How to Strategically Hype Without Embarrassing Yourself

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“The best thing about comedy is that no matter how bad your show is, it’s only 30 minutes, and never exists again. The worst thing is no matter how good your show is, it’s only 30 minutes, and never exists again.” ­ -Mick Napier

Comedians have the luxury of coasting because people love to laugh and will seek out comedy. Churches cannot coast because people are looking for a reason to mentally check out and never return. If you blow it on Sunday with a person far from God, they will quickly become far from your church.

In today’s world, it is still culturally­ assumed that if you have questions about faith, your best bet is to walk into a church on a Sunday morning. The culture assumes Sunday is going to meet their needs. If you want to reach lost people, your church needs to reduce the clutter of mid­week programming and echo the Monster Truck commercials: “Sunday, Sunday, Sunday!”

How do we best grab people’s attention?

Hype that lives up to the hype is GREAT. Delivering on big promises can build a reputation and momentum. However, when you promise something great yet deliver a subpar product, you stain your credibility and empty seats.

And let’s be honest, this happens a LOT in church world.

If you’re going to jump on Twitter on Saturday night and promise that this coming Sunday will be the best Sunday ever, you’d better deliver big time. And there is a time and a place for those tweets. Just remember, leaders shape expectations.

A key principle used by comedians is to reverse­hype. Comedians thrive when they underpromise and overdeliver:

Overpromise + Underdeliver = Reputation Stainer + Momentum Killer (church world)

Underpromise + Overdeliver = Spontaneous Buzz + Authentic Growth (comedy world)

Surprise + Delight

Comedy teacher Martin de Maat once gave a great exercise in one of my comedy courses. He gave each person in our class a secret before we started improvising our scene. We weren’t supposed to talk about it; each person’s secret was to be their motivation.

The exercise was incredible as great comedy erupted in those improvised scenes. At the end, we found out the big reveal: Martin had told each of us the same thing, “It’s your partner’s birthday.”

Because we didn’t know it was our birthday in the scene, we were given an underpromise; we assumed it would be a normal day. The scene’s comedy was heightened because each person was acting like it was the other’s birthday… without actually saying, “Hey, Happy Birthday!” This made every word and action an overdelivery of pure joy.

When you choose to underpromise and overdeliver, it will lead to spontaneous buzz and authentic growth. In leadership, you have a hand in shaping the future. If you keep expectations low and raise the bar for execution high, you shape a future of surprise and delight. When looking at your next big event or message series, underpromise what is to come and then work your tail off to overdeliver the results!

As comedy director Del Close once observed, “A scene is almost never about what the players think it’s going to be about!” When you underpromise as a leader, you actually free yourself to enjoy the journey. If the expectations are low, the freedom is available to explore and fly higher!

Jonathan Herron studied comedy under Tina Fey (SNL, 30 Rock) before entering ministry. An experienced church start​up strategist, Jonathan is now the founding pastor of Life Church Michigan and this excerpt is from his just ​­released book, Comedy​­Driven Leadership.

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