Churches exist in culture. They exist in particular culture. What would be a highly successful ministry in a large city wouldn’t work necessarily in a rural community with a handful of members. I believe church leaders need to also be watching marketplace leaders because they have done the tough cultural homework to thrive in our modern economic culture.
If you are thinking about Proctor and Gamble, Big Oil and Walmart, then you need to go back. Jim Collins’ Good to Great was a fantastic help in the 90’s, but the modern marketplace is much different. Here are three industries you might not even be aware of. Each of them can help you ministry and church leaders need to be listening.
If you are against the church paying attention to business strategies from the secular world, let me point out a few things.
1. The Church is in the redemption business.
This means we are looking to redeem people AND practices. Study church history and realize the power of different Christian movements involving the redemption of secular practices. Pagan Christianity? by George Barna and Frank Viola is eye opening.
2. The Church is in the incarnation business.
We are called by God to go into the world and be the physical representation of Jesus in a fallen world. How beneficial would you say it would be to have Christian leaders at the top level of business in your local ministry context?
3. We aren’t in the consumption business.
Here is the rub. We aren’t trying to make a profit. We are trying to build the kingdom. We aren’t in ministry in order to add to the consumptive chaos of the modern world. Neither is everyone in this new economic marketplace. These new industries want to provide a quality, life changing product for people. They want to add value.
Three Industries the Church Should Learn From
1. Social Marketing
Did you know there are people whose job is to be on Facebook all day long? Many of us would instantly roll our eyes at this profession. If you saw how successful the best social marketeers were, your eyes would stop rolling. The social marketing world is powerful because they are specialists in modern human behavior and communication. They specialize in trends and predictability. If you want a great online ministry presence, these are the people you need to be giving attention.
The funny thing? Many of the best social market professionals are people of faith. Looking at the top podcasts in iTunes we see Christians at the top of the lists (Dave Barry, Michael Hyatt and others). Justin Wise (author of The Social Church) is one of these top notch players. I asked him why there are so many people of faith in this industry..,
The Church needs to listen to social marketing because they are relationship based.
2. Corporate Social Responsibility
My wife has built a great career in the field of corporate social responsibility (CSR). She spends most of her day developing community engagement opportunities for employees of a global Fortune 100 company, and educating employees and leadership about the positive impact they can have in their community through employee volunteerism. Her company has three philanthropic focus areas, and they try to ensure that everything they do in communities around the world can point back to one of those specific areas. I asked her to give me a few reasons why churches need to be thinking about CSR.
- It provides an opportunity for increased community engagement. Many churches already have partnerships with local non-profits like food pantries, homeless shelters, etc. It is critical to specify the focus areas that your church is called to in your community, and then make sure that your outreach efforts reflect those areas.
- Countless studies show an increasing trend toward CSR influencing millennial’s consumer decisions. Companies like TOMS, Noonday, The Giving Keys, Warby Parker, Patagonia and Zappos are just a few examples of companies who have made giving back a part of their mission. Churches would be remiss in thinking that this is not a factor when people are looking for a place to worship.
- CSR objectives should align with an organization’s core mission & vision. Every single thing you do in your community should be able to point back to your mission, and strengthen and reaffirm it. This is why it is critical to be specific – if your mission is vague, then your outreach efforts can quickly snowball into a hodge podge combination with no focus. Instead of doing a few things really well, you can find yourself spread out across the community doing a little here, a little there, but not really making a lasting impact.
Ministries can learn a lot from non-profit organizations, especially in the area of fundraising. Non-profit directors are professionals at raising money for the sake of furthering their mission and helping others.
The Church needs to pay attention to the rise of corporate social responsibility because it is transforming several aspects of our society.
3. Boutique Restaurants/Lifestyle Brands
I realize this might be the biggest stretch, but listen to me. Cruise on over to Iron & Air or The Wilderness Collective. They are carefully curating experiences. High end resturants are the same thing. Many times they are storytelling as much as they are serving food. The hot place to eat in my town, Restaurant Cotton, is owned by a chef who won Food Network Chopped. It celebrates creative classic delta cuisine. Funny thing? It’s fancy poor people food. I’m talking churched up corn bread and black eyed peas. It is fabulous. I have never had a lackluster experience at Cotton.
The professionals in this new industry understand they must tell a unique story which simultaneously draws someone in while making them instantly feel included. This is done not in broad brushstrokes, but instead in carefully designed narrow boundaries. They don’t do many different things…they do one or two extremely well.
The Church needs to listen to lifestyle entertainment and brands because they are experience creators.
I hope these three industries have shown some highly applicable resources. What other businesses do you find helpful or inspiring?
A few weeks ago I had a funny conversation at work. We have some great volunteers who help out in the church office with various tasks. One of them was trying to figure out what a hashtag was. Her grand kids had been talking about them and we had a quick conversation. My final part of the explanation was how people use them to be sarcastic online. Her reply?
“Well I am pretty sarcastic…guess I need to start hashtagging.”
I think the word hashtag is ubiquitous for 2013. It probably hit it’s peak of cultural fascination with Jimmy Fallon and Justin Timberlake’s video. What began as a simple hack for twitter has turned into one of the major developments in human communication. Just incase you are still trying to figure out what people actually use hashtags for here are a few uses (from most functional to…well, the fun ones).
- Categorization of topics or current events (#superbowl)
- linking conversations to a conference or web event (#passion2014)
- Internet groups or twitter chats (like #emptyshelf on instagram)
- Snarky or sarcastic humor
People also use them to describe otherwise emotions in a previously emotionless world. Hashtags give us the ability to make the digital world non-verbal.
Living the #Hashtag Life
Here’s the deal. Hashtags give us a way to sort life. We can easily associate ourselves with things online using hashtags. They are a great way to instantly belong to a conversation…without even being introduced. I take place in a few online chats and just using the group chat hashtag instantly throws me into a conversation with people I have never met before. I have had conversations with some pretty awesome folks because of them! And I didn’t have to be invited. Hashtags allow us to place ourselves, to instantly belong into a group of people. No one has to approve us.
Hashtags also can quickly lead us into other places. We might get a little bit to snarky. Just like my dad used to tell me, “No one likes to bring a negative person on a road trip”, if we get a little to much attitude with our hashtags we can gain a reputation we might not want to keep. We can easily begin to make fun of people and things in a pretty destructive way just to gain a few laughs. It might be clever…but is it holy?
Here is an interesting thought.
If you had to identify three hashtags with who you want people to see you as, three quick ways to honestly describe yourself, what would they be?
To look at the other side of the coin…what three hashtags could those closest to us use to describe us?
Or even further, what three hashtags could those who we have hurt or damaged throw out?
We all want to have values and skills. We all want to be known for something. In our inner core, we want to be approved and part of the group. We want our words to matter. We simply want to belong.
What hashtag honestly describes you the most? Would you want it to be trending?
I remember spring break in 1999. I was at South Padre Island with 80,000 college students having the time of my life. Nothing can beat the beach when you are young and spring break is in full spring. While 98% of the college students crowded into South Padre Island and were intent on substance abuse and casual relationships, I was one of around 400 there for a different goal. Yep, we were there to evangelize and reach out to our peers for the sake of Jesus.
I sorted out many things that week, and I had the very first life altering encounter with the Holy Spirit. I can look at many parts of my life which find their origin on the trip. Worship leadership, vocational calling, dependance on Christian relationships and prayer. They all found their beginning during spring break. It was the most important week of my life.
I truly believe most people have events such as these. They might not be as deliberate or even Christian, but they are primary spiritual experiences. And once we have them, we can easily base everything off of them for the rest of our lives. This especially holds true in the Christian life.
Primary Spiritual Experiences become our mold and model for what we think proper worship is.
I am a big fan of pizza. I like to frequent the slice blog. It is part of the seriouseats.com family. Part of the slice blog is a routine engagement with what they call the “pizza cognition theory“, the first pizza anyone remembers from childhood is their primary idea of what constitutes pizza. Every slice of pizza they eat will be subconsciously measured up to their childhood definition of pizza.
We have the potential to do the same with our primary spiritual experiences…after all, they are primary! We use these stories as the basis of our own personal story of God working in our lives. It’s downright biblical. Read the Old Testament and see how Israel always brings it back to a few key events; the exodus, the temple and Abraham. Think about how Paul relates his testimony to the experience on the Damascus road. Part of the Christian life is understanding these moments where we first met with God and allow them the proper place of shaping things.
The dangerous part is when we begin to think of primary as permanent.
When we think God will no longer move in our life. When we think the best has already come. When we think God can never do something like He did once before. We take every single experience and try to mold them around those first ones. We can slowly begin insisting on others spiritual experiences conforming around ours. I think this is the basis for nearly all conflict in church.
As a worship leader I think many disagreements stem from a projection of primary spiritual experience. Music selection, instrumentation and many other things. As a pastor I have seen it play a part in conversations regarding building usage, fiances, staffing and strategic planning. Our idea of worship isn’t necessarily the best idea of worship.
Please don’t hear me wrong. Primary spiritual experiences are the foundation of a life with God. We should treasure them. But we can no way let them be the permanent idea of what the spiritual life should be, especially as we get older.
It’s dangerous to not let Jesus be the God of our future. It’s terribly frightening to place radical dependance on the cross. The only thing is…we can’t have a faith existing and only grounded in the past. Belief in Jesus is a belief in the future.
So the challenge is to learn to tell the story. To tell the story of the past and to become people expecting to experience in the present.
How would you describe your primary spiritual experience.
Lightly Instrumented First Verse
BIG Sing Along Chorus
Second (and 3rd) verses get more anthmatic each time.
Key Change to Make Final Chorus Even Bigger
You could call this a template for the modern worship song. Pull out a live version of “How Great Is Our God” or “Mighty To Save” and you will easily find it. But the worship writers in Brentwood, Tennessee didn’t figure this out first. It wasn’t planned out at a design meeting for the Passion conferences. Louie Giglio and Chris Tomlin didn’t dream it up during the early stages of One Day.
My friends….this template comes from New Jersey and was perfected (and somewhat invented) by Jon Bon Jovi. That’s right, 1980’s hair metal drives modern worship. I first thought about this a few years ago and brought it up to a few people. We couldn’t find an earlier of example to describe what now is considered normal in worship songwriting.
Bon Jovi created Modern Worship
If you add the template above with another HUGE 1980’s influence, you can easily describe most worship that you find at big conferences and many churches. Here is my equation.
Bon Jovi (Livin On A Prayer) + U2 (Where the streets have no name)= Your Grace is Enough.
Culture drives how worship is delivered. Our bodies are tuned to accept and acknowledge certain types of music as appropriate to draw a response. “Pop” worship works just like pop music. It provides a vehicle that is accessible to a large amount of people. While I don’t prefer this type of worship, I can worship through it. As much as I claimed to despise Bon Jovi in the early 90’s (I was more of a Soundgarden guy), you will catch me rolling down the window to a few songs now. It appeals to the senses.
The context of pop worship allows for it to be consumed by a cumulative mass of people. We can get into a discussion of if this is actually good, but we have to acknowledge the cultural appeal. You can theoretically enjoy Worship Music as a genre if you are not a Christian. Aesthetics matters in worship design, because the musical vehicle needs to make sense for who the worship is designed for. Consumption strategy is both a blessing and a curse.
These songs provide a place for human involvement. U2 writes songs people’s spirits want to sing. It isn’t an overindulgent rock star singing about women or substances, but a body of people acting out hope together. These songs were meant to get people singing.
When worship is designed for small specific groups of people or is used as an identifier by a specific culture of Christians we see different forms of expression. Music matters because music defines a particular group of peoples response to what God means to them. Our definitions of what constitutes proper music for worship probably needs to get bigger.
Pop worship might aggravate us, but we have to recognize anything driving people towards Jesus is a good thing, even if it doesn’t resonate with us.
Just for fun…
I grew up in a neighborhood full of rent houses. They were all flash built in several years. It was the perfect place to raise children. Almost every house had a kid my age. Consequently, these circumstances meant it was a horrible place to trick or treat. Between a bunch of broke young families not having the money to really do it up AND having their own children to cart around…we had to go offsite.
Everyone remembers doing this. You head over to the rich part of town on October 31st. These are the houses that have all sorts of surprises. Guys in costume jumping out and scaring you, automatic ghosts falling out of the tree and Big Candy Bars. You know, not this fun size nonsense…but full size Gas Station candy bars. Those houses are remembered. They might even be marked on a map by some grubby hands covered in nougat and caramel.
How do our churches fit into this scheme? Are we known for starlight mints, the mini Reece’s cups or a big Butterfinger? This isn’t about how much $$$ we give away…but the gospel message we deliver. Do we talk about an abundant life with God or bemoan the loss of a previous Christian culture? Are we pushing forward to better express the life of the sacrificing Son of God? Do we think and talk like Jesus really saves us?
As Christians, the call to the Kingdom of God should be ever present in our vision. The writers of the Gospel show us this message is a reality we can hardly comprehend. We need to express this fullness in every way, shape and form. In each community this looks different. What works for me will be different from you.
But we need to load up. Fill up the proverbial bucket with the good stuff. Don’t hold back. People remember who gave them the best.
I once received an email notifying me Williams-Sonoma has Star Wars cookie cutters on sale. I chuckled a little bit, because I usually assume Williams-Sonoma is a bit high brow. Geek has gone Chic, with even high end outlets realizing the power of the geek. Wired Magazine has a blog called GeekDad, and Japanese culture has seen the rise of the Otaku, a status once looked down upon as unproductive.
Geek has become big business.
So much, even the Martha Stewart crowd gets into it. The popular Apple vs. PC commercials show the transition from a former negative (pc) to a new (and cooler) definition of being a geek.
Our culture will conform to anything if a seemingly positive result will emerge.
No matter what the negative may be, if quantifiable gain appears, we will sacrifice previous feelings to push progress. This topic of “geek” is tongue in cheek, but nerds truly have revenge now.
What is our brand identity as Christians?
The topic of progress and relevancy often pushes the church forward. Adaptability is a key concept in mission. Contextualization is key.
James 1:27 Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to care for orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world. (NRSV)
The hinge point in this verse lies in the and. We are called to engage and provide in the world, but while doing so we are to avoid the pitfalls of the sinful world. What is interesting in this verse is the relationship between “undefiled” (ἀμίαντος) and “unstained”(ἄσπιλον). At first glance they appear as synonyms. But the meaning and shape of these two words lie within the sacrificial tradition of Israel. Sacrificial animals were required to be spotless and undefiled. Christ is presented as a spotless lamp in Revelation.
Our actions of mission are sacrificial. In them, we represent the Father’s covenant promise to forgive sin, through the person Jesus Christ, and echoing the tradition of Israel in the Old Testament. In this process, we need to be extremely careful we are not greatly conforming to culture. When we lose our prophetic and sacrificial presence, we lose our mission. Just because a quick gain can be found, do we trade this in by offering something that doesn’t match up with our character (Star Wars cookie cutters fitting in with $500 knives)?
Do our transitions break our greater resemblance of Gods people?
Do we still look like him constantly, are we obviously pursuing holiness because God has commanded it (1 Peter 1:15)?
More simply, have we broken our brand identity?
Just as jarring as the cookie cutters relates to the suburban high end cooking store, when Christianity as taken in the world so much we no longer appear to be outside the culture, our alarms should be going off.