Second Sunday after Epiphany, January 16, 2011
The next day John again was standing with two of his disciples, and as he watched Jesus walk by, he exclaimed, “Look, here is the Lamb of God!” The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus. When Jesus turned and saw them following, he said to them, “What are you looking for?” They said to him, “Rabbi,” (which translated means Teacher), “where are you staying?” He said to them, “Come and See.” They came and saw where he was staying, and they remained with him that day. It was about four o’clock in the afternoon. John 1:35-39
Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, LinkedIn, Vimeo, WordPress, and MySpace are but a few of the words the savvy digital marketer will mention when pitching a strategy for success to a potential client. Churches are not exempt from this media mash-up either. Does your congregation have a website? Are your sermons available via podcast? Do you provide streaming video of your worship services?
Hey, we do have to be relevant, right? I mean, come on, Jesus may be back in heaven sitting at the right hand of God, but our potential members are hanging out in cyberspace. Gone are the days of the mandatory phone book business display advertisement. Even print advertising is oh so yesterday in our age of cosmic communication.
If this idea makes you cringe just a little bit, you are not alone. While I will be quick to agree that Christians must meet people in the world–digital or otherwise–I do have my doubts about jumping on the cyber bandwagon just to keep up with the Jetsons. Our Lord had a real knack for meeting people in their context. Remember the Samaritan woman at the well? How about Zacchaeus in the tree? Consider Nicodemus after nightfall. Jesus even made sure folks were fed when they came to hear him teach. I do not read anywhere in the gospels about catering to cultural fads and fancies.
Here’s a prime example: I enjoy a good cup of coffee; after all I am Lutheran. The smell of a pot brewing is about as close as you’ll get to incense in most Lutheran church buildings, and the aroma has the power to draw folks from all corners with empty cups in hand. But, do we really need a Starbucks franchise in the Narthex or cup holders in cushy stadium seats? Should visitors judge Jesus by the quality of our java?
Music is another area of trending emphasis when it comes to attracting new members. If your congregation has a bang-up praise band worthy of a Nashville recording contract, you’ll stand a far greater chance of attracting a crowd and filling your pews. Never mind if the lyrics have precious little theological grounding; as long as it sounds good and stirs the emotions, most newcomers will never know the difference.
Now you can even ‘tweet’ immediate responses to the sermon and see your clever thoughts or pensive questions pop up larger than life on a screen near the pulpit. Yep, you can drink your awesome latte, be moved by the beat of a pithy praise song, receive a good dose of feel-good gospel and remain anonymous and uncommitted amongst thousands of other worshippers in climate controlled North American luxury.
Maybe these approaches are the only entry points into the Christian fold for some people. I don’t know. What I do know is that evangelism does not require a marketing team and excessive budget. Look at the gospel appointed for this Sunday, and you’ll find a simple yet effective strategy that can be summed up in two words: Look/See.
Let’s take a cue from John and focus our efforts on pointing to Christ, saying to folks “Look, here is the Lamb of God!” and “…I myself have seen and have testified that this is the Son of God.” All we have to do is show and tell people where to look and explain how Jesus has made a difference in our lives.
The second half of the strategy was first employed by the Word himself after John pointed him out to a couple of his followers. Jesus asks them what they are looking for; they ask where he’s staying. His response is an invitation: “Come and see.” What would Jesus do about church marketing? He would invite people to show up, not ask them whether they want biscotti with their latte.
Seriously folks, we are making evangelism way too difficult in 21st century North America. The average congregation can’t begin to afford a serious marketing campaign–nor should it. Think of the ministry and mission that money could support! Let’s keep it simple by remembering the words “Look” and “See.” Tell and invite. It’s all about relationship.
You see, in the long run, an Americano or an Espresso isn’t going to fill that deep hole in a hurting person’s heart. The emotional high of excellent musicianship will stop shortly after the final note dies away. Last time I checked, Jesus doesn’t even have a Facebook account, and he doesn’t tweet his good news. Social media is a highly useful tool, but it is not essential to the gospel.
The Son of Man is all about relationship, about building something that lasts and meeting real needs with bread of life and water that slakes thirst for all eternity. You and I, as stewards of the gospel and disciples of Christ, are called to be active partners in this process. Don’t go and overthink, overspend, and overdo something that is already well done. The model has been in place for more than 2000 years.
Yes, I know it is risky and difficult to enter into relationship. It takes a lot of us squarely out of our comfort zones. That’s one reason that programs, strategies, and initiatives appear so appealing. It would be lovely if one could craft a social media marketing plan that would populate the pews, but people relate to people. Jesus’s final instructions to his disciples were to go and make disciples, not go and hire a consultant or public relations firm. So dear friends, don’t make this harder than it has to be; just look and see, show and tell, and point the way. Open yourself to relationship with Jesus and your sisters and brothers. After all, we do have some amazing good news to share!