Where is the Church’s mystery box?

Posted on February 16, 2009




Director JJ Abrams (Lost, Alias, and Star Trek) shared at a TED conference his passion for the ‘mystery box’. “Tanner’s Mystery Magic Box” was a cheap magic set that he purchased as a kid for a few dollars. He never opened it. It has sit on the shelf for decades to remind him of something important. The mystery of what’s in the box can be just as important as what is actually inside. He continues with how many times we are disappointed in movies because there is no mystery built up the story. Special effects and big stars have taken the place of mystery which is why we so often leave the theater so disillusioned.


This really sparked my thoughts on Creative Leadership specifically in the church. It seems that the most anticipated part of the Sunday morning experience is driving up to the parking lot and walking into the building. Then it becomes the boring and predictable experience of ‘church’. 3 songs up top, a facilitator, a message with 3 points, and then a song to wrap up. Where is the mystery in that?


JJ Abrams also pointed out that movie makers ‘rip off’ the easy parts of a move- the shark, the monster, the action. They fail to realize that the good stuff of the mystery is found in the story arc of the characters.


We can learn this lesson in the church. It’s easy to ‘rip off’ the production, videos, & performances from other churches- with predictable results. The real mysterious power is found in the story of your people as well as the story of the Gospel. Pixar (Toy Story, Monsters Inc, Finding Nemo) with all its technological advances and block buster films declares that there is one thing and only one thing that drive their studio- STORY.


Is there mystery in your church experience? Or do you share everything about who you are within the first 2 minutes of your Sunday service? Do you keep your people guessing? Are there surprises like; people come for one thing but get something totally unexpected? There is nothing wrong with having artistic expressions of lights, sound, and music- but is it all driven by story? 


We live in an era where ‘experience’ is the only new thing the church can provide people. Even phenomenal worship and teaching can become predictable. Provide a mystery box experience for your people. Resist stealing and reproducing the shark. By creating a mystery box, you might get something unexpected out of it as well.


Watch JJ Abrams talk on the Mystery Box: