Substance over image

Our congregation is currently running an advertising campaign that features a series of thought-provoking headlines. One of those headlines is, “There are no square pegs.” It is meant to leave those who see it thinking for a moment. Combined with other slogans in the campaign, the effect is to suggest that people who feel that they don’t fit in other congregations will find that they are welcome in ours. One of our members said, in response to the campaign, “I have to think about that for a while.” That is the intention of the campaign - to get people thinking - and after they have gotten the opportunity to think to check out what we believe is a unique congregation amidst the field of churches in our community.

I admit that we are taking a risk by running the ads. They may not produce the visitors we hope. It may be that electronic billboards that flash messages for eight seconds at a time and rate through a series of very diverse advertisements are not the right place to get people to think. They are a distraction to traffic. The ads mix in with those for real estate, adult beverages, political concerns, banking services, and a whole host of other promotions. The electronic billboards themselves are only one media for mass advertising that includes everything from the images in magazines and newspapers to the pop up ads that show up on an Internet browser. It may be that triggering emotions is a better way to get people to respond to an advertisement. We have already acknowledged that it will be difficult to evaluate the effectiveness of the advertisements. We may not be able to know exactly whether or not they have produced their desired results. People make a first time visit to a church for a wide variety of reasons. It is hoped that the advertisements will be just one more reason added to a quest that is already going on in the lives of those who see the ads.

I confess that I am no expert in advertising. Like other members of our church, I’ve relied on the knowledge and experience of others. The designer of the campaign is a dedicated church member who has passion and energy for the project. His enthusiasm alone is worthy of our attention.

I’ve never paid much attention to promotion. There is a part of me that is content with occupying an obscure corner far from the spotlight. I experience religion as an opportunity to be faithful and faithful isn’t the same as popular. Nothing draws a crowd like a crowd, so the biggest and fastest growing congregations get the most attention. I’m ok with that and I’m ok with not being one of those congregations. I’m interested in helping our congregation continue to discern its mission and to be involved in genuinely helping others. I’m interested in the best quality worship that we can create. I’m interested in small groups that make deep connections. I’m happy to leave mega churches with maximum audio visual systems to others. I’ll take a quiet prayer group over a venue filled with a crowd any day.

I have a similar attitude to the Internet. I’m not a technophobe. I use a computer multiple times every day. And I do mean every day. I’ve posted a 1,000 word essay on the internet every day for more than a decade now. And I have not missed a single day. I do not have thousands of followers. I and not an internet sensation. And I’m very comfortable with that. I like being a person who writes essays instead of passing on tweets. I enjoy the challenge of original thought and the effort of cogent writing. I write because I want to become a writer, not because I am seeking a huge number of readers. I write because it is what I do, not because others clamor for my words. I’m pretty sure that if I quit tomorrow the majority of my congregation wouldn’t even notice. I would, however.

I believe that my writing has a direct payoff for my congregation even if they don’t read my words. It has long been my contention that despite what you read in many self-help books, time management isn’t really a big problem. It is easy to manage one’s time, making priorities and choosing when to pursue different projects. It is much, much more difficult to manage one’s attention. There are so many distractions and so many ways to lose focus. My life is filled with emails and meetings and interruptions. In the midst of all of that I need to have the skills to focus and remember where my attention is most needed. Some days it is most needed in a hospital room. Other days it is most needed at the scene of a tragedy. Other days it is needed in the planning of worship for the congregation. Productivity for me is not about how many things I do, but about how focused I am when I am doing just one thing. Helping a family to deal with grief or planning a wedding require me to be fully present to that particular situation and not distracted by a long list of things to do.

I write my journal entries in part because focusing on one topic first thing in the morning helps me to manage my attention for the whole day. It is a process that needs to be repeated. It isn’t hard to lose focus. So each day I start by thinking about one thing. Writing clearly enough that some meaning is conveyed to another human being. I don’t judge the quality of the effort by how many people read my message. I don’t know how many people read my journal entries. I write because paying attention to writing allows my mind to also pay attention to people as the day progresses.

Leading worship demands a similar focus to writing. I can’t allow my mind to wander, no matter how serious my other concerns. So I will continue to practice focusing my attention by writing each day. I won’t allow myself to be distracted by a count of how many people are reading.

Copyright (c) 2019 by Ted E. Huffman. I wrote this. If you would like to share it, please direct your friends to my web site. If you'd like permission to copy, please send me an email. Thanks!