Having now had some involvement with three Annual Conferences and watching the ReThink Church campaign rolled out, I have had ample opportunity to talk to hundreds of United Methodists about it. Let me say clearly up-front: United Methodists love this campaign. Each video receives a strong ovation. The resources literally fly away from the display tables. By the second or third day, the assembly is awash in bright red T-shirts.
I wandered around the floor of the conferences asking five questions about ReThink Church. I am going to present the questions with about dozen random representative responses to each. I will keep my own personal observations to a minimum. There is no surprise to the fact that those inside the church feel more positively about the campaign than those outside — so for a comparison, check out my earlier blog What Do You Think ReThink Is Thinking?
There is an almost universal approval of the slogan, “ReThink Church.” It generates an incredible amount of positive energy, and leads to some very intense discussions. It touches both the deep cynicism many people feel about what the church is not as well as a fundamental hopefulness about what the church can be.
The campaigns greatest fans seem to be women, aged 45 and older. They generally love both the videos and the support materials. Both males and females under 45 overwhelmingly approve of the “rethink” concept, but they are relatively indifferent (or split about 50/50) on the resources, videos, and website.
1. What do you think “ReThink Church” is all about?
Letting people know how great The United Methodist Church is!
Showing the world that we know we’re not perfect, but we’re trying.
That The United Methodist Church is filled with nice people who love our children and youth.
It is pushing us to really have open minds about how to be a better church.
Asking important questions that we have ignored and telling the world we are ready and willing to change.
It’s perfect. It says we’re screwed up, but in a really nice way. Every “What If…?” is an admission that we’ve blown it, know it, and want to fix all the things we messed up. It’s like we’re saying we would like to be a real church again.
Getting new people to come to church.
An admission that we have lost our way and that we need to change or die.
It shows the world that (United) Methodists are about more than buildings and pastors and conferences and apportionments.
It proves that we’re really in touch with the outside world.
What a relief to know that our church is about transformation and that we will change all these things.
If we’re serious about this it could be great.
2. What do you like most about “ReThink Church?”
The sense of openness and willingness to change.
The idea that we need to be better.
It makes me feel good about my church.
It gives me hope that we can change.
It is clear evidence that we are no longer the church John Wesley envisioned.
It’s not full of preachy, churchy, Jesus jargon.
It makes us look very good.
It doesn’t really say anything as much as it aims to make people feel something. It is very emotional.
You don’t have to know anything about God or the church. It may appeal to real people. (?)
Makes me think about everything we’re not but could be.
I want to use it to shake my congregation up.
3. What questions or concerns do you have about “ReThink Church?”
It isn’t about being Christian; it’s all about the church.
Should a campaign about open doors show so many closed doors?
Framing the questions as “What If…” then steering the answers means we’re not open to “rethink” anything. Somebody has already decided the answers. It is very manipulative, in a rhetorical sort of way.
What is our witness? Where are our beliefs? How is this any different from a “Save the Children” plug or a video from some other charity organization?
The website only lets you in the doors that somebody else decided you ought to enter.
When were these videos made? They feel outdated and aimed at old people — kind of like the old Kodak commercials back when people still used film in their cameras.
The website looks at least ten years old.
Who is this really for? I love this. My church people will love this — as long as they don’t have to actually do anything with it. It is a great warm ‘fuzzy,’ but who outside of United Methodists are going to see this?
Do we mean this? Will we actually change or just “think” about change?
Who will eventually make decisions based on all this “rethinking?” Will General Conference and our bishops actually accept our changes or is this just giving us the feeling we have some control but really don’t?
If a local church takes this seriously, do we have permission to act congregationally, or will the connection step in to stop us if they don’t like what we “rethink?”
After eight years I don’t feel that we’re anymore open than we were before. After we “rethink” for eight years and spend another boatload of money, will we just skip along to something else?
4. Will “ReThink Church” motivate people to check out The United Methodist Church?
Women 45 & older: Yes – 20%, Maybe 41%
Women under 45: Yes – 17%, Maybe – 31%
Men 45 & older: Yes – 15%, Maybe – 30%
Men under 45: Yes – 14%, Maybe 22%
40-50% of UMs think this campaign has the potential to attract people to the church. Women feel more positively about this than men; those over 45 feel it is more attractive than those under 45.
5. On a scale of 1 (low) to 5 (high), how “important” is this campaign to our church?
Women 45 and older: 4.1
Men 45 and older: 3.3
Women under 45: 3.0
Men under 45: 2.6
Both males and females under 45 define “important” as “making the church change and be more faithful.” Those over 45 feel its “importance” lies in its ability to attract new, young people to become church members.
There is a definite contrast of reactions between those inside the church who find great potential hope and promise in the campaign versus those outside the church who distrust the intentions and dislike what they believe to be a dishonesty of message. Whether or not it effectively reaches a new audience, it definitely pleases the existing target market: the majority of UMs love“ReThink Church.”