For many years, my wife and I were regular viewers of the Tonight Show—first with Johnny Carson, then with Jay Leno. As the years moved on, we watched it less and less at the broadcast time (about 11:30 PM) and more and more on a recorded (TiVo-ed) version the next day. We are now somewhat regular viewers of the new Tonight Show and its latest host, Jimmy Fallon.
Fallon has a consistent way of beginning each night. He emerges from behind the stage curtains with joy, exuberance, and great enthusiasm every time. His hands are clapping as he approaches this appreciative studio audience, and he has an engaging smile—welcoming his studio audience and thanking his TV audience for tuning in. He exudes a contagious enthusiasm.
I wonder if we cannot learn something critically important from these opening 30 seconds of the Tonight Show!
We are ambassadors of the greatest good news ever delivered to the human family. We know One who lived and died and lives again as the “presence” of God in human history. We believe he came to portray God’s design and way of authentic and faithful living.
Yet, too often, a Sunday worship service begins with something far less engaging: “Well, good morning folks. Here are a few announcements for the week. Our annual rummage sale begins….The youth meet at 5 PM today instead of their usual time….Announcements are due for the church newsletter by Friday noon….OK, let us start with our first hymn! Let’s see, that’s on page __ or on the screen.”
I think we would ratchet up the attention of our people a significant notch or two if we spent more energy using something akin to Jimmy Fallon’s model. We need an upbeat piano, organ, or choral prelude, an enthusiastic greeting that reflects the direction of the service for that day, and an opening hymn chosen to bring worshippers to their feet from the get-go. This can be done with media technology; it can also be done by an individual who has prayed through and planned the opening minutes carefully with zero media help.
Tomorrow, United Methodist’s observe the “anniversary” of John Wesley’s definitive spiritual awakening on Aldersgate Street. Is it not a historical truth that Methodists were called Enthusiasts before we were called Methodists? One might also want to analyze some reported John Wesley’s advice: “Catch on fire with enthusiasm and people will come from miles to watch you burn.” What are the implications for leadership in this quotation?
I worship in many different churches because of my leadership development responsibilities for our Conference. I always advise an honest, exciting, and genuine opening to worship—one that represents theological integrity and one that attracts my attention and expectation for all that follows. The first 30 seconds are so very important.