I’m currently in the middle of a biography on Andrew Jackson. I tell you this because (a) it makes me sound more studied than what I actually am and (b) it feels like I’m being beaten over the head by an old hickory stick, if you get my presidential metaphorical drift.
The book carried such promise: it’s a Pulitzer Prize winner. Spent some time on the New York Times bestseller list. It has a striking picture of President Andy on the front in all of his white-haired glory. And the pages have those tattered-edge features, making the book look older than it is. (I’m a sucker for tattered-edge features.)
But for all of the promise, the payoff just hasn’t been there so far. I’ll admit that I don’t have a lot of presidential biographies under my belt, so my complaint may be without merit. But complain I shall:
The author hates chronology.
There. I said it. This Pulitzer Prize winner jumps from birth to marriage to presidency back to teenage years back to presidency to death to this year to that year to another year so fast it makes my head spin. It’s like Lost meets the White House: are we flashing backward now? Forward? Flashing sideways? WHERE DID THE SMOKE MONSTER COME FROM?!? I’m having an incredibly hard time keeping up and I’m thinking about giving up altogether. (But I can’t because, again, tattered-edge features.)
Chronology matters. It matters in a retelling of a person’s life, and it matters in the story you’re helping shape in people right now.
This weekend, you will have guests show up for the first time at your church. If you’re over-eager, the temptation will be that you want to dump a lot of information on them all at once: “And this is our discipleship plan! And here’s our history! And look at our by-laws! And this is how you become a member! And here’s our deacon nomination process!” I’ve seen first time guest packets that include information on just about all of the above.
The problem is that first timers don’t want all of that. More importantly, they don’t need all of that. They care little about your online giving portals, but they do care about what you offer for their kids. They don’t need to know who your founding pastor was, but they do want to know the name of the guy preaching that day. Too much information confuses them (if everything is important, nothing is important). Too little clarity frustrates them (“What am I supposed to do next?”).
Chronology matters. So think through a first timer’s first time at your church. What are you giving them? What story are you attempting to write for them? Are you giving them short, easy, achievable next steps? Is their “next thing” clear, concise, and compelling? Are you giving them just enough info to get them from Point A to Point B? Do they know what Point B should be? For that matter, do you know what Point B should be?
Make it simple. Make it meaningful. Make it happen.