So We Sang “Let It Go” From Disney’s Frozen in Church!

As a pastor, I hear it all the time – “Why did we play THAT song?” Maybe you do, too. Or maybe you ask it. Every time we begin our church service with a song from a non-Christian radio station, I know it’s coming.

I understand. We recently began our church service by singing these lyrics: “A singer in a smokey room, a smell of wine and cheap perfume. For a smile they can share the night, it goes on and on and on and on.” Okay – seeing it in written form feels a little sketchy (or a ton sketchy!). I may have a few questions for myself, now!

But let me ask you a question: What song is that lyric from? Did you smile as you read them? Or sang them? Are you still singing?

Here’s why we occasionally begin our services with music from Journey or Disney – because people like it. I know, that’s not profound. And I realize it’s certainly not theologically sound, but it is powerful. People like fun, familiar music. And that’s extremely important, because I’m convinced if people don’t like how their church experience begins, odds are they will not like how it progresses or ends.

To say it another way: If we hope to influence people toward their Heavenly Father, we must engage them emotionally in the beginning of our service to engage them spiritually during the service.


So here are five things to consider if we hope to create a church experience that leads people from where they are to where we want them to be an hour later:

1. Consider the diversity of your audience.

You must answer this question first. If you have unchurched, nonbelievers in the room, they walked in somewhat skeptical of the church, God, and the pastor. They are predisposed to be disengaged and at arms-length. So, if you hope to engage the unchurched in your church, you must first find a way to emotionally connect. The more diverse the audience, the broader the connection. If you have Christians, non-Christians, atheist, and everybody in-between, you need to start really broad – maybe even with Journey!

2. Consider the power of first impressions.

We know how powerful a first impression can be – mostly because you only get on shot!. But while the sermon actually begins in the parking lot, people’s first experience in the service is critical to engaging them throughout the service.

The first thing I want people to do is drop a barrier, smile, laugh, or relax (or all of the above, if possible). People are on edge when church begins. An nonbeliever is skeptical. A churched family might have argued the entire trip. Finding parking could be stressful. Either way, how the service begins can make or break an attendees entire experience. Worse, it may determine if they ever return!

3. Consider what you want your audience to FEEL.

Not what you want them to know or hear. What do you want them to feel?

Think about it. Most things we do at church are weird. I know we don’t think church is weird, because we are Christians, but try to step back and see your church service through the eyes of an outsider. Think about baptism. Adults dunking other adults under water in a giant bathtub. Take singing. It’s not a concert, yet we are standing and singing about blood, crosses, and a God who for some reason feels the need to be praised. That’s weird! So let’s just agree that before things get weird for our guests, we should engage them first.

4. Consider the many ways we can engage.

Obviously, music is emotionally engaging. Who cares if it even ties in with the message. But music isn’t our only option. Laughter is engaging, and laughter breaks down barriers. We have begun services with Jimmy Fallon’s “Thank You Notes” bit. We have played games. As long as it is done with a high degree of excellence, it can accomplish the mission of emotional connection.

5. Consider removing announcements and inserting navigation.

My good friend and coworker Jeff Henderson from Gwinnett Church does this better than anyone I know. Let the bulletin handle announcements to free up this time in service for a true welcome. Jeff functions as a navigator in his services, guiding and preparing the audience for what is to come. He will use humor to emotionally connect. He will mention something current (weather, football, or whatever) to connect. Jeff comes across very likable, which is … connecting! Churches too often overlook or completely dismiss the significance of the welcome. Use it well to create some laughter and connection.

Let me conclude with this: Singing secular songs or having a comedy routine to begin a church service is not about attracting unchurched, nonbelieving people; it’s about engaging everyone emotionally in the beginning in preparation for what you desperately want them to experience in the ending. And that’s worth signing Journey in church.

You can help us all get better. What else needs to be considered when creating an engaging experience? How have you leverage emotional engagement in a church setting?

  8 Comments

  1. Zoanny   •  

    I disagree with this. Secular music is secular music. We are not in church to entertain our guests but to show them that we Christians are DIFFERENT. Comedy in church…”to engage them emotionally.” Don’t agree with this either. Church, the house of God is a HOLY place. Holy means separated, we are not like unbelievers. The best way is to do our job of letting the Holy Spirit do what needs to be done through us, the Holy Spirit is the one who changes people not us. Church is church, not a place to entertain people. Although I understand that you try to engage people I don’t think that’s the way to do it. Let’s do what the Holy Spirit wants us to do and I’m sure God will do the rest with nonbelievers. We can’t NEVER replace the term worship with music, they have very different meanings and you know it. I don’t think church is “weird” at all. Nonbelievers go to many secular activities where really WEIRD things happen and they are very comfortable with it. NEVER replace worship with music. I’m not trying to offend any of you with my comment. That’s just my point of view. We are living in a time where we need to preach the Gospel in season and out of season, not worry about entertaining nonbelievers but to preach the good news of our redeemer Jesus Christ. There is power in the name of Jesus. Just invite nonbelievers to worship for a few minutes, to open up their hearts to God (I’m pretty sure they’ll know what you mean) and you’ll see the power of God manifested in those lives, breaking chains and yokes. God bless you all.

    • Gavin Adams   •     Author

      Zoanny. I appreciate your comments. Like you, I could easily argue against my post. Yet, I could also make strong theologically supported arguments FOR my thoughts.

      Here’s a quick take. The “church” has nothing to do with the building or programming. The “church” is us. We are the church. And we are God’s plan “A” for reaching a lost world with the Gospel. There is no plan “B.” It is in us and through us the message of salvation is sent.

      That said, I do not believe creating an entertaining experience within the context of our gathering is unbliblical. If anything, it’s abiblical.

      I also do not believe the “house” is holy. WE are holy, and we are the church, but the buildings we gather in are not holy. The curtain ripped.

      Lastly, I agree – we do NOT change people. God changes people. But what we can do is help create environments conducive for God to do what only He can do. Many (not all) nonbelievers today are NOT going to simply open their heart to God if they are frustrated with the church and do not believe God exists. Sure, God is capable of doing whatever he pleases, but I have found him working more powerfully with hearts prepared to hear. Our church services are designed to do just that – prepare hearts to embrace truth.

      I appreciate your comments and the conversation.

  2. Jeff Hagan   •  

    I have received so much backlash from doing the very same thing brother Gavin. The funny thing about it is that the backlash almost always comes from people already supposedly “mature in their faith.” If they truly were, I don’t think such a thing would bother them so much. As one would expect, the backlash never comes from those who are nurtured or affected positively by these methods. And, those are the ones who we are truly trying to reach with these methods so we know it’s working. The amount of surprise and backlash among believers really surprised me at first. This is nothing different than what a missionary does in preparation for the culture and peoples they will be ministering to. To me it makes perfect common sense. However, I do understand the concerns, in fact I use to have them. Not to appear condescending, but I think properly understanding true grace is the difference here. Or, to put it another way, having a proper grasp on the freedom we have in Christ on matters of conscience, is a major contributing factor to “getting it” or not. Keep up the good work!

    • Gavin Adams   •     Author

      I’m with you Jeff! The missionary context element is the best retort in my mind. Also, these conversations always remind me of Jesus’ discussion about food lawful to eat. If it causes someone OUTSIDE the faith to stumble, then we should be careful (ex: This is why I do not drink alcohol, especially in my surrounding communities), but if not, no big deal. Even better if it draws people to the church and opens them emotionally to hear the truth.

  3. Adam Stabler   •  

    I love the topic, some really awesome points. Here are just some thoughts of mine and how I see it.

    Using secular music is the topic at hand here and why it was done, also currently the thing being done in church that seems to be a bit taboo. Using secular music upfront does give the impression, sometimes, of “dressing up” the service and the message to make God seem more attractive, but this is normally a view held by “Christians” and not a complete “non-believer”. There are many other ways we all currently do this that are currently accepting. Things like a lovely auditorium, with warm welcoming carpets and seats, vacuumed and clean, air conditioning, maybe tea and coffee, a $5000 projector and so on. Those too could be viewed as dressing up the gospel. Isn’t it true that Jesus’s message is so powerful and attracting that we don’t need anything els to go with it? Yes, it doesn’t, but when you are trying to reach your neighbour that you think would never step into a church, that has closed off any idea of stepping into a church one day, you need to create an environment that relaxes and disarms then. You can do this by creating an environment that is irresistible and not far from what comes in everyday life for that person in your context of town or city or rural Africa. Thats why in some areas like Northpoint they have auditoriums that wouldn’t look to out of place if you were to go to a concert in that surrounding area. It is contextually relevant. Doing a modern song from the radio is just another tool one can leverage to help create the emotions and engagement needed to help them to take that next step towards, eventually, the message and accepting the challenge God has for them so they may start having a growing relationship with Jesus for the 1st time. When ever I think of creating environments like this, I always turn to the parable of the lost sheep (Luke 15). He leaves 99 to go find the 1 lost. His hole goal was to find that lost one sheep, so our hole goal in the church should be to find the people that don’t know Jesus. A way to do this is to make your church relevant to where you are in context culturally. I would agree with Gavin. None of these things, secular music, air conditioning, freshly painted church and manicured lawns etc, do not add or take away from the gospel, but they may help get people in the door to hear it. So leverage away:)

    Some things that may work for us in South Africa to help create that engaging environment would be to have a braai (barbecue) at the entrance with “hotdogs” on it to create the smells that we associate with on a weekend. Maybe music outside in the car park and entrance halls. We have secular music playing in the auditorium before the service to create a relaxed familiar environment as they wait for the service to start. We server tea and coffee pre and post service. This is a very culturally accepted thing in Cape Town and something we leverage to great effect. We feel it is a good invite tool for people. “Hey, don’t worry about feeling tired from Saturdays going out. Come down ill meet you at the entrance and then we will get some much needed coffee, then they playing Hey Brother this week as the opener, you’ve got to come check that out.” So we believe in doing these culturally relevant things, we are equipping the regulars that come to our church to have invite tools and motivation. More to the point, we still want to blow away, wow, our regulars so that they can’t stop talking about the past Sunday service that they end up inviting their friends to come the next week so they don’t miss out.

    • Gavin Adams   •     Author

      Great comments, Adam. I completely agree. I have no issue with any church intentionally making their church environment contextually relevant to move people closer to a place where they are ready to hear the truth. That’s just smart leadership!

      Keep up the great work in South Africa!

  4. Lucas Monroe   •  

    At what point, though, are you dress dressing up a gospel that doesn’t need to be dressed up?

    • Gavin Adams   •     Author

      Lucas, that’s a great question. One that I’ve personally debated internally and externally myself.
      In some ways, it reminds me of Matthew 13, The Parable of the Sower. If we can move people’s heart toward “good soil,” we stand a better chance of them being willing to hear.
      I believe we must connect emotionally before they are open spiritually. Even more, I would argue this is not adding to or taking away from the gospel in any way.

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