I am reading Alan J. Roxburgh and M. Scott Boren’s Introducing the Missional Church: What It Is, Why It Matters, How to Become One and I just came across this:
Recently an executive of a denomination was pulling his hair out over the decisions being made in the national office. They had received an estate worth over 20 million dollars. Of that amount, the national office had spent 10 million dollars hiring an agency that researched people’s attitudes toward the denomination and then developed a massive marketing campaign that included chat rooms and a bobblehead dog mascot. The executive was frustrated because of what this program suggested – namely, there was nothing wrong with the church’s perspectives, and all it needed was a marketing challenge on how to attract more people into what was already there. Nobody and nothing on the inside needed to change; it was about how to present and market who they were. This is the attractional mind-set that has to die before a missional imagination can be born. (83-84)
The authors are challenging the attractional approach to ministry, where the goal is to get people to come to our programs or our events as a church (foremost of which is typically the Sunday worship service). Yet, as I was typing the quotation above, another reason occurred to me why marketing campaigns are not the answer. To put it very crudely: If all that mainline churches in the United States needed to attract people to become involved in a church was something that compelled them to enter the doors of a church again, September 11, 2001 would have been the advertisement the church was waiting for.
I have often heard people talk about how full their churches were in the week or two after 9/11. However, I have not yet heard anyone say that the people who visited after the devastating events of September 11th actually became involved in the life of the Church. (I am sure there are some people who joined churches after 9/11, but what I am pointing to is that I have not heard of a church where the majority of people who visited stayed connected to the church they visited over the long term.) This could be interpreted in a number of ways. But one way of looking at it is that they were “attracted” to church and did not find anything there that they needed or wanted. Spending money on Coke ads would be a waste of time and money if nobody thought Coke tasted good.
I am sharing these thoughts as a sort of stream of consciousness, so I may ultimately decide that there is nothing here worth exploring. I guess my main question at this stage is this: Does the ReThink Church campaign fit into the quotation from Introducing the Missional Church? Thanks be to God, as far as I know there is not a bobblehead dog mascot in the campaign… so it seems like we are already ahead of the game there.
The very name of the campaign at first glance would seem to suggest that there is an openness to doing things differently, to changing. But I suspect that is either not ultimately the case, or the creators of the campaign have dramatically overestimated the UMC’s ability to change over a short period of time. We are, after all, a denomination which has been lamenting the decline of younger clergy and the implications of such a decline for the future of the church, while continuing to put the real power of framing and shaping the future of the church into the hands of people who will decidedly not be the future of the church. Or to put it differently, there seems to be a broad consensus that the denomination is not healthy. However, there seems to actually be very little that is proactively being changed. And the ultimate motivation for change seems to be fear. One does not have to read too many books to read one that predicts when the UMC will cease to exist if we continue declining at our current rate.
My prayer for the United Methodist Church is that the Holy Spirit will release us from our fear of death. I pray that by the grace of God we will be motivated by love – love for God and love for our neighbor. I pray that we will want to reach out because we have something worth sharing, something that people need, and that we will actually care about people outside of the church enough that we will want them to experience God’s love, to taste and see that the Lord is good! I yearn for revival to come upon us, to come to us – not as something that we have earned or forced into being, but as an utter gift of grace. Unmerited. Undeserved. But freely given so that we might have life, and have it abundantly.