Assimilation learnings from the eclipse
Yesterday was an exciting day in our country. As the solar eclipse made it's way across North America, it unified our polarized nation, even just for an hour and a half.
People got a crash course on Astronomy as they were taught what to look for when they gazed at the orb that brings all light to our planet and distinguishes night from day. They learned terms like "shadow bands", "Bailey's beads", and "corona" to direct their focus at certain features of it. The corona is really all you can see once the eclipse is in its totality and when that happens, you see how dazzling the light of the sun is. You can even make out solar flares that were not visable to your eye before.
What's fascinating to me is that the tern,"corona" is used in one of the oldest versions of the Bible, the Latin Vulgate (c. 4th Century). It is used to describe Jesus:
"The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being" -Hebrews 1:3
The English word "radiance" was chosen as a translation for "corona" in Latin and of the original Greek word that meant, "a separated brightness". The word "corona" literally means "crown" (think of all those medieval paintings with Jesus' head surrounded by a circle of light like a crown).
So here's what the writer of Hebrews is saying: If God is light (like the sun) and Jesus is his radiance (like the corona), then Jesus is the part of God you can see.
I'll take it step further. Even if God is hidden from view, obscured by sin, fear and disbelief, or too dazzling to comprehend, look at Jesus. He will reveal to us the existence of what we cannot see, yet need to experience.
As I reflect on the people who gathered together from sea to sea yesterday to catch a glimpse of the sun's corona, I am thinking these thoughts about connecting guests at our churches:
1. Unity and revelation come from Jesus. If we want to see people connecting with God and us across racial, economic and political lines, dazzle them with the good news about Jesus. He is universally comprehendible even when other things about God and the Bible may not be. This is something to keep in mind for our assimilation programs, not just our worship services. When we do, people will be drawn to the "path of totality" just like people who flew in from Europe and Asia to see the total eclipse in its fullness. This amounts to giving people the right set of glasses so they can see God.
2. Things become more real when they are hidden. When people first experience God, Jesus and your church. purposely hiding certain things can allow you to make him more real and your church more connectable. Focusing on God's love, his presence with them, how he makes himself known in daily life and common struggles is good in worship. Focusing on your denominational brand, concept of membership, statement of faith and standards for volunteering reveals what WE want them to know, not what they want and need to know now. Revealing to them the holiness and immutability of God, your church's eschatology, the rich symbolism in the Mosaic Law and the like, can be like asking them to look directly at the sun. What we need to do is eclipse certain things and hand them a special pair of glasses so they can simply see Jesus and the path of connection to your church. God will become real when they see Jesus and your connection path and all the rest will come through that.
I wonder how many people had heard of "Baileys Beads" before yesterday. I hadn't! I don't think anyone would have even cared before yesterday, yet I was looking for Baileys Beads, even on the televised versions of the eclipse. Keeping that in mind, let's not let guests know all the things about our church, about God or the Bible before they experience him. Let them know what they want and need to know now. This includes what they need to know to encounter God personally, how to find friends, where they can serve right now, and anything else that would enable them to be successful at the few things you are asking them to do and that they are wanting to do. I'm telling you from my experience that you will see crowds of people with new understandings and resources gathering around your church like the crowds were yesterday wearing special glasses and looking for shadow bands. What you don't teach is many times as important as what you do.
3. Look for things that negatively eclipse what you want guests to see. Sometimes we cover up the experiences that guests need and want while giving them ones that are unnecessary. Almost all the time, its unintentional on our part. Have a secret shopper guest (a friend or relative who doesn't go to your church) come to your church and share their thoughts as a guest. One time, a colleague of mine at another church did that for me by brining his staff to our church when I least expected it. His notes when invaluable. I did it for him by anonymously attending his church as well and passing my findings along. A trade like this between churches can go along way in helping you see what is "eclipsing" the vision of guests, keeping them from seeing the good thing that good is doing in your church and how they can be a part of it.
"If God is light (like the sun) and Jesus is his radiance (like the corona), then Jesus is the part of God you can see."
To learn more about defining or improving the effectiveness of your assimilation strategy, I often do Base Camps. These gatherings of like minded "Sherpas" as I like to call us, are often times hosted at churches whose have staff that come for free because they host it. If you live in the Northeastern part of the U.S. and would like to attend a possible camp I might do in Maryland, let me know by clicking here. When we get critical mass, this thing is going to happen!
- Is there anything about your campus that eclipses what a guest sees or experiences of Jesus?
- Is there anything about your welcome strategy that eclipses what a guest sees or experiences of Jesus?
- Is there anything that could be strategically hidden now that would make God and your church more real and accessible to guests?
- Which one of your above answers would offer the most positive change in your assimilation ministry if you addressed it strategically?
- How can you form that into a strategic initiative? How will you evaluate the results of that change and by when? Who will run point on the different aspects of this experimental improvement?