Rhythms and the Word
Healthy people and healthy churches understand rhythms. The teacher was spot-on when he said, “There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens” (Ecclesiastes 3:1). There are times for long hours and intense work. There are times for rest and relaxation. If you stop and observe, almost anything that’s healthy in life has a rhythm. There are growing seasons and seasons where we let things lie fallow. We exercise our muscles intensely and then we must rest. Too much of one or the other can be detrimental.
Every church has a spiritual rhythm. As a church leader, it is vital for us to understand our church’s and community’s natural rhythms. Then we plan our church programming and content around those seasons. Failing to do so will result in missing opportune times for growth and outreach. As I describe my church, by way of example, I want to be clear that its unique rhythm doesn’t necessarily reflect your church’s rhythm. Every context is unique.
How do rhythms affect planning weekend services and messages? We’ve discovered that here in Tucson, Arizona, we have three seasons when unchurched folks are more likely to visit and be more spiritually open. And naturally, those are also the seasons we have a greater number of guests. So, we design our weekend services around those three times.
Our three seasons of higher spiritual interest are August (when it’s very hot and families have returned from vacation and students have returned to school), December (because of Christmas), and Easter and the month that follows.
Easter is the season we see the most heightened spiritual awareness among the unchurched. How about you? In what seasons does your church see the most visitors? Discuss it among your key church leaders. Be a student of your own culture.
We are not rigid about this schedule, but we have taken seriously the spiritual seasons of our church and community. In fact, we’ve planned our weekend services and teaching around a trimester plan. We design shorter topical teaching series at or around the three seasons (August, December, and Easter) when we have the most visitors. We put extra effort and funds into environmental elements for these series, including logos, stage design, and other creative elements. It is difficult for most churches to sustain a high level of creativity throughout all 52 weeks of the year, so we put most of our proverbial eggs in those three baskets.
We typically do longer series from a Bible book or focused on equipping the saints during the seasons between August, December, and Easter. While we never want a service to become boring, we do scale back on the creative components during those seasons.
I don’t propose that our plan should be your plan. Rather, get in tune with your community and its culture. Then, in combination with your own ministry philosophy, develop your weekend services and teaching. Don’t try for balance—it is way overrated. Program around your natural spiritual cycles.
Working for Us
Here’s an example of how this worked for us last winter and spring. We began our first trimester (January to March) with a study of 2 Corinthians. Then, leading up to Easter, we did a short series called “Amped,” which focused on the power of the Holy Spirit. We wanted to prepare our people to allow the Spirit to empower them.
After Easter weekend, we did a four-week series called “Move Now!” We invited folks who attended Easter services (our highest attendance weekend of the year), to join us for this follow-up series. We challenged them to join us in learning how to make a difference in our neighborhoods and community (which was the focus of the “Move Now” series). We followed that highly creative series with a study of 1 and 2 Chronicles. We called that series “Heroes and Legends.” That led up to our next key season in August. And the cycle began again.
Seek God’s guidance, be a student of your culture, have great discussions with your leadership teams, and plan for the seasons that will reap the greatest harvest. There is a time for everything under the sun.
Glen Elliott serves as lead pastor with Pantano Christian Church in Tucson, Arizona.