Churches should understand ‘why’ before ‘what’
September 3, 2018
Too often we hear about something that is successful for another church and, when we investigate it, our immediate thought is “that won’t work here.” We often reject what it is before understanding why it works. Why it works is about inner connection, not surface trappings.
How should we analyze events? My analogy is to how chefs create a dish. There are only five basic tastes: sweet, salty, sour, bitter and umami. Chefs understand how to layer and balance these tastes.
One of my current favorite food-oriented documentaries is Ugly Delicious on Netflix, starring chef David Chang of Momofuku in New York City. In one episode, he eats a dish that has an extraordinary amount of fat. However, the chef had also added vinegar powder, and Chang remarks, “there’s enough acidity to balance the fat.” I didn’t know that, but now I’ll always remember that acidity balances fat.
In another episode, he talks to René Redzepi, chef of Noma in Copenhagen, Denmark, which has been named the world’s best restaurant four times by Food & Wine magazine. Redzepi said, “I think increasingly when people go out they want something that’s more home cooking, whereas maybe before it was people wanting something they don’t get at home.”
Then Chef Chang’s wife added: “That reminds me of when I had my first Noma dinner. It reminded me of something my mom used to make, and it was so homey, it was so unexpected. … I had no idea that I could feel this way about food.” They understand the emotional connection being made by their food. It’s deeper than flavor.
When you see a successful program or worship style elsewhere, the question isn’t whether you can replicate it; the question is whether you can understand how it touches people. Why does it work? What are people relating to? For example, you may see a worship service that employs techniques you would not or cannot use, whether it is a rock band, fog machine or dancing lights. But are people attracted to the lights — or to the energy level? Then ask, would your worship benefit from a higher energy level? Could you raise the energy in different ways? Replicate the connection, not the mechanics.
Churches succeed through emotional connection. Just as there are only five tastes, there are only a handful of basic human emotional needs. People need a sense of belonging, a sense of hope and a sense of purpose. People need to feel loved and to feel reassured. We don’t all have the same needs at the same time, but we have the same needs some of the time. These needs also shift and vary from person to person.
Understanding the emotional connection that is being made is the key to understanding why something works. Then you will be able to achieve a similar result in your congregation. When you look at your worship and your programming, what emotional touch points are you hitting — or missing? Are there multiple touch points, and are they balanced? Is there both high energy and space for contemplation? Is there a balance between comfort and challenge? Do people leave feeling inspired and hopeful?
People no longer feel an obligation to attend church. If they do, a void is being filled. People do not give up 20, 30 or even 50 Sunday mornings a year lightly. Churches that are attracting new adherents are connecting with them at a deeper level, and not all in the same way. When you understand how that connection is being made, you have a better chance of designing programs and worship services that will connect with people in your community.
Richard Hong; Pastor; First Presbyterian Church of Englewood, New Jersey
Today’s Focus: The Key to Successful Ministry
Let us join in prayer for:
First Presbyterian Church of Englewood Staff
Rev. Richard Hong, Pastor
Dr. David Macfarlane, Director of Music
Felicia Arrigoitia, Director of Family Ministries
Dorothy VanderWerf, Director of Care Ministries
Danielle DeLaurentis, Office Manager
Beth Morrison, Office Associate
Analia Brown, Bookkeeper
Garin Kassis, Custodian
PC(USA) Agencies’ Staff
Let us pray:
Good and gracious God, help us to be faithful with the good news that you have entrusted us to proclaim. Guide and inspire us to real and practical service that we might minister to all according to their genuine needs. In Christ’s name. Amen.