For the last few weeks I’ve been talking on Tuesdays about the launch of a new way of doing church back in the early 90s. (So, an old story about something that felt new at the time.) I started by talking about the survey we did on Sunday mornings, connecting with the “Sleepers” who became our “target audience” (this was long before I became disenchanted with such ideas, so bear with me.) I reported the results of that survey and our time dreaming up some new ideas. Then I talked about the launch night of “Friday Night Live”–which was such a crazy overwhelming success. More on that night and those that followed as promised today:
More than 400 attended that night and our ministry all the sudden exploded. We became the “hot ticket” in town (which, in a midwestern town surrounded by cornfields isn’t all that difficult, really.) After this event–the ministry expanded much wider. Our midweek worship service exploded in size… nearly tripling, and then our small group ministry, which only had a few groups, perhaps a few dozen in them–jumped to more than a dozen groups, with hundreds of young people in them.
Before long we also dreamed up the idea of a “Sleep Late” service on Sunday afternoons. The idea was “sleep till noon, then come to church.” It worked great. It was a time slot our sponsoring church (College Church) wasn’t using at the time–so they let us “have at it”–designing everything about it from the set to the sermon, from the bulletin to the Bible-readings. We even had our own script writing team that wrote an ongoing sit-com of dramas, acted out on stage every Sunday. It was “serial-style” where the characters came back every week. This meant that we could go deeper into the characters than the 5 minute skits from Willow Creek. Our Arts department went crazy with this–eventually the main character named Derek (in real life) even DIED in a car accident off stage, and nobody laughed… they actually cried because they had invested so deeply in the character and his hippie Coffee-shop owning father, Lloyd (also in real life).
Everything seemed possible in these days, to be honest. We were reImagining church in the early 90s in ways that I still see as innovative. I haven’t seen people try to pull the stunts they were pulling in that ministry. It’s really a credit to that Church that they let us do all this crazy stuff–even though we were just a bunch of kids (full circle story on College Church later on from me, but push pause on that for now.)
Friday Night Live remained our keystone event. It took so much to pull it off that we decided we couldn’t do it weekly. In fact, I was so burned out by directing the first one that I felt I could not go on directing each one, and so a tradition developed early that we would pass the torch of leadership. Eventually that became a yearly torch–but I wasn’t good enough to do more than just the first one. Couldn’t keep up with such a huge event (I’m not really an events or production guy at all).
While a few of us were crucial for the launch season (Chris, Robin, Brendon, myself, etc.) after about 6 months the thing grew to have a life of it’s own. I hosted it once, and most of the “funny types” on campus hosted it along the way (David Letterman style.)
Within 6 months that “sleeper-sensitive service” had grown to more than 1,000 in attendance, and we had a different problem to deal with. We started with less than 100 people, hoping to reach 200. More than 400 had shown up, and they all ended up bringing at least one friend–so that we ended up with one of the biggest things around.
Now we had to learn how to manage success, and all the junk that goes with it. More on that later.