The Power of the Celebrity
by Josh Hunt

Greeters are Prestonwood Church in Dallas are trained to mention to visitors that Zig Ziglar teachers a class and invite them to attend. They know the power of the celebrity name. (I don't know what path they take to get people from Zig's class to other classes, but I have a feeling they have one.) I thought that was a great idea. You might use it next time someone like Zig Ziglar joins your church and starts teaching a Sunday School class. Until then, you might consider other ways to using the power of the celebrity.

I was in Great Hills Baptist in Austin recently and they used the power of a celebrity curriculum to boost attendance in Sunday School by over a hundred, overnight. Here is how Jerry Carver and the team did it, and how you can do it too. They used the power of a celebrity curriculum.

The celebrity curriculum, in this case was the Prayer of Jabez -that little pamphlet that has rocketed its way to the top of the New York Times best seller list and kept it there for months. Great Hills got the entire Sunday School to go through a four week study of this book. They advertised on secular radio, put up banners, highlighted it on their web page, and advertised the Prayer of Jabez every way they could. They had a bump in attendance that is larger than the average size of the average church in America. That is the power of the celerity.

The Prayer of Jabez will come and go. It will go the way of every other best seller and be a forgotten memory in time. Its usefulness as a draw will wane in time. But the book of Ecclesiastes promises us that of the writing of books there will be no end (Ecclesiastes 12:12). There will always be a best selling Christian book. Some of them will be on secular best seller lists. The Left Behind Series is another case in point. I know a church that had a well attended Sunday School class that studied the book of revelation using the Left Behind series as the commentary. Assuming you are premillennial, you might consider doing a study of Revelation using the power of the celebrity status of the Left Behind Series.

Obviously, every best selling Christian book would not lend itself to a Sunday School curriculum. I have a pretty narrow attitude about this. I think Sunday School ought to be Bible Study. By this I mean that when the group gets together, somebody ought to open the Bible and say, turn with me to this chapter and verse of this Bible book. I am not too fired up about studying Bruce Wilkinson or Tim Lahay themselves. We only use the books as a commentary to The Book. And, we use the title of the book as a celebrity entrée to get people in the door. When we get in the door, my feeling is, somebody needs to say, "Please open you Bibles. . ."

Truth is, there are lots of best selling books that lend themselves to this. I am thinking of Bill Hybels book on Proverbs, Making Life Work. Many of Chuck Swindoll's books lend themselves to a chapter and verse Bible study approach. For me, I would insist on a chapter and verse approach in class. You may not be as conservative as I am on this issue, and I can respect that.

How many ways can you think of that a large church can see a bump in attendance of 100 overnight? I can't think of many. Using the power of a celebrity curriculum is one.

A slightly different spin on this theme is to take advantage of major world events and develop a series on a Biblical response to that event. A friend on staff at Saddleback told me they enjoyed a bump of 8,000 in worship after the week of September 11. As good of news as this is, it created enormous headaches. Traffic was backed up for miles and they ended up turning some people away. (It happens all the time at your church, right?) On Tuesday morning Rick announced to the staff that they would have a brand new service up and running, complete with music and preschool, the next weekend. It was a scramble, but if you work at Saddleback, you are used to scrambling. Five days later, a new service was born with thousands of people attending. The whole thing was announced by email.

This brings me to an underlying theme supporting the power of using a celebrity curriculum. It is a philosophy I call ministry by opportunity and stands in contrast to classical long range strategic planning. September 11 wasn't in anyone's long range strategic plan. Neither was Jabez' meteoric rise to stardom. I suppose Jabez himself was quite surprised as he peered down from the balcony of heaven. Both of these events created opportunities that were taken advantage of by the swift. You can't put it on the long range strategic plan; you have to take advantage of the opportunities when they come. Indeed many times the race is to the swift, not to the strong.

Let's do a little test. Listed below are the best selling non-fiction books at as of January 2002. (Go to their page if you want to see a current list.) How many of these do you think would be possibilities to develop a chapter and verse study appropriate to your groups?


Could you develop a chapter and verse Bible study from this?

The Prayer of Jabez 
Secrets of the Vine 
The Prayer of Jabez Devotional 
The Prayer of Jesus 
If You Want to Walk on Water, You've Got to Get Out of the Boat 
He Chose the Nails 
Fresh Power 
Fresh Wind, Fresh Fire 
Wild At Heart 
Night Light 

How many other ways can you think of for a church to bump their attendance by 100 overnight? I can't think of many. You might consider using the power of a celebrity curriculum to bump your attendance.