I sat with an entire row of my family during a recent Awaited production with tears in my eyes for two reasons. First, the production is often mesmerizing regarding the most powerfully true story ever told. Second, it is emotional to end a dream I had commissioned our creative folks with over a decade ago. That dream came to fruition. We had created a Cincinnati institution, and in the process earned the respect of the arts community. As I sat with moist eyes I asked myself again, “Did we really want to end all this in hopes of something better?”
Because this decision is so big, complex, and for many, unexpected, it is understandable that people have not heard all of the reasons why we feel God leading us this way. The average person thinks everything comes down to money, and that’s why Awaited is going away. Sorry, it doesn’t. If it was only about money, Awaited might stay.
This article is to remind myself why Awaited must go away and to give you some additional perspective…
People at Crossroads deserve great December and January services. Awaited happens on the backs of hundreds of volunteers and hundreds of staff members. Without them, Awaited couldn’t happen, which is why it doesn’t happen anywhere else. And, it comes with a cost. As staff is focused on pulling off 50 shows, they can’t simultaneously put ample creative resources into services in December and January. These are important times, and our creative firepower for these services is not what it should be.
We must facilitate the most spiritual growth possible. A lot of people have had a good show experience. Many of them years in a row. Many come to a show and don’t come back again until the next year. Maybe they are spiritually growing. Maybe they aren’t. One of the ideas on the table is to break certain Awaited elements up into smaller chunks that could play at all campuses over a 4-week period. This would give us more time and repetition to encourage the seeds of the gospel to take root. Attendance numbers are only one metric. What we are ultimately after is our lives becoming more conformed to the image of Christ. Unfortunately, it is hard to measure how a heart is growing toward submitting to the King in the manger.
Crossroads is bigger than 2 campuses. God has built Crossroads into a multi-site and digitally vibrant church that is growing nationally. This has been His plan and he is doing it. We can’t continue to put all of our Christmas eggs into one basket while we only serve two of our 12 sites (and most people can’t even get tickets). While every site and city should have unique offerings and unique initiatives, Christmas needs to be shared by all, and currently we are disproportionately serving Oakley and Mason. The entire Crossroads community deserves a great and relevant Christmas. Not just two sites.
Oakley needs regular weekends in December. Our largest site takes a big hit with three straight weekends of no services. People get out of healthy church attendance rhythms and the campus loses momentum which affects the rest of the year. Oakley has been our most powerful campus. It serves the most people and has launched the most sites. We don’t believe that monopolizing all of Oakley for all of December translates to health and increased potency during the other 11 months of the year.
The return on investment is sketchy. While there is deep spiritual value in helping hearts connect to God’s story of rescue for them that began with Christmas, we have to make choices about how we use our resources to do that same thing the other 11 months of the year. So while we want to serve the cities in which we reside, we also need to see that Awaited is tying into the overall vision of Crossroads and helping with overall momentum. It isn’t doing that well enough. It disrupts us for two months and any attendance growth we see in January coming out of Awaited is in line with what other churches in our peer group see without a massive production. The cost of about $1 million a year which doesn’t include staff and facility dollars; a weary staff heading into the New Year; no December weekends for Oakley; mediocre December and January services for everyone, and the lost opportunity to focus on other things should warrant a huge bump in measurable areas. It doesn’t. We fell in love with big show numbers but the research is clear that the fruitfulness is lacking given the expenditure of resources. There are absolutely a lot of people who have been touched by Awaited. But given the energy expended, not enough.
We are putting too much into something that isn’t consistent with what you would normally experience at Crossroads. There is very little of day to day Crossroads that is in Awaited. There is no slamming rock music, no humor, no personal story nor vulnerable self-disclosure. These things are in our wheelhouse. While the dance is beautiful, it is outside Crossroads norm because that is an art form that isn’t in Crossroads’ sweet spot. Maybe all this is partially why we don’t see more people who attend Awaited tying into our culture after the production ends.
I’m so thankful for Awaited and the tireless effort of everyone who has made this their ministry and a smashing success in so many other ways. It is hard to end something that is successful. This decision mirrors many realities in our spiritual journeys. The spiritual life isn’t just about ending bad things. It also is about ending good things for the hope of better things. Jesus calls this “pruning” in John 10. We are thankful for all the fruit that Awaited has borne and believe that we can bear even more fruit.
I hope that you will see that it was an aggressive and Godly move to do our first Christmas show “Imagine.” It was an aggressive and Godly move to end it and try Awaited. It was an aggressive and Godly move to repeat and continuously improve Awaited. And, it is an aggressive and Godly move to honor and end Awaited. I firmly believe that when you make aggressive and Godly moves, God expands your vision as to what is possible, and often does a new thing that is even better and more powerful than the last. I’m excited to see what He has in store next for the Crossroads community.