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Sunday, March 16, 2008

Missions Misunderstood Has Moved

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Wednesday, March 12, 2008

The Sabido Method

Have you ever watched one of those insanely melodramatic Mexican soap operas? You know, the ones with beautiful women, beautiful men, and lots of crying and screaming and face-slapping? You may not know this, but those telenovelas have great influence. Believe it or not, they are intentionally filled with subtle, even subversive messages.

In the 1970s, Miguel Sabido, a market researcher for a Mexican television studio, developed a way to influence audiences through storytelling. He started by writing a diversity of characters into the story lines of the popular serialized shows. He branched out from the "good guy/bad guy" architypes and introduced flawed (yet beautiful) protagonists that viewers could relate to. Every story, no matter what the plot, was a tale of change. The good characters would struggle with their secret badness; the bad guys would occasionally surprise everyone by doing something good. All of this, of course, had been done before (and, to be sure, better.)

Sabido's goal was to influence viewers in positive ways. He did so by having the characters in his soaps deal with serious real-life issues. He tackled racism. Sex. Abortion. Death. As his characters changed and grew through these challenges, his views changed and grew as well.

Through storytelling, Sabido engaged millions of people with his agenda. He got them talking about family planning, sexual health, and other social issues. Many people credit his efforts for the plateaued population growth in Mexico. In a way, it was propaganda; weaving social and political messages into popular media programming. In communication theory, it's called the "Sabido Method." No matter what you call it, stories are powerful influencers.

You might be more familiar with the Sabido Method than you think. Remember when your favorite sitcoms in the 1980s and 90s would air "Very Special Episodes?" Like when Blair from The Facts of Life was nearly raped, or when Kimberly Drummond from Diff'rent Strokes suffered from bulimia? The characters of Alex P. Keaton, Ricky Stratton, Punky Brewster, and Mike Seaver were all used to shape our social behavior and attitudes concerning everything from suicide to racism.

In life's soap opera, God's story, we are the characters. He uses the story arcs of our lives to incite, inform, engage, and influence. Being missional is publicly living our story instead of insisting on skipping to the moral at the end.

Sunday, March 09, 2008

Getting Lost In The Story

Why do millions of people around the world tune in every week (many are even willing to pay for it) to watch a convoluted, (half-baked?), confusing serialized television show about plane crash victims stranded on a mysterious island?

The story.

Questions. Unexpected twists. Attention to detail. Artistic nuance. Mythologies. Love. Danger. The unknown. Intentional lack of resolution. Good and evil. The Supernatural. It draws people in and it hold their attention. It evokes a response and inspires creativity. Communities are built around it.

Contrast that with most presentations of the gospel "story." A neatly packaged presentation that is clear, concise, and full of answers. A "subjective" third-hand account where the allegorical dots are connected by lines of propositional truth. It does little to intrigue and works to leave nothing unexplained. Our story sounds tired, contrived, and commercial.

We have a lot to learn about being storytellers.

Thursday, March 06, 2008

Changing Channels

From the early days of television through the 1970's, there were three television networks. They had no competition and total control over what Americans watched on TV.

Then came cable. 24 hours a day of news. Sports. Movies. Weather. Home shopping. Music videos. They focused on smaller markets, but gave people what they wanted to watch. Suddenly, people had choices. Satellite expanded the television universe to micro markets. The soap opera network. The game show network. Do-it-yourself home repairs. Extreme sports, classic sports, international sports. Poker.

Now the internet. YouTube. iTunes. Sidereel. Anyone can watch whatever they want, anytime. And not only watch, but connect with other fans and create their own content.

This is happening with mainstream Christianity as well. Splinters, spin-offs, and startups dot the landscape of American Christianity and provide an infinite number of ways for churches to connect and cooperate. Exclusivity is passé; most of the churches involved are aligned with multiple networks. "Loyalty" is redefined; churches maintain these associations only as long as they serve their intended purposes. Christians used to connect via centralized "broadcasts" such as denominations, personalities, or geography. Now they're connected via the "cloud;" allowing them to partner with others according to their beliefs, worldview, practice, politics, and interests. Some are pretty unique. Others are nearly identical.

The Southern Baptist Convention is NBC in the 1960's. Now there are hundreds of ways for likeminded believers to connect with one another. The Founders movement. Purpose Driven. Mosaic. Allelon. Acts 29. Glocal. The Missional Church Network. CBF. New Baptist Covenant. Emergent. The Antioch Church Network is a new channel to watch.

Why does all this matter?

Because it all comes down to influence. You don't need to be the president of anything to change everything for some people. Steve McCoy is a nobody in his church's denomination. To artistic, reformed-leaning, music-loving, post-denominational bloggers, he's a rock star. Follow his blog for a little while and you'll understand.

And because if you're dependent on one of the old broadcast TV-style networks, you need to find some new ways to connect.

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

The Identity Business

Sure their computers are prettier and crash a lot less than everyone else's, but Mac users are more than just adopters of an alternative operating system. They're members of a club. If you've ever been evangelized by a Mac user, you know what I mean. It's more than a computer, it's a way of life. Mac users look at the world differently than PC users. They dress alike and hang out in coffee shops. All it takes for entry into the club is a thousand dollars (the cost of a MacBook). 

Apple isn't just selling hardware and software; with every shiny new iPod and Mac they're selling identity. 

Mark Driscoll is selling the same thing (for a lot less, though). You can see his admirers and devotees planting churches across the country. They're bold, they're sarcastic, they're unashamedly reformed. They major on the majors, like good theology, social action, and character. They drink, smoke cigars, and watch a lot of movies. They have iPhones, blogs and Flickr pages. They are unimpressed by denominations and traditions, and there are likely one or two of them planting churches in your area

Sure, you could call members of Driscoll's tribe or the Mac Club "followers." You could criticize them for not being unique or original. 

I say, why aren't more of us providing identity? People are looking for a way to make sense of their world, a way to understand who they are in relation to everything else. In Christ, we have that identity. 

I think that would be good news for a lot of people.