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Southern California Conference to Spend 1 Million to Televangelize LA

Sung H. Oh, SCC Treasurer, writes,

To aid in the financial support of the It Is Written evangelistic campaign, the Southern California Conference has set aside $1,000,000 for expenses such as renting auditoriums, hiring Bible workers, organizing evangelistic teams among our churches, academies and colleges, and providing promotional materials to our churches and communities. It is with this It Is Written campaign in 2009 and 2010, headed by Shawn Boonstra, that we hope to claim the entire city of Los Angeles.

Yes, we should evangelize. There is no question that adding members strengthens the church in significant ways. Thus, the central issue here is not about mission, but about methods.

And to tackle the question if spending a million dollars to cLAim Los Angeles is a productive method, let’s pursue two questions:

  1. is this a wise investment, i.e., do the benefits outweigh the costs?
  2. does this fulfill the stated goal of SCC evangelism?

My argument is no to both. Here are my reasons, followed by something that you can do about it.

Compare the presentation and ideas of Shawn Boonstra. . .

. . .with this pastor, Rob Bell.

. . .or this pastor, Brian McLaren.

Who would you rather drive five nights a week for a month to hear?

I ask that not to put down one, but rather to ask, what exactly does this cLAim effort offer? Fundamentally, it should be about a relationship with God. To whom would the average Los Angeles resident pay attention?

I was born in Glendale and I can’t think of a single person I know in the city who would be interested in committing most of a month to be cLAimed by Mr. Boonstra. In addition, I work for an organization with dozens of interfaith partners in the basin and I can just see ministers’ eyes rolling at this ingratiating approach. Furthermore, I hear that some Southern California Conference Adventists are not happy with the arbitrary divisions of the city for this and the old school media approach. It is Written just completed a series in Portland on Revelation. Really, in this day and age?

Visit the whole It is Written YouTube site. Not that web popularity is a great indicator of value, but most of these videos have been viewed between 3 and 16 times. Even the little videos that Spectrum has produced of folks like Rick Rice and Alden Thompson have garnered about ten to twenty times that many views. If people don’t take the time to watch it online, they aren’t going to try to brave L.A. traffic for a month so listen to the same thing.

Of course, the idea behind mass events like city-wide evangelism is mass appeal, but it appears that just head to head, It is Written doesn’t really have that large of an audience. I have no animosity toward this sort of evangelism or It is Written itself, but shouldn’t the church look for the best use – effectiveness and thoughtfulness – of its constituents’ time and money?

In addition, the dirty, little secret is that most of the folks who get baptized at these large events are already connected to a local church. In fact, you can read through the year-long “reaping”schedule. Local pastors are to turn over their contacts so that they can travel away to be won by It is Written to then return to their local church.

Los Angeles is the media capital of the world. Spending a million dollars on this 80s graphics and music approach just won’t grab the attention of many professionals. Sure plenty of Adventists will attend and “hundreds” will be baptized, but official General Conference stats show that almost half of them will drop out within a year.

Now let’s address the second question.

Here is the homepage of SCC Evangelism.

“The goal of this ministry is to get lay men and women involved in the preaching and teaching of the gospel of Jesus Christ (italics supplied).”

It seems to me that this goal invites the question: how does spending a million dollars to hire a televangelist and rent big spaces get many lay people involved in preaching and teaching? For most of the lay people involved, their duties will including registering people, greeting them, and passing around “decision cards.”

From wikipedia to social networks to blogs to YouTube, the world is moving more and more to a participate culture in which communities work together to create meaning. Unfortunately, a whole conference, in a hotbed of cultural change and innovation is sticking to the old top down approach to sharing the Christian witness. Why hire it out?

Our North American Division has declared the next three years:

  • 2008 is the “Year of Preparation”
  • 2009 will be “The Year of Proclamation”
  • 2010 will be “The Year of Preservation” or discipling.

Since this is the Year of Preparation, perhaps there’s time to prepare something more resourceful and participatory, especially since the year of discipling will creep up soon. As Jesus model’s it’s a lot easier to make disciples if you, not someone, called them.

There are other models in practice. Something like what one church is modeling in Los Angeles right now. Or what the Center for Creative Ministry calls Reconnecting. Or maybe a layperson could come up with something creative that fits his or her local context?

At the end of the day, God calls us to be good stewards and so the questions remain: Is this good value for the time and money? Is it being true to the stated goal of the Evangelism department? Is it written anywhere that It is Written is the best way to spend a million dollars to boost membership?

Why not take a minute and let the Southern California Conference evangelism folks kindly know what you think? You can write them a note, encouraging them to reconsider an outdated, top-down, low return, very expensive approach to community growth.

Here is their contact web form.

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