For many years new churches have launched using a “preview” strategy. The idea is to use the movie industry idea of the test screening, or sneak preview--giving a glimpse of what is to come. Most new churches now hold a series of preview services as they move toward a launch.
Previews are an effective approach because:
● Previews are easier to execute than a full-service, full-time presentation--a planter might even be able to borrow personnel to make a preview happen.
● Previews serve to give folks a foretaste of what this new church might look like.
● Previews tend to stretch the launch team’s vision.
● Previews provide quick feedback on what changes need to be made as the church progresses toward every Sunday public services.
● Previews can help gain additional buzz for the new entity.
But the effectiveness of preview method isn’t limited to church launches. At the church I serve we’ve used previews in many scenarios:
Going to two services
One of the most difficult growth steps in church life is when a church moves from a single service to two. In the first two church plants I led, this move was almost traumatic for a lot of folks. The usual complaints of, “we’ll not get to see everybody” and “it’s too much work” fought hard against outreach. But in our third plant this move went smoother because we used a preview approach--just like when we launched. We picked typical high attendance Sundays and did a preview of two services. The transition went very well. People saw that we had the resources to could pull it off, and some even realized that if they wanted to see everyone, all they had to do was stick around for both services--serving in one and attending another.
Adding additional services
When we moved from two to three services, we used the same preview approach. Easing people in made it easier.
Determining service times
One of the issues we faced with holding three Sunday morning services had to do with service times. The preview method allowed us to try a host of different service time options without getting stuck. We discovered that an 8:30/9:45/11am schedule was by far the best for us.
Our church has moved a lot--so much so that we realize how tough a move can be--but the preview option has lessened the blow. When we were meeting in a school and a hotel opened up right near property we were in the process of buying, we thought about a move. But what would it be like to meet in a hotel? We did a preview. We picked a holiday Sunday--Memorial Day weekend and did “A Holiday Sunday at the Holiday Inn.” That preview helped us--and the hotel--realize what needed to take place to make a move happen. Later when we moved to a theater complex that had recently reversed its opposition to holding church services, we were able to give it a try with a preview. We also held several preview services outside on land we were considering purchasing --like I said, we’ve moved a lot!
Going to multi-site
As we consider moving toward a multi-site ministry--one church in more than one location--we’ve used the preview approach. We enlisted a potential leader to gather a group, multiply to a gathering, then move to “party” and “services” stages. At our first preview we recognized some major issues and realized we are not ready yet. The preview saved us from a myriad of problems.
When we moved to using a “Big Idea” teaching method on Sundays, we introduced the concept (the children, youth and adults using the same teaching and one central main idea) through a preview approach.
We’ve made other changes by previewing the change first.
I like how leadership expert Warren Bennis puts it: “Innovation by definition will not be accepted at first. It takes repeated attempts, endless demonstrations, monotonous rehearsals before innovation can be accepted and internalized by an organization. This requires courageous patience.”
Bennis is on to it regarding change, resistance, testing and patience.
One caveat: I’m not sure “endless demonstrations” is the answer. For new churches there is a shelf-life to the preview phase: two previews might not be enough, six might be too many. Leaders need to read this carefully. I enjoy a few previews while waiting for a show to start, but there have been occasions when I thought, “Hey, when are we going to get to the feature presentation?”
But the use of previews can make a big difference in implementing something new. Actually this article might be a preview of a better one later!