Come in! Come in!

"If you are a dreamer, come in. If you are a dreamer, a wisher, a liar, a Hope-er, a Pray-er, a Magic Bean buyer; if you're a pretender, come sit by my fire. For we have some flax-golden tales to spin. Come in! Come in!" -- Shel Silverstein

Monday, November 12, 2012

Faith Street

Sometimes it hard to tell if I've gotten cynical or I've finally arrived at a level of mature understanding, but this announcement set my teeth on edge.
Media Release

The Episcopal Church
Office of Public Affairs

Episcopal Church partners with FaithStreet, a new congregational evangelism tool

[November 12, 2012] A partnership between the Episcopal Church and<http://publicaffairs.createsend1.com/t/r-l-kkkdjul-xllklittl-d/> FaithStreet paves the way for congregations to connect their church with church seekers through an innovative church locator that offers much more than a search engine.

"Our partnership with FaithStreet will give our congregations a new tool to promote their churches," commented Anne Rudig, Episcopal Church Director of Communication.  "FaithStreet not only locates a church, but works with a congregation to present the mission and ministry done there in ways easily understood by a seeker. It goes beyond address and contact info to providing an ethos or 'vibe' of particular churches."

FaithStreet, based in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, currently showcases 3,580 churches in all 50 United States, in over 1,500 cities. This includes over 100 church networks and denominations representing churches of all sizes, ranging from five to 10,000 members.

"FaithStreet is a tech-startup that is making it easy for anyone to find and connect with a great Christian church in their area," explained Ryan Melogy, Co-Founder. "We're creating a personalized church discovery experience, where anyone will be able to find a great church for them."

Founded in 2011, FaithStreet experienced remarkable growth.  By 2012 over 400 churches in New York City joined, and by September 2012, 3,100 churches outside NYC were participating.

"Churches will always be able to create a free profile on FaithStreet," noted Sean Coughlin, Chief Executive Officer. "In the future, FaithStreet will offer paid features, services, and advertising plans. These paid services will be always being optional, affordable and effective."

"FaithStreet gives churches a free, great-looking and easy-to-use web presence," concluded Glenn Ericksen, Chief Technical Officer.

For more information and to join FaithStreet: <http://publicaffairs.createsend1.com/t/r-l-kkkdjul-xllklittl-h/>www.faithstreet.com.
In 26 years of ordained ministry, I have to tell you that I've seen these "programs" come and go.  Every single one of them tell you that they are the "latest tool to promote our churches".

This, of course, is code for the word Episcopalians are afraid to say: Evangelism.

We're afraid to say it because we, as a denomination, still really don't know what it means - or, how to do it.

It's sort of like "mission" - or, these days, "being missional" - which we talk about as some sort of "magic bean", if, when planted, will grow our congregations like Topsy and solve all of our financial woes because (this always makes me growl) "money follows mission".

These programs are almost always "easy" and "free" .  This one goes beyond offering a mere "search engine" and "goes beyond address and contact info to providing an ethos or 'vibe' of particular churches."

Ethos.

Vibe.

Honest to Pete!

Let me get right to the point: This is more "marketing pablum" - more spiritual fast food - more "Got a problem? We've got a program!" - all of which functions as a "Spiritual Anti-Anxiety" drug and NOT evangelism.

Can this program work? Is there no benefit to it?

I think the real "secret to the success" of this program is there, if you look for it. Here it is, right here:
 "FaithStreet not only locates a church, but works with a congregation to present the mission and ministry done there in ways easily understood by a seeker."  
 See? It's not the program - it's the product.

As Terri Parson, former national church officer for Stewardship and Evangelism at 815 and now numbered (too soon) among the saints, used to say,  "You can't sell soap unless you bathe."

You can't "sell" something unless you believe in and use and enjoy your product.

If you have not identified your mission and ministry, if you do not believe in that mission and ministry with your whole heart, if you don't work it with enthusiasm and joy, no amount of "packaging" is going to attract people to you church.

And, I'm not talking just about the clergy. The whole congregation has to have clarity about their unique identity as a Body of Christ and are engaged in and enthusiastic about the particular mission and ministry God has called them to do.

The best evangelism is doing the work of mission. The best mission is that which responds to the needs of the community. The best evangelism and mission are the ones that are enthusiastically embraced and lived out by a community of faith.

The best feature of this program, according to the media release, is that it "works with a congregation to present the mission and ministry done there in ways easily understood by a seeker." So, if you are already doing great works in the name of Jesus and want to get the word out to a larger group of people...."seekers".... I suspect this program might just work well for you.

If, if, IF one assumes that there are lots of "seekers" out there. Somewhere. I'm not sure that's true. I think the 'bad evangelism horse' has been out of the 'church barn' for too many years.

Not only are many people "turned off" by stories of ecclesiastical corruption and betrayal, I think the cultural phenomenon of "Bowling Alone," combined with the forces of "secular humanism," "new age pop religion," and "self-help spirituality" have taken such a strong hold that many people have found a home in the fastest growing segment of American society: "spiritual but not religious".

Changes in work, family structure, age, suburban life, television, computers, women’s roles and other factors have contributed to this decline, and yet the church as an institution still functions as if it were somewhere in the mid-1950s.

We put too much of our energy into "Building A Better Yesterday".

Can that trend be reversed?

Absolutely.

But, please, please, PLEASE don't expect this program to do it for you. 

The church has to change its assumptions and expectations about congregations.

It has to redefine what it means to be a "member" of a church. What does it say that some of the people in some of the groups that use the church building - 12-Step Programs, Day Care or Church School - are actually in the church more than some of its "members," some of whom give more to the church in "time, talent and treasure" than the "members" listed on its roles?

The church also has to redefine what it means by "ministry" and "mission". "Ministry" is not just about serving on the Vestry, Altar Guild and various church committees. It's not all about "Mother Church," which has to start showing some understanding and respect for - and embrace and celebration of -  the ministry people do in their lives and in their work and in their families. 

We have to start studying the "intersectionality" of ministry and mission and find ways to connect those things with the ministry of the church.

And....and....AND....bishops and deans and cardinal rectors and clergy have to start modeling this. You can't simply ask people to change models of ministry without modeling that ministry yourself.

Yes, this means that diocesan staffs are going to have to change configuration. Indeed, it may mean that there are fewer "diocesan centers". Instead, diocesan ministry may need, more and more, to find itself in congregations.

That's going to mean that the church looks very, very different from the way it does today.

Which, I think is a good thing. A scary thing, to be sure, but a good thing if Christianity is to flourish.  Notice I said "Christianity" and not "the church". I'm much more concerned about the former than I am the later.

That's not going to come from "programs". It's got to come from the heart.

I have a friend who says that the problem with church comes from the fact that, when we see people walking into church, we see dollar signs and symbols of success. Things will begin to change, he says, when we start seeing people as signs of the cross and symbols of resurrection and new life.

I think he's right.

That won't fit neatly into a "program" but it's a pretty powerful "ethos and vibe". 

11 comments:

Marthe said...

As sincerely as many church members want to see their congregations grow, are willing to try every marketing trick and technique and scheme, they always seem shocked when "selling" and "recruiting" tactics fail ... church is not a product ... and leaders have to stop thinking of the Bible as a best seller to be re-released and periodically re-promoted, the Spirit a classic perfume to be re-introduced at Christmas to "make the margin" for the year.
The medium cannot be the message if the Good News is to reach and stick with the un-churched because faith is personal, but not a fashion statement or trinket to be acquired. If we treat the communion table as a DQ drive up window we are unlikely to get many repeat "customers" because human beings crave variety in their dining ... they will come back for real nourishment if it is offered and understood ... and no sales tool or spin or clever ad campaign can address the long term effects of spiritual starvation, only real care and attention and feeding can do that ... real Love and blessings, not slogans ... actual contact with messy people and the complicated interactions that follow, that is what church can be - a place to feel the presence of God in each individual and to give thanks by responding to one another with the kindness, compassion and respect so often completely missing in the rest of our lives, at work or school or in the endless competition that seems to be our culture. If church is to survive, it needs to be different than all that - not in competition with it, different.
End of little rant. Thanks for reading.

Anonymous said...

You nailed it~ The apostles Lived their Testimony...and changed the world.

Sean said...

Hi Elizabeth - Sean from FaithStreet here. Thanks for your considered thoughts on FaithStreet and congregational health, in general. I agree with many of the points you've made here and really, really appreciate your perspective. I would very much like to connect at some point.

all best,

Sean
sean@faithstreet.com

Churchy La Femma said...

Really enjoyed reading this! I was also a little put off by the Faith Street announcement, but I was more puzzled as to why the EC would bother partnering with an app that purports to deliver something that is already on offer (for free) by Google. It's really just about discoverability -- making it so that you can get found online -- with maybe a dash of social proof thrown in the mix. Bost of which Google already does pretty well. Posting many more thoughts on this topic on my own site -- now you've got me fired up!

Chris H. said...

I'm afraid many people DO look at church as a product. When they are visiting/moving to a new place many have a list of things they want: a schedule that fits theirs, child care/Sunday School, a priest of the correct leaning--conservative,liberal, environmentally focused, LGBT, etc. How many people, even in TEC, actually go to their local parish just because it's closest if there is more than one to choose from? Or do they drive around to the one they like best? And tools like this can help them find the church that fits their tastes. It probably won't "save" the church from ultimate decline, etc. but it does help people now, who are used to church shopping find one they like and if it encourages churches that avoid the internet/social media to get involved, so much the better. Should people choose church like this? Depends on who you ask and how they fit into the local society.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Marthe - and a good rant it was. I don't know what good my rant or yours will do. Our words seem to fall on deaf ears. Le sigh.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Thanks, Anonymous. Next time, please leave your name.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Hi, Sean. I've sent you an email. Hope we are able to connect.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Churchy La Femma - I look forward to reading your rant on this.

Andy Pierce said...

Well, our bishop sent out this announcement for inclusion in the diocese e-newsletter, and I went to their website and played around searching for a church. I was put off by the whole search menu thing. Google does a much better search, and our website does a much better introduction to the church. I don't like having yet another place to update info and insure consistency.

On the other hand, once upon a time our priest said that when you have a church, you unlock all the doors on a Sunday, because you never know which one people are going to try to come in. And so I added our church to the database. What are the chances that someone will use it? I don't know, but it can't hurt.

Experience tells me that people inviting friends is the surest way to have newcomers, and newcomers invite other newcomers. And yet, we have had people see our website and come. We've had people come back after a funeral (more often than a wedding!), and you never know what door people are going to come through... I'm still not sold on the FaithStreet - TEC linkup, but I'll keep my eyes open for the first "FaithStreet Seeker" coming through the door!

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Andy - Right - won't hurt, might help. And, it's free. My point is that we shouldn't depend on this new gizmo as the "magic bean" that's going to help our congregation grow. The Gospel - doing it, preaching it, living it - are the "magic beans".