Leadership, Elections, & The UMC

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The mid-term elections are over except where they’re still counting or recounting, and what does it mean that the Republican Party was so successful? What does it mean that the UMC is still losing members and we have a Call to Action Report that hopes to turn the tide the other way? I’m still reading Sergio Zyman’s book Renovate Before You Innovate and it has interesting segues between the US election results and the UMC. He advocates that assertiveness in your market niche is extremely important. He says, “Customer loyalty is one of the most perishable commodities in the world.” Just ask Democrats. We just saw Blue States flipping Red, and I know a lot of people who either used to be United Methodist or are now “nothing” – irreligious but spiritual.
Zyman states that reminding people about why you’re so great is important, but you better build on your strengths so well that you garner people’s preference. His descriptor that fits some politicians and the UMC: “You’re an also-ran in a stagnant category.” He uses the rental car business as an example, but listen for the ramifications for the church and politics. “The top-tier players have essentially turned car renting into a commodity business, leaving customers without any real way to tell them apart.” Sounds like Main Line denominations, huh? Or the politics of the same-old-same-old? For instance, have you ever heard the story of the person explaining the difference between Capitalism and Communism. He said “In Capitalism, humans exploit other humans. In Communism, it’s the other way around.” You just trade one set of fat cats for another, UNLESS there is real renovation, building on strengths and leading. It’s called the Church, built on the foundation of Jesus Christ and the traditions of the faith expressed in relevant reasonable ways so that people experience new life: Sounds like the Wesleyan Quadrilateral to me – renovation at work!
Zyman continues his thoughts on stagnant businesses by saying, “Whenever this kind of stagnation happens, the market leader has the most to gain, mostly because when everything else is equal, people go for the bigger brand – it makes them feel they’re getting a deal.” Sounds like part of the reason why non-denominational mega-churches are outpacing us. Maybe it’s because they’re seen as hip, relevant, and they preach the time-tested Gospel. When we try to “Rethink Church,” it sounds like we’re more into heresy than offering certainty in uncertain times. “Open Hearts, Open Minds, Open Doors” said about the same – we stand for nothing and all things. What???
Zyman says, “In politics, it’s a very similar situation: Sameness doesn’t change votes, which is why leaders win about 90 percent of the time. Faced with no significant difference, voters pick the devil they know over the devil they don’t know.” You have to differentiate! You have to give people a reason to do business with you more often so that when they compare you or your congregation/denomination to theirs or none at all, you will prove to them that “Anything they can do, we can do better.” That will take some work, marketing/evangelism, discerning essential core values, and expressing them in ways that people will get, and proving that you can deliver. I’m all for the t-shirt test for church mission statements: If it doesn’t fit on a t -shirt, it doesn’t cut it or qualify. For instance, how about “MD4C” for the UMC – Making Disciples For Christ. Beats the heck out of “Rethink Church” that makes me ponder my doubts more than my faith.
The UMC and the two primary political parties have no one else to blame but themselves for the sad state of their market-shares. Why do you think a Tea Party Movement actually had traction? They marketed well and tapped into people’s emotions against stagnancy. Now I haven’t met a Tea Partier yet that can adequately explain “Constitutional Government,” but they don’t have to if somehow it means “new and improved,” which means homage to the past but relevancy for the present. So the question hits me, “Who is new and improved?” – the UMC, the Democratic Party, or the Republican Party? Interesting thoughts, and I know I don’t have all the answers, but, you better believe this, I am going to do all that I can to present a Relevant Gospel in a Wesleyan Way to our world. There’s no better deal anywhere! We better get with it, and fast!

Giving People a Reason to Drink

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So the innovation versus renovation conundrum is still driving my thoughts this morning. I’m reading a book, Renovate Before You Innovate, by Sergio Zyman that really illustrates the value of both, but especially doing the innovation AFTER you renovate. His premise: Know your core principles, values, strengths and then you MIGHT consider tinkering. His thought is that “Doing the New Thing might not be the Right Thing.” Neither he or I aren’t advocating against risk taking and daring to do something different. The suggestion is not that we figure out what new idea we can propose and pass off on people, but that we answer what people’s needs are.
Sometimes what I think I need and what I really need are two very different things, but, wow, with a birthday coming I would really love an Apple iPad. I sat next to someone in a meeting and couldn’t keep my hands off of it. I think I just might need one. We call Apple innovative, but they are really renovative. They start with what consumers want  versus what they can make and hope people will buy. Renovators start with known needs and are adaptive. Innovators can get so far outside the box that they are answering questions that nobody is asking and that is called futility.
Remember “New Coke”? Well, Sergio Zyman was in charge of introducing it, and it was a flop. Rather than building on Coca Cola’s strengths (“Good Bones”) of authenticity, continuity, and stability; the folks at Coke decided to counter the Pepsi Challenge by innovating and ended up destroying real Coca Cola and came up with a Pepsi-Look-A-Like that was a flop. In Zyman’s words, “What we really should have been doing was giving consumers a reason to drink Coke instead of mindlessly repeating that Coke was part of their life or that it was an advertising icon.” Gosh, sounds like the UMC and many institutions that are trying to decipher the 21st century terrain. Coke reconnected with its customers and 72 days after “New Coke’s” introduction, they went back to the original formula. They innovated and failed. They renovated and succeeded!
Renovation isn’t doing different things; i.e., rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic. Renovation is doing better things with your strengths, building better things out of existing things. Renovation starts with the assets that are already on hand and delivers a product that people desire. Innovation starts with trying to find out what a company can make and then hopes somebody will buy it. It’s a lot easier to sell what you know you can make with existing assets to people you already know who need what you’re offering.
Does our world still need the Gospel? Well, yeah. Take a look around. The need is evident, but what day is easiest to travel around the city streets of Columbia? Sunday. So what are our core values and strengths that can help us renovate the church? I could answer in a lot of ways, but I’m just going to pick one for today – Community. Facebook isn’t community although it’s better than nothing. Nothing better meets the yearning of one soul to know another soul than real face-time. Communities of faith can provide the small groups, the worship experiences, the festivals, block parties, Bible studies, and pot-luck suppers to help people meet one of their most basic needs: community. What is your faith community’s greatest strength? Offer it and say “Hello!” to relevancy and give people a reason to drink from the Gospel waters!