. Are there ways of engaging people with one another, it could be community, can we sit in circles rather than in rows, like there is heaps of different stuff but again its got to be driven by ”What’s our purpose?” So, can I give a small example of it?

MG: Please.

MD: So a few weeks ago we are in the middle of a series called restore, which is all about how God puts broken things back together better than they were before they were broken. That was the big idea with the series and I wanted to talk about Peter and his restoration, the denial of Jesus three times and then Peter’s restoration on the beach with fish, do you like me three times to kind of counter the three denials. And I thought it would be great somehow to help people experience the idea of it. So we hired a guy who cooked wood fired bread and he brought a wood fired pizza in and we left him outside so that he didn’t destroy the church or set off all of our fire alarms, but as he cooked this flatbread outside the church the smell came in and it added another sense to it. It wasn’t just hearing the songs and hearing the message and seeing it, people got to smell it and got to smell the bread and smell the fire and then we used that bread for communion at the end. So it was simple in terms of all we had was one guy cooking bread but it added a completely different dimension to the service. I was wracking my brains to see how we could get an actual fire inside the church, but they wouldn’t let me do it!

MG: Matty, what have you been learning about time and a church service and how long to sing, how long to preach and I guess remembering a lot of our churches are time pressured but instead of sometimes we can get a bit nego about it, what have you been learning? You love to sing to the Lord, you love to preach but what have you been learning about the congregation and the clock?

MD: I would just say be consistent. Some churches are going to go longer than others and I don’t think that’s a bad thing. But I’m happy to stand and sing for forty-five minutes if that’s what we do around here, no worries, just have a good reason for why you want to sing that long and preach for fifty minutes and then do like an hour of prayer ministry or testimonies or whatever. That’s all good as long as long as you are consistent and you’ve got a good reason for doing that. Other churches go completely the other way and it’s kind of clipped, everything is short, the message is more TED talk style.

I would just say, whatever is going to work for you, just make sure that you are consistent and that you have a good reason for why it is that long or that short. 

Consistency builds trust. So you do the same thing most weeks, people then know what to expect. It’s like any meeting that you have. Even if its a meeting that you have with three people in an office, doing the same things week after week, for whatever reason, it builds trust. Now I know in a Holy Spirit led church, God can do whatever He wants and He is open to change things and flip the script and all of that. But at least then people are expecting that if that’s one of your expectations, “In our church God can do whatever”, so at least you are still consistent in that rather than one week a year it blows out and goes for four hours. I think just having a bit of a cap on it just so people go, “OK, cool - its 10am i’m going to be out of here at 11:30 and I’m going to be able to say to my family who I am meeting for lunch that I’ll be there at twelve.” And it helps them plan for the day.

MG: And Matty, in our last two minutes for that young person out there who has got a little evening service. You know, fifteen to forty people and who has been hearing you share about these creative ideas and maybe is feeling like, “Oh, I don’t feel like I can pull all this off” and I know your not saying that they have to but what would you like to share to that little crew that is still on point of course with what you have been saying.

MD: Yep I would just say do find one thing that you can do. If the story that you want to tell is clear, maybe its just one thing you can do differently and it won’t cost you a lot of extra time and it won’t cost you a lot of extra money and you don’t need heaps of resources. It could just be these really simple small things and you’ve got twelve people in your group you could even divide it up and say, “Hey, your job is to do that and your job is to do that. We’re thinking we might do this a little bit differently this week, can you be involved in that?” Again, making sure the story that we are trying to tell and the experience that we are to have today is this. So let’s just think a little bit differently about it rather than, “Ahh, we don’t know what to do so we will just do what we did the last time, or the time before, or the time before…”

 MG: Matty, would you lead us in a prayer for our guys out there who are leading church services in and out and that would be wonderful.

MD: Yes, sure. Father, thank You for the men and women who every single weekend get up to lead Your people into worship, to teach Your people, to invite them into something of a transformative experience with You. I pray Lord that in the weeks and months to come You would fill our hearts with imagination, You would fill our minds with wonder and Lord help us to seek to do the best with what we have because we are telling the greatest story ever told and we are helping people experience a God who is so transcendent and yet so intimate that He knows all things and yet He knows the very hairs on our head. So I pray Lord God that You would give us grace to do that, to lead people into that with authenticity, with humility and with kindness and Lord God would we see more of Your kingdom in our services, so that we can see more of Your kingdom outside of our services in our world. In Jesus’ name, amen.