The thought of starting a drama ministry can be overwhelming. I know – I’ve been there. You have some great ideas, a vision for where you want to go, but no idea how to get there. You’ve read some books on drama ministry, and their strategies are great – if you’ve got a team of thirty people who have devoted themselves to drama as their only ministry. Right now you’ve got four people who would like to get something started, but only if it doesn’t conflict with this or that. Plus, their last stage experience was playing the second billy goat in their fourth grade class play.

I’d like to share some of the strategies I developed, after much trial and error, for Acts of Faith. This is far from the only way to do things, but it’s worked for us.

Our basic schedule is to produce a five-minute sketch leading into the sermon once a month. We tried at first to choose Sundays for this based on what sermon topic we felt like dramatizing, but it became obvious that a regular schedule would work much better. For us, it’s the fourth Sunday of the month. Our pastor sometimes requests we move it a week one way or the other, and this sometimes means we end up skipping a month altogether, but that’s okay. It keeps us all on our toes.

The monthly sketches also get moved or skipped sometimes when we’re in intense rehearsals for a larger production. If we had enough people to cast sketches without overlapping the large production casts that wouldn’t be true, but I try not to make people memorize two separate scripts at once. It’s hard enough to memorize one.

I write most of the scripts we use, and while that’s partly because I enjoy writing, it’s also because we try to make our sketches fit as neatly as possible with the sermon, and you’re not likely to find a pre-written script that says exactly what you want. If you spend a day or two meditating on a sermon topic, you’ll eventually get a flash of an idea for how to illustrate it (these ideas generally come when you’re in the shower, driving, or nearly asleep, so be prepared). This means, of course, that you need your pastor to give you his sermon topic far enough in advance for both that process and the rehearsal process. I’ve found it works better if I give him a specific date – I need to know what you’re preaching on the 28th by the 1st, for example. This has gotten easier as he’s seen how much better the drama works if I have that. We tried at first to just use scripts I liked as part of the worship service rather than as a lead-in to the sermon, but we’ve gotten much more response from people as we’ve worked harder to have the drama expand on the sermon rather than being a separate entity. 

We have a weekly drama night (Thursdays), but most weeks, only a few people need to be there – those who are cast in the current sketch. This was one of the most difficult issues for me to figure out as we tried to settle into a routine. I wanted to build a team, a group of people ministering together and to each other. I knew that would only happen by getting the entire team together on a regular basis. Yet there was no reason to make them all come when only two of them were rehearsing.

The schedule we finally settled on has worked really well, once we began having a regular Sunday for sketches. On the second, third and fourth Thursdays of the month, our drama time is a rehearsal for the upcoming sketch. We present it on the fourth Sunday. On the first Thursday of the next month (generally four days later) we have a full-team training session.

These training sessions have become the backbone of our ministry, the reason (I’m convinced) we’ve become as close to each other and grown as much as we have. There’s not a lot of actual teaching that goes on. We play drama games. We do a lot of improv, and we laugh a lot. The main thing is that everyone knows it’s a safe place. Everyone knows each one of us is going to look foolish, so they may as well relax and enjoy themselves. It’s like a lab experiment in learning how to let go of inhibitions, and I believe that is the key to learning how to be an actor.

We also take some time at each training session for discussion – how did the previous month’s sketch go, what’s coming up next, who’s available for rehearsal and performance this month? I try to ask a question – what are you grateful for this month, how do you need to be ministered to this month? I’ve heard some of our team members refer to our training sessions as free therapy, but I think it’s simply that there are too few places where you can laugh and talk and be goofy. And somewhere between the therapy and the improv games, the acting ability improves by leaps and bounds.

We always pray for the drama ministry at our training sessions, and I pray frequently for the ministry and for individual team members. I always pray with the cast before any production, large or small. I’ve also found that it makes a difference if I pray (assuming I’m not acting) during the production.

Obviously we don’t always follow this structure exactly. For one thing, some months have five Sundays, and that throws everything off! Even ignoring that, though, we sometimes change things. I never want any of us to get lazy. Last summer, for instance, we did an eight-part drama to go with an eight-part sermon series. Then we took a break!

I would never say this is the only way to do drama ministry, or even necessarily the best way to do drama ministry, but it’s worked for us. I believe it can work for you, too.