Monday, February 23, 2015

Three 3's

I can still remember the morning, in the early 1980's in West Valley, California (a suburb of San Jose, Silicon Valley), when a young woman, a total stranger, ran up to my grandpa at a restaurant one morning and said, "Aren't you Dr. Baird?  I hear you are a pastor of a local church.  What time are your worship services?  I can't wait to worship with you this coming weekend."  Sure enough, that coming weekend, the woman and her entire family were in church and they soon became active members and leaders.  Those were the good old days, as they say.

These days, getting people to come to a brand new church is a much more challenging dynamic.  Young families today are generally not really looking for a church in the first place.  More likely, they are looking for a spiritual experience that they can easily access (like a sermon on the internet, or a podcast on their I-phone).  If they are looking for a church, chances are they are more interested in a weekend worship experience, rather than an ongoing active involvement in that church.

What I have learned about attracting people to church is that it involves at least three sets of three different elements that are necessary:

Three 3's

The first set of threes are the three ways that a church needs to get the word out.  Generally, these are three advertising fronts.  A church needs to have three different forms of advertising in a community.  Actually, a church needs to have about ten different forms of advertising in a community (since it is not likely that a person will happen to see all of the outlets at once). These can be newspaper advertisements, stickers on the side of a bus, ads in a monthly "Happenings" catalogue, radio advertisements, postcard blasts, and internet ads.  We recently purchased an advertisement on the back of a trolley bus in Camarillo that is getting a lot of attention.  Word of mouth is also a good medium in the first group of three's.

The second set of threes occur on the church's website.  In short, the first group of threes drives a new person to check out the second group of threes which can be found on the website. Website is essential!  Knowing that we didn't have the ability to build a website that would be professional enough for the modern cyber sensibility, we hired a professional from San Francisco to build ours.  The second set of threes are the three videos, or recordings of a message, that a new person will want to listen to even before they set foot in your church.  If you will, the sermons, or messages are like listening to a recording of a new song on I-tunes, before you purchase that song.  The messages should be attractive enough to an outsider to make them actually want to attend your church.  The videos have to be professionally filmed, choreographed, artistically presented. These videos can also be put on Facebook, which is sometimes more important than a good website.

The third group of threes are the three times that a new person generally needs to attend before they feel comfortable filling out an information card about themselves.  Actually, I have known families to attend for months or years at a time before they are willing to give you their personal information (phone number, address, email, prayer request).  The three Sundays that a new family attends your church must offer inspirational speaking, and be a compelling worship experience.  The service must be a life transformative, and deeply moving event.

Gone are the days of people outside of a church coming on Sunday number one and getting deeply involved and active.  The world for young people, and people outside of a church, offers too many competing interests and distractions. People's lives are more busy than they have ever been.  The number of negative perceptions that people have about established churches and organized religion in general increases by the day, rather than decreases.

But there is a good side to the new world that we find ourselves in.  Once convicted and committed to a church that is effective and transformative, the level of deep and abiding true allegiance to the important things in life (a relationship with Christ, serving the community and the world, being about justice), is more steadfast than it has ever been.

Three 3's

All For Now,


Sunday, February 15, 2015

Join Em!

One of my favorite restaurants in Camarillo just closed.  The chef of the restaurant that closed is one of my personal friends, and I was sad to see his dream of an eatery that offered a "high-end gastronomical experience" come to an abrupt halt.  The reasons for the close of this restaurant were, of course, multi-fold: a tough economy, stiff-competition, the rising costs of food management service, and the difficulty of creating a "nitch" market in a town that is fairly well established.  Probably the most significant reason why the restaurant did not make it is because of an adjacent restaurant (quite literally a restaurant right next to his), that served the same type of food, and tried to reach the same clientele, and that is doing well.  In short, the competition won.

It was for all of these reasons that I was surprised this past week, when eating at my friend's competitor restaurant (the reason for the closure), that I saw my friend making food.  He was wearing his chef white's and calling orders and creating, as always incredible masterpieces  - in his arch-nemeses restaurant!  When I saw my friend, I expressed my flabbergasted amazement, "John, wow, what a surprise to see you here, cooking at the restaurant that has been your competition for so many years."  "Yes," he said, pausing for reflection.  "I have tried to compete with these guys for so many years.  But you know, we are really on the same team.  And I just like making food.  If I can't make it in my own restaurant, I will make it in my competitor's.  And you know, if you can't beat em...

Join Em!

What applies to the restaurant industry could equally apply to the church world.  In every town across the country there are hundreds, thousands, tens of thousands of struggling churches.  Each of these churches are wracked with the difficulty of dwindling resources, aging congregations, flagging emotional and spiritual reserves, and diminished impact in the community.  But the thought occurred to me, what if these churches, instead of competing with one another would join forces, and try to work together on the same team.  What if, instead of each having ten kids in their youth programs, they combined forces (say three or four churches joined together), and had thirty of fourty kids.  What if instead of having mediocre worship bands, thinning choirs, and collapsing buildings, they came together and formed incredible transformational worship bands, breathtaking large choirs, and church facilities that were like college campuses in terms of their power to meet the needs of a community.  What if churches, instead of trying to beat each other, decided that they would…

Join Em!

I grew up in Salt Lake City Utah, and therefore, was an avid Utah Jazz basketball fan.  I can still remember my whole family bouncing up and down in giddy teenage excitement, clapping our hands in front of our mouths as the Utah Jazz advanced time and again to the National Championship Finals.  It would happen more often than I can count.  And then, at some point in the Finals, John Stockton (yes I am getting old:-), and Karl Malone would choke, and the season would be up, and the Utah Jazz would lose, and go home once again without a National Championship title.  Towards the end of his career, Karl Malone had a tough decision to make.  Should he stick with the Utah Jazz and advance to the Finals once again, without a title to show for it, or would he join the competition - the Los Angeles Lakers.  Karl decided that if he couldn't beat em, he would…

Join Em!

He finally won a National Championship when he set down his ego and decided that the higher end of winning was more important than staying on the team that he was on which never won.

What if churches had the same philosophy?  What if churches decided that winning people to eterninty-long transformational relationships with Christ, was more important than sticking with their own team?

I mean, when it boils down to it, in the face of the earth shattering and startling news that ISIS has just decapitated 21 of the most storied and ancient Christians on the face of the earth (the Copts in Egypt), is there really that much difference between the many different brands of Lutheranism, Methodism, Baptists, Pentacostals, Charismatics, and Non-Denoms?  Yes, the variances in the significant differences between churches shouldn't be glossed over.  Yes, doctrinal and theological nuances are important.  It's just that it would be so heart warming to experience a true transformational moment in Christianity in America, in recognizing that what divides us is sometimes not as great as what unites many of us.  It would be so great if more churches joined forces and got a great big win!  And hey, if you can't beat em…

You know:-)

All For Now,

Monday, February 9, 2015

Ordinary Fruit

Every evening my wife and I undergo an intricate and sometimes belabored process of getting our two daughters (two years old and six years old) to bed.  This process begins with bath time, then involves dinner, then homework for my older daughter, then wind-down time, then more wind-down time, then bed, with a bed time story.  For the past several years I have been telling my older daughter stories from the Bible, right before bed.

These bedtime Bible stories have ranged from the trek of Mary and Joseph to Bethlehem and the birth of the baby Jesus, to Daniel in the lions den.  I have tried to stay away from the more intricately theological Bible texts (like Revelations) for example, because they raise too many questions in a six year old's mind, and they don't make for a very good material for "sweet dreams".  However, this past week, I decided to veer away from the normal sanitized stories that the Bible has so many of, and tell the grand-daddy of them all - Adam and Eve and the Fall from Grace.

"And God said to Adam and Eve, you can eat any fruit in the entire Garden, but not the fruit from this one particular tree.  But a snake came along and convinced Adam to try some of the fruit.  At first Adam said 'No', but then he decided to go against God's will and give it a try.  And so, he picked the fruit from the tree…."

"What kind of fruit was it Daddy?"

"I'm not sure, I think it was an apple, or maybe a pomegranate….and so Adam put the apple in his mouth, and took a big bite."

And here was the question I was not prepared for, but which I have been pondering and mulling over ever since.

"Was the fruit delicious?"

That one stumped me.  I had to think about that for a long time before I answered.  Was the fruit from the tree of Good and Evil that Adam and Eve first ate delicious?  Was the fruit sweet and juicy, or was it pithy and pomey?  And then I offered my answer to my now more awake than ever, six year old daughter

"No, I don't think the fruit was delicious.  I think it was quite…

Ordinary Fruit

I think they hoped the fruit would be delicious.  I think that it looked absolutely delectable.  I think that the snake told them that the fruit would be the best they had ever eaten.  But then, I think that after that first bite, they both knew in their hearts that they had made a huge mistake.  I think they both looked each other in the eye, and with recognition and a deep sense of personal disappointment, they knew that they had traded Paradise itself, the Garden of Gardens, the most wonderful place that God had ever created for…

Ordinary Fruit

"Oh," said my daughter, with an equal sense of disappointment, "I thought it would have been delicious."

Sin is almost always a disappointment.

In the news recently has been the heart-breaking story of a young man who lives on the upper East Side of New York.  His father was a struggling hedge-fund manager.  The young man had been raised for years in the painful isolation of elite boarding schools and colleges.  He hated his father for the distance that existed between the two.  For years this young man fomented resentment towards his father for various reasons.  The final blow was the indignity of having his weekly allowance cut from $600 to $400.  He wanted to kill his father.  Every day he thought about it, how if his father were dead, all of his problems would be over.  One day, the young man could take his anger no more.  In an act of desperate rage, he pulled out a hand-gun and shot his dad.  Hoping that the killing would assuage his pain, he instantly knew that what he had done was only bandaid upon a growing cancer of hatred within himself.  It was a taste of…

Ordinary Fruit

I remember a counseling appointment many years ago that I had with a young man who had cheated on his wife, and who was trying to put things back together again.  I remember the pained conversation he had with me when he sat on the couch and, with tears in his eyes said, "The very instant that I began to have the affair, I knew it was a mistake.  But there was no backing down, I had to go forward.  It was not fun, it was actually awful."

Ordinary Fruit

King David, a middle aged potentate of Israel, who lived about the year 1,000 BC, talked longingly and regularly about the fruit that God has for our lives, verses the fruit of the world.  Ironically, of course, King David would also taste his own Ordinary Fruit and almost lose his entire kingdom over it.  When imagining the deliciousness of God's fruit, though, King David once said; "Taste and see for the Lord is good; blessed is the one who takes refuge in him," (Psalm 34:8).

Having plumbed the depths of theology with my six year old on the nature of Good and Evil, right before bed, perhaps I should move to lesser works of children's fiction like, "Curious George".  Oh wait a minute, I think that book involves a monkey taking a banana from a grocery store.  Perhaps Curious George's banana too, was mushy, and brown and soft.  Perhaps it was just so…


All For Now,

Monday, February 2, 2015

The Times…They Are a Changin'

Bob Dylan is on the cover of AARP magazine!

Let me repeat that for those of you who missed it.  Bob Dylan the scion of the counter-cultural revolution in the 1960's, Bob Dylan the epitome of youthful frivolity and flower-power, Bob Dylan the beet-knick poet from Greenwich Village is on the cover of the magazine for The American Association of Retired Persons - The AARP (see the above picture and believe it).  And as one of Bob Dylan's most famous songs observed:

The Times…They Are a Changin'

I once saw Bob Dylan in concert at the California Mid-State Fair in Paso Robles.  The concert was unique in that it is the only one I have ever attended where the lead singer (Bob Dylan) didn't once make eye contact with or try to engage the audience.  He just sat up on stage at his piano, or guitar, sitting side-ways, playing his music.  In a way, it was similar to the affect of being on the AARP magazine cover.  It was, "I am going to do what I do, you can observe if you want, but either way, I don't really care."

When you think about it, it's kind of "cool" that Bob Dylan gave his mug for the cover of AARP.  It's sort of the ultimate counter-cultural statement from an aging rock star that nothing can define a person, not age, not stage, not a magazine where most of the advertisements inside are for ailments that come with old age.  Bob Dylan seems to sort of be saying, "I'm too sexy, too sexy, too sexy for my magazine…"

The Times…They Are a Changin'

Also, it's sort of comforting to see someone who is famous who is 73, quite frankly, act his age.  The world today is full of examples of people in different life stages who seem so uncomfortable with the age and stage that they find themselves within.

*  It's full of older men who refuse to recognize the benefits of a relationship with women their own age, and who marry women forty years their junior.
*  It's full of men and women who, at whatever cost, who will do anything to make their bodies and their faces look younger.
*  It's replete with public figures and politicians and pastors, who are not content with simply being leaders, but also attempt to be sexual icons.

Some of the real heroes of this world are people who embraced the life stage they were occupying with grace, style and aplomb.  Winston Churchill is one such example.  Even as a young politician, Churchill embraced is "old mannish-ness" (if that's a word) by occasionally walking with a cane and carrying himself with an acerbic portliness that gave people in war-torn Britain a certain degree of comfort.  Churchill's life-long nemesis, Neville Chamberlain, who donned a fashionable mustache and perfect sartorial splendor was once described as "rakish".  But rakishness could not save Great Britain.  Churchill's stodginess was what did the trick.

 One of my favorite actresses is Kathy Bates.  In addition to being a great actress, she has always been comfortable with her age, her body and her stage.  Bates never tries to play roles that don't suit who she is.  And because of that, she is very beautiful!

The Bible contains a plethora of texts which posit a constant recognition that the time that we have on this earth is fleeting and goes fast.  It also has many examples of people coming to terms with their own age and stage in life.  King David prayed:

"Now also when I am old and gray headed, O God, forsake me not; until I have showed my strength to this generation, and your power to everyone that is to come." (Psalm 71:18)

Job, after a lifetime of tragedy observed:

"With the ancient is wisdom, and in length of days understanding." (Job 12:12)

To the prophet Isaiah, God said:

"And even to your old age, I am he…I have made, and I will bear, even I will carry, and will deliver you." (Isaiah 46:4)

Of course, the real disconcerting thing about Bob Dylan being on the cover of AARP magazine, is what it says about the rest of us, who are all advancing in age.  Or, perhaps it is not disconcerting at all. Perhaps it is COMFORTING to embrace the age and stage in which we find ourselves.

The Times…The Are A Changin'

Excuse me while I go and check on my IRA retirement savings account:-)

All For Now,