Greg Surratt: 4 Things I Learned When the Lights Went Out

Lights out
If the lights went out during your service, would you still have power in the room? (Mt. Pleasant Church)

Recently, the lights went out at our Mt. Pleasant Campus. All of them. For a very long time. Three and one-half hours, to be exact. Fun times.

Oh, I've been in the dark for longer periods of time, but never with so many people.

The electricity went off halfway into the opening set of the first service and returned halfway through the message in the third service.

Here are four things I learned when the lights went out:

1. Without light, you become more aware of the little things. We tend to take things for granted until they are taken away. I was in a small bathroom off of the space we affectionately call the "bullpen." It's the place where speakers gather their thoughts before giving the message.

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The fact that I was in a bathroom is probably more information than you are comfortable with, but here's what I suddenly became aware of:

  • How dark the darkness is: Darkness is really dark when there is no light. What I would have given for even just a little light. Rule of thumb—never enter a bathroom without your cell phone. Thank God for Jesus who pierces the darkness!
  • Paper towel dispensers work without electricity. There is no spiritually redeeming value to this observation, but it was interesting to me. Even in the dark you can wash your hands and then wave them under the paper towel dispenser. Pretty cool.

2. Desperation can trigger creativity and innovation. We originally learned this lesson about 13 years ago when a "no" from our city led to a desperate innovation called multisite.

During our service, we were about five minutes away from a live transfer of video to 12 campuses and two venues when a sudden lack of electricity triggered innovation everywhere.

  • The worship team kicked into acapella mode.
  • Campuses shifted to their backup system: Saturday night's recorded message.
  • Nursery classes moved outdoors.
  • Tech teams cobbled together battery-operated work lights and a recently purchased, portable sound system.
  • Venue Pastor Michael Morris—a 20-year friend—took my notes and preached heaven down in the chapel. He knows me so well that he even delivered my Debbie illustrations with credibility!
  • First Touch volunteers shuffled thousands of attenders in and out around large fire doors that automatically close when the electricity goes out.

I was amazed at how quickly and smoothly innovation began to happen.

3. Shared experiences create a greater sense of community. There is a shared dynamic when you go through something together.

Within minutes of the lights going out, a tangible sense of community spread through the congregation. An anticipation of "What's going to happen next?" and "How can I help?" broke out everywhere.

More people were smiling, the jokes seemed funnier, the atmosphere was great! It was kind of like a huge camp out.

Except I never much liked camping.

I heard people saying, "We should do this more often." I'm not sure I'm there yet. Some thought we had planned it all out as an illustration of the message topic—"The parable of the shrewd manager and the power of money."

We are not that smart! But it was fun for a day.

4. The power and presence of Jesus doesn't depend on smoke, moving lights and high-definition screens. This was my biggest takeaway.

As I listened to the people sing with all their might, and watched them respond to God's Word without some of the cool tools He lets us use on most weekends, I again realized that it's not about us.

It's all about Him.

And He is not limited by a lack of anything.

The lights went out but there was still plenty of power in the room.

Greg Surratt is the founding pastor of Seacoast Church, one of the early adopters of the multisite model. Located in Mt. Pleasant, South Carolina, Seacoast has been recognized by various media as an innovative and influential thought leader in future strategies for church growth and development.

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