Friday, September 21, 2007


It is always nice when a congregation possesses a certain "energy." You enter the Worship Center and you sense that something is "happening." You might describe the environment as "electric" or "alive." There's a "buzz" in the place. Over the years I've paid attention to this energy and come to a few conclusions.

1. It is better to have this energy in the room than not to have it. Everything is easier when you have it. Worshipping is easier. Teaching is easier. Even giving the announcements is easier when there is energy in the room. Conversely, when the room is dead, it is just that much harder to sing and teach.

2. The energy you experience may be quite natural instead of supernatural. I could be wrong here. But I do have a sense for God's presence, and I'm unconvinced that the "buzz" you experience when a group of people come together to worship is necessarily a supernatural manifestation. It may be a very natural phenomena. I say this because I've sensed the same energy at super bowl parties, crowded coffee shops, school plays, family reunions, basketball games and concerts. In other words the energy may be a natural consequence of people getting together, and not just for spiritual purposes.

3. The energy we like to experience can come from more than one source. As I've reflected on this energy, I've come to believe that it comes in two varieties: 1) the "energy of community" and 2) the "energy of crowd." The energy of community is the buzz you sense at a superbowl party, crowded coffee shop or family reunion. The energy of crowd is the electricity you experience at a school play, basketball game or concert. It is easy to think that the energy of community and crowd are the same. They aren't the same. They feel similar, but for different reasons. The energy of community comes from reunion. The energy of crowd comes from anticipation. The energy of community finds its locus in the back of the room. The locus of crowd is the front of the room. Relationships are the star of the show with community; performers star with crowd. Community is bottom up. Crowd is top down.

4. The biggest difference between the energy of community and the energy of crowd is who brings the energy. With community, you bring the energy with you - you are an active participant, a prosumer. With crowd, the energy is brought to you - you are a passive spectator, a consumer. You hear pastors of large ministries saying things like, "It takes so much energy to lead this church." This power-demand is a "load" for the pastor and staff.

5. I much prefer to have the energy in a church come from community than crowd. Actually, I'd like to have both. But if I can only have one, I like to see the energy of community be primary. The best way to know whether you are dealing with the energy of community is to ask, "What happens to the energy level when the performers are not here to perform (pastor is away, etc.)?" When the energy comes from community the answer is, "There's still a buzz in the room." As an example, there's energy in the gymnasium until the announcer says the game is cancelled. Once the game is cancelled "the air goes out of the room." The energy of crowd is fickle like that. But let's say you show up at your family reunion, and discover that someone couldn't make it. It might put a slight damper on the energy in the room, but it will still be there, because there are a lot of other people with whom you can fellowship.


I have had two fairly high-energy experiences at CTK (Bellingham, Mount Vernon) in which we "switched power sources" (from community to crowd) as the ministry grew in size. With size there tends to come more passivity on the part of people. This not what we want, it's just the way it is. People come for "the show." Having a lot of people in the room is a different type of attraction than community, but it is an attraction. I think the attraction shifted from community to crowd in both Bellingham and Mount Vernon (to a lesser extent), and in both cases we got confused by thinking that the people were still coming because of community, and didn't pick up on the subtle shift until we were behind the curve.

Another thing that starts to happen when you get into hundreds of people is that people coming in from the outside start to push you (if you let them) toward a more programmatic model (this is what I believe snuck up on us in Bellingham). They expect there to be programs based on other large churches with which they are familiar. It takes a lot of intentionality on the part of the leadership to say, "No, this is a church of small groups. Small groups are our plan A and we don't have a plan B."

With a larger group that are subtle changes in style that can creep in as well. Communication tends to be more "broadcast" than "reciprocal/engaging." The pastor can start to be viewed as more of a celebrity instead of a fellow-struggler. Instead of a sense that "we all have answers we can bring to the table" it can start to feel like "the pastor is above us, obviously....just look at how many people are listening to him."

One of the reasons why I value launching additional Worship Centers, is because the energy of community (by percentage) crests and begins to fall somewhere around 300 people.


Another phenomenon I have observed is that by the time the church hits critical mass and momentum - hitting on all 8 cyclinders - there has been so much emphasis given to small groups (perhaps the fundamental cause of the momentum!) that fatigue starts to set in around a) talking about small groups, b) identifying new leaders, c) doing the social architecture of getting people into groups. You start to feel like you've said this stuff a thousand times (which you have), but the new people who are coming in (the most recent 100-150 people) haven't heard it yet. I think you have to "push through" the fatigue and talk about small groups as if you never have before.

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