It was “Question and Answer” time at a worship workshop in Indiana. My friend, Dr. Tom Long, a Macedonian Ministry faculty member, was discussing the nature of reformed worship. After his brilliant lecture, he opened the floor to questions…one hand shot up immediately! A Lay Leader said, “There is one thing that really bugs me about worship. It’s like fingernails scraping along a blackboard. IT’S THE ANNOUNCEMENTS! It bugs me when… right in the middle of a good worship service when we have just heard a magnificent anthem, or sung a hymn that stirs our soul… the pastor brings us back down to Earth by saying: “The Pediatric AIDS Ministry needs volunteers.” Announcements are like a bag of peanuts at the opera. There should be NO announcements during worship!” Dr. Long was wondering where the question was in that long statement!
Like that lay leader, many pastors hate making announcements and believe that they are “a waste of time.” I’m sure a lot of pastors feel that half of their congregation is dozing off to sleep during the announcements, but…I totally disagree! The announcements are a magnificent opportunity to offer practical ways for the congregation to live out our faith in Jesus Christ. The key is linking the announcements to the mission of the church. This requires preparation.
Let me explain. When I was a pastor of a church in New York City, we faced the challenge of getting volunteers to sign up to work, early in the morning, in our homeless ministry. To be honest, some of our members were a little frightened to interact with our homeless friends who slept on our steps every night. So…when I prepared this announcement, I knew I needed to accomplish three important things: First, I had to get their attention and keep it for 45-50 seconds. (I couldn’t afford to lose them in the middle!) Second, I had to establish the need for our homeless ministry, and assure them that they could make a real difference in the lives of people. Thirdly, I had to tie their service to the larger mission of our church. This wouldn’t be easy…but I saw it as a challenge! I thought about all this as I prepared the announcements on a Thursday after finishing my sermon.
So…on Sunday morning, this is what I said: “Imagine that you had to sleep in a box on the steps of our church in 15-degree weather on an icy winter night in NYC. Imagine that when you woke up, there were kind people there who invited you inside the door of the church to use the restrooms, give you a piece of warm bread, some hot soup and a cup of Joe. Imagine that they gave you thick, warm socks, a winter coat, long underwear, a scarf and a hat. And…imagine that they remembered your name…Sally, Bob, Josephine, Cowboy. Maybe you would be motivated to find a new beginning in your life. At Fifth Avenue Presbyterian, we minister to Sally, Bob, Josephine and Cowboy each day because Jesus has ministered to us. I invite you to join me in setting aside one morning this winter to help us to minister to Sally Bob, Josephine and Cowboy, who are some of the most wonderful people I know! Today after worship, our homeless team is going to train us in how we can serve Sally, Bob and the others. And, if you come to the training and don’t want to volunteer, there is no pressure. But, if you do volunteer, you may discover what our church’s mission statement means when it says “Fifth Avenue Presbyterian reaches out in love and compassion to a world in need.” And, you know what else you may discover… that when you look into the face of Josephine, Cowboy, Sally and Bob…you may see… the face of Jesus. From my own experience, I can assure you that if you will volunteer…. you will receive FAR MORE than you give! I am going to the training class today at 12:15 in the Wenman Room on the 8th floor……will you join me?”
That announcement brought over 50 new volunteers to come to the training class that day and sign up for our homeless ministry. What was the key? I believe that the key was the preparation of a message that connected with the congregation. If that announcement had been prepared on Sunday morning ten minutes before worship (as many of my announcements have been over the years!) …or not prepared at all…it would not have been nearly as effective. But, the preparation unlocked the creative imagination of everyone… and suddenly 50 people could picture themselves taking a risky step of faith and getting involved with REAL PEOPLE… who had names and life stories. That announcement was NOT the most obnoxious part of the worship service….it was an invitation to a life changing ministry. Just as sermons and worship services demand our finest preparation… so do the announcements.