When I was a child, I attended a church where every Sunday all the forthcoming events of the week were read out during the service by the ‘church secretary’. The notices (what the Scots call the ‘intimations’) always included how much was given in the collection the previous Sunday. If there was a visiting preacher, we were given not simply his name (it was then normally a ‘he’), but if he had degrees, then they were solemnly read out: ‘Master of Arts’, ‘Bachelor of Divinity’ etc. The notices were always read just before the collection – and then immediately after the collection the children went out for ‘Junior Church’.
Today, things have greatly changed. Many (most?) churches have a notice-sheet, sometimes called the church-bulletin, or what we called in my last church ‘Update’, in which all the events of the coming week are recorded. With many people giving by monthly standing orders, it no longer makes much sense to give details of the weekly giving. But I believe that there is still a need for notices – even in those ‘hi-tech’ churches where every week the notice sheet is accompanied by a fast-moving video presentation. Nor does the advent of email and other electronic forms of communication do away with the notices: people often only skim-read what they are sent electronically. For matters of importance, nothing can supplant the human voice. People need to be welcomed – and important church-wide events to be underlined. Indeed, I came to believe that notices were so important that I refused to delegate them to anybody else – the giving of the welcome and the drawing the attention of the church to a key event in church life, seemed to me to be the task of the senior pastor. Only very rarely would I allow somebody else from the congregation to speak at this point – and if they did, then I would prefer to interview them so that I could more in control.
Precisely because of their importance, I used to prepare carefully what I wanted to say. I ‘honed’ my words of welcome – and often gave a good deal of thought to what needed to be high-lighted – and how. Of course, I could have ‘flown by the seat of my pants’, but the reality is that I would have been less effective. Furthermore, now that so many people attend church only every second or every third week, care needs to be taken that sufficient notice is given if important events are to be drawn to the attention of the church in time. I reckon that in most churches today three weeks are needed to begin the build-up to a key event in church life.
But the question is: where do you put the notices? Some churches put them at the beginning of the service – but these days people are not so prompt as they were, with many people arriving in the opening hymn, if not much later. Some churches put the notices at the end of the service, just before the benediction, but by that stage people are wanting to collect children from their ‘Junior Church’ classes, or maybe have just had enough of sitting down. Furthermore, it doesn’t make much sense giving the welcome right at the end of the service. Some churches have the notices immediately before the ‘collection’ (I prefer the term ‘offering’), but if the collection comes after the notices, it tends to become a business transaction when the members discharge their responsibilities to the church. On the other hand, if it comes before the notices, the offering can be received within a context of praise, and so can become an act of worship and not just a collection.
One thing for certain, if the notices are to contain a welcome, then it needs to come toward the beginning of the service – although not too soon. As a rule of thumb I think there is a lot to be said for putting the main welcome spot and the notices twenty minutes after the service has begun – by that time most people are now present (although my experience when I lived in Congo was that every Sunday some people turned up just in time for the benediction!). Furthermore, I think there is a lot to be said for following the notices with the prayers of intercession, for then the matters that have been high-lighted become ‘fuel’ for prayer.
Notices have an important role to play. They are not a necessary evil. Rather than quenching the fire of the Spirit, they can actually light up the fire!