intriguingly different

teaYesterday Sally and I enjoyed afternoon tea (little fingers raised) at Wivenhoe House Hotel – a wedding anniversary gift we thoroughly enjoyed. The picture here doesn’t fully do justice to it, but you get the idea…

I was fascinated by the hotel’s strapline: “intriguingly different”. That is an intriguing strapline, it’s certainly different. It is very understated. It is enigmatic. It is memorable (at least I remembered it). Where some hotels will promote themselves on the basis of their value for money, levels of comfort, quality or other desirable qualities by which potential customers will evaluate them this hotel has chosen something that doesn’t tell us anything about them except that the difference will intrigue.

It got me wondering about whether churches use similarly enigmatic straplines. Our church is Colchester Baptist Church and our stated purpose (on a lot of our literature) is ‘to follow Jesus Christ and make Him known.’ It’s not really a strapline, more of a statement but to non-churchgoers I wonder whether that is as enigmatic as ‘intriguingly different’. I also wondered whether (copyright permitting) any church would choose ‘intriguingly different’ as a strapline!

How would you promote a church?

Be blessed, be a blessing

MOTs and Posters – find a link if you can!

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Go on car, you can do it!

This morning I dropped my car off at a garage for its annual MOT test. I don’t think that there is anything major wrong with it, but I always leave it with a sense of apprehension in case there is something terminal or expensive hidden under the bodywork.

 

As I was walking home I noticed posters in peoples’ homes and cars supporting different political parties in the imminent elections (local and European). I wondered why people do that. Is it simply to declare their allegiance? Is it in the hope that if enough people do it for one party the resulting peer pressure will encourage others to vote the same way, or perhaps deter people who would support another candidate from bothering to vote because they don’t think they will make a difference? Are they hoping that the sight of a poster in a car in front of me will persuade me to vote that way? (And if so, why haven’t I heard more about the ‘Baby on Board’ party?)

It got me reflecting a little bit on how people perceive churches. Not the people, but the buildings. (Yes I know the church is the people, but we confusingly use the same word for our premises). Ours is currently clad in scaffolding as we have a new roof fitted. But it almost looks as if the building is being demolished. We have now put up a banner across the scaffolding that says ‘Welcome to Colchester Baptist Church’ to convey the message that we are still very much open for business. But ancient buildings (especially if in a state of disrepair) can convey a message.

And then there are the posters outside. I think that we churches may have cornered the market in cheese, for example: “CH–CH – what’s missing? UR”. But is it better that we have something outside the premises than nothing? It is certainly possible that God will use a poster to speak to someone, but I have not heard of it yet.

Do you advertise your weekly events? We have a list of the weekly activities in one of our notice boards at the front, which is changed weekly. We have also recently put a QR code* on it so that people can get linked directly to our website if the so choose.

And that then brings me to the virtual street front. Websites can attract or deter people. If they are visually unattractive or contain out of date information it conveys a different message to the well-designed and up to date website. I think our church’s website is rather good (have a look at it at www.colchesterbaptistchurch.org.uk). I know that we often have people come to our church because they found us on the internet. It does help that our website usually comes up first when you search for ‘Colchester church’ because two of the three parts of our name are in that search. If we slipped down the list I would be tempted to suggest that we change our name to ‘AAA Colchester Baptist Church’!

However, believe it or not, (and regular bloggists will believe it) I wasn’t going to write about how churches visually represent themselves. I was going to write a bloggage about the importance of regular maintenance for your car in order to keep it in good condition so it will sail through the MOT test. It is when a car is neglected that problems are more likely to get worse because they are not recognised and dealt with early. It is when a car is driven relentlessly and we don’t check the oil levels or other fluids that damage can occur to the engine.

And of course the same is true of our faith. If we take God for granted, if we neglect to feed on the Bible, if we don’t spend time in prayer, if we are not spending time being nourished in worship, if we are not taking care of our ‘soul’ we should not be surprised if God feels distant and our faith feels dry.

And that (tadaaa!) brings me to draw together the disparate threads of this bloggage and appear to be coherent. Because while the premises (physical and virtual) do speak about the church, it is of course the state of the church (ie the people) that will make most impact on those around us. Back to us being good free samples of Jesus I suppose.

Best not wait for an MOT to find out how we’re doing…

Be blessed, be a blessing.

*QR codes are those strange squares with a mixture of black and white blocks in them. They are a different sort of bar code – each one unique.

Christmas starts here

In previous years the Churches Advertising Network has been rather controversial in its Christmas Ads. My favourite had the caption – “Talk about a bad hair day: you’re a virgin, you’ve just given birth, and now three kings have turned up!”

I liked the controversy and thought provokingness (another new word brought to ou by the inventor of ‘bloggage’ and ‘technoloiterate’). I like to think they made some people think, and it seemed that the only people who got upset were Christians.

This year they are less controversial.

What do you think?

Be blessed, be a blessing.

image

a fun bloggage

My bloggerel seems to be influenced by breakfast cereal at the moment. This morning as I was munching on my non-brand wheat-based biscuits I glanced at a box of crispy rice cereal that was left on the table. On the front was an advert for a ‘fun colour me in activity’ on the back of the packet. Call me cynical [pause to allow you time to shout ‘cynical’ at the screen] but I reckon that if someone has to tell you that an activity is fun, it may not be as good as you might hope. And the relationship between actual fun and promised fun may be inversely proportional: the more fun you are told the activity / venue / event will be, the less you will have.

‘Fun’ is a word that is used to describe all sorts of activities, and seems to be the default word that advertisers drop in to their adverts in the hope that we will want to buy it / do it / go there.

Our local leisure centre proclaims that it offers ‘Year round fun for all the family’

A free games website offers ‘ thousands of fun games for free’

Slightly overdoing it is ‘Fort Fun in Eastbourne, the Family Fun Park which provides outdoor and indoor fun for kids of all ages’

Long distance races are now called ‘Fun Runs’ (two words I have not often associated with each other).

A Google search for ‘fun’ yielded 3.5 BILLION results!

Regardless of my cynical view of ‘fun’ in advertising, it is clearly something that we humans like, otherwise they would not spend some much time, money and effort telling us where and how we can get it.

Sooo, and some of you are already way ahead of me, should we be describing church as ‘fun’? Well, if my cynical view is right, we should never label any church activity as ‘fun’ because it won’t be fun when people come. But the problem is that many people would associate the two words ‘church’ and ‘fun’ even less than I associate ‘fun’ and ‘run’. There is a serious problem here (pun intended).

Church is viewed as serious, boring, dull, out of touch. And we have not done much to dispel those views.

Don’t get me wrong, I am not suggesting that we get all frivolous. Neither am I suggesting that solemnity, reverence and awe do not have a place in church. But we have represented Jesus as someone who does not smile, as a ‘Man of sorrows, acquainted with grief’ without also representing him as the one who was accused of being too much of a party animal, who laced his teaching with humour and who, I believe, wore a smile more often than a scowl. The film Dogma starts with a Catholic Cardinal recognising that the church has an image problem and coming up with a solution. A new sigil (look it up): the Buddy Christ (pictured).

I think that it’s intended to poke fun at church attempts to be cool, trendy, hip, or any other words that lie behind similar attempts in the ‘real’ world. And I am with the film makers to a great extent. It just comes across as laughable (not the right sort of fun) or cringeworthy. So what should we do? Well, if my belief about Jesus is right, and if we are meant to be good free samples of him, the best way that people will see that being a Christian does not mean you have to surrender the right to laugh is by us being, er, fun.

Instead of holding coffee mornings, perhaps we could hold games mornings. Instead of tutting, perhaps we could giggle.

I love watching the sitcom Miranda. I think it is well-written, winsome and funny. Miranda’s mother has a phrase that drives her daughter mad because it is a stock answer to any objections or concerns she may have: “Such fun!”

Wouldn’t it be great if that was one of the characteristics people saw in us, the church, the collection of free samples of Jesus.

Be blessed, be a blessing.

Why did Jesus’ popularity mushroom? Because he was a fun guy to be with.

[Okay, I apologise for that, but I could not resist].

Such fun!

bad ads

Is it just me, or are adverts becoming more annoying? Not necessarily the ones on TV, but the ones that intrude on our daily routines.

I just had a panic online when a pop-up advert I was not expecting popped up and told me there was a problem that needed fixing. I know enough not to click on them, but getting rid of them by clicking on the ‘x’ always fills me with dread in case someone has changed things around and it actually means ‘accept’ rather than ‘go away’. It led me to post a warning on Facebook, just in case, until I had checked it out and been assured that it was not a genuine problem.

I have discovered that sometimes adverts appear at the bottom of bloggages here. I have to say that I have no control over them and am not endorsing any of them, I am not sponsored by any of them and I get no revenue from any of them.

There are adverts all over Facebook. They may or may not be genuine, but I am not going to click on them, just in case.

And don’t get me started on the spam emails offering me… ahem, you know… or telling me that someone I have never met wants to give me millions of pounds, or that I have won lotteries that I have not entered.

Then there is the amount of junk that gets lobbed through our letterboxes every day. It must be about a tree a week that is paying the price for us being told that our (rented) house is valuable and estate agents would like to Crammed mailboxsell it for us, that someone who can only afford a cheaply photocopied piece of paper is qualified to come and clean our carpets, that there is takeaway food available, and so on…

And now they are knocking on our doors trying to get us to sign up for charities, change our electricity suppliers and buy double glazing (don’t they ever check the windows before they knock?).

This is not so much a grumpy old man whinge as an observation. Don’t these people realise that they are annoying us? Don’t they realise that the more they annoy us the less likely we are to respond to their adverts?

I hope and pray that churches never fall into that trap. It seems to me that Jehovah’s Witnesses are close with their persistent campaign of door-knocking that has now become such a cliche that it is almost comical. It seems to me that people who stand on street corners haranguing passers-by with quotes from the Bible and telling them that they should turn or burn are in the same league.

I’m not suggesting that we should keep quiet, or that we should not be sharing the most amazing news the planet has ever had. Far from it. But please let’s think about whether we are going to be more annoying that a blessing. I doubt that many people have been irritated into the Kingdom of God!

Which list of words seems more attractive to you:

Love, service, friendship, blessing, support, encouragement, peace, prayer,  generous

Sin, death, hell, shouting, cold calling, interrupting, uninvited

Be blessed, be a blessing.

Responding to an advert:

A large, well established, Canadian lumber camp advertised that they were looking for a good lumberjack. The very next day, a skinny little man showed up at the camp with his axe, and knocked on the head lumberjacks’ door.

The head lumberjack took one look at the little man and told him to leave. “Just give me a chance to show you what I can do,” said the skinny man.

“Okay, see that giant redwood over there?” said the lumberjack. “Take your axe and go cut it down.”

The skinny man headed for the tree, and in five minutes he was back knocking on the lumberjack’s door.

“I cut the tree down,” said the man. The lumberjack couldn’t believe his eyes and said, “Where did you get the skill to chop down trees like that?”

“In the Sahara Forest,” replied the puny man.

“You mean the Sahara Desert,” said the lumberjack.

The little man laughed and answered back, “Oh sure, that’s what they call it now!”

taking a bath

Today I am taking Mr Tall (aka Thomas) to Bath University for him to look around and for them to have a look at him.

We have arrived VERY early – thanks to the M25 not being as busy as it can be, an early start, and the service station where we stopped for breakfast being almost empty.

Just a quick reflection today that first impressions make a big impact. I suspect Bath Uni will be well-prepared to receive and impress prospective students and the students will try to make a good first impression. So what do people make of our church buildings the first time they come in? What do they make of us as a church of Christians the first time they encounter us? And how much effort do we put into it?

A thought from Milton Jones’s Twitter feed. A tadpole in a pond with a huge quiff (?)