This is part 5 of 6 of What I Learned in a Mega Church. You can read about Pastoral Care for Musicians in a Mega Ministry here, get 4 Tips for Managing the Stress and Multiple Priorities of Mega Ministry here, understand why You Don’t Have To Be A Big Church To Have A Great Church Staff here, and learn why You Don’t Have To Have A Big Music Ministry to Take a Choir Tour here.
Filling the Sanctuary
Over my 40 years of music ministry, one of the things I liked doing best was to fill the Sanctuary for special events. Typically, we decide to have a concert series without defining what sets it apart from other concerts. In a busy world, people have many choices, so it’s important to give them reasons to choose yours over others. I found that creating events was the key. It’s not just a fine concert (which is great) it’s an event that you don’t want to miss!
Over 15 years in Florida, I brought in the best choral conductors available to lead a weeklong workshop for my choir which culminated in a celebratory concert. The theme was to honor those who had died the previous year. I produced the event in the time between Christmas to Easter when there’s typically low energy in the life of music at church. The guest clinicians had very different skills, so each year the focus was different. When Hal Hopson was clinician, we focused on Psalms. When Paul Salamunovich was guest, we enjoyed his skills with renaissance music. With Sir David Wilcocks, we performed masterworks. Each of the 15 were very different, but with the central theme of celebration of life remembering those of our congregation who had died.
In another church, we took the Christmas choir concert (a very under attended event) and made it have splash with guest artists and fresh arrangements of seasonal favorites along with some new works that were in the same genera.
The common threads were:
1. Announcements and Publicity: Create a campaign with “WOW” language that disrupts the normal expectations of those you want to attract. Make different messages for internal and external communications.
2. Plan an Exciting Program: All too often we take an academic approach to programming. Put some slash into the content and think about the flow of the program.
3. Have a Promotional Partner: I always raised the funds to cover the expense of the event and was able to donate the proceeds of the offering to a local charity. We approached the charity in advance and asked the staff and board to attend and to promote the free event to their stakeholders. This raised the attendance numbers and raised the offering as well. We gave the charity 3 minutes to explain their work in the community, which increased the amount given by the attendees.
4. Create Scarcity: In some churches, we printed personal invitations for the choir, congregation, and charity to give out. Each invitation stated that the holder would have 2 reserved seats. In another church, we printed “tickets” which stated that the holder would have a guaranteed seat until 15 minutes before the event began. In all instances we packed in about 1,400 people into a Sanctuary that typically seated 1,200. Often, all the seats were full 30 minutes or more before the event started.
The formula = Hype + Scarcity + Value, all within your principles.
Here’s the team strategy for producing large events the fill the seats and provide value to attendees:
1. Form the Team Early: Find a team at least one year in advance of the big event and begin the planning process, set timelines and roles and responsibilities.
2. Create a Diverse Team: Find people to fill specific roles such as: Communications and PR, project management, networking, finance, community liaison, event logistics, etc. Be sure each person has a skill, a role, and a responsibility that’s clear. Always ask one person who is not a musician and is not a part of the music program to participate. You’ll need a perspective from the pew to avoid making assumptions from the performer’s perspective.
3. Ask for Commitment: Only allow those who commit for 13 months to be a part of this team. Plan for the event one year ahead, and end with an evaluation session within one month after the event. They can recommit afterwards for another term. Only ask for one term in case you they don’t perform up to expectations and so you don’t burn out the same people.
4. Get Out of the Way: You direct this ensemble and don’t play the instruments. Got it? Be clear on duties and outcomes and let them perform. You can now mentor and nurture the process (that’s way different than micromanaging!)
5. Remember Your Baptism and Be Thankful: Be sure that your purpose for the event is in alignment with the faith journey we lead as ministry professionals. Purposeful and spiritful work is a the duty and delight of the church musician.
Leadership is influence empowering others for excellence.
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