ReThink Redux

RethinkChurch_logo_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?

18-899-zoom_imageThere 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?”

rethinkThe sense of openness and willingness to change.

The idea that we need to be better.

The T-shirts.

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.”

19 replies

  1. It was good to meet you face to face at AC Dan. I have already shared with you my sense that neither the website or the spots have the effect on people outside the UM that we think they do. Maybe next year when I turn 45, I will be more impressed.

    The two impressions from AC that stick with me are that the institution is already co-opting the language (rethink and what if) to say the same old things and nostalgia seekers (e.g., the save-the-camps crowd) used the language to make their desire to hold onto what makes them most comfortable sound like vision.

    My conclusion is that “Rethink Church” and “What if…” are just words strung together. So far I have not seen any sign that they are backed by a vision or a strategic plan that has sprung up from the community or can be shared with the community in a way that will lead us into God’s future.

    • Oh, gosh, I couldn’t agree with you more. It is amazing how many people are co-opting the concept of “rethinking” to preserve and protect the status quo. Thinking is a safe, happy alternative to doing anyting.

  2. I completely echo the comments about the out of date style of the video. If you look at the website videos, it gets even worse. Is it so hard to produce edgy, modern media?

    Now i will say this, perhaps this campaign is geared towards those who resist change the most… By and large, that means the more mature portions of our congregations. It is a huge disappointment for me when I hear someone say that they are too old to be used by God…

    • Adam, there is an old concept in planning theory that people will make changes that actually change nothing. Today’s cliche that captures the same idea is “rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic.” For many, this allows us to pretend that we’re “trying” to change, without having to actually change anything.

  3. In my local cluster of 4 small United Methodist Churches in southwest PA we are working on a plan of action of how we can rethink church in our community. I’ll let you know how it works out.

    • Please do. I really hope that this can be a catalyst for deep and lasting transformation. I want to hear all the success stories I can. Where it really works can be powerful examples of what we can be.

  4. How many times will we “Re-Think” the church? When I was at Roberts Wesleyan College in the late 1980’s, everyone said the church had to become relevant in some new way. Then while working on my M. Div at Asbury Seminary in the early 1990’s, church had to be retooled in some way. Then a number of years later, while working on my D.Min from Wagner Leadership, the same thread of thinking was present once again. Something must be done to “re-think” how church is done.

    At what point will we discover that all of the re-thinking does nothing more than empower a group of procrastinators. After all, if we spend all our time re-thinking and coming up with nifty slogans, we really don’t have to do anything. Do we?

    Just a thought.

    • Amen and amen. The very fact that we keep coming back to the same place over and over is disheartening. I get so frustrated by two responses: first, that this is somehow new and profound. Have we been braindead for the past 10, 20, 30, 40, etc., years? The second is, does anyone else feel deeply embarrassed that we are being asked to “rethink” the very fundamental, base level of what it means to be the church of Jesus Christ? OMG! How shameful that any of this is necessary! Ah, well, if we could actually do any of this, wouldn’t it be fantastic??

  5. In the spirit of respecful dialogue: I think sometimes we hope that a program/effort out of the boards or agencies is going to “save” us, and when it doesn’t, we are disappointed. The efforts out of the board and agencies are not intended to “fix” our church wide problems. If churches want to be more spiritually vital and share the Good News with more people, their members have to want to do that –and do it. The tools don’t do it by themselves. Whether we use the tools or not, it is our people’s apathy toward their relationship with God that is demonstrating the irrelevance of our denomination.

    It actually doesn’t bother me that our church is losing members, because I believe it means that we are losing the club mentality, the please-join-us-we-ask-nothing-of-you mentality. Paring down gives us the chance to recall (rethink?) what it means to be a community of followers of Christ and pursue that, rather than popularity. As painful as it is not to be “popular” and socially mainstream.

    • We (United Methodists) have adopted a “quick fix” mentality where we’re looking for the simple, painless solution to all our ills. Even with “ReThink Church,” I wonder if we’re willing to deal with the hard work that moves us from “What If…” to “What Is…” (Or even what reasonably could be…)

  6. What in here is going to get someone to walk in the door of a UM church? There is no mention of Jesus in the video.

    As I thought about this, it occurred to me: why ten thousand doors? We actually have over 30,000 doors for UM churches. We have more churches than anyone else except the Roman Catholics. We could be saying, “We have over 30,000 doors to churches open to you all across America. Churches that believe that Jesus Christ is the way, the truth and the life. Churches that also believe that we are called to help the least, the last and the lost. Not just on Sunday, but seven days a week. Go to findachurch.org and get connected to the one thing bigger than any of us.”

    Otherwise, this is a campaign the Rotary could be doing.

    • You’re not alone in your feelings. We’ve got a long way to go to make this more than just a nice idea.

    • It may not be as universally true as I would like (but, hey, isn’t a part of the ad campaign supposed to be saying where we’d like to be [grin]), but it certainly isn’t as much of a “lie” as you are afraid it is.

      We have some local churches that may be in the “lost” category themselves, but I am optimistic that they can be “found” one way or another.

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