Don’t you love a good cliffhanger? There’s nothing that compels me more to turn the page in a book like a chapter that ends with a good cliffhanger.
They’ve done this with television for decades, and before that, they did it with radio serials. It was a surefire way to engage the audience and ensure they would return next week at the “same Bat-time, same Bat-channel.” Nearly every episode of Batman ended this way—you know, strapped down by explosives on top of a submerging submarine encircled by atomic sharks? I can only imagine Batman fans would talk about it all week. “Would he use his Bat-erang? Bat-shark repellent? Or would Robin drop down grappling a Bat-rope from the Bat-copter?”
This is what was done so well with LOST. If you didn’t watch LOST, I am sure you’ve at least heard about it. That, in itself, makes my point. The weekly cliffhangers and the tension created in the storyline engaged the audience, drew them in, and kept them emotionally charged and connected with the characters. Viewers would become LOST evangelists of sorts, as they recommended it to their friends and family. Online forums were full of fans trying to figure out what was going on and what would happen next. What did it all mean? What was the answer to these intriguing mysteries presented before them? The tension was intense.
So why don’t we do the same thing with the Gospel?
You can have the most powerful and profound idea, but if you fail to communicate it, it’s worthless. Communication is the vehicle we use to transmit concepts and ideas from one person to another, so it’s crucial that we master it. Unfortunately, most church communication becomes more about facts and dry information and fails to fully capture our attention. Sermons, Sunday morning announcements, and more, fall prey to this. But when we look at how Jesus communicated with those around Him, we find Him to be far more colorful and engaging—often using seemingly simple stories to convey huge concepts that require repeated retellings to fully grasp everything that was being said. And he used tension.[quote]You can have the most powerful and profound idea, but if you fail to communicate it, it’s worthless.[/quote]
Church communication needs to build this same storyline tension that keeps the audience intently waiting for the conclusion…the point…the punch line…the call-to-action.
Tension can be crafted with any medium of communication. It can be done around a campfire, with a sermon series, or even with social media messages—just like we see with books, television, and film. And while the medium can put some restraints on how tension is created, no medium can be excluded. We see this time and time again with varying lengths of media. From a 15-second Super Bowl commercial to the Lord of the Rings, the tension created by good storytelling is possible no matter the medium.[quote]The tension created by good storytelling is possible no matter the medium.[/quote]
But we often approach mediums from the wrong direction. We see an impactful YouTube video, follow an awesome marketing strategy, or watch a moving TED talk. And in an attempt to create an equally impactful response, we simply mimic what’s being done. But like a cheap Rolex knock-off, it’s just a low quality replica that rings hollow in the end. It’s easy to misunderstand all the moving parts, planning, and intentions behind each creative decision made.
So how can we develop creative tension with church communication?
Creating tension and crafting an engaging storyline for your audience requires thoughtful planning. It isn’t something that can be done at the last minute, nor is it something that you want to hope and pray happens by accident. No matter the medium or message, you have to intentionally plot and plan. A good story is only as good as the way it’s told. Just ask anyone who’s bad at retelling jokes.[quote]Creating tension and crafting an engaging storyline for your audience requires thoughtful planning.[/quote]
Does your communication cause people to lean into the story? Or are you spoon-feeding it to them? Is there a perfect incompleteness to your message? Or are you wrapping it up with a pretty little bow for them?
Communication is an art, not a science. If you’re looking for 3 steps to creating tension or 10 keys to creative tension crafting, you’re doing it wrong. These “steps” and “keys” can be very helpful in crafting your style as you borrow particular elements that complement your style, but there is no recipe for success. You have to be willing to take chances, try new things, fail, and figure out what does and does not work well.
So the next time you sit down to plan your sermon, create a marketing plan, or craft a tweet, try to create some tension with your messaging. Keep your audience coming back for more.