Lately I’ve been reviewing the somewhat interesting journey of the launch of Friday Night Live which I’m calling “The Sleeper Sensitive Church.”
[box type=”note_box” style=”” class=””]If you’re catching up, here are some links to the previous ones: They include the survey we did on Sunday mornings targeting “sleepers,” the results of that survey and our time dreaming up FNL. Then I reviewed the launch night of “Friday Night Live”, and also the crazy success of the first year following that launch.[/box]
After just 6 months FNL had grown to more than 1,000 in attendance. Within a year our ministry was cranking in nearly every capacity we could imagine: we were running a sunday afternoon “sleep in” service every week, we had a mid-week service of intense worship and preaching, we had dozens of small groups, and we were serving in the community. We had prayer ministries, and leadership development pathways. We had spiritual gifts retreats and mentoring systems. We had all-nighters for fun and day long meetings for planning. We had ski trips and missions trips. And all this seemed to flow out of the crazy success of FNL–which was are most visible flagship event/ministry. Of course this was all run by college students and one minister, named Chris Eads, who was in his mid to late 20s himself at the time, and could only put in about half of his time into the collegiate ministry because of his other responsibilities.
One of the core problems with FNL started with me, and that was leaders that poured so much into the program that it burned them out. It may sound funny (it sure does to me now that I’m middle-aged) to think of a 19 year old leader burning out–but burnout is not a matter of age or stage of life. Simply put–we put everything on the line for FNL. The hours it took to edit videos, write dramas, invent comedy, create sketches, produce promotions, schedule guests, organize a 100-member team, negotiate space issues, etc were mind-boggling for us. As I mentioned before, I only directed the first one. I was deathly ill all the next week after the launch, and couldn’t bring myself to lead the next one. Robin took over directing the next few, then a series of great young leaders like Eric & Dave and others would take over. A “tradition” developed where the director of FNL would serve for only a year or less. But this tradition was borne from adversity.
We were a church program; a new kind of “worship service” of a sort for our “sleeper” target audience. But we were meeting on the campus of a Christian University. This got us into some sticky areas. We would have guests that were officials from the university. We would include them in our videos, interviews or skits right from the start. In a proto-Colbert-Report-ish move, they would come on the show with their own agenda, and then we would politely mock them with satirical “we’ll play along with you” habits. This worked to everyone’s advantage, we felt. The effect was that the stiff administrators would come across as a bit more likable and relational so everyone won. However, with increased attendance and attraction came some unwanted attraction. Much of our humor was edgy, and some of it was crude. College kids aren’t known for their discernment. Along the way we as leaders had to internally review what would go on stage with more and more of a tight noose, and the reaction from some of what we did was very intense. Eventually there would be, long after I was gone, some intense struggles over censorship and expression. But I’m getting ahead of myself. Early on we began to self-censor, sometimes in a too-heavy way and sometimes without enough care. It was messy.
Arts for Arts Sake
Before long the communications, drama, arts & music majors all realized that FNL was the best stage to perform on. We were using, from the beginning, every method and medium of the arts we could get involved. After some time they came to us in droves. Whereas Robin edited videos on two VCR decks with the simplistic Pause/Play/Record technique, now we had the communications department offering for us and our volunteers to use the high priced equipment and cameras. With each of these kinds of steps we gave more and more control of the content away. The event began to be “a stage” more than “a ministry.” We noticed this, but weren’t that concerned. The quality was going way up. The event was more and more of a hit. We all believed in the arts, and wanted them featured. We let hit happen.
However, as the quality and intensity of the arts and humor and production increased, the “spiritual punch” at the end became more and more marginalized in the planning. I noticed that only after a month of planning for an event would someone say, “Oh, who is going to do that 3 minute spiritual punch thing at the end?” I think Chris took 15 minutes at the end of the first one, and we signed people up in small groups at the end. It was a holy moment I’ll always remember which felt like an altar call at a party. It felt downright biblical. But after some time the event lost some of it’s spiritual focus. Perhaps this was inevitable. We were “tacking on” the spiritual part at the end even in the original design. And we weren’t all that creative with the spiritual punch anyway. It was basically a short sermon. Perhaps the arts people felt it “didn’t fit” and were only letting that stay in as a 3-5 minute sermonette so they could do the arts stuff. In the end, FNL started to seem a bit shallow, even to those of us who started it. When another event was over, we would look at each other and say, “It was a fun ride,” but none of us knew what the results really were anymore.
I know this review seems a bit negative. Yes, we had on our hands one of the most successful launches we had ever seen. Our ministry was as good as ever, we felt. But a few of us wondered if perhaps FNL had crept into our consciousness and caused a bit of mission-drift. More on that later.
Have you ever been in a ministry that had something similar to the above happen to it. I know the FNL story is more extreme–but have you ever developed similar concerns?