March 27, 2010

Blog Readers and a Click Thru Culture

I have been blogging for about 5 years now, and love the opportunity to write and express myself in this way. It amazes me that people read my stuff, they comment, and even discuss it with me outside of the virtual realm.

But I am also addicted to the stats. Behind the scenes of every website is some kind of  counter. It records every "hit" or visit made to a website. Some counters are more elaborate than others. While I can't narrow it down to an individual person, I can discover where in the world readers come from, what articles are of most interest, how long people stay, how many pages are looked at each day, and much more.

A large portion of visitors to this site, like every other site on the web, stay only a few seconds. The average Youtube video gets watched for only 6 seconds (understandable if you see some of the things people post :) ). They click onto the blog and discover this is not what they are looking for, or they decide that this blog has nothing to offer them or doesn't interest them and they move on. While I want more visitors, I think there is something deeper here that has been stirring as I look at these stats...We are turning into a click-thru culture.

We are looking for something to excite us, catch our attention, thrill us, or appeal to us all in the first 6 seconds!

I have always looked at the stats and tried to figure out ways to get people to stay longer. But lately a new question has been cropping up...why do I care about the drive-bys and click-thrus?

Maybe, we as writers, artists, church planters, pastors, and leaders need to care-less about those who are doing the drive-bys and click-thrus and focus on those who are genuinely interested in what is going on. Maybe it is time to focus on the people at the core.

For a church or church plant there is a fine line to walk that needs to be walked. You certainly don't want to be in-grown or self-focused. You want to evangelize and reach people. Too many churches have died and are dying because pastors and church boards have stopped caring about the people outside the walls. You want people to come to your church.

As artists and writers you want new readers and viewers; you want people to purchase your stuff.

I think refocusing means we ask questions like: Do I want more visitors or more followers? Do I want many people to look at my site for 6 seconds or do I want a regular group who reads the content and interacts? Should we try to keep more of the people who click and leave or invest in the people who love what we do? Do we listen to critique of someone with nothing invested and allow it to ruin our day or do we listen to the people who are most involved and willing to tell us the truth?

As a pastor and as a writer, I have had people tell me how much they hated or disagreed with what I said. Some of them have been close friends and supporters, and I took their comments to heart. Some of them have been drive-bys and click-thrus who just want to spout and leave...sometimes I have been able to let their comments roll off.

The more we cater to and seek after the click-thru crowd...the more we are really chasing the air. Seth Godin calls it the race between the Who and the How Many. "who usually wins...Find the right people, those that are willing to listen to what you have to say, and ignore the masses that are just going to race on, unchanged."

Who are you chasing?

March 19, 2010

C.S. Lewis and the Purpose of Worship

I have been working my way through C.S. Lewis's book Letters to Malcolm, and found this great quote on worship:

Every service is a structure of acts and words through which we receive a sacrament, or repent, or supplicate, or adore. And it enables us to do these things best-if you like, it 'works' best-when, through long familiarity, we don't have to think about it. As long as you notice, and have to count, the steps, you are not yet dancing but only learning to dance. A good shoe is a shoe you don't notice. Good reading becomes possible when you need not consciously think about eyes, or light, or print, or spelling. The perfect church service would be one we were almost of; our attention would have been on God.

But novelty prevents this. It fixes our attention on the service itself; and thinking about worship is a different thing from worshipping...A still worse thing may happen. Novelty may fix our attention not even on the service but on the celebrant. You know what I mean. Try as one may to exclude it, the question, 'What on earth is he up to now?' will intrude. It lays one's devotion waste. There is really some excuse for the man who said, 'I wish they'd remember that the charge to Peter was Feed my sheep; not Try experiments on my rats, or even, Teach my performing dogs new tricks'
Publish Post

March 18, 2010

The Applause of the Conscience

I like this quote from John Adams:
Upon common theaters, indeed the applause of the audience is of more importance to the actors than their own approbation. But upon the stage of life, while conscience claps, let the world hiss! On the contrary, if conscience disapproves, the loudest applauses of the world are of little value.

March 16, 2010

The Most Hope Filling Passage of Scripture

Death is painful. It creates an unwanted separation and leaves us with tons of questions. What is life after death like? What happens when we die? Is this the end? How do those left behind continue with this loss?

I think we all struggle with these questions...they are "ultimate" questions. Poets, writers, philosophers, and scholars of all religions discuss these questions. But none offer hope like the Apostle Paul.

Recently I was teaching a class on Paul's Epistles and was struck by this passage from 1 Thessalonians 4:13-14, "Brothers, we do not want you to be ignorant about those who fall asleep, or to grieve like the rest of men, who have no hope. We believe that Jesus died and rose again and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him."

Because of the promise of the resurrection we are not "to grieve like the rest of men, who have no hope." We know that we will be resurrected so death is not the end. What an amazing promise! We grieve and mourn the absence of those who go before us...but we have hope in being with them when Christ returns and we are resurrected in His Kingdom.

Now that is hopeful!

March 12, 2010

The Power of Facebook

Just saw these stats about Facebook...makes you realize what a big opportunity it is for the Christian message.
Global Audience: 316,402,840

America is ranked #1 in Facebook users
US Audience: 94,748,820
Percent of Global Audience: 29.95%

Gender Breakdown:
Male: 40,750,980
Female: 53,255,660

By Age:
>13: 740,980
14-17: 8,921,600
18-24: 23,612,940
25-34: 23,316,940
35-44: 16,613,480
45-54: 11,271,320
55-64: 6,266,980
65+: 2,795,980
 I find it interesting that almost 3,000,000 people over the age of 65 are using Facebook!

What do these kind of stats say about possible ministry uses?

March 11, 2010

Contextualize or Compromise the Gospel

Here is a great quote from Tullian Tchividjian
For (some) Christians, contextualization means the same thing as compromise. They believe it means giving people what they want and telling people what they want to hear. What they misunderstand, however, is that contextualization means giving people God’s answers (which they may not want) to the questions they’re really asking and in ways they can understand.

This misunderstanding of contextualization has led these people to argue that cultural reflection and contextualization are at best distractions, at worst sinful. They admonish us to abandon these things and focus simply on the Bible. While this sounds virtuous, it ends up being foolish for two reasons. First, as we’ve already seen, the Bible itself exhorts us to understand our times so that we can reach our changing world with God’s eternal truth. To not contextualize, therefore, is a sin. And second, we all live inescapably within a particular cultural framework that shapes the way we think about everything. So if we don’t work hard to understand our context, we’ll not only fail in our task to effectively communicate the gospel but we’ll also find it impossible to avoid being negatively shaped by a world we don’t understand.

In a recent interview, pastor Tim Keller put it this way: “to over-contextualize to a new generation means you can make an idol out of their culture, but to under-contextualize to a new generation means you can make an idol out of the culture you come from. So there’s no avoiding it.”
What do you think?

March 9, 2010

Avatar is Demonic and How Christians Should Approach Movies

The video below is from Mark Driscoll, Pastor of Mars Hill Church in Seattle, and  is causing quite the stir among different Christian magazines and blogs. posted a review of the film, Mark pointed it out in one of his messages (video below), one of ChristianityToday's writers responded to the video, and others have chimed in.

Here is the video...however, this post is not about whether Avatar is or is not demonic.

I have not seen Avatar so I am unqualified to respond about its demonic nature; though I think this might be an overstatement. I am providing the video because it is the basis of inspiration for this post...what is the role of modern entertainment for the Christian?

Here are a few of my thoughts:

All movies have a message they want to get across. In seminary I took a course titled, God and Person in American Film...It was by far the best and most interesting class I ever took. R. Robert Cueni, a guest lecturer for one of the classes, said, "Television exists for the sole purpose of convincing you that you need more stuff. They are not trying to get you to believe in a particular approach to life. Movies, however, exist to give you a certain perspective on life to get you to accept a new idea or way of looking at things."

That statement forced me to ask myself, "Are movies mindless entertainment?" The answer was no.

I think the biggest danger we face when discussing modern media is believing that entertainment is JUST entertainment. Writers, directors, and producers are preaching a message whether we realize it or not. That doesn't mean we can't or shouldn't watch it, but it certainly means we should be aware of that message and able to think the message through biblically.

Our first step should be to understand the movie's message. What is it saying about life? The human condition? The ultimate purpose of human beings? What is the movie's view of God or the ultimate being?

Then we should ask, "What does the Bible say about these things?" How does God's word respond to the beliefs presented in the movie? This is a critical step that we often jump over, but we shouldn't. God's Word and prayer based in our relationship with Jesus Christ should be the primary foundation for our beliefs.

Finally, we can determine which parts we agree with and which parts we disagree with. But...

Just because I don't agree with the message doesn't mean it isn't valuable. I have to understand the message first, but movies can serve many different purposes in our lives.

They can be a good example of a bad example. We can see in some movies where wrong thinking and action can lead even though the overall message of the movie was meant to demonstrate something the moviemaker saw as a positive.

They can define a worldview for us. While I disagree with the entire premise of the movie Powder, it was a good story and it gave a great narrative definition to some wrong beliefs about the universe, the ultimate purpose of human beings, and God. It defined a particular worldview that was and is popular about the "oneness" of the universe with all living things.

They are modern parables. Movies, even ones that are completely incompatible with a biblical worldview, tell great stories. Like novels, movies tell a story from a particular perspective, and, as ministers and Christians, we can use them to relate to people around us in terms and stories they understand. I think we have to start with understanding the message of the movie so we don't endorse it in its entirety, but we can use it to help us tell our story better. We can find within them great illustrations of classic themes: sacrificial love, bravery, honesty, etc.

Christians need to be careful about what fills their minds. I grew up in a very all-movies-are-evil setting. While my mom took us to movies, the church we attended frowned on them. While I certainly don't agree with that belief, I do agree with the underlying premise that Christians need to be careful about what they fills their minds.

Why? Because what fills our minds ultimately fills our souls. It is the reason behind so many whose lives are defined by the world's views rather than the Bible's. It is the reason why so many "Christians" can tell you all the latest stuff on their favorite movies and television sit-coms but can't tell you the last time they spent regular, quality time in God's Word outside of a church service. Jesus Christ and His Word must be the ultimate center of our lives, that which ultimately defines who we are as people.

Should some movies be "off limits" to Christians? Well, in a manner of speaking. There are some movies that no matter how good the "story" is I can't get past the genre. There is also a mistaken belief that before I can see something as wrong I have to experience it. There are many films and "entertainment" pieces that I don't have to see to know they shouldn't be filling my mind as a follower of Christ. While there are some lines that I think are fairly universal for most Christians...there are others that are more a matter of personal conviction.

Another good article is titled How Not to Exegete Culture.

What do you think?