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how do you get unchurched/dischurched people in your inquirers' class?

An email list I'm on for those interested in evangelism had someone ask, as we were talking about various curricula for people inquiring about Christianity and/or church membership, how a congregation can get people to attend other than the same faithful members who go to nearly every church program already. This is what I wrote in response, and I thought it might be helpful to some people.

In it, I talk a lot about 'Klesis.' Klesis is a three-part curriculum I wrote with John de Beer (one of the founders of EFM, for those familiar with that). It starts with 'Connect,' a six-session course that mature Christians have gotten a lot out of, but that is designed to be friendly to unchurched and dischurched people wondering whether they want a spiritual home in which to explore Christianity, discover more of where God is calling them, and find nourishment to pursue that call with joy and peace. Klesis is released on an 'open-source' basis, meaning that you don't have to pay a thing to download and use all materials -- though of course we appreciate donations so that, among other things, we can build and maintain a user-friendly and lively online community for people to share their adaptations of, experiences with, and questions about Klesis. All we ask is that: a) you share with us and with the user community feedback about and adaptations of the material; b) you don't claim adaptations of the material or another's version of it as your own wholly original work; and c) you never charge anyone for Klesis materials or your adaptation of them.

That said, here's my answer to the question, "How do you get people who don't already go to church to go to Connect (or whatever your inquirer's class is)?":

Other curricula could be launched, pitched, adapted as necessary, and run to offer the things I'm talking about below, but here's what we did to to help reach unchurched people with Klesis:

We assumed that the first time we did the course we'd most likely have only people who were currently going to the parish. We did have some inquirers sign up who were just checking out the congregation and Christianity in general, as I recall, but we didn't advertise the course in media outside the parish. We also had the vestry take the course on its first offering. That meant that for subsequent offerings of the course we had: a) a bunch of mature Christians who had taken the course and could serve as table leaders or in the cooking/cleanup crew in the future; and b) a bunch of people in the parish who could talk from personal experience about how good it was for them and, when they invited a non-churchgoer, could say specifically why they thought that particular person would enjoy it. We also had a chance to smooth out any kinks in its implementation.

In subsequent offerings of the course, a *huge* part of how 'Connect' enticed people who did not consider themselves Christians and/or members of the parish was that we offered:

a) a NICE, if fairly simple, dinner (for the whole family, and with good and free child care) for which participants were not expected to cook, set tables, or shell out money.

A lot of people balked initially at signing up for the course, thinking that it was too much of a time commitment for busy people -- until it was pointed out to them that it often takes as much time as the course does to get, cook, serve, eat, and clean up after a nice dinner. The community was full of chronically busy and stressed out folks, and the invitation was "You're too busy and stressed out NOT to give yourself an evening in which you don't even have to think about dinner and you do get to de-stress, reflect, and have some real, nourishing conversation." Which brings me to the other enticement the course offers:

b) an opportunity to connect and be nourished in an experience of real spiritual community.

Klesis works well for older generations, but also it is, so far as I know, the first GenX-native curriculum for inquirers, and it tends to have an immediate and intuitive appeal for 'next generations' (and I'm not talking about 'youth ministry' -- the President of the U.S. is a GenXer!). I find that Alpha and similar courses appeal mostly to the head, asking questions like "Have you ever wondered about the meaning of life?" That doesn't tend to resonate with 'next generations' nearly as much as "Are you looking for spiritual community?" and "Come share your story with a great group of people and form some connections."

Klesis was built around the fundamental assumption that Christianity is about connection -- about God's mission of reconciling all with one another and with God in Christ -- and that a fundamental part of forming disciples is helping people discern where God is calling them AND form relationships in community that will sustain them as they pursue that call. I do a great deal of ministry with completely unchurched people (I'm currently part of a community of rock musicians in which I and one other member are the only people who have ever set foot in a church building), and I can say that that invitation to personal connection is really powerful when it's issued to a friend.

As far as getting members to invite unchurched or dischurched friends, I like to turn to the story of the calling of the first disciples in Luke, with its miraculously abundant catch of fish. The question on a fisher's mind every day was always, "Will I catch enough fish today for my family and me to survive, with all the strains on us?" When Jesus called, the catch of fish threatened to swamp the boat -- a serious matter, as the fishers could have lost their lives as well as their boat! The urgent question then shifted from "How will we catch enough?" to "How can we gather enough people to take in this abundance?"

We need to form church members who experience spiritual abundance in community such that they feel a natural need and excitement to share it with anyone else within shouting distance. That's why I think success in reaching out to unchurched people is predicated on having serious, ongoing adult formation. Otherwise:

a) the community won't be able to handle the inevitable changes that come with new members, especially new members from other cultures, social classes, and generations; and, more importantly ...

b) the community won't be the kind of spiritually vital, nourishing, exciting place that we promise. "Come prop up our dying institution!" is not an appealing invitation. "You're welcome to join us!" is only Good News if the community issuing the invitation has experienced and embraced Jesus' radical welcome and can offer deep lifelong spiritual nourishment. In my experience, that requires a strong core of disciples mature enough in their faith to serve as apostles.

Sorry this post is so long, but I hope at least some of it is helpful.



October 18, 2009 in Churchiness, Religion | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Larry Mullen, Jr. @ Gillette Stadium, 09-24-09

For a high-res version or permission to use, email me.

Larry 09-24-09

October 1, 2009 in Music | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

getting the most out of rock concerts

For a high-res version or permission to use any photos, as ever, just email me.

image from www.sarahlaughed.net

A Facebook friend asked me if I had any hints about getting the most out of the U2 concert he's going to with his daughter. My reply was a little long for a Facebook comment and I thought others might have similar questions, so I thought I'd answer here. I don't think there are special rules for getting the most out of a U2 concert as opposed to other bands, so here are my ten commandments for maximal enjoyment of rock concerts:

1) BRING EARPLUGS. This is VERY important. Rock concerts, whether in s stadium or a small club, are always, in my experience, loud enough to damage hearing. EVERY exposure to high volumes like that damages your hearing at least a little bit. There are all kinds of other experiences in daily life (e.g., boarding an airplane outdoors on an airfield where other jets are taking off) that damage your hearing too, and for which you won't have earplugs. All of these pile on as you age, so if you go to a concert without earplugs or if you choose not to use them once you're there, make sure the inevitable if small permanent hearing loss is worth it to you.

Not all earplugs are created equal, though. I use these:

These are re-useable earplugs that block out all unsafe frequencies relatively evenly, so you can still hear music well but won't damage your hearing. As a bonus, they actually make it easier to hear speech amidst loud noise in the environment, so it's easier to conduct conversations with someone in a loud bar or concert.

Whatever you do, though, do NOT take a child to a rock concert without earplugs. S/he may find the concert physically painful and s/he WILL permanently lose some hearing otherwise.

2) Try to get to know the artist's newest material AND greatest hits catalog. If you're seeing a currently recording artist, the concert is promoting sales of the new album, and in most cases you can expect a lot of material from it. I appreciate live material more if I know the recorded version, in which case I'll find myself saying things like, "Cool -- I wouldn't have thought this would work so well acoustic," "This song really feels different as a crowd singalong," or, in the case of U2's 360 tour, "WOW -- I can't believe they're doing 'I'll Go Crazy ...' this way live." Incidentally, I think "I'll Go Crazy ..." on U2's current tour should involve pulling someone out of the crowd to play cowbell. :) But I digress.

3) Know the venue's/band's rules, and be kind to security personnel. I've seen a number of people have to choose at the gate whether to miss a good chunk of the concert (or even the whole thing) or abandon a beloved or expensive bag/camera/etc. Make the security folks' jobs as easy as possible by having bags (if allowed) open for search when you reach the front of the line, and you'll get through more quickly. Don't argue with a security offer if s/he tells you something isn't allowed; it'll hold everybody up (you most of all), and it's highly unlikely that you'll change his/her mind in front of the crowd. If you're asked to discard something you know IS allowed and that you've got your heart set on bringing in (e.g., a handheld recorder for a band that allows recording bootlegs), then leave the line and go in by a different one if possible. And if it's an item allowed by the band but not by the venue (e.g., recording equipment or cameras), call the venue well before the concert (as in the previous week) to ask about it, get the name of the person who says it's OK, or, for small items, know that you might have to conceal it in a spot you won't be patted down. And understand that security personnel are there mostly for YOUR security. They get paid rotten wages and get a lot of grief from crowds (and sometimes artists as well). Be good to them, and they'll be good to you.

4) For a stadium or arena show and if the venue's rules allow, bring water and nutritious snacks. Many venues won't allow outside food/beverages, so don't bring a water bottle or tin of caviar you wouldn't be willing to discard. Many venues won't let you bring in a water bottle unless you discard the cap, as a full water bottle can cause injury if thrown (and some people are jerks who will actually do that, even to the artist). I recommend bringing one of those landfill-clogging store-bought bottles of water, so you won't be upset if you have to discard it entirely, asking security personnel when you arrive whether it must be sealed or you must discard the cap, and then doing what they say (at least removing and pocketing the cap if you don't want to discard it and are supposed to). At the concert, food and water will be ridiculously overpriced and you'll have to wait in long lines for it, and it's miserable to be dying of thirst (hydration is particularly important if you're yelling, singing along, and/or spending hours in the sun) or for nutritious food when you've got at least a couple of hours of music and an hour of sitting in traffic to go. Definitely leave water and food in your car too, if you're driving.

4) Do unto your fellow fans as you'd want them to do unto you. Don't cut in line. Do be friendly; talk with people in line, and if you've brought snacks and such, offer to share them if practical. Don't hold up children, people, signs, and such that block their view -- or at least not checking with them first and, if it's going to be for a while, checking with them periodically to make sure it's still OK. If there's something you'd like them to do (e.g., help you get a setlist, hold your place while you step away for a few minutes, tolerate something that will obstruct their view, trade places), say 'please' and ask if there's anything you can do in return. And if someone's being a jerk, don't immediately do likewise; tell them what's bothering you (e.g., "you're landing on my foot when you jump up and down and it hurts a lot") and ask them very nicely to stop or be more careful. Understand that people WILL yell, sing along, stand up, dance, and whatnot; it's a concert, and you probably won't get a perfect bootleg or photo unless you can plug into the sound board or get media credentials. If you're taking pictures or recording the sound, reconcile yourself to the fact that you're recording the experience of the concert from where you are, and it's not a studio.

5) Do unto artists and crew members as you'd want them to do unto you if you were in their shoes. Flashbulbs can be annoying and distracting, and they make concert photos worse, not better. Screaming stuff during quiet passages in songs can be annoying and distracting, and doesn't communicate love for the music (it suggests the opposite). Know that crew members love to be appreciated (by name especially), and have work to do other than fetching you setlists and picks. Do NOT throw flags, stuffed animals, and whatnot on stage or at artists. If they see it and it's something they want and can safely accept, hold up, or whatnot, they'll beckon it up. Crew members who are happy distribute more goodies. Crew members who can do their jobs with minimal distraction provide concerts without sound problems. Artists who are happy with the audience are more likely to stay on longer, perform better, and interact more with the crowd. Make sure your demonstrations of fandom demonstrate respect for these people's work.

image from www.sarahlaughed.net

Nice fans = Happy Edge = more pausing with nice fans!

6) If you're not allergic to "spoilers" and you do have some choice as to where you sit/stand, ask people who have seen earlier shows on the tour if anything special and choreographed happens in the show. Then you can choose reserved seats or, for a general admission show, choose a spot with a good view of special moments. Places where equipment will have to be set up during a show will usually be marked with gaffer's tape. Places where band members will spend lots of time on a stage or b-stage will often have a set list or lyrics to a song taped down there ahead of time. Techs will often sound check equipment in spots on stage where performers will be. And places where artists will go into the audience or pull folks out of the audience will often have a small step or ladder set up near the rail in that spot.

If you want to be close to this:

image from www.sarahlaughed.net

... then look for the 'steering wheel' mic in the rigging, for where security sets up the stepladder to catch him if Bono slips, or better yet, look at photos of where this occurs in relationship to the rest of the stage.

If you wanted to be in front of the snare for "Love and Peace Or Else" ...

image from www.sarahlaughed.net

... you'd have wanted to position yourself in front of the 'X' marked in gaffer's tape on the b-stage.

If you wanted to be serenaded with an acoustic version of "Walk On," you'd just look for the lyrics you can see taped to the edge of the b-stage in the photo below:

image from www.sarahlaughed.net

... and so on.

7) Dress in layers, look at the weather forecast, and don't wear anything you'd particularly be upset to get a beer spilled on. I am horribly unfashionable at outdoor rock concerts. I tend to wear clothes I'd go kayaking in (well, kayaking on a quiet river with no Eskimo rolls anticipated). I hate being cold, participating in an impromptu wet t-shirt contest if it rains, or standing around in soggy socks if someone spills a beer on my feet. Athletic shirts and fleeces that aren't bulky and wick moisture are comfy. And if you're going or meeting up with others, it can be nice to wear something bright or distinctive, or at least a brightly-colored banadana or something you can wave overhead. Remember that it's a lot warmer in a big crowd than at a dinner party in the same space. And don't count on bringing in an umbrella; lots of venues don't allow them and some of those don't have any place where you can check them for the show.

8) If driving to a stadium or arena show, park as close as you're allowed to an exit, and back into the space if allowed. You'll get out of the parking lot much faster. Or, if you don't need the sleep, have some folding chairs and a cooler with some classy food and beverages (I like sparkling water with a bit of juice) in the trunk, and just hang out and relax after the concert until traffic disperses.

9) Perhaps most importantly: roll with whatever's going on. Fuming at traffic will not get you there or home faster. Fuming at other people's misbehavior almost never makes them stop (at least, in my experience talking nicely with them will work if anything will). Enjoy surprises, and, while making requests is fine, accept the what the artist plays as an expression of what the artist wanted to share with you. Be happy for the folks who get a moment on stage, and don't spend the whole show trying to compete to be one of them.

10) Thou shalt have fun! That's what it's all about: celebrating the music together. Rock and roll is chaotic, and it's ALL -- the crowd, the flubs, the favorites, and the surprises -- part of the show.

image from www.sarahlaughed.net

October 1, 2009 in Music | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack