I have gone over to the dark side! The vending machine at St. John’s has Pepsi and Coke products and my usual preference is Diet Pepsi. However, since Coca-Cola has come out with the customized cans with the names on the side it’s been a no-brainer for me to switch. I’ve been popping coin into the machine just to find out “who” I get. This morning, to my great chagrin, I got nothing, nada, zip – a plain old can. This cool marketing ploy worked. I immediately got more money out to get another can. The soda vending machine has become my very large “fortune cookie” of sorts, inviting me to buy with more than a bit of anticipation. What if the church did something innovative like this in the ways that we share Christ?
Of course, at first we would have the nay-sayers who repeat the mantra of every dying church, “We’ve never done it that way before.” We’ve got the muddling middling skeptics that are almost in favor of a new idea, but want to know how much it’s going to cost, whether the benefits outweigh the risks, and every other what-if imaginable. These folks can usually be brought along and buy into a new idea if you overwhelm them with positive data. First they have to trust the data and if you’ve ever heard a preacher name a statistic or percentage they probably made it up on the spot. Just saying! In other words, if you’re trying to convince the middlers, make sure to have the right info and the right spokesperson!
Praise the Lord for the risk-takers whose first response is, “Let’s give it a try!” Yes, indeed, I am grateful for the people who DO NOT take the lowest bid on everything and instead say – “You have to spend money to make money!” And that is exactly what Coke has done with their cans. Certainly, it costs more money to produce this plethora of named cans, but it’s worked, at least on me!
So, now that we know it works, in order to know if this is something applicable to the church, we have to ask, “Why does it work?” We don’t need to ask how much it costs, how they physically do it, or anything else for that matter if we know the “why.” If we can answer the “why” question we can determine our ability or inability to extrapolate the Coke can phenomena into something that I’ll call “Coca-Cola Christianity.”
So why does it work? Part of the answer is what I’ve already hinted at in the fortune cookie analogy. Fortune cookies are pretty innocuous things and almost tasteless, yet we compulsively have to crack them open to read what’s inside. Have we made our faith and our churches that irresistible? Wouldn’t it be amazing if we had such a vibrancy, sense of expectancy, and excellence about us that people couldn’t stay away on Sunday mornings! Better yet, wouldn’t it be great if people found us personally so engaging and magnetic that they just HAD to ask us, “What is it about you?” We could and should answer, “Jesus!”
Other things about the Coke can thing that has made me switch brands have to do with the personalization. I have been to www.shareacoke.com and found out that I can do everything from get cans with my own name on them, the names of other people in my life, and much more. Wow, the site even allows me to share a “virtual” can with someone. I like the “What-About-Me” and “What’s-In-For-Me” aspect of the marketing. I know that our faith and church worship are supposed to be about worshipping God, but get real – if we don’t get something out of it, we’re not going to put anything into it. I don’t want to be so crass as to repeat that oft-said statement, “I want to be fed,” but isn’t there some truth in it, however self-centered it sounds?
Making personalization a part of our church mission statement might be a little overboard, but it sure works for the neighborhood bar “where everybody knows my name.” Therefore, we ought to wear our name tags, and preachers (especially new ones like me) should pray through pictorial directories and learn names and faces. I want to be able to call everyone by name whether it is in the communion line or the grocery store one. Man, if people call me by name I get the feeling that I matter. Churches that take Jesus to the streets need to call people by name and make everyone feel important. That’s the Gospel, isn’t it?
Didn’t Jesus say in John 3:16, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son…?” The Gospel is personalized! God so loved you, and God so loved me. The Gospel isn’t stuck in past tense, either. God currently and forever loves you so much that he gave Jesus for you. That’s my hope with a Coke Can Christianity – to let people know individually and in inviting ways that our faith works miracles and can change attitudes, lives, even our world. Coca-Cola Christianity is sitting right in front of me as I type this. My Diet Coke can says, “Share a Diet Coke with your BFF,” and I know that my Best Friend Forever is Jesus! The whole world needs to hear the same message, and you and I are the Coke can to do it.