Saturday, May 8, 2010

Luke 24:13-24 - Sermon Series - Sales and Product

For Sale: Our Witness (Part I)
Luke 24:13-24
Sales and Product

Do you know where the fast growing population of United Methodists is? Africa. Some suggest that soon the majority of Methodists will be African. Over the last 40 years Indonesia has grown from 1.3 million Christians to 11 million. In 1900 Korea had no Protestant churches; now 30% of the country is Christian with over 7000 congregations and over 1,000,000 followers. In communist China from 1997 to 2006 the number of Catholics has increased from 10 million to 16 million, Protestants have grown from 14 million to 21 million. That is 13 million new Christians in 9 years. Do you know the fastest growing belief in the US? Atheism.

It use to be that we send missionaries out into the world to meeting people that have never heard the gospel and to share the love of Christ with them. We still do but it looks like the world is listening.

The United Methodist Church is not going in a positive direction here in the US. Church attendance in 2005 was 3.34 million, the lowest level in reported history. Attendance had decreased by 1.63 percent from 2004 to 2005. In 2006 we as a denomination dipped below the 8 million mark. Some are starting to panic because there is no clear way out of our decline and the younger generation doesn’t seem interested in church either. According to the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, Fewer young adults belong to any particular faith than older people do today. They also are less likely to be affiliated than their parents' and grandparents' generations were when they were young. Young adults also attend religious services less often than older Americans today. And compared with their elders today, fewer young people say that religion is very important in their lives.

That is why the UMC has started the RETHINK Church campaign and why we are starting to head outside our doors and do more for the community, like the Impact Community event on June 5th. But the facts are in the US, in North Carolina, in Thomasville, more and more people are not following Christ. In fact I wonder how long it will take for missionaries to start to come here. I believe we no longer have to send people across oceans to find people who have never heard the gospel. The fact is all we have to do is look around us. We are living in the mission field.

In Adam Hamilton’s book, Selling Swimsuits in the Arctic he conveys that if a church is going to grow we have to learn the art of sales. He makes the argument that everything really comes down to sales. At an interview you have to sell yourself and your skills to the person behind the desk. A politician “has to convince the voters that she is the right person for the job…But her sales job is not finished when she is elected – in a sense it is just getting started. For every piece of legislation she sponsors, she must be able to convince her fellow legislators to support it. This too is sales.” Then there are teachers. As Hamilton says it, “When a teacher stands before a class of twenty-five sixteen-year-olds to teach history or chemistry or composition, he can simply present the material and hope for the best. But the really great teachers know that they must sell their students on the importance of history or chemistry or composition. Their enthusiasm for the subject, their ability to demonstrate the importance of this subject for sixteen-year-old students, will determine how many students look forward to attending class, consider a career in this field, and actively pursue their studies.”

Hamilton states that there are seven keys a person must follow to be successful in sales.
1. He must believe in his product
2. He must believe that people need his product
3. He must understand the needs of his customers
4. He must offer an excellent product
5. He must embody the product
6. He must effectively market the product
7. He must learn perseverance is the key to success in sales

Over these next five weeks we will be looking at these 7 keys and how they apply to us here at Trinity United Methodist Church in Thomasville, NC. I hope we take a long hard look at some things and seek ways we can better our sales as individuals and as a congregation.

But first one area that we all old in common is we are always being sold to. We are consumers and the fun part about being consumers is that we are constantly being sold on items. We know good sales people verses the really bad ones. The good ones who actually could sell swimsuits in the arctic and the bad ones who don’t know when no IS a NO. TV commercials have always fascinated me. There have been some that have stood the test of time and they have come up with very creative ways to sell their product. Let’s look at a couple.

Budweiser did a great job in this commercial because it did a couple of things. They created a catch phrase that everyone and I mean EVERYONE used during this time. This commercial looked like everyday guys who liked hanging out, watching the game, and drinking beer. Their inside jokes were shown to everyone and let everyone come in on the joke. Whassup equaled a good time and a good time thus equaled Budweiser beer. Let’s see if you remember this next one.

This commercial was successful because there was a contest wrapped up into it to see if anyone could repeat the song. This made people memorize the McDonald’s menu and then go to McDonalds to repeat it. What it got people to do, especially the kids hoping for free McDonalds, is thinking back McDonalds all the time and how good Big Mac, Mc DLT, a Quarter-Pounder with some cheese, Filet-O-Fish, a hamburger, a cheeseburger…well you get the point…how good all of that would taste. The last one is the famous Tiger commercial.

What commercial do you think I was going to show? I mean after watching this doesn’t everyone want to pick up a pitching wedge and see how many times they can bounce a golf ball on it? It is ridiculously simple and yet so very effective. All of these commercials all knew what they were selling and they were coming up with great ways to convey their product to the masses.

Last year Bishop Goodpaster sold us on the Power of 3 campaign. It is the bishop’s hope that in the next three years (now 2.5) we will have 300,000 members in Western North Carolina Conference, 30,000 more in worship, 3,000 mission teams sent out annually, 300 resurrected churches, 30 new faith communities. Each church was asked to do their part and we made projections of what we think we could do in 2010 at our annual Charge Conference meeting.
We said that we were going to increase our membership from 190 to 196. That means we would gain 6 new members in 2010, so far we have gained 4. We said that we would increase our worship attendance by moving from 87 per Sunday to 90. That is harder than it sounds because we all know what is coming…the summer and we have to include all those Sunday in the year too. In the first four months of the year in 2008 we averaged 89 in worship, in 2009 =88, and this year we are at 93. We told the conference we would send out at least 10 mission teams out into the world. With this 90 in 90 challenge we are well on our way to almost doubling that amount. We are moving achieving these goals which makes me wonder if we made them too easy.

At a District meeting with the Bishop, with clergy and laity, he said that if a church would be self sustaining, pay 100% of their apportionments, pension and healthcare costs, and be financially okay, that congregation needs to average 125 in worship. I hope that by the end of this three year campaign, by 2012, only a year and a half away, we have 125, on average, in worship. Think for a moment how that would change things for Trinity. No more worrying if we are going to make it. No more looking at our finances and watching the months go by without paying anything to the conference. We had 115 in worship for homecoming and it felt full and exciting. Think what that would be like to have even more week in and week out worshiping with us. Think about it. Let that image soak in.

We can get there. We are more poised for that type of growth than any other United Methodist Church in Thomasville. We have a kind and warm congregation. We have a generational congregation. What I mean by that is that we have older members, middle age members, young adults and what feels like at some Children’s Moments, thousands of kids. There is no other congregation (even the largest) in Thomasville that can boast that 1/3 of its congregation every week are children. This gives us all the foundation we need to build something wonderful here but it will take work.

The work we have to learn to do is sales. We have to learn how to be like those commercials. We have to learn how we leave this place and tell others what is going on here and in our own lives. This all starts with the first key, believe in your product.

What product are we selling to the world? In a country when not believing in god is growing faster than any other believe in a God, what are we supposed to be out there selling. The answer is simple, we are selling God, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit to be exact. We are selling a Triune God who loves us so much that he sent his Son to die our death on the cross and who offers us grace and love that is unimaginable but also free. If that is our product my question for you this week is…do you believe in what you are selling?

Do you believe in Jesus Christ and what he has done for you? We will get to how to sell this to others in other weeks but right now this is where we have to start. Do you believe in Jesus Christ? The two on the road to Emmaus believed in something about Jesus. They thought he was a prophet and that his body was not in the tomb. All this is somewhat true. Jesus is more than a prophet though he is the Son of God. His body was more than just not in the tomb, he was resurrected. What is it you believe about Jesus? What has he done for you?

It is scary to think about how many people have never really thought about that. They have come to church their whole life and because of that no one has ever asked them that question. Yet if you cannot answer that question how can you tell others about it? So what I would like to happen is have the ushers come forward and to pass out note cards. On these note cards I want you to write the answer to this question…What has Jesus Christ done for me? You don’t have to write your name on it or sign it. But on this card simply put down the answer to What has Jesus Christ done for me? {SLIDE 54} Thom is going to play some music for a couple of minutes to give you time to think and pray about your answer. Then I want you to write the answer down and hold on to the card.

At the end of this time we will be moving into communion and when you come forward to receive the elements I want you to place your card in the basket. The blank bulletin board in the hallway will come to life with these this week and next week you can see how we as individuals and together as a congregation profess our answer to this question…What has Jesus Christ done for me? When we find that answer we can find our belief in the product we are selling. Now don’t think you are trying to impress anyone, I’m looking for the deep truth in your soul. I’m looking for the answer that God is stirring you to write down right now. The truth that only you and God know…let us now take some time to pray silently and figure out our answer…


John Meunier said...


I don't know if your blog is the proper place for this, but I'd love to see your follow up thoughts about this sermon series after you have finished it.

How did it go?
How was it received?
What fruit did it bear?

Unknown said...

Thank John. I think the blog might be a good place for reflections. It may take a while. My master plan (insert evil laugh here) is this sermon series is setting up some changes during the summer to be ready for the fall, a time when lots of people look to start back at church.

I know you are battling with that whole sermon series/lectionary mind warp thing too so I'll keep you posted.

Rebecca Of Tomorrow said...

I thought it went well yesterday....except that you had my kids saying "Whazzup!!!???" for the rest of the afternoon, thank you very much :-).

Woodduck said...

Sad, Glad you are working on turning the trend around.I heard just last week that a Methodist Church in Pantego, NC would be closing it's doors.

Jonathan Marlowe said...

Hi Jim, interesting thoughts here. I am reluctant to use the metaphor of sales to describe the church's ministry. But anyway... see you at conference!

Unknown said...

Thanks for the feed back everyone.

Jonathan...why the reluctance. I do understand this can be a very thin metaphor and the holes can be opened up quickly. As a consumer society though I find this is a way of talking that everyone does relate to in some way. Although there is a HUGE difference between trying to sell shoes/beer/food/cars and being a church that follows the Great Commission.

Jonathan Marlowe said...

Hi Jim, I suppose I am reluctant because I don't really see Jesus, Paul, or John Wesley as trying to 'sell' anything. They were offering their ministry - in the hopes that others would accept the free gift -- but to put it in terms of sales seems to frame it as an exchange between two self-interested parties - and if that is so, then I don't think we have allowed ourselves to be sufficiently challenged by the offense of grace. Just my thoughts. I am weird.

John Meunier said...


I do not think you are weird. The language of "sales" might cause some discomfort for a lot of people. It does bring in ideas and connotations for some people that conflict in their mind with grace and the gospel.

But Adam Hamilton in his book and Jim in his sermon are not suggesting we become used car salesmen. In biblical times, Paul used classical rhetoric to construct some of his "sermons." Sales - for better or for worse - is the rhetoric of 21st century American culture.

John Wesley responded to a critic once who said he should leave more to grace and stop acting as if salvation depended on human effort. Wesley responded that people should act as if everything depended on human effort and then let God use us a conduits of grace.

This is my response. I had some of your initial negative reaction when I read Hamilton's book. This is some of how I've thought through it since then.