Archives For Marketing

Missional® Level® Marketing®

kinnon —  February 20, 2010 — 31 Comments

'Cuz some of us little people need to make money from this missional marketing thing, too.

Leave a note in the comments if you want me to sign you up.

Many territories still available, but don't delay. Spots are filling up quickly.

Note we no longer support Emergent® Level® Marketing® – market's gotten a wee bit too small and rather over-saturated.

UPDATE: Jordon Cooper adds another post to this conversation, The Christian Book Whore.

Forgive the long title but this post has been brewing since I read Jordon Cooper's Theological Debate As Blood Sport. His post was written early in the "debate" around McLaren's new book. Jordon said this near the end of his post, in regards to the marketing of books like Brian's;

(We) have to take into account how bloggers get played by the publishing houses. In exchange for “review copies”, they get to turn us into their own personal marketing whores. You don’t think Harper Collins isn’t feeling pretty happy for the “buzz” that we generate from their free, cheaply produced review copies. We get to feel like “insiders” when we are marketing pawns, rushing to review the book on Amazon and posting the reviews on our blogs. Harper Collins (as a division of News Corp.) has an obligation to the bottom line, not to the faith. [emphasis added]

Brad Boydston, the king of great random links, wrote this last night,

BRIAN McLAREN'S new book A New Kind of Christianity is getting lots of reaction. That was certainly his goal.

I WISH that Mark Noll's book The New Shape of World Christianity: How American Experience Reflects Global Faith would get as much attention. The whole postmodern cultural shift discussion that McLaren and the emerging folks want to lead is so insular and so Western — while so much of what is shaping the church in 2010 is so global. [emphasis added]

Jordon's point and perhaps Brad's is that we bloggers are getting played by, at the very least, the publishers and in some cases, the book authors. HarperOne (ANKoChristianity's publisher) doesn't care whether I slam or sing the praises of Brian's book. In the market place of idea-based books, any PR is good PR. In fact, they probably love that I discuss Brian's book over and against McGrath's Heresy – another HarperOne book.

Michael Hyatt, Thomas Nelson CEO sings the praises of his company's Book Sneeze program. He's got all kinds of bloggers who've signed up to be "sneezers" for Thomas Nelson.


Their site trumpets, Booksneeze Gives (BOOKS) to Bloggers for Free. But that would be free ONLY from Thomas Nelson's perspective. Since they place ZERO value on the time of the Bloggers reading their books.


Let's have a bit of fun with math, kids, shall we.

We will use Brian's new book as an example even though it's not a Thomas Nelson book.

ANKoChristianity is 320 pages in total length (according to Amazon.) With the preface and main body text and excluding the endnotes, index, title page, etc, the book is about 260 pages. Average word count per page is around 350 – 400 words. We will use the lower number.

Now considering that the average reading speed for an American adult is in the 200 words per minute range, with Brian's book being approximately 90,000 words – it will take the average reader about 7.5 hours to finish the book. Basically, an average working day.


Now to get a book from Thomas Nelson, you need to promise to write a minimum 200 word review of that book and post it on your blog AND a consumer website (like Amazon). When you provide links to prove to Thomas Nelson you've done so – you get another "FREE" book.

Forgive me, but this is almost Pavlovian.

Let's say you only take 30 minutes to write your review – you've still spent 8 hours of your time on a book that publishers want you to help them market.

There is no way in the world that the real costs of the books publishers and their PR and Marketing Firms are shipping you cost more than 10 dollars including shipping (and I'm being very generous to the publishers with this figure).

Are you really willing to work for a publisher for a little over a dollar an hour?

Where I Stand on This
I remember being flattered when I was asked to join the Ooze Viral Bloggers a couple of years ago. Wow. My blog is important enough that they want to send me free books. (Gullible is my middle name.)

But the books really aren't free folks.

The expectation was that I'd read them and then write something about them – the unwritten contract. When a book Oozed it's way to me I would commit my time to reading it, shortly after it hit my doorstep – and at least say something about it. Even if the book was crap – which far too many were.

And human nature being what it is, most of us don't want to say bad things about "gifts" from anyone, even publishers – whether they're oozing or not. No doubt publishers are very aware of this basic reality of human nature. They aren't in the gift-giving business – they are in the book publishing business. As Jordon says, their bottom line is making a profit – and I do not begrudge them that.

I'm just not willing to work for them for free.

With much of this in mind, I opted out of the Ooze a year ago in terms of asking for books. (I officially asked not to receive anymore emails about the Ooze books in January.) I've never opted in to Booksneeze and won't.

With shipping and taxes, I paid just under $28CDN for McLaren's new book. I chose to spend the time I did reading the book and critiquing it – not feeling like I was beholden to the marketing efforts of the OozeTV team & Mike Morrell, HarperOne or anyone else. (BTW Mike, though I'm sure you really do like Brian's book, when you comment on people's blogs about said book, it would be good if you noted you were paid for your efforts in the Ooze viral marketing campaign for it. There probably are one or two people who don't actually know that and it could be perceived as a conflict of interest.)

I still receive the occasional email offering to send me a book. Some I accept – but with no promise to review the book one way or the other. And I mention in the review that the book was provided for free – even though there is no law in Canada to force me to do that.

But to my fellow bloggers.

Your time really is worth something.

If publishers want you to join them in their efforts to market their books – it's only fair they pay you – and that you tell us you are being paid to read and review their books.


They can ACTUALLY send you free bookswithout stipulating anything.

If the books you receive really are great, you might just write something about them.

(And can people please go read the Cluetrain Manifesto. This old school marketing stuff is getting old.)

Sitting @ Sea-Tac

kinnon —  March 9, 2009 — 2 Comments

It would seem that Imbi and I are De-iceless in Seattle. Apparently Sea-Tac does not have much in the way of de-icing equipment. Problem is, de ice has come in, in a big way. They had us board the flight on time, only to tell us that we’d be sitting @ the gate for between 90 minutes and two hours. Fortunately, I’m able to get wi-fi from the Terminal N building – so I’m working away.

Have much to blog about coming out of our weekend here in the Seattle area. Won’t have a chance to do it until later in the week. I’ve missed blogging. Hopefully I’ve been missed a little as well.

A couple of quick highlights: meeting John La Grou in real life. Meeting one of the finest writers in blogdom (and perhaps anywhere for that matter), Erika Haub, live and in colour for the very first time. (I’d met her wonderful and very funny husband, Doug, a couple of years back @ Fuller.) Erika and Doug’s kids are as gorgeous in the flesh as they are in Erika’s writing. And our weekend here began with a night at Brad and Roxi Bergfalk’s – catching up after not seeing them for a couple of years. (Brad needs to get back into blogging again.)

There are two men who have had a profound impact on how I think in the last ten years. One is Roy Williams. The other, Dick Staub. We got to spend the weekend with Dick & a number of other people. More on that later.

UPDATE: Made it home four hours late.

I am not a huge fan of Willow Creek’s concept of church leadership, which must be a shock to many of the folk who regularly read me. Please note that this post is not an attack on Bill Hybels. I bet he’s truly a swell guy. I just think what he models and promotes as ecclesiastical leadership has been profoundly detrimental to the church.


A Chicago suburb-living friend emailed me the link to (CUE brass band and announcer with big voice) “THE LEADERSHIP SUMMIT 2009!” He knows me too well; knowing full well it would provoke a response from me. It has.

Willow says this on their Events page,

Anchored in a commitment to excellence and innovation, WCA events offer training, inspiration, and networking opportunities to church leaders from around the world.

Truthfully, Willow Creek is anchored in modern business leadership methods and modern marketing techniques. Though apparently the poster is now down from outside his office, this statement from it accurately describes the WC ethos,

“What is our business? Who is our customer? What does the customer consider value?” [From the book, Shopping for God.]


One might have thought that the results from Willow’s own REVEAL study would have chastened them – moving them away from promoting events with rather awkward taglines like, “…where business, leadership and ministry meet,” and “...forums for results-oriented leaders.

(As an aside, please note: Chicagoans, Scot McKnight and Dave Fitch get into an interesting discussion in late 2007 on the REVEAL study, which you may find interesting – It’s an audio download. I have great respect for Scot, but find his support for Willow incongruent with his very good books. Perhaps that’s just me. )

In spite of obvious issues with the “results” of what WC has been selling all these years, they are still promoting the business leader/marketing strategy for church leaders. One, I daresay, that leads to the kind of legitimate questions Jared Wilson asks in this post.

My friend, Jonathan Brink, commented on Out of Ur’s REVEAL mea culpa last year (scroll down to the 5th comment),

(Hybels) says, “That survey rocked my world.” He calls it “The wake up call of my adult life.”

Hawkins even said in his own video, He says, “Our dream is that we fundamentally change the way we do church. That we take out a clean sheet of paper and we rethink all of our old assumptions. Replace it with new insights. Insights that are informed by research and rooted in Scripture. Our dream is really to discover what God is doing and how he’s asking us to transform this planet.”

It’s kind of hard to believe that it’s business as usual, when they’ve provided a lot of information to suggest the alternate.

Willow isn’t just a church. They teach people how to do what they do. And when the teacher says, “We got it wrong.” It has a little bit bigger affect (than) Bill seemed to be willing to admit. [YouTube link added]

Church leaders still rush to sit at the feet of Hybels et al. They want to be like Bill – leading a Giga-church that can put on the kind of spectacles that Willow is noted for – spectacles that will bring in the crowds. (This approach infects the Western Church World.)

They listen to business leaders like Patrick Lencioni and Marcus Buckingham (both gifted writers in a business context) coming to believe that their role as “Sr. Pastor” is that of a CEO. They commit to “Big Hairy Audacious Goals” (wanting to move from Good to Great – or even mediocre to good) and get busy getting the “right people on the bus and the wrong people off”. And this is what we end up with, as I quote in my post, Just How Damned is the Church, a focus on edifaces,

…borrowing by churches became more common in the 1990s, reaching $28 billion* nationwide in 2006, including mortgages, construction loans and church bonds…[NYT – a story on Church Foreclosures]


Crippled by an “Edifice Complex”, Church leaders are sucked into believing that Kevin Costner’s Field of Dreams was a word from God, “if you build it, they will come.” If these “CEO-Pasters” can just learn the right business and marketing techniques, they can grow their church – for God, of course. But these systems chew people up and spit them out. I speak from experience.

Let me end this post with a quote from the man who taught Hybels and was part of Willow Creeks founding team, Dr. Gilbert Bilezikian,

“The bane of the church is that it becomes worldly. Instead of imparting the Word and becoming an agent of change, it adopts the values of the world and integrates them into its structures and life.

“The biggest problem is the definition of its leadership structures. There are very clear directives in the New Testament for how the church is to be constituted, on the basis of community, which implies congregational participation, consensual decision-making, accountability of leaders to the congregation. Leadership should not be directive but developmental.”

I confess that I do get a little tired of this – no matter who the “recalibrated big guns” are.

George Fox Seminary had a gathering of some recalibrating emerge-church-publishing “big guns” this past week and Peter Walker has been reporting on the event. I find his irreverent responses rather appealing. And would have loved to hear Dr. MaryKate Morse in the midst of the testosterone-fueled others. (Imbi and I interviewed MaryKate at a missional church event in the summer of ’06.) From Peter’s notes,

Morse begins talking about her book Making Room for Leadership: Power, Space and Influence, introducing it as a recalibration of the concept of power. She uses the example of kids playing in a sandbox to begin: “no matter how much fun all of the kids are having, some other kid comes in and takes it on themselves to smash what everyone has been building. Why does that happen? How does that happen in the church? I think it has to do with Power.”

She continues, “the problem is, we have a hard time getting along with each other. We can talk about theory and think about things, but we need to get our heads around power. Make this organic community a place where it really can thrive!”   [emphasis added]

One of the questions I would have asked of the assembled big guns is “How is this worked out in your own lives? Tell us about your involvement in local Christian community?” My fear is that only Dr. Morse and Dan Kimball would be able to tell us.

Read Peter’s reports here, here and here.

This was originally posted a year ago. I'm reposting this mildly edited version based on an offline comment from a friend around WC and a recent Out of Ur post.

I’ve been hesitant to join the conversation around Willow Creek and its recent admission of gaping holes in its ministry model. Read the Out of Ur post here and then Greg Hawkins’ spin (Willow’s executive pastor) at Out of Ur here – and make a point of reading the comments both pro and con.

Having been a mega-church insider for many years (ending rather abruptly in the late Spring of 2005), including working inside two different ones over a three year period this first decade of the new millenium – I bring both my own baggage as well as my own insight to the issues.

Apr05_willow2smallAm I shocked by the facts that show people don’t mature spiritually in these cross-less architectured environments? Hardly. I’ve seen the lack of discipleship up close and personal. And when the questions about discipleship arise, the leadership has often responded by “people just need to be at all the services and they’ll grow.” As if forty to sixty minute bibliotainment sermons, surrounded by pop culture music are going to disciple believers to a reasonable level of spiritual maturity.

Constructive Curmudgeon, Doug Groothuis, with a lot more theological horsepower than I’ll ever have responds this way, (partial quote)

The flawed model is that a program-driven church–big, slick, professional–will generate disciples (those who grow in love for God and others) by getting people to show up for activities. Now Bill Hybels and others are claiming this was a mistake. People need to take responsibility for their spiritual growth instead of just "participating" in the all the events.

This is no surprise to many of us who never bought the Willow "model," who never believed that "giving the customer what he wants" (Hybels's slogan) was biblical, who never believed that painting the church in the image of consumer culture would call people to deep repentance or build biblical disciples. Think about it. What kind of atmosphere do you create when your building looks like a theater? Os Guinness spoke to this prophetically long ago in his small gem, Dining With the Devil. See also Douglas Webster, Selling Jesus and David Wells, No Place for Truth and God in the Wasteland.

Now Willow is making their failure into an "event." Buy the book, watch the video. What will round #2 bring us from Hybels and company? Honestly, I'm not interested. We need a church that challenges our culture, not one that apes it…

I’m not a Willow-hater. I do think their ministry style is an accurate reflection of boomer-driven, McDonald’s influenced, narcissistic culture. The perfect religious style for the “Me-Generation.” But that generation is rapidly diminishing in its cultural influence – though its vast wealth seemingly suggests otherwise.

Bondjamesbondsixties My friend and occasional teacher, Roy Williams said this about boomers (and I quote it in my short book, A Networked Conspiracy which Roy published)

Baby Boomers were idealists who worshipped heroes, perfect icons of beauty and success. Today these icons are seen as phony, posed and laughable. Our cool as ice, suave lady's man James Bond has become the comic poser Austin Powers or the tragically flawed and vulnerable Jason Bourne of The Bourne Identity. That's the essence of the new worldview; the rejection of delusion, a quiet demand for gritty truth. We're seeing it reflected in our movies, our television shows and our music. (Bill notes: the newest Bond iteration has more in common with the flawed Bourne than the Sean Connery-embodied Bond of the sixties or the Roger Moore-embodied Bond of the seventies.)

Baby Boomers believed in big dreams, reaching for the stars, personal freedom, "be all that you can be." Today's generation believes in small actions, getting your head out of the clouds, social obligation, "do your part."

A Baby Boomer anchored his or her identity in their career. The emerging generation sees his or her job only as a job.

Baby Boomers were diplomatic and sought the approval of others. The emerging generation feels it's more honest to be blunt, and they really don't care if you approve or not.

I don’t think Willow will fade into oblivion any time soon. But I do think there culture has more in common with the diminishing American brands that include Ford and GM – and without significant change and a loss of the desire to market their products to the rest of the church world – Willow’s descent into irrelevance will continue. (2008 Comment: Ford and GM are almost bankrupt – and word on the street is that a number of megachurches are struggling to service their debt as giving drops with the economy.)

It is reported in the book Shopping for God, that Bill Hybels has a post outside his office that says,

“What is our business? Who is our customer? What does the customer consider value?”

Cluechunneltrainsmall_2 The mistake is self-evident. We are not customers. We are people. Would that Willow and the rest of our seeker-sensitive family members come to that realization. The Cluetrain left the station eight years ago. It’s time for these folk to get on it.

UPDATE: My friend Mark, in the comments (on the 2007 post) says that the poster's been changed recently.

UPDATE 2: Groothuis points to the Baptist Press' repost of Bob Burney's take (originally posted @ Townhall) on what Willow has Revealed. Here's part of what Burney said,

Willow Creek has released the results of a multi-year study on the effectiveness of their programs and philosophy of ministry. The study's findings are in a new book titled "Reveal: Where Are You?," co-authored by Cally Parkinson and Greg Hawkins, executive pastor of Willow Creek Community Church. Hybels himself called the findings "ground breaking," "earth shaking" and "mind blowing." And no wonder: It seems that the "experts" were wrong.

The report reveals that most of what they have been doing for these many years and what they have taught millions of others to do is not producing solid disciples of Jesus Christ. Numbers yes, but not disciples. It gets worse. Hybels laments:

"Some of the stuff that we have put millions of dollars into thinking it would really help our people grow and develop spiritually, when the data actually came back it wasn't helping people that much. Other things that we didn't put that much money into and didn't put much staff against is stuff our people are crying out for."

If you simply want a crowd, the "seeker-sensitive" model produces results. If you want solid, sincere, mature followers of Christ, it's a bust. In a shocking confession, Hybels states:

"We made a mistake. What we should have done when people crossed the line of faith and become Christians, we should have started telling people and teaching people that they have to take responsibility to become 'self feeders.' We should have gotten people, taught people, how to read their Bible between services, how to do the spiritual practices much more aggressively on their own."

Incredibly, the guru of church growth now tells us that people need to be reading their Bibles and taking responsibility for their spiritual growth.

One of the 132 responses on Burney's Townhall post quotes A.W.Tozer,

We who preach the gospel must not think of ourselves as public relations agents sent to establish good will between Christ and the world. We must not imagine ourselves commissioned to make Christ acceptable to big business, the press, the world of sports or modern education. We are not diplomats but prophets, and our message is not a compromise but an ultimatum.

2008 UPDATE 1: I stumbled across this Dr. Gilbert Bilezikian quote whilst wandering the interwebs this evening. It's from an address he gave in Christchurch, NZ in '05.  I had a pastor friend in Vancouver tell me about Dr. Bilezikian's concerns a couple of years ago  – but I had never seen this piece. (Dr. B founded Willow Creek with Bill Hybels.)

“Christ did not die just to save us from our sins, but to bring us together into community. After coming to Christ, our next step is to be involved in community. A church that does not experience community is a parody, a sham.

“But the church in the West is being overtaken by individualism, which entails increased material pursuits, so you can afford to be self-sufficient. Strong anti-community forces are at work. Family life is practically non-existent as we are pulled away in different directions.”

Mr. Bilezikian fears the church has become irrelevant to both the purposes of God and to the needs of the world.

“The bane of the church is that it becomes worldly. Instead of imparting the Word and becoming an agent of change, it adopts the values of the world and integrates them into its structures and life.

“The biggest problem is the definition of its leadership structures. There are very clear directives in the New Testament for how the church is to be constituted, on the basis of community, which implies congregational participation, consensual decision-making, accountability of leaders to the congregation. Leadership should not be directive but developmental.”

However, Mr. Bilezikian says the church has discarded these directives and replaced them with worldly models of leadership, such as those found in corporate business. So we find the pastor as CEO. “We even adopt the language, for example, calling them senior pastors. Where does that come from?”

He says today’s highly hierarchical models of leadership smack of Government, military or political administrations and they result in the Church becoming institutionalized.

“Instead of being a movement, it becomes an establishment. This is not new, of course – it started when the Roman Emperor Constantine established Christianity as the state religion.”

Mr. Bilezikian chooses his words carefully, but he is not without criticism of Willow Creek itself.

“Willow Creek was on target originally,” he says, “but there’s always the temptation to seek success, as defined by the world, meaning preoccupation with numbers, with business, with facilities, and as a result there is always a danger for a church to become bureaucratic and hierarchical.”

He says this temptation is the same, though, for a small church as for a large church. “The church becomes dominated by little bosses and instead of developing leadership they hog it for themselves and run the congregation like tyrants.”

While Mr. Bilezikian raises the warning flags, he is not without hope. He points to a community movement which, he says, appeared at the end of the 20th century and has taken hold. These are churches in which lay people and clergy are raising basic questions about the identity of the Church, and about the definition of its workings.

Not that I’m one to comment, but Jordon hasn’t been as active of late on these Interwebs. However, when he does get a few minutes to write, he says things like this, on why he didn’t take an offer of a pastoral position,

…despite using the language of mission, the church sees the world as a market (and I wonder if a lot of pastors see the church as their market). Anyways it helped me realize that I didn’t have the passion or energy to lead something that saw the world as a market and for which I wasn’t sure if it wanted to see it as a mission. At the end of the day I realized I had more in Saskatoon that I wanted to accomplish.

Comments like this are one reason that though I may delete other bloggers, Coop will always have a place in Google Reader for me.

Summitting Leaders

kinnon —  August 9, 2008 — 10 Comments

In the 42 months of this blog’s existence, it’s been rather evident that I’m not a fan of the theology of most mega-churches or their wannabes. This is a position I’ve arrived at – having spent years in the American mega-church world as a media consultant (not including about 18 months with a Canadian megachurch clone, part of that time as a senior staff member). I’ve come to believe the mega-church has more to do with western consumerism and the celebration of the individual than it has to do with both a biblical and an historical understanding of the church as gathered community.

BizLeaderonSummitsmall.jpg These past few days I’ve followed tweets from folk who have attended a recent summit of leaders. The well-marketed brand of American megavangelism that puts these conferences on is noted for its conflation of good business practices and church leadership – something I believe is profoundly erroneous and has led to huge issues in the church. I wrote this in the comment section of one of my posts on this topic, last summer,

As an occasional business person (I’ve been self-employed for most of the past twenty-six years), I love Jim Collins. It DOES drive me crazy, however, that I see well-worn copies of his book Good to Great on most pastors’ desks – with them trying to “get the right people on the bus and the wrong people off.” And I know way too many sociopaths in shepherds clothing who use BHAGs to keep their money making machines moving forward.

I believe that the church, the living, breathing Body of Christ is more an organism than an organization. The health of that (organism) is in its relationships – both within and without. Where management models can aid in the health of the organism, they can have some efficacy – but when the management models control the life of the church, they actually kill that life. I would suggest that there are a lot of “Dead Churches Walking” in the Western World.

My Allelon compatriot, Len Hjalmarson, attended one of the satellite sites for the summitting leaders. He comments,

* we are still enamored with leadership as a concept, yet the word is almost absent from the NT. If the questions we ask are more formed by our culture than by the Scripture, won’t the answers be similarly formed?

* the fundamental leadership paradigm at (redacted) is “heroic,” focused around individuals and their gifts and passions. The alternative lens – that leadership is a characteristic of living systems and a process in all healthy communities – is almost non-existent. Yet so long as we use a single lens, we limit what we can see and discover.

(As an aside, in my post from two years ago, What Lens? I comment on the particular lens I think guides much mega-church leadership – and it is the lens of the King. I believe the proper lens is that of the Cross. There’s great discussion in the comments on that post.)

Len does go on to make some positive comments about the event and concludes with these paragraphs,

In the end, all disciplines are composed of practices that take us to places we can’t reach directly. We do the scales so that one day we can play Bach or Mozart; we lift weights and run so that one day we can compete in a marathon. But these represent individual ends and the kingdom is a place we must reach as communities of faith. This is one reason that I think a missional order and a rule of life are ancient places we must recover. They move us beyond individual measures and practices and beyond individualist, or inward-looking lenses, for discovering leadership. And they provide a context, a covenant community, which is the soil that must exist in order for any practice to help us toward an authentic expression of kingdom life.

UPDATE: Although the caps key is broken on her computer, Kathy Escobar offers this today in Lessons from Egypt. It just seems to fit,

i have developed a strong aversion to unhealthy power that probably won’t ever go away. i don’t believe christ-followers are supposed to be addicted to power. i don’t believe in perpetuating power-laden systems that create hero-worship and an “us-them” culture. i don’t think that gifts & talents are supposed to be controlled by a few chosen people who happen to get a paycheck from the church. i think that true leadership comes from below, that the last will be first and the first will be last. the church was always supposed to be about relationship instead of structure, love instead of control, freedom instead of bondage, mercy instead of sacrifice.

NB: The business guy @ the summit image is licensed from iStockphoto and is used by permission.


I heard Marshall McLuhan speak at the University of Toronto when I was in my final year of High School. The medium is the message, I think, or was it the message is the medium, hmmm. I’m pretty sure that it wasn’t messages from mediums.

It was a truly momentous occasion. At least, it should have been. I understood the language he was speaking. His concepts, ideas and conclusions, however, were way over the head of an 18 year old more concerned with who was playing on the next Steely Dan album.

Perhaps if Bill Watterson had begun Calvin and Hobbes 15 years earlier – I would have had a better chance of understanding McLuhan… but then again, probably not.

I was amused and enlightened by this post from Fred Sanders, What You Can Learn from Calvin and Hobbes about the Message and the Medium. My family and I are huge fans of Watterson’s Calvin and Hobbes. My favourite birthday present being The Complete Calvin and Hobbes Box Set – given to me for my 50th birthday (almost three years ago) as I blog posted here.

Sanders speaks of Watterson’s resistance to creating the marketing juggernaut that Calvin and Hobbes could have become. He then deftly moves the discussion to the marketing of the church.

Marshal McLuhan may have overstated the case when he pronounced that “the medium is the message,” but he surely indicated the way that what you say is entangled with how you say it. If you want to make a statement about people in relationships over time, you had better not try saying it on a t-shirt or bumper sticker. Communicators need to understand their message well enough, organically enough, to pick an appropriate medium for getting it across. Insensitivity to the medium-message connection is what makes most pop music so bathetic when it attempts profundity.

It also explains why the Christian message seems so bizarre and irrelevant when it is communicated via slogans, marketing campaigns, fashion, and advertising knick-knacks. Pointing this out hardly qualifies me for prophet status; any sensitive person confronted with the modern Christian marketing machine is bound to feel queasy.

Sanders then cites the prophetic voice of 26-years-dead Keith Green,

It pains me to see the beautiful truths of Scripture being plastered about like beer advertisements. Many think it is wise to “get the word out” in this way but, believe that we are really just inoculating the world with bits and pieces of truth – giving them their “gospel shots.”

Sanders returns to Calvin and Hobbes,

Watterson was worried that the very existence of these products would sap the power from the real thing; that a million Calvin window decals would make the Calvin comic strip harder to read. It’s possible that too many ineffective Jesus reminders all over the place might have a degrading effect on our ability to read Jesus where he really is. The only way to know if that’s the case is to know our message as well as Watterson knew his. Watterson could spot a deviation from the integrity and fullness of the Calvin and Hobbes mystique in an instant. Do modern Christians have senses so well trained, or a grasp of the gospel message so acute, that we can spot such deviations?

Although less focused on Jesus Junk than Sanders, I’ve written my own series on Church Marketing* that you might consider reading, although my cartoons leave much to be desired in light of Watterson or Fred Sanders – and as odd as being self-referential is, allow me to quote myself in the conclusion to that series:

…the church isn’t marketable. Programs, conferences, services even, may be – but the church itself is not. I understand that this a polemical statement. And there will be those who vehemently disagree.

The church is a people who pick up their crosses and follow Jesus. It is a people who forget about themselves as they pour out their lives for others. It is the way of discipleship – becoming like Jesus – who laid down his life for his friends…and enemies. It is not about “living your best life now” or any other such silly talk. (Or tee-shirt slogans, gospel trinkets, FLASHy websites or other such crap.)

Marketing presupposes a product or service to market. The church is neither. It is a living breathing organism that exists for those outside of it.

Would that those of us engaged in communicating the truth of the Gospel had the integrity of a Bill Watterson:

I’m convinced that licensing would sell out the soul of Calvin and Hobbes. The world of a comic strip is much more fragile than most people realize. Once you’ve given up its integrity, that’s it. I want to make sure that never happens. [via]

*My Church Marketing series: here, here, here, here, here and here. You might also enjoy A Little Retail Aversion Therapy and It Really Isn’t Funny.

Calvin and JobsAside: Perhaps Calvin and Jobs is more representative of the present Zeitgeist. (Click on the pic for a larger version.)

Note: The bones of this post were ripped from the archives of these non-achievable ends – appearing in a less edited form in August 2007.

And now…Gigachurch

kinnon —  July 21, 2008 — 8 Comments

Original link via the BHT. From the Minneapolis StarTribune:

“We don’t want anything, no matter how small, to knock the worshipers out of the mood of the service,” explained Anderson, executive director of worship.

It’s a recipe for worship that has worked very well for Eagle Brook, the largest congregation in the state, which holds 10 services each weekend. No longer just a “megachurch,” Eagle Brook now qualifies as a “gigachurch,” the term for congregations of more than 10,000 members. It serves an average of 11,000 worshipers a weekend — and swells to 17,000 on Christmas and Easter.

Pulling off those massive services without a hitch, week after week, requires an elaborate infrastructure and precision execution. At Eagle Brook, the drill is plan, plan, plan, then rehearse, rehearse, rehearse — with the ultimate goal of making it all look spontaneous.


…among the first arrivals is Steve Duede, who leads the Christian rock music crucial to the megachurch experience. His T-shirt and faded blue jeans are emblematic of Eagle Brook’s laid-back approach. When frequent greeter Cindi Franer sizes up the crowd for first-timers, she often spots them because they’re overdressed. “A coat and tie is a dead giveaway,” she said.

Barry has spent the week developing video graphics to accompany the music. She and Duede will spend the next 90 minutes “working the plan” to achieve the desired effect.

“Our goal is that everything has a purpose,” Anderson said. “We want the worship service to be vertical, not horizontal. Meaning we want people’s eyes on the platform.


(Pastor) Strand is holed up in a small rehearsal room going over his message. He wrote it two weeks earlier. In the interim, it has been critiqued by the other pastors, refined and critiqued again. According to Barry’s log book, it will run 28 minutes and 45 seconds, every word of it spoken from memory.

Strand spends his Saturday ensuring that his presentation comes off as conversational. That would pay off later, when worshipers laugh at something that seems ad-libbed.


After the first service, Barry, Anderson and Strand debrief. In addition to Strand’s use of a different word in the 23rd Psalm, there are two other glitches: A song introduction that Barry expected to be eight bars long lasted only four bars, and the hourlong service started a minute late.

As their meeting ends, the sanctuary has been cleaned from the first service, more coffee is brewing and parking lot volunteers have reconfigured the orange cones from the exiting pattern to the entering. People start drifting in for the 6 p.m. service.

One service down; nine more to go before the weekend is over and planning starts for next week.

We do all this so we can get out of the way and let people focus on connecting with God,” Anderson said.

All emphasis added.