The Power of Anticipation

July 28, 2010 by

In February of this year, Jeroen Nawijn authored a study on vacation and happiness. Her work was published in the Applied Research in Quality of Life journal, and it showed that our level of happiness during vacation actually has a lot more to do with the planning, preparation and anticipation preceding vacation, more so than the actual vacation. (For more, the LA Times has a good summary of Nawijn’s research.)

A similar line of thinking is behind Devin Leonard’s article on Steve Jobs (“The Last Pitchman“) in Bloomberg Businessweek. “Like all great salesmen, Jobs knows that controlling the product is a lot less important than controlling our desire.”

This got me thinking about how churches could tap into people’s neurological wiring when it comes to how we lead our church communities through the expectation of what’s to come. Many churches do teasers for upcoming sermon series. However, what would it look like if there was more intentionality to how we helped people anticipate? Teasers are one thing, but those are often very linear and transactional. “Come next Sunday for our new series on ‘The Miracles of Jesus.'” That’s great, but it’s more of a heads up than a heads in. How can we create experiences that are more integrated and relational?

Holiday-themed experiences are a great example of building expectation. Is it just me, or does it seem like the people who get the biggest thrill are the ones planning, producing or performing the experiences? What would it look like to get more people involved in the planning, producing or performing roles? How could the majority of people be a part of anticipating, instead of just the minority?

What if small groups spent more time dreaming, planning and creating for experiences or moments that were two, four, six months out? What if weekend messages built anticipation for an outcome, resolve or climax that kept people coming back for more?

For the skeptics who write this off as dirty marketing or huckstering, I’m not suggesting we slide down a path of lies, false hope or showmanship. I’m simply dreaming of ways to engage the way we’re wired with how God might bring transformation into the lives of people in our church communities.

Anticipation is a powerful thing.

Post By:

Brad Abare

Brad Abare is the founder of the Center for Church Communication. He consults with companies and organizations, helping them figure out why in the world they exist, why anyone should care and what to do about it.
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3 Responses to “The Power of Anticipation”

  • Paul Steinbrueck
    July 28, 2010

    Interesting idea. Missions trips are another kind of church event that requires a lot of planning and usually builds a lot of anticipation. I wonder how much of the anticipation is due to planning things far in advance and how much of it is doing something so big and outside the norm that it requires a lot of planning to make it happen.

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  • Rob Childs
    July 29, 2010

    Allowing time is key. We run an annual children’s holiday club in the summer (actually running this week) The most success we’ve had has been since we start planning around February giving us a clear 6 months for the build up. It helps those doing the organising (less pressure at the last minute) and gives time to get the word out and for the anticipation to build in both the community and the church. It’s taken time but over the last 6 years it’s become the highlight of the church year with more people wanting to volunteer than we would ever need and given us strong connections into the local community.
    As a fan of George R R Martin’s books I’ve been following the build up to the forthcoming HBO TV adaptation of his ‘A Song of Ice and Fire’ series. They’ve got a great story to tell and because of the time it’s taken to get from the initial concept to the start of filming this week the community has been hanging on every little sliver of information that’s leaked from HBO and Martin himself. Social media has been at the heart of the build up; Martin’s own blog, community and fan sites, actors and actresses small and large on twitter and Facebook.
    We’ve a great story to share and we need to get church and local communities buzzing!

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  • Scotty Neasbitt
    August 4, 2010

    I love the goal and the idea, but I’m also interested in how to mobilize greater numbers of people (out of the stereotypical 80% that consumer rather than contribute) to plan, etc. for that special event 6 months down the road. Any ideas? Perhaps greater numbers of people would be mobilized over time as they incrementally get involved and see the “great anticipation” through their participation.

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