Open Doors 101 – Part 2

Yesterday I began a reflection and critique on my most recent engagement with the ReThink Church campaign.  Today I want to continue the reflection on some “meta-issues” that are related to, but not specifically about, ReThink Church.  However, before I go any further I do want to say that I really appreciated the enthusiastic and collaborative leadership that Ken Sloane and Jennifer Rodia brought to the event.  The powerful witness to shared leadership between male and female, clergy and laity, older and younger offered as much grace as anything they said, and I thought they worked together amazingly well.  they are both very good at what they do.

In my opinion, ReThink Church reflects the current cultural confusion between marketing and communication.  Marketing is all about message — creating a compelling message/identity/brand and transmitting it effectively.  This is the remnant pitfall of late 20th century “3G” communication technology.  When communication technology developed that allowed single point broadcasting to a wide multi-point audience (think radio, television, movies), the very definition of communication changed.  With the advent of the “4G” — multi-point/multi-platform communication between points and platforms — communication is returning to a healthier place. 

In classic communications theory, there are five aspects of effective communication — creation of a message, transmission of a message, reception of a message, interpretation of a message, response to/application of a message.  Dialogue depends on a dynamic interaction of these aspects.  The newly emerging “polylogue” (I love that term…) depends on the full engagement of all aspects as well.  But the 3G culture of the 2oth century displaced communication with marketing — creating and transmitting messages, disregarding reception and interpretation, and evaluating response based on numbers — sales, attendance, customers, clients, etc.  Without direct, clear qualitative feedback throughout the process, many decisions are made based on assumptions and probabilities rather than direct interaction.

The impact on the church has been to adopt such monologue messaging and call it communication.  Dynamic interaction that leads to understanding is a secondary value.  We “communicate” in the church through sermons, announcements, newsletters, posters, bulletin inserts, signs, emails, websites, and other impersonal, uni-directional methods.  The unintended consequence is an over reliance on representational communication.  For example, representational evangelism is defined as using monologue to invite people to church — ads, door hangers, bumper stickers, tv and radio spots, websites (information based), holy SPAM, and a dozen other creative impersonal means. 

Relational evangelism, on the other hand, is face-to-face (1G), point-to-point direct (2G), and interactive, engaged networked (4G) communication.  3G monologue communications (billboard, tv commercial, newspaper/web ad, radio/television broadcast, etc.) are still of value, but only in service to the emergent 4G culture. In the church we are still operating behind the curve.  But this is a both/and, not either/or situation.  Much of our church is stuck in a 2G mindset struggling with how to employ 3G tech.  It is unrealistic to think we can all adopt 4G culture as the norm without a long, steep learning curve.  We need to be taught how to navigate the new reality well, though our tendency is to use what we know and pretend it’s new.  Many websites are nothing more than 4G technologies being used to host 3G content (think most information websites).  When something big happens in the world, I will turn to the Internet (4G) to visit a new site (3G) to get the latest post.  My son will turn to the Internet (4G) and connect to a global community through social networking, multi-platform direct communication (4G).  Paradigm shifts are never clean, and this one is no exception.

Our modern/post-modern cultural propensity toward breadth over depth is a challenge.  We have got to learn how to go deep as we go wide.  Superficiality and inauthenticity are the greatest concerns of spiritual seekers who are not coming to church, those who have left the church, and those in the church who are growing ever more disillusioned.  The focus on “more” (quantity) comes as a cost to “better” (quality).  We must do a better job balancing the two.  ReThink Church is helping us deal with breadth, and where the message is received by healthy congregations, the tools and resources can help with depth.  But we need more distinction and clarity between the superficial and the truly transformative. 

I ask people to wrestle with the following distinction when I lead workshops on outreach and evangelism (and radical hospitality): what is the difference between entertaining guests and welcoming someone to live in your home.  Every group makes the immediate distinction.  Both require kindness, friendliness, openness, etc., but the best thing about company is that they go home.  To open your home to a newcomer is a whole different matter, requiring much greater sacrifice, discomfort and adjustment.  ReThink Church is doing a wonderful job of helping us to entertain company.  I have yet to find the resources necessary to help people welcome newcomers to the family.  This, for me, is the key difference between change and transformation.

There is great value in getting back to basics.  Prayer, worship, faith sharing, spiritual formation in close community (small groups) and simple Christian service are where spiritual seekers are asking for clarity and guidance — both inside and outside the church.  Until we get the foundation laid, there is little we can build that will have lasting value.  ReThink Church tackles some of the important basics — being open, welcoming, inviting, and flexible.  Our congregations simply need to remember there is a lot more to the story, and that it isn’t all about us — The People of The United Methodist Church — but about becoming the body of Christ.

19 replies

  1. The problem I see with programs like “Re-Think Church” is that they fail to address the underlying question of our goal in being a church (or a denomination). Is our goal to save our institutions, or to transform human lives through the power of Christ?

    Although most programs for change within the church today tell us that they’re about making disciples for Christ, the measures of congregational success make it clear that they’re really about growing congregations and the denomination, not about growing disciples. How many people have joined the church? What’s the weekly worship attendance? Is the church paying its apportionments? How many people attend classes and small groups? Do its committees have all their members?

    Significantly, the measures of success do NOT ask how many lives have been touched and changed. Apparently, success only counts if people come to worship or join the church. By that measure, Jesus himself was a failure. He whittled down his followers from the crowds that followed him in his early days to a mere handful at the end.

    If a church decided to become a video games parlor, with members getting discounts on play, “worship” consisting of tournaments, and classes focused on gaming techniques, it could be a success by denominational measures—as long as it paid its apportionments. Yet we would hardly consider it a success at making disciples or touching lives with the love of Christ.

      • It is being done globally as we write. Bishop’s concecrate elements that are delivered to regional outposts and the communion meal is shared by people thousands of miles apart. Check out some of the amazing communion celebrations done last World Communion Sunday. Over 200,000 people in over forty countries celebrated a communion hosted by the World Council of Churches. Distance, space and time mean little to the incredible power of God’s Holy Spirit.

      • We have a long tradition of lay people taking consecrated elements to shut-ins, and even clergy consecrating elements for laity events. It is a little fuzzy on what Protestants believe is happening during the consecration and the officiants role. UMs tend to ignore the ambiguities and theological questions and merely claim that an ordained — or later, licensed local pastor — must officiate. For some, this merely perpetuates the confusion between priest and pastor. My first experience of a “broadcast” communion was in Korea, when I bishop in one location blessed the elements in about a dozen different remote locations, and lay preachers lifted and broke the elements as the bishop recited the words. I think we will see more experiments in cyber-communion in the years to come. Wonder what bandwidth is needed for both bread and cup?

      • Thank you, Dan, for reminding me of the Korean UMC Conferences’ practice of remote communion. That suggests that any gathering which must be bound by the Spirit can be recognized as such. This opens up remote Lay Servant classes where is has been argued that technology cannot bridge to provide a setting for corporate spiritual formation. The University Senate and the Commission on Theological Education just approved online coursework for up to 2/3 of an MDiv. This interpretation also opens up cyberspace for meetings of the Local Church Charge or Church Conference Regular and Special Meetings (if I remember correctly, specifically permissible under Wis Stat Ch. 180, referenced by Ch. 181, referenced by Ch. 187). All of this is necessary if we operate as remote classes constituting a local church, as in Korea. Of course, since this is how we started before we were a church, one can’t say “We’ve never done it that way before.”

  2. Dan, I have been enjoying your blog for sometime now via Dean McIntyre. This entry compells me on several levels. Great explanation of Communication Theory. I also like the comparison of the 3G versues 4G communication.

    In the 2nd to last paragraph, I am reminded of a time when a church member provided temporary housing for 6 weeks for my family in his home. He left a note that read, “Feel free to make yourself at home. If you need something, look in any cabinets, drawers, closets. I have nothing to hide. My home is your home.” — Out of that experience developed one of the deepest friendships I have ever had. Transparency, love, willingness to share. I am not sure that this always happens in our congregations, unfortuntaley. Maybe a little human nature swimming upstream combined with the organizational dynamics of the local church? I don’t know. Put wouldn’t it be nice if we told folks in the church to feel free to look in any drawer, cabinet, or closet if they needed something? Peace.

  3. Much of this begs the question- do we want to have a steady stream of visitors or do we want to make disciples? Much of what I see happening is the effort to find a way to reach people but, once reached, no method to disciple them into becoming disciples themselves. As a result they become disenchanted, not just with the local church but with “church” itself. And once lost they rarely if ever come back to any faith community.

    We have to restore what Father John said we were to do, “Offer them Christ.” And then actually take the time to do the hard work of making disciples. The book “Simple Church” by Thomas Rainer and Eric Geiger address this issue.

    • Yes, I agree with you. thanks for puting my thoughts to words. I will have to read simple church… that may give me some of the answers im looking for

    • David and Amber,

      This is the heart of what I am writing. ReThink Church as it now stands is an orphan — calling the church to reach out invitationally, but without the supporting resources to journey together on a lifelong process of faith formation and Christian service. We are great “hearers” of the word, but fall short as “doers.” The quality of ReThink Church obscures the fact that no matter how good a resource might be, when it is put through the “wood chipper” of a dysfunctional or under-functional church, it doesn’t have the power to transform — and that’s what we need most at this point in time. My earlier posts deal with the same ideas as “Simple Church.” Get back to basics, be clear about identity and purpose, pursue a shared, focused vision, and be able to answer the question, “What difference do we make?” and all will come out just fine.

  4. Dan, your e-mailer in the comment above has me thinking.

    I’m trying to put words to what it is that such folks are seeking. Is it (to crib Vital Signs) a plan for lifelong learning and developmental complexity?

  5. I greatly appreciate your post. As a pastor who oversees the Adult and Communications Ministries in a large congregation, I see and experience the struggle you write about between “marketing” and “communication.”

    I’m intrigued by the idea that we, the church, are using 4G technology with 3G content. My church is struggling with the idea of “communicating” and “marketing.” Over the last year, we have overhauled every aspect of our communications ministry (website, newsletter, bulletin boards, outdoor banners, Facebook, and Worship Guide) and yet, even with clearer, easier to read materials, we still struggle to communicate. What we(we being the staff/leadership of the congregation)have not done is empower people to communicate with others. We are still relying on 3G content to spread the word (and Word).

    I wonder how the rethink church campaign would be different if it empowered people to share the message with other people (flesh-to-flesh, person-to-person). I wonder how our churches (especially, mine) would be different if we did a better job of giving the congreagtion resources to proclaim the message: give them 3G content to use in communications (personal, electronic and otherwise) with others, transforming the 3G into 4G. Great things to think about!

  6. “For example, representational evangelism is defined as using monologue to invite people to church — ads, door hangers, bumper stickers, tv and radio spots, websites (information based), holy SPAM, and a dozen other creative impersonal means.” … “I have yet to find the resources necessary to help people welcome newcomers to the family.” -when you find this let me know

    I agree with you on this… but i also think we do alot of thinking,sitting,planning,gathering information,talking, and not alot of doing.
    Im a supporter of rethink church. its new it may not have everything figured out yet but its doing something and its one of the few. its urging us to move. get in the community and serve. but dont stop there. take the next step in keeping up those relationships share your testimony,invite them to church, pair them with someone in the church that share a common interest.

    you said, “To open your home to a newcomer is a whole different matter, requiring much greater sacrifice, discomfort and adjustment.”

    i know this is the case but im not the one hurting its the elders of my church. how can i get them to relive their past and relate to young adults when they are stuck in their ways, and are against change.

    Im willing to give everything i have if it means i can impact some people and through my passion they can see christ and expirience a relationship with jesus for themselves.

    • I actually think we’re saying many of the same things. My fear is that we do not have in place the resources and support to get people to “re-do” after we have “re-thought.” The majority of people who attended the ReThink Church event in Wisconsin last weekend were in their 50s, 60s, and 70s, and they were the ones already on-board to reach out. A quartet from one church came up to me at the end of the day, saying, “Yes, but HOW? We’ve used good programs and resources before and they fall flat because our congregation is so stuck and unwilling to change. Just telling us that change is good and normal and necessary is fine. Now we need a seminar on how to LEAD change (which is one of the processes I happen to teach in Wisconsin). The practical application pieces are in place for the simple “smile, park cars, greet everyone within ten feet, don’t talk to people you know for three minutes after the service (only talk to newcomers), signage, door hangers, etc. These things treat the symptoms. Transforming the congregational culture from friendly to accepting and inclusive can’t be achieved through a marketing campaign with catchy slogans.

      Here is a quote from another email I got this morning that is less hopeful, more frustrated, but saying more of what I think you are saying:
      I am really tired of being a “target audience.” I am looking for spiritual support and help. I am not the problem here. You don’t have to reach me. All you need to do is stop making me feel unwelcome everywhere I go. And it isn’t just what you say or do, it’s what you don’t do. I come looking for help to live my faith and all I find are people wanting to talk about, reconsider, review, plan, plan to plan, set up a task force to study the plan to plan, then vote it down. I am not interested in coming to your church to serve on your committees. I come looking for help to be a faithful disciple of Jesus Christ and the only time I find a church that gets it, it is over 1,000 miles from where I live.”

      For many young people, this is what ReThink Church is — more of the same. I will not deny that in some very healthy congregations, ReThink Church has been the next step in their evolution toward health and wholeness as a church. Some are doing it well, as they do everything well. Sadly, in churches that are dysfunctional, the dysfunction ruins the resource rather than the resource fixing the dysfunction. But we are trying, and as I tried to say in both posts, ReThink Church is offering some good resources at the basic level.

      • Amen to the e-mailer. As a pastor in his 20s I am often frustrated by the lack of excitement and drive to actually do something. We’re much more comfortable planning to plan a plan. I feel the e-mailer’s frustration but from a different perspective as a pastor.

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