This next moment in my spiritual journey was one of the “highs” that youth pastors talk about (not the “highs” most people talk about.) Last week I shared the results of the Sunday morning survey we did and the ideas we had to start a sleeper-sensitive Church service. Little did we know what we were getting ourselves into.
The big Friday night had come and the chairs were set up. Yes, I said Friday night. Remember the survey? They said that church was too early, but that they had nothing to do for free on a Friday night. So we started our thing on Friday nights. We didn’t spend much time on the name–so we just called it “Friday Night Live”… which sounded somewhat familiar to us, but I don’t recall why.
It would start at 9:45 PM. A house band was warming up. Their job was to play instrumentals of very current songs. This was 1994, so think DMB, Weezer, Green Day, Bush & Soundgarden. We had set up a very specific number of chairs. Our group was nearly 100 on Wednesday nights for our student worship. So we challenged everyone to bring at least one person. So we set up 200 chairs in the commons area of our university. This was a very high traffic area of the school, but there was a small stage in the front. We were setting up all day long, putting up signs and everything. A few art majors on our team told us that no one looks at posters, but that they could do drawings on the sidewalks that everyone would see. No one knew if this was ok with the school–but since it would wash off at first rain we told them to go ahead and ask forgiveness as there wasn’t time to ask permission.
One of the heroes of the event was a girl named Robin. She had taped little funny videos. One featured two well known-school officials (including one named Todd) playing the roles of Harrison Ford & Tommy Lee Jones in The Fugitive. She “edited” these videos with two VCR machines and a TV, pressing pause, play and record in sequence to somehow get the final product.
Another hero of the event was a guy named Brendon. He was my roommate–and we needed a Host for the service. It needed to be someone that was funny and easy going in their nature. I thought Brendon was perfect. He would be our “David Letterman.” He had never done anything like this before (who had?) so he spent the day before the event stocking shelves at the local grocery store and trying to come up with a monologue.
There were about 30 volunteers making this first event happen, but one more hero I should mention is Chris. He was the staff pastor at the church that sponsored our ministry, and he made T-Shirts that all our small group leaders and volunteers wore at the event, then he gave the “spiritual punch” at the end of the night.
So, the chairs were set up–200 of them. But an hour before the event I noticed that a lot of people were hanging out in anticipation of the event. We hadn’t event set the lights yet. So as the director, I started to speed us up a bit. We hit the lights and had the house band start a little early. The chair-volunteer, already very sweaty, got his team to set up another 100 chairs. By 9:30 every single chair was full, so he and his team kept bringing in chairs. We never got a very accurate count that first night–but well over 400 showed up, four times the amount we had, and twice what we had even prayed for.
The skits were hilarious and all written by our drama types, the videos surprisingly good (for being so low tech), the monologue made us laugh, the house band was amazing & the spiritual punch at the end hit us right between the eyes. We explained at the end why we would do such a strange event–and explained that we thought this was what church might look like for us. Good clean fun and good, straight truth.
Dozens of people signed up for our small groups–more than 100 that night alone. The 30 volunteers put their hearts-and-souls into the event (and some of those volunteers would become key to the ministry in the coming months). Our ministry more than doubled in it’s mid-week worship time the following Wednesday, and our Sleeper-Church Service was a huge success.
But of course, that was only the first week. There’s more to the story.