(I’ve been working on this post for over a week, when I wasn’t writing ridiculously long Lost-related posts. I could write a lot more about this topic, but will stop for now. Click here to read last year’s post, Big Omaha…and Jesus.)

Some quotes from Big Omaha
Being part of something bigger than yourself. -Tony Hsieh
Focus on what won’t change. -Jason Fried
Scale 1-on-1 relationships. -Gary Vaynerchuk
Hard to serve God if you’re a nightclub promoter. -Scott Harrison.
Core values are never changing. -David Hauser

I work as an Art Director at Christ Community Church (CCC) in Omaha, NE. I’m also a licensed and ordained pastor. I’m sometimes asked why I would go to a conference like Big Omaha. What is the benefit? Last year, I wrote a post talking about how attending Big Omaha impacted my life and work. Here are some thoughts about how this year’s Big Omaha conference impacted my life and work.

Since last year’s Big Omaha conference, I’ve been following Jason Fried’s work on Twitter, his company’s blog, and his book Rework. Something I’ve been thinking about lately is his concept of focus on what won’t change. He discussed this point at the conference, and I think it’s a good point for Christians to consider. It’s easy for people working in ministry to get caught up in the latest trends, focus in too much about accessibility, and mimic what others are doing instead of developing their own identity and culture that is a fit for them and their work. This video parodies how a number of evangelical churches are becoming the same.

(click here if video doesn’t appear)

This is not to say that marketing and accessibility aren’t important. They are vital. Gary Vaynerchuk said “marketing is queen”. However, “content is king”. For churches, they need to make sure that priority number one is Jesus. Focus on what won’t change. What doesn’t change? Jesus, the Bible, helping people in need, and so much more.

I like to always be learning. While it’s good to know the latest trends in culture and tech, especially with my work, what’s more important for my work is studying the Bible, prayer, knowing Jesus, helping and serving people in need and more. It’s nice and all that I know the rumored details about the soon-to-be-released iPhone, but when I’m counseling someone are they going to care that I know that? Recently, I was on the on-call pastor and I had a single mother come in needing help. It’s kind of hard to provide hope and counsel if I spend all my hours reading Mashable. I need to be careful about this. Since I do like to know the latest trends it’s easy to get immersed in all the information. I’m always cognizant to start the day with what’s vital, the “focus on what won’t change”, so I know it will be a part of every day.

The flipside? I want my non-pastoral work to be to be excellent. Scott Harrison said it best when he said charity: water “wouldn’t suck at design”. He also talked about having “brand excellence”. Churches need this desperately. I don’t know if Christians realize how many people they turn off with bad design. It’s not that design is elevated above all else, but it should play a role in ministry. “Content is king. Marketing is queen”.

Recently, CCC did a rebranding. It was a process, and the hardest thing with it may have been getting people to understand why we didn’t need a cross in our brand. For some reason, bad design is a theme with ministries. I laughed when Scott Harrison talked about church websites having “blinking gifs”. If you have great design, a consistent brand, and marketing that is thought through, it will draw people in to your ministry. I think this whole area has improved in recent years, within churches. (One nice resource? Church Marketing Sucks.)

What charity: water is doing with their marketing is amazing. I thought Scott’s presentation was the best at Big Omaha this year. He shared his story and talked about his humble beginnings. Humble in the sense that he was living a hedonistic lifestyle as a nightclub promoter, but then changed his life. He wanted to do something for God, but no ministry would take him because of his past. Sad. That’s not like Jesus. Jesus reached out to everyone, especially those that the “church” deemed “sinners”. Jesus saw their hearts and their potential. Just think if Mercy Ships hadn’t accepted Scott to be a part of their ministry? 1,000,000 people would not have clean water today.

Most churches have the formula backwards. They say you must

  1. believe
  2. behave
  3. belong

What Mark Ashton, Lead Pastor of CCC, talks about is:

  1. belong
  2. behave
  3. believe
It’s great when anyone comes to faith, but if we wait on someone to believe and behave correctly, we may never have someone belong. People need to know they are always welcome and can help out. Do you think Scott Harrison would be making any kind of impact if he told people they couldn’t support charity: water unless they believed and behaved the same way as him?
People connected with Scott because he invited them to belong. His story connected with the audience. He champions an issue that is at the root of many problems, access to clean water. 88% of the diseases on the planet relate to dirty water and lack of sanitation. He goes to the root of the problem. How often does the church not go to the core of a problem? It just skims the surface without addressing the real issue. He showed the needs and how simple it is to meet the needs. $5,000 gives 250 people access to clean water.
Scott showed that anyone can make a difference in this world if they give themselves to it. Yeah, it takes a time, but if you commit to the idea you can make a positive impact in this world. If a former NYC nightclub promoter, who was $40,000 in debt, can do it, then we don’t have an excuse. Maybe it’s not on the scale of charity: water, but we can make a difference. No excuses.

That point transitions into something Tony Hsieh discussed in his presentation. We need to be a part of something bigger than ourselves. Jesus talks about this throughout his teachings. We need to be loving our neighbor, we need to be helping those in need, we need to give of our resources. Tony was onto something when he said long-lasting happiness comes when you are part of something bigger than yourself. Our lives have meaning then, and we can endure the ups and downs because we know we have a higher purpose.

I think people truly want this deep down. They don’t want to keep chasing the “pleasure high” that Hsieh talked about. I think it’s one reason why Tony and Scott’s presentations resonated with so many people. (And challenged many in the audience.) People want life to have meaning. With my work, I need to make sure that’s always being communicated. It was a motivating factor for me getting involved in missions and humanitarian work. I wanted my life to have purpose and meaning.

Another thing that Hsieh talked about, that many other speakers echoed, was establishing a company culture and not deviating from it. David Hauser called it the building block of a great company, the reason for being. These values never change, and one cannot compromise on them. Jesus never deviated from his core values, his reason for being. Who did this infuriate? Not the “sinners”, but the “religious”. What is there for Christians to learn? Jesus never compromised his message, yet people were drawn to him. There was a “culture” of love, hope, faith and truth that permeated throughout his teaching and being. He didn’t have to rely on slick marketing to attract people, because he stuck to his “core values and culture”. Because of this, people told others about him and crowds attracted to him.

What is the culture a church needs to establish? What are the core values? Look to Jesus. What did he not compromise on? Too often, it seems the core values of a number of churches are in line with what Pharisees would think. Dress this way, act this way, don’t interact with those people…et cetera. Jesus said, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart with all your soul with all your strength  with all your mind and strength and your neighbor as yourself”. (Luke 10:27 ESV) This is one core. We may say it is, but does our work reflect that? Does the culture and values a church establishes reflect that? Or, does it reflect, “You don’t look like you should be here. You probably should go somewhere else”. (I’ve been on the receiving end of that.)

How did Jesus launch his church? It was through discipleship, through 1-on-1 relationships. He had amazing teaching that impacted the crowds, but the people who were truly touched by him had a 1-on-1 interaction with him. It’s like Gary Vaynerchuk said, we need to scale “1-on-1 relationships”. I work at a church where 5,000 people call it home and 3,000 worship there on any given Sunday. How do you scale 1-on-1 relationships there? How can people feel they are noticed, respected, served and loved? This can be done in any number of ways, but those that are passionate about a church usually have had a 1-on-1 relationship that positively affected them in some way. Someone answering their questions, making them feel welcome if they were a visitor, praying with them, directing them to where they need to go, sharing with them about opportunities, and more.

Christians often talk about Christianity not being a religion, but rather a relationship. A 1-on-1 relationship with Jesus. If so, Christians need to make sure they have the same kind of positive impact in their 1-on-1 relationships with others. They need (I need) to reflect Christ in those relationships.

Sometimes people in the church will stretch a concept to make it fit their theology. I usually see this with art where someone will stretch the meaning of a song or movie to work within their message. It doesn’t really fit their message, but they “look cool” because they just referenced the latest pop culture trend. The thing that is interesting to me is the concepts presented at Big Omaha do not need to be molded to fit into Christianity. A lot of them already are Biblical principles. Seeing them used and leveraged in different ways is cool to me.

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