80s worship service inspires church
By Lindsay Peyton
A few months into the pandemic, Rev. Andrew Payne found a way to get creative – and use a good dose of humor – to keep his congregants inspired and connected to church. The pastor at Lakeside UMC, located north of Houston, took his streamed services to a new level – and now that type of innovation is carrying into the congregation’s new normal. A little comedic relief, he added, can help open hearts and minds in a serious way.
It started with a joke. “I got an app on my phone that made everything look like an ‘80s video,” Payne said. “I was shooting the staff, just being sort of silly.”
Then, he was struck with an idea. “Wouldn’t it be funny if we did a whole service like this?” he asked his staff.
Payne was surprised by the response. “Everyone was really into the idea,” he said. “That was at the height of the pandemic, and it was really hard to connect with the church. Getting people excited to watch another video three months in was really tough.”
Everyone dressed up in ‘80s clothes, and Payne incorporated music from the decade into the service. He had recently purchased a Mac and Final Cut Pro editing software and went to work.
“We pretended that we found a video tape from the ‘80s,” Payne said. “It was nostalgic.”
The congregation loved it – and shared the worship service on social media. “Friends of mine not in the church said, ‘That was really funny,’ or ‘Our church should do that kind of thing,’” Payne recalled. “Other pastors said, ‘We should try that.’”
“It was just our worship service dressed up in the ‘80s, but it was fun,” he added. “For a little church like ours, it was easy to do. There wasn’t any expense to it.”
The success of the ‘80s service prompted Payne to take on another decade. “Then we did a ‘90s one,” the pastor said. “It was more grunge.”
Their music director created an opening theme song, based on the TV show “Full House.”
All of the worship leaders dressed in ‘90s style and played tunes from the era.
Since then, Lakeside UMC has returned to the building. Instead of all videotaped services, the congregation adapted a more hybrid model.
Being innovative and using technology, however, will remain with the church.
Payne said that members are still watching worship online and return weekly to streamed services. He is working this summer to rethink the digital format in the fall.
“This isn’t going away,” Payne said. “We need to double down on this. I think it’s a permanent part of our church.”
He explained that spending time making online sermons interesting and unique is worth the effort. “You have to get attention,” he said. “Peoples’ lives are different now than they were a year and a half ago. That’s something we’re been thinking about a lot.”
In the fall, Payne is planning to do more themed services in person. “Part of our return to church will be ‘Return of the Jedi,’” he said.
For the Star Wars worship, there will be costumes. “There will be some set design,” Payne said. “And . . . we’ll have light sabers.”
He explained that the congregation serves a lot of children, as well as members in their 30s and 40s. Everyone enjoys Star Wars.
“They don’t have a lot of conceptions of what church should be. I have a little more freedom,” he said with a laugh.
Football is another theme Payne is considering. “We’re trying to find ways to connect and get people to open up a little more,” he said. “We don’t want to be the same ole, same ole.”
Offering some levity during the pandemic was one way to become more engaged with the congregation, Payne said. “Why do people engage online? It’s usually for something humorous. That’s what a lot of people are looking for,” he said.
At the same time, humor can help an audience engage further in content. “Laughter is really important for opening people up to deeper moments in their hearts,” Payne said. “You have to have moments of levity to get people to go deep, to help them engage in the moment. Laughter is a way to do that.”
COVID-19 has been such a difficult time, the pastor added. “We were in a period of time that was so stressful,” he said. “We were just looking for ways to keep church lighthearted. People needed to laugh, to see some optimism.”
Payne was able to be light-hearted and to offer his congregation some fun. “Being willing to make fun of yourself and be foolish is essential,” he said. “That’s a part I’m willing to play, to offer guidance. You have to help people emotionally. It’s okay to not take ourselves seriously – but we take the message very seriously.”
Ultimately, Payne is also using humor to help people return to church and stay connected with their church family. “Making it easy and fun for people to get back to this thing that they love is really important,” he said.