Building Irresistible Anticipation


The premise of the A&E show, Bad Ink, is two tattoo artists from Vegas find potential guests with terrible tattoos, make fun of them and then fix their tattoos. I don’t recommend the show simply because any redeeming value is negated by pretty much every other element of the show. However, they demonstrate one very powerful strategy that the church should take note of.

What Keeps You Watching a Terrible Show

When they find a potential guest they ask about the story of the tattoo. “Why did you get it? Who were you with? Why do you regret it?” The stories are insane. Honestly, it’s a case study on silly decisions, but that’s for a different post. The stories build and build until finally the artist says, “okay, let’s see it.” The guest reveals their tattoo but the camera only shows everyone’s reaction. You go to a commercial break not seeing the tattoo until the show resumes.

The Master of Building Irresistible Anticipation

Jesus was a master at building anticipation. In John 1:43-51 Jesus calls Nathanael to follow him. His words to Nathanael were, “You believe because I told you I saw you under the fig tree. You will see greater things than that… Very truly I tell you, you will see ‘heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending on’ the Son of Man.”

In John 6:1-15 Jesus feeds the five thousand. After discussing with the disciples the issue of not enough food Jesus said, “Have the people sit down.” With those words, the anticipation begins. “What is he going to do? How is he going to feed a these people?”

Stories such as these gave Jesus a reputation as a man sent from God. Many flocked to hear and see Jesus in anticipation of seeing a miracle from God.

Stop Being Predictable

There’s one thing the church is better at than just about any other entity out there: being predictable. Where is the adventure in church? Where is the anticipation? We are the keepers of the greatest story ever told, yet there are more people clamoring for the next season of Mad Men than there are those anticipating attending your church service.

What I’m Asking of You

I am writing this for myself as much as I am writing it for you. What do you do to help build anticipation and intrigue guests to continue attending services? Maybe a better question would be, do you even care about building anticipation?

9 replies
  1. Heather
    Heather says:

    I love your use of pop culture to help paint a picture of the story of Jesus. I think that right there might be a powerful church tool for helping to build anticipation — tapping into current cultural strategies. Great post!

    • Dave Shrein
      Dave Shrein says:

      Now that is an excellent question! I would imagine any strong consideration given to answering that question could go a long way in building that anticipation! Great thought.

  2. Lisa Homesley
    Lisa Homesley says:

    Great point Dave, I would love to the world get as excited to share about the gospel as we do about pop culture and what the next best show is. I think the way we reach not only the church but also those who do not yet believe is to stop trying to show how the Bible applies to us but to teach how we fit into the story God has written. How we fit into His story not how we manage to fit Him into our lives. How we can bring Him glory in all that we do rather than trying to find out how to entertain the church.

    I think you are right on in showing that we as the church need to help build anticipation for the coming return of Christ however I would love to see the Church be a mirror for the example set by Christ as the best possible way to live. Building anticipation for His return when all wrongs will be restored.

  3. Mark Farley
    Mark Farley says:

    What I found that works best for me and my ministry is to personally invite folks by gaining their commitment to assist with an activity that we agreed that they have a passion for or at least an interest in. The anticipation builds excitement as the folks visualize their participation. I have built many solid volunteer teams with this practice. Folks feel a deeper sense of commitment when they have ownership.

    • Dave Shrein
      Dave Shrein says:

      There is no imitating the power of personally inviting someone to play an important part in a big story! I know my greatest times of anticipation have been when someone of respect or influence has invited me along a journey! Thx Mark.

  4. Paul Fiarkoski
    Paul Fiarkoski says:

    Great topic, Dave! I’m a marketer and practice the art of building irresistable anticipation in the normal course of my duties, but I can’t say that I’ve ever really tried to build anticipation around experiencing God. Until now. Just today I reached out to a friend on Facebook who was grumbling about an experience he had at a church he was invited to over the weekend. I shared with him my belief that no church should get in the way of his relationship with God and invited him to try the church that helped me change my attitude about churches.

    I had to edit my message several times out of concern I was over-selling what he would experience. I know that if he feels compelled to take the first step, Jesus will take care of the other details.

    • Dave Shrein
      Dave Shrein says:

      I love that you went so far as to review your message to make sure that you were building anticipation, not overselling something.

      Thanks for chiming in Paul… I really value your input!

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