“Prime time or peak time is the block of broadcast programming taking place during the middle of the evening for television programming.” Wikipedia
Television Executives are smart! They know when the vast majority of people in our country are sitting in front of their televisions. It’s been called, “PRIME TIME” and it has been the concept in visual media that has driven the television industry from its infancy to the behemoth that it has become. It is probably beyond our wildest imagination to sense or guess how much time, energy and money is spent to fill that PRIME TIME with the programming and advertising that feeds the media desires of a massive population. In fact, even as you read this people are writing, filming, planning and acting their way into the attention of the country vying for coveted Neilson rating points that will insure that they stay relevant in the country’s waning attention span!
MOST pastoral leaders know the truth – we have a vast majority of the people who are either members or who align themselves with our faith communities on Sunday morning during worship experiences. In almost 100% of the cases that I have studied over the years, congregational ministry is at its numerical peak during the expressions of the “gathered” church. It didn't take me long as a leader to see what Sunday morning actually is…it is where I have the highest potentiality of having a person’s “ear and heart,” as well as their attention focused on issues having to do with discipleship, spiritual encouragement and, ultimately, vision casting and the solidification of a mission mindset. In other words, the DNA of a congregation’s life is most felt and is at its peak of vulnerability during our Sunday morning gatherings. Worship experiences will either continue to cement existing organizational values and priorities, introduce dynamics of change and transformation that could lead to revitalization, or “stir the pot” as new elements of biblical encouragement regarding discipleship and faithfulness are explored. These gatherings set the tone for corporate ministry, they “nourish” the people in the truth and challenge of God’s Word, they soothe the hearts of disciples as Jesus’ presence is experienced in the Sacrament, they ground them in prayer, and they provide the optimal context for the deepening of relationships. Without a doubt, these times have become what I have called over the years, “PRIME TIME.”
So the question begs to be answered for congregational ministry leaders, “How do you use that PRIME TIME?” “Do you infuse congregational worship with shared vision?” Do you often highlight the fact that those experiences are the PRIME context from which we encourage and train disciples (in addition to proclaiming God’s grace and love)?”
I believe we either lie to ourselves or live with false hope that people, at least the vast majority of people in any given congregational setting, will attend “other” events from which we can effectively train and equip them for 21st century discipleship. In my context, I’m happy to get about 20% of active Sunday worshippers to attend any event (retreat, weekend spiritual growth conference, adult bible study, etc.). But that is just it – I have 20% at these “other” events far from the majority of people who call our congregation’s ministry their spiritual home. Because of that, I intentionally LEAN INTO prime time. I structure sermons, announcements, video and other visual media, even music to reflect some of the emphases I believe are necessary for our community to grow in our commitment to Jesus and to His mission.
What do you do? How do you use PRIME TIME? There are a number of things you can do to infuse your worship experiences in a manner that will encourage the overall growth of your congregation’s mission-driven potential. If you purposely shift your mindset about what CAN occur in worship, if you can intentionally say to yourself, “this is the forum where MOST of our people are here, ready to listen and learn and grow,” and if you remember that you have at your disposal the promises and presence of God in and through that worship experiences, the possibilities are endless. Below are just a few ideas that I’ve used to lean into PRIME TIME:
a. Have an Annual State of the Church message – reviewing the purpose of ministry and discipleship, your congregation’s values, and how the congregation is accomplishing or actively pursuing faithfulness to those values. I use these times to review the past year and look to the next year with “fresh eyes” to renewed energy, emphasis and focus.
b. Teach intentionally on discipleship from the gospels – there is a measured difference between proclamation and teaching. Proclamation is usually focused on inspiration and encouragement. It is truly a “prophetic” gift that is meant to be used by the Spirit of God to enlighten, convict, convince and challenge God’s people. Teaching, on the other hand, has a divergent purpose. It is based on an assumption of change…it is built on actualization of new and/or structured information as well as the inculcation and application of truth in such a manner that it is personally owned and effectively applied. Two years ago, I decided to teach through the gospels for an entire year looking at every text from a discipleship perspective. I asked the congregating to ask themselves not, “What would Jesus do?” but rather, “What is Jesus doing in and through us and in our world? How do we join HIM in mission?” We learned from every text essential Jesus following principles as prayed together that they may be made real in our lives.
c. Frequently write introits, calls to worship, prayers and litanies that are focused on the call of discipleship, our ministry to the world and culture, and the challenges we face as followers of Jesus as we take steps of faithfulness to Christ. Add another section of scripture to your lectionary readings one that is specifically mission focused.
d. Tell stories of people (especially YOU!) engaging the culture and community as Jesus followers. Tell stories of you and your neighbor’s relationship…your struggles to be a Gospel person in your daily life…the books or articles you are reading that encourage YOU in discipleship and mission. If you desire, present videos that encourage mission. Check out the videos that are available on sites such as Verge, Ecclesia, Exponential, and FiveTwo. Edit the videos as you see fit and use “snippets” or small tastes of presentations to encourage vision and discipleship.
If you were a television executive, you would cringe at the idea that any of programming personnel were ignoring the potentiality of PRIME TIME. My question to you as a fellow leader is, “are you ignoring the potentiality of the PRIME TIME God gives you with your faith community?”