By Shaun Junggren
By far, one of my all-time favorite TV shows is 24. Maybe it was the non-stop action. Maybe it was the clandestine espionage and constant suspense. Maybe it was because every episode was an excuse to hook up with my buddies and celebrate all things testosterone.
Whatever the case, 24 was a breath of fresh air. It was well written, well-acted and had production values previously reserved for big budget movies. Premiering in November of 2001 on the heels of 9/11, it arrived like a providential mandate. Now Jack is Back with 24: Live Another Day.
So please allow me to hand down some church programming wisdom bestowed upon me by my sage mentor, Jack Bauer…
10. Keep Your Audience Wanting More
One of the keys to 24’s success was their mastery of “the tease.” Their marketing compelled you to tune in. You wouldn’t dare miss the season premier. Then, within the individual episodes, before every commercial break, they’d leave you on the edge of your seat.
Do the same with your church services.
Create compelling marketing that uses a bit of mystery to draw people to your next series. Once you get them there, deliver. Make them wonder what is coming next. End each week with some unanswered question that compels them to return next week. Every segment, every service and every series should leave people eagerly anticipating how you could possibly top yourselves next time.
9. Don’t Telegraph What’s Coming Next
There’s a fine line between “teasing” and “telegraphing.” Predictability kills a show and will kill your service. Don’t tell people what you’re going to do next week or after announcements--just do it. Your pastor doesn’t need to end the sermon with “next, our Children’s Choir is going to bless our socks off with ‘Jesus Loves Me’”. Instead, let him finish with an “amen” then BAM--choir starts rocking out. Train your on-mic people to not spoil the surprises.
8. Don’t Waste a Precious Second
24 employed the memorable narrative device of a countdown clock before and after commercial breaks reminding you that every second of this show was meaningful. There was no downtime. They kept things moving. They knew that they only had 60 minutes with the viewer each week and they didn’t want to give them any opportunity to disengage from the story.
Unfortunately, many church services don’t give enough attention to making every minute count. Too often, we don’t think through our transitions and leave “dead time” on stage. Don’t give your congregation an excuse for their minds to wander--our story is too important.
7. No Matter How Good You Are, You’re Better With a Team
It’s been said that Jack Bauer is so tough that Superman wears Jack Bauer pajamas. Highly trained and intelligent, Jack was capable of incredible feats. But as skilled as he was, he was always better when he had a committed team surrounding him.
Do you think you’re badder than Jack!? Sorry to be the bearer of bad news: but you’re not…and neither am I.
We need to surround ourselves with talented and/or committed people. Yes, it’s hard work building and maintaining a team. Sure, sometimes we’re capable of getting incredible results on our own. But ultimately, saving the world is a big task and we’re going to need good people around us.
6. Sometimes The Enemy Is On Your Team
I can’t count how many times a supposed “good guy” took Jack down. The same thing could happen within one of our teams.
I know it doesn’t sound very Christian-y to say, but sometimes it’s best to cut someone loose before they bring you and your mission down. To be sure, firing somebody that volunteers their time for free feels strange, but I’ve had to do it several times for the sake of mission and unity. Usually what follows is a season of unprecedented team chemistry, joy and productivity. However…
5. Don’t Give Up on Someone Just Because They Are Annoying
I’m not sure there ever was a more obnoxious character in TV history than Chloe O’Brian. She came in with a bit part as a CTU analyst in Season 3 and man, was she ever obnoxious, childish and seemingly dumber than a box of hair. From her first on-screen moment, I not-so-secretly wished that she would end up as another casualty, amongst the hundreds in Jack Bauer’s war on terror.
However, that was not to be. She went on to appear in 124 more episodes. Second only to our man, Jack. Over the course of the next 5 seasons we all came to love her. She grew in her relationship with Jack and by the Final Season, she was Jack’s most trusted confidant and saved his bacon umpteen times.
This has happened to me countless times in ministry as well. Some of the people that bugged me the most eventually became some of my most faithful and trusted friends/ministry partners.
4. Just Because You Die, It Doesn’t Mean Your Dead
Over the course of 7 seasons, Jack died on 2 separate occasions. But both times he came back to save the day (not unlike Jesus--hmmm?). In fact, the show itself died in 2010 but eventually returned as 24: Live Another Day.
The same goes for you.
Sometimes you will fail. Sometimes your amazing ideas will die a horrible death. That doesn’t mean they can’t be rethought, refashioned, repurposed and resurrected. Take a page from Jack Bauer’s playbook: stare into the face of defeat; grab it by the throat and yell, “YOU’RE GOING TO DO EXACTLY WHAT I TELL YOU!”
3. Some Days Are Just Too Crazy To Go To The Bathroom
I’m not sure if this is a nugget of wisdom or just a fun fact: but in 8 seasons--representing 8 full 24 hour days of Jack Bauer’s life--he never eats, sleeps or goes to the bathroom. Not once.
I suppose we can say that the lesson is--when you’re doing life-saving, world-altering, important work--sometimes your personal needs come last. Yeah, that’s the lesson: be sacrificial with your time.
2. The Bomb Is Set To Go Off and You Better Be Ready
Do you ever wonder if Jack gets tired of saving the world over and over again? I mean, it’s pretty stressful, diffusing bomb after bomb knowing that the next one is just around the corner.
Sometimes our work feels a lot like that. As soon as we wrap up the last service on Sunday it’s almost as if someone immediately resets the cosmic clock to 6 days: 23 Hours: 59 Minutes and we hear the ominous tick-tocking of the countdown to the next bomb. That’s why we need to be like Jack and always be prepared and persevere--because the world is in danger and we need to be at our best.
1. Remember That It’s All About The Main Character, Not The Formula
The magic of 24 wasn’t just the formula. Rather, it was the main character, Jack Bauer. He was intriguingly different and that’s why were attracted to the show.
The same is true for our church services. If we are holding onto the “magic formula” of yesteryear, then we probably aren’t taking chances anymore. If our congregation doesn’t NEED to be at church every week to know exactly what’s going to happen, then guess what? Pretty soon they WON’T be there every week to see what happens and our once-thriving church will begin the slow death walk into irrelevance.
On the other hand, if we realize that it’s all about the main character, Jesus--and commit to dramatically presenting him as the only One who can truly “save the day,” then our church can remain vibrant and relevant in our community for a long, long time. But we have to be willing to take the risk.
Remember: the clock is ticking!
Shaun Junggren has been leading, writing and recording worship music for over 20 years. For the bulk of that time he was honored to serve as the Pastor of Worship and Creative Arts at a Seattle suburban Bible church.
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