Have you ever attended a group gathering (concert, work, church, school recital, etc) where you are haunted by the energy in the room? You are sitting there, trying to engage, but constantly distracted by the feeling of “this just doesn’t seem right.” This awkwardness often causes us to disengage, almost giving the same knee-jerk response you might have when you hit skip on Pandora because a song came on that doesn’t seem like it fits (why did they just play Fetty Wap on my Avett Brothers station?).
As a participant, you might even think to yourself, “Uh…what is going on? This doesn’t feel right.” However, when you are the leader of said time of awkwardness, the tinge of pain cuts a little deeper as those thoughts turn into, “Uh…what’s going on? What did I do wrong?”
As leaders, we often spend hours planning for programs and events. Sometimes, things seem to be coming together, but people just don’t seem to be responding or engaging in the way that we hoped. Should we have switched the schedule around? What’s not working?
Energy. I hear the word used, and I use it myself when talking about ministry, events, or programs. Still, doesn’t it always seem a little ambiguous? A bit vague?
“Numbers were good, but the energy was low.”
“Numbers were low, but the energy was good.”
“Let’s start with something high energy.”
While to an extent, we have all developed or been taught tools of the trade to help create the right kind of energy (a crowd of 15 + a room with seating for 300 = weird energy), I have often felt like achieving the desired ‘energy’ for any given program, environment, or event has been a little like playing darts blindfolded.
So, recently as I stood in the back of our youth center filled with 110 teenagers along with 35 awesome adults, I surveyed the room. Despite the content being solid and the plan being executed, things just felt…off. Not wrong. Just…not right. Not what I had hoped.
As I processed, a formula of some sort popped into my head.
The energy is off.
The energy is off because our youth’s focus is off.
Their focus is off because we’ve lacked clarity, direction, and expectations for them.
If there were an actual formula for creating energy, I’m sure it would be far more complex and accurate than that. However, if I were to boil it down, at least for this specific occasion, we didn’t set our youth or small group leaders up for success. We didn’t create the best possible atmosphere for them to engage.
The reality is that if you work in kids or youth ministry, this is always something that will be a little more art than science. No matter what we do, people will walk in late. Someone will check their phone and distract the 3 people around them. Someone is always leaning over to share the ‘can’t wait’ news to the person next to them.
The pursuit of the right energy shouldn’t be confused with the pursuit of having complete control over a situation. We also have to remember the reality that people have different experiences. Some people left that day feeling like it was a great experience. To them, the energy was there. To others, the ‘uh….’ struggle was real.
The right energy in a room is not the purpose of what we’re trying to do. However, what we’re trying to do often happens better, smoother, and more effectively when can foster right energy.
So, here are a few things I’m trying to be intentional about when creating the right energy each week:
Lighting: is our stage evenly & well lit? Are the house lights at the right level for what we are currently doing?
Physical Location: this is more about the location that we have our youth and their leaders sitting in during the service. Is it comfortable? Does it help them engage? Is it set up in a way that helps them engage in what we want them to (ie, circles for conversation or rows for teaching/worship)? Is the spacing right so they don’t feel cramped but also not isolated?
Physical Space: this has more to do with the upkeep of the space. While some aren’t bothered, most people will be able to better engage in a space that is kept up well and free from clutter.
Audio: do we have background music playing at the appropriate times at the appropriate volumes (before/after service, during games, etc)? Is our worship music mixed well and at the ideal volume level? Is anyone speaking from the stage mic’d and mixed to sound clear? Speaking of making sure people are mic’d…that one guy speaking to a large crowd who said he doesn’t need a mic? Well, he needs a mic.
Expectations: do our youth and SGL’s know what we would like them to do? If we transition into a time of worship, is it clear how we’re asking them to respond? If we’re dismissing them to small groups, do they understand what the purpose of that small group time is? If we have a response time, are we leaving no question as to how they are being encouraged to respond?
If I’m honest, I consistently (and unfairly) compare many of the categories above with other ministries down the street or across the globe and quietly envy their resources. I also tend to assume the best in them and the worst in me.
So, in all things, including this discussion, its helpful to continually remind myself of the bottom line: Are we doing everything we can do so that God can do everything He wants to?
When it comes to your weekly large group gathering, are you doing everything you can so that God can do everything He wants to?