No, announcements aren’t in the five acts of worship. And, yes, people pretty much hate announcements. But your attitude toward announcements says a lot about your understanding of what the Bible really says about the assembly.
You see, as crazy as it sounds, I think announcements are at the heart of our worship. Miss the announcements and, well, you may as well have slept in.
Really? Yes, really.
We start in Hebrews —
(Heb 10:24-25) And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. 25 Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another–and all the more as you see the Day approaching.
Let’s take this bit by bit. “Spur” in v 24 means to stir up or provoke. It’s a strong word.
And the command is in the active voice. We don’t attend the assembly to be spurred. We go to spur others.
The spurring we do is toward love and good deeds. We are to provoke, stir up, and spur our brothers and sisters to be about our mission — to actually do the things we are called to do. It’s no small task.
We are also called to “encourage” one another. The same word is translated elsewhere in Hebrews as “urge” or “beseech.” The word isn’t so much about dealing with tough times as pressing one another to the task Jesus has given us.
Now, if you think about this seriously, it changes how we look at the assembly pretty dramatically. I mean, the way we do church today, most of the true purpose of the assembly takes place in the aisles and hallways before and after service.
We recently had a request that we make our members be quiet for 5 minutes before the service begins. The idea was to make our members be “respectful” and “reverent.”
But when Christians talk before church begins, what do they say? They are looking for volunteers for the nursery. They’re lining up carpooling arrangements for the funeral of a member’s parent out of town. They’re consoling a member who is fighting cancer. They’re making arrangements for the meal at tonight’s small group meeting. They’re trying to find leadership for Celebrate Recovery. They’re inviting visitors to lunch. They’re introducing new members to people their age.
In my book, this is as respectful and reverent as can be. Indeed, it honors the command to encourage one another to love and good works. In fact, it’s doing good works.
And just what good does being quiet do?
The irony is that none of the “five acts of worship” do much in the way of encouraging to love and good works. All five acts have that potential, but sermons are often about consubstantiation and baptism, rather than love and good works. Songs might be general encouragements, but they’re never encouragements to particular good works.
No, the things we do that most honor the command is talking in the aisles — and making announcements! You see, announcements are about members in the hospital, funerals, ministries needing volunteers, and such. Announcements are at the heart of the assembly.
And yet some people complain endlessly about announcements. Why? I have two theories.
First, some of us aren’t really into love and good works. We don’t care that much about someone else’s illness or loss because we don’t know the person affected because we’re not really that connected to the church (or it’s a big church where you just can’t know everybody). We don’t volunteer for the nursery and don’t care about the announcement seeking volunteers because, well, we’re selfish and don’t care about someone else’s babies.
Second, announcements are often done very, very badly. But that can be fixed. Here’s how —
* 95% or more of all announcements should be given in a handout and not from the pulpit. The bigger the church, the truer this is. Write it down. Your members will be better able to actually do what you ask if they don’t have to take notes.
Save the pulpit for events arising after the handout went to print — and for a maximum of one* thing that’s a part of your vision for the year. If this year is about small groups, then by all means, talk about small groups. But don’t talk about small groups, funerals, deaths, address changes, or whatever. Find the focus God wants you to have and focus on it.
Learn to say no. Not everything gets announced from the pulpit. Don’t make exceptions. Put it in the handout.
* Use email. Email gets the word out faster and it gives people a place to look to for dates and times and addresses.
The children’s ministry, teen ministry, campus ministry, and adult ministries should have separate master email lists. Only parents of teens, teen ministry volunteers, and teens get teen emails.
Nowadays, nearly everyone has email. Those few who don’t can get the same information in the bulletin or a handout given the teens, but those who aren’t active in the program shouldn’t have to listen to announcements relating to programs they aren’t a part of — unless it’s a celebration.
* By all means, announce good news. We get so caught in funerals and hospital visits that we sometimes fail to mention that the teens painted a house and brought the owner to her knees in thanks to Jesus. Celebrate like crazy. We have enough bad news on TV — surely we can find something joyous at church.
* Use pictures. I can’t get our folks to do this. I’ve been trying for years. It’s easy. It’s cheap.
When a family places membership, project their picture on the screen. Or put it in the bulletin. This is better than asking them to stand. No one has to crane her neck. No one gets embarrassed by not being present when the announcement is made. No one sits down before the church can spot them. And people will remember much, much better. Pictures!
* Humor is okay in church. Some churches seem to have a rule than only the preacher can crack jokes. Well, announcements (other than funerals and diseases) often work best when they’re funny.
The last couple of years we’ve had a school supply drive for students at a nearby elementary school. The guy making the announcement dressed up as a giant blue crayon! It’s ridiculous. It’s hilarious. And they got great involvement from the members.
Now it may seem inconsistent for me to say that announcements are central and we should spend very little time on them. But there’s a reason. People remember things better if they read them. Or if there’s an association with a picture or a joke. And they remember best if there’s not much to remember.
If the room number of the sick member is in the bulletin, people will visit just as well as if it’s announced from pulpit — better, actually, because they won’t have to write the room number down. They won’t miss the announcement if they come in late. Written announcements are vastly more effective than verbal announcements.
Bulletins allow people to talk about the needs before church even begins. When I see a prayer request in the bulletin, I can talk to the grieving member about his loss, or I can arrange visits. If I have to wait for the announcement, then it all has to happen after church when people are often in a hurry to get somewhere.
And you just can’t announce everything from the pulpit, unless you have a very small church. People cannot listen to 17 announcements and remember them all. They can read 17 announcements and take the bulletin with them.
You see, announcements are so important that we need to make sure they are tangible and remembered, rather than giving them the short shrift we normally do. Save the pulpit for the church’s vision, the things that are positive, uplifting, and missional.
* By “one” I mean “three.” If I’d said “three,” many readers would figure they could fudge a bit and go to five. Five is too many. Four is too many. Three is the absolute limit. One per member of of the Godhead. One per epistle written by John. If John could limit himself to three letters, you can limit announcements to three without fail.