Product, Product, Product (Part III)
For Sale: Our Witness
In the story about the two travelers on the way to Emmaus they encounter a man who starts up a conversation. They tell them what had just happened in Jerusalem and a little, although slightly misinformed, about this man named Jesus. Jesus then tells them the piece of scripture we just read. During this journey Jesus tells them about himself without them really knowing it is Jesus. He does so by “beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself.” He sells himself by walking them through the scriptures and explaining what it says about him and what he had to do. Emmaus is about a seven mile walk from Jerusalem. This means that Jesus had probably had about an hour and a half, which is 7 miles at a stroll, to do all this in. But in those 90 minutes he is able to transform their hearts. He was able to sell them on the product he was selling, himself, by knowing who he was and how to tell others about him.
The two on the way to Emmaus were already interested in Jesus but gained a better understanding of who he was through this relationship that was built during this conversation. In today’s society, in our part of Thomasville, if we are going to reach the majority of the people one mile away from us, we have to see how we are to connect with the people who are between 25-45, which as we learned last week are the majority of those out there in the community. In order for us to do that, we need to take a deep and long look at ourselves and see if we are accomplishing the next two keys in being good at sales; do we understand the customer’s needs and do we have the right product.
Last week we saw who are customers are but do we understand where they are? In one of the summer books we will read, unChristian, the authors did three years of research by talking to those on the outside of Christianity and finding out what they really think about us. They found six major themes Generation X and Y, or as they call them the Mosaics and Busters, have about Christians. To the outsider we are hypocritical, too focused on getting converts, anti-homosexual, sheltered, too political and judgmental. These are the presuppositions that many of the non-churched people in our community have when the think about us Christians.
According to BuisnessLink.com there are some good questions that every company has to ask themselves about their customers. The first one grabbed my attention and fit right in to the number three key, understanding the customer’s needs. The website said that every company has to ask themselves “Why do your customer’s need you?” This got me thinking…why do people need to come to Trinity UMC? Is it because we are the only church in town? No. According to the yellow pages, there are 153 churches with the address Thomasville, NC. There are 17 United Methodist Churches. A couple of them are on a charge so there are 12 appointments in Thomasville. That is a lot of churches within a city of 26,000 people.
The truth is we should not see these other churches, especially other United Methodist Churches as competition. Let’s look at the numbers. There 26,526 people who call Thomasville home. Divide that by the 153 churches and it should give every church 173 people per church. Well we know that is not the case because 100% of the people are not Christian and 100% of the people don’t attend church each week. Do you all remember the percentage of people who found it important to attend church weekly? 15%. This means that out of the 26,526 people in Thomasville only 3,979 people go to church each Sunday. Divide that evenly among the 153 churches and you only get 26 people per church. Now that is a little silly because there are some REALLY small churches out there who have less than 26 people a Sunday and some larger churches that more than 260 per Sunday. The point I am trying to make is there are a ton of options out there and “sheep stealing” or bringing in other people from other churches is not the way to go about building up our congregation. The way to grow as a congregation, the way to reach the non-churched people in this community is to concentrate on the 22,547 people who don’t go to church on Sunday. The ones who look at us as hypocritical, too focused on getting converts, anti-homosexual, sheltered, too political and judgmental.
One of my roommates in Seminary had a license plate on the front of his car that said, “Arapahoe, a good place to live.” Arapahoe is the small town in the far east part of North Carolina. It is the town that holds something that was very close to my roommates heart, Camp Don Lee, a camp he grew up going to, worked for and loves. Someone saw his license plate and said, “Arapahoe, a good place to live, not a great place but a good place.” Jim Collins writes in his book Good to Great, “Good is the enemy of great.” The main point he makes is that we are happy with good. We have a good church here. We have good music. We have good sermons (I hope). We have a good congregation. But good makes us settled, complacent, comfortable. Good gives us the illusion that there is no need to continue to better ourselves to grow and move forward. “Good is the enemy of great.” What will it take for Trinity to move from good to great? How can we take what is good about our congregation, our facilities, our location here in Thomasville and transform it from a good place into a great place that reaches people for Jesus Christ?
One way to do this is to take a real hard look at who we are and what we look like. Let me show you something. [VIDEO] What caught your attention? Let’s say there is an average of 10 cars that pass by our church every minute. I think that is a fair and probably low estimate during the week. That means from 7 am to 7 pm, for those 12 hours, 7,200 cars pass by our church. What on the outside makes the people in these 7200 cars want to come inside? We have a gorgeous sign and we know people read it. But what else is there? What else good be? We don’t put a cross outside during Lent. We don’t advertise by using banners. Now the City of Thomasville does have restrictions about that but they are small hurdles to jump over. What ways can we tell people on the outside that we are alive and thriving on in the inside?
George Bernard Shaw, the Irish playwright, said, “Our single biggest problem with communication is the illusion that it has taken place.” What hurts tons of churches is the idea that their congregation is welcoming, wonderful and a great place and thinks just because they know it, everyone else does. They don’t look at themselves through a first time visitor’s eyes. Here is a video clip that wonders “What if Starbucks marketed like the church?” [VIDEO]
This sermon is not going to wrap up everything in a pretty bow. I am not asking these questions today to give my opinion on the answer. The truth is I don’t have the answer but an answer needs to be found. We have to ask good questions in order for us to be a type of congregation modeled after Jesus on the road to Emmaus. There Jesus was kind and to the point. He was open to a conversation, welcoming, and met the people where they were. How are we like that? Are our signs big enough that tell where the bathrooms are and where the nursery is? Can people easily find the sanctuary from the parking lot?
We have made some great improvements already in this. We now have a sign out front of our entrance which tells people, “THIS IS THE DOOR TO COME THROUGH!” We have visitor parking and that is huge. One quick thing on parking. For years I have watched many of you come and take up the closest spots to the door. Now with visitor parking at least two spots are reserved for them. Here is an interesting fact, did you know that a church can only bring in some many people and it is according to the number of parking spaces it has. A church can host 1.75 people per parking space. We have 52 parking spaces which means we can only handle 91 people a Sunday. This means that if we want to grow to that 125 average attendance, which the bishop tells us is the amount of a self-sufficient congregation, some of us are going to have to start parking in the gravel. The back door is opened each week because we do have a faithful few who park back there but we could use a faithful few more to permanently make parking back there a habit.
You may think, well this is silly, but these are the small changes that transform a good congregation into a great one. It demonstrates to those on the outside how we feel about them and how we do actually care for them and welcome them. On the website Beyond Relevance, the creators of the Starbuck video, they say marketing is “about building a bond between you and those you’re trying to reach.” They go on to say that “a healthy church experiences 20-30% visitor retention.” That means for every ten visitors only 2 or 3 will end up calling Trinity home. To reach that 125 attendance threshold we will have to have boost our attendance by 35 people which means we would have to have at least 115-175 visitors before that can happen.
That seems daunting number but that is reality and that is why it will take a deep hard look at how we communicate to the people out there, the 22,000 who don’t go to church in our city. We have to look at how we package the product for the outsiders to know about it. We cannot assume that just because they drive by our church they will want to come inside. We have to think outside the box of what we have always done and pray for guidance and direction. I have tossed out a lot of numbers today and they aren’t out there to dictate what we are to do but only to give you another reference point in order for us to start to draw a line and figure out how to get from here to there. How to get from Good to Great. How to live out, in the fullest, our mission statement. To be Trinity UMC, a congregation who is Serving Christ and Making Disciples.
And all God’s people said…Amen.