February 2008


Have you seen the monster.com commercial with the ginormous-legged man pedaling the gyroscope at the center of the earth? That’s one of the first things I thought of when I first heard someone say the internet is the center of the universe. Then in my mind I began seeing someone deep in the earth’s core making all of these connections — kind of antique switchboard style. Then as I allowed my mind to expand and catch up with reality I realized how undeniably true that statement is. 

How many things do you do in in your daily life that have nothing to do with the internet?  For me that’s a short list. I practically live online and I’m not all that young anymore. My kids and the young kids I’m surrounded by at work live their lives more immersed in the digital world than I, which is a little hard to believe. And it just keeps expanding and people continue to dream up new ways of being connected. Just a few days ago I read a brief update in Fast Company that told how we’re not that far away from our appliances being connected to the digital space. Can you imagine having your refrigerator sending you a text message that your milk is going bad and you’d better pick up a fresh gallon?

This past weekend I decided to experiment with Twitter so I went online and created my account and began twitting (you can follow me here but it’s not that exciting). Very quickly I discovered my 21 year old son twitting with some of our creative staff at Premier Studios. So being a good dad I signed up to follow him (that could have been very handy when he was younger). I found out he was sitting in a Saturday class wishing he were sleeping instead. I immediately jumped on iChat and before the program could fully open a window opened with the words, “sup Dad,” and Ryan and I began a chat while he was in class in Idaho and I was sitting in a hotel room more than 1500 miles away.

 

And yes, I told him to get offline and pay attention to the lecture — I may be connected but I’m still a dad.

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I help lead a marketing company that specializes in brand-experience. We not only help develop, define and promote our clients’ brands but we develop strategies to ensure that whenever someone experiences those brands that their experience supports and reinforces the brand. Frequently I think and write about the potential downside of church marketing as in my recent post, The Commoditization of God. Regardless of where you fall on that subject there are certain realities to consider, and one of those is that every church is a brand. 

By brand I’m not talking about your church building, name or even your logo, but rather what is behind those things. What are your priorities, what do you stand for, how do you impact others and contribute to their lives, what is your mission? All of those things and more contribute to your brand. Your brand is the very essence of who you are. Brand is a powerful thing and as a marketer I would say most churches don’t consider how critical of a role it plays. And of course where there’s a brand there is brand-experience.

When I was a pastor I considered myself not only a brand champion but a brand-experience expert — which has translated well into my current role. A large part of my pastoral role was making sure brand and experience were in alignment. While that involved much more than the public gatherings that seems to be a good place to focus. Consider this: when people experience your brand do the two things align? If your brand includes community involvement, how much do people experience that? If it boasts of relevancy how is that experienced? If your brand speaks to the poor and disenfranchised how is that played out when people gather each week?

Just some thoughts that sort of streamed through my mind this week. So, what’s streaming through your mind right now? Is the brand-experience at the church you attend in proper alignment? Let me know your thoughts!

Ever had an intimate moment behind the wheel? Mine happened just this week, and it sort of caught me off-guard. It was a Matt Redman song that I’ve not heard for a number of years called Intimacy. Combine that with The Prayers of the Saints which is the next song I listened to and it was sort of like a one, two punch. That moment made me miss leading worship. More than just leading it made me miss the crafting art. The part of planning that allows for intimate moments.

I’m not talking about manipulating people’s emotions. I’m talking about creating the space within a service for people to experience intimacy. Not in the forced or artificial way I’ve seen far too many times, but the genuine Holy Spirit kind of moment where you just “get out of the way” and allow the moment to flow. Yeah, I miss the art of crafting those opportunities, and in that intimate moment behind the wheel I knew I was ready to lead again. I knew it because I was visualizing how I would use those two songs and what I would pair with them and it was an energizing thing.

While all of this was going on I was hearing another Matt Redman song in my mind and spirit. That song speaks of the Father singing over me. The sound of that song didn’t come through my earbuds but I could hear it as if it were.

As a professional marketer I understand the power of advertising, promotion, public relations and the various ways of placing product in front of the public to increase awareness and sales. Put simply, it’s all about making enough memorable, repeated exposures so when consumers consider purchasing a product in your category they’ll remember yours and make a purchase that adds to your bottom line. 

This last week I read a book review in Advertising Age for Brands of Faith: Marketing Religion in a Commercial Age. Although I haven’t yet read the book the topic certainly got my attention. I’ve been thinking lately about how churches should market themselves, and although I’ve not developed any iron clad theories it seems the Bible’s idea of people sharing the good news with each other is a great way to start. 

Two things in this review especially caught my attention: The first was this, The book’s author, Mara Einstein calls religion a “commodity … packaged and sold the same way as other marketed goods and services.” To me that implies there is money to be made which seems to be somewhat of a mockery. While I hope people don’t view religion or God as a commodity my fear is that many may. Second, the author states that, “If spiritual hunger isn’t driving people to the big-box style of worship, then eventually the religious consumer is “going to feel disappointed.” This is a statement I agree with.

While I believe God can use a wide variety of ways to create spiritual hunger, I question the long term effectiveness of slick campaigns or exposure events. Sure, they may produce quicker results than people sharing the good news with each other one at a time but I’m not convinced the result is as long-lasting as what might be possible otherwise. In addition, once this pattern begins what needs to happen to maintain momentum? Does the weekly battle to “top the previous week” only further erode the real value of the gospel and increase the level of commoditization? 

What are your thoughts?

It was a little more than 15 years ago but I still remember it very clearly. I had a rather long commute to work those days, mostly freeway driving so I had plenty of time for processing thought. As I exited one freeway and merged onto another my thoughts led me to a fresh understanding of God’s love. I’m not sure why it had taken me so many years to come to this conclusion but I finally realized that God’s love was independent of my actions. It was a freeing day for me to know there was nothing I could do to make God love me any more than He already did, and nothing I could do to make Him love me any less.

It sounds simple enough on the surface, but in so many ways that fresh understanding set me free of some excess baggage, and opened the door to a new level in understanding the depth of God’s love. That was probably the beginning of what I’m now referring to as, Hoopless Christianity. I think it also contributed to many of the questions I’ve been exploring in more recent years: the largest of which has to do with God’s love and forgiveness.

The basic question is this: Is God’s love for us separate from His forgiveness? Can those two things be distinct? Can they be independent of each other or are they inextricably connected? That’s the heart of my most recent thinking. I feel like I’ve only begun this exploration but Id like to spend some time writing about this in the coming days and weeks. So, give me your thoughts so I can combine those with some of my own streams of conscious thinking. Are God’s love and forgiveness separate expressions?

A parting thought: As I’ve been exploring this general question I’ve had a growing sense of gratitude for God’s love and forgiveness. It’s a daily realization that I’ve been given a gift that is greater than I can imagine, and I’ve done nothing to deserve it. Let me hear from you!

This past Thursday I had a really great experience during my daily commute. I drive about 10 miles along surface streets to get to work in the morning, so depending on traffic it can take as long as 30 minutes. On this particular morning I wasn’t in the mood for the usual NPR so I pulled out my headphones and plugged them into my iPhone (please don’t send any comments about the dangers of driving with headphones) and launched my iPod. The song list was right where I’d left it a few days prior, which was in the G’s. 

The first song that played was David Crowder’s Glorious Day. Now it’s less than 30 seconds long but what a cool start — sort of an invocation. From there it was Glory in the Highest by Chris Tomlin, which just sort of continued where Crowder left off. Up next was the sounds of Steely Dan, singing Godwhacker. Quite a contrast to the previous two but what a great contrast it was. From there it was Tony Bennett singing the Good Life followed by Got To Get You Into My Life by Earth, Wind & Fire. How could you not like that? Then came my favorite song of the morning, Grace by Michael W. Smith. By the time I parked my car and walking to my office I was pretty much positioned for the day. 

Then on the way home I decided I should pick up right where I left off. Again, the title was Grace but this time it was U2. Different from Michael W. Smith but it’s still Grace. Then came Paul Simon singing Graceland, followed by John Mayer’s Gravity. As I pulled into the garage Paul Baloche was just ending A Greater Song. My entire commute was jammed with great music.

Now I could pontificate about how all of those songs had some sort of spiritual meaning for me, or how they spoke to my soul on a deep level. I could probably even tie them all together for you with some type of God metaphor. After all, God also begins with the letter G. But I’m not going to do that — even though much of it would be true. I’m just going to challenge you to turn on your iPod some day and pick a letter. Not an artist or an album, but a letter. Just let it play and see what happens. It’s like eating a potluck dinner at an old country church. Enjoy!

I have admired Andy Stanley for several years now and believe there are obviously “good things” happening at North Point. Of course, that depends on how you define good things. More than a year ago a friend of mine who lives outside Detroit told me he was attending a North Point Strategic Partner church. I thought it was an interesting concept to have a church in Detroit fashioned after a church in Atlanta, and where you actually viewed Andy Stanley sermons on the screen. My friend said he was a little skeptical at first but really enjoyed the approach and felt it was being received well. After our initial conversation I didn’t give it a whole lot of thought.

Several days ago I ran across an Out of Ur post that brought the entire thing back to mind, and as I read it I thought, interesting… and disturbing. I always applaud creative approaches, and I really think the idea of a growing church replicating their efforts in another part of the city or even country is an interesting concept. Obviously things are working for them so why not take the same formula and put it into play in another location. It works for McDonald’s and a host of other businesses so why not church? Well, that’s where the disturbing thing comes into play for me.

I feel like church needs to be local. It not only needs to be led by local people but it needs to be contextualized to the local culture. We’re not selling burgers here, we’re sharing the good news of Christ’s forgiveness and experiencing life with each other. The idea is not to build up a kingdom, other than God’s. I’m sure Andy Stanley’s motives are pure but what’s so special about him and his methods of doing church that calls for franchising it around the country? Is this model the next version of televangelism? Is it the new form of denominationalism (like we need another denomination)? Are we losing the idea of the shepherd feeding the flock? Great idea or misguided concept? What are your thoughts?