Blaine is the kind of young man who seems to have been born for church camp. He has a permanent smile on his face, loves to lead goofy songs and has an easy way about him that makes others want to hang out with him. I met him on a final leg of his summer-long trek with Disciples Peace Fellowship to tour and take part in nine or so church camps around the country.
One trademark of church camp music, in case you’re not familiar, is that there is no shortage of goofy, infectious songs floating through the air all week long. Inevitably, though, one song in particular will grab hold of the collective imagination and become the anthem for that week. For Blaine, the song that seemed to stick was his “Sixties Party” song. One camp in particular requested he play it at least two or three times each day, everyone doing the motions along with the progressively ridiculous lyrics.
One their way back to civilization, the hordes of campers and counselors stopped at a local restaurant for some “real” food, but some of the kids weren’t ready to leave camp behind just yet.
“Play ‘Sixties Party,’” they begged Blaine.
“This is reality, guys,” he reminded them. “We’re not at camp anymore.”
But they persisted until he finally gave in. So right there, in the middle of piles of fried chicken and biscuits, they broke out in song, complete with choreography. Suffice it to say it’s simple enough and cumulative in its themes so that pretty much anyone can get the idea within a verse or two. And incredibly they did. By the end of the song, Blaine recalled, the servers behind the counter and even most of the other diners in the restaurant were rocking out and miming along to “Sixties Party.”
Was it worship? Not really. Did the song even mention God or Jesus? No. But it sparked something in the people who were there, even if they had no idea what was happening. Once the kids took the risk of looking ridiculous in public (which I’m sure they did), it gave permission to everyone else to let loose, to take part and to belong to something joyful, if only for a few minutes in the middle of some fried chicken restaurant off the interstate.
We keep talking about the changing face of church and how ministry is going to look different going forward; what if this is it? Not that I expect this is “the” model for how to do church from here forward, but there’s something to this “flash mob” concept, breaking out spontaneously into something that draws others in, right here, right now, where we are.
But we might get weird looks. We might even get in trouble.
As I reflected on his story, I got a ping from Groupon on my phone. If you haven’t used Groupon, or similar apps like Living Social or Google Deals (no, I’m not a paid spokesperson), they’re all mobile bulk discount applications, offered by retailers directly to consumers. So a massage company or restaurant will offer some big discount on a good or service, provided that at least fifty people, or whatever number, buy into the deal to make it worth the business’s while. It’s kind of fun to watch the numbers click up on a new deal, to see when it’s been given the green light and to share with your friends how you bought trapeze lessons for 65 percent off the regular price.
Couldn’t faith communities learn something from this?
What if we had compassion networks or the like, where folks could sign up with particular skills or interests, and who are willing to take part in activities in a particular geographic area? Then folks who need some help, like clearing out an abandoned lot, painting a house, feeding crowds at a benefit concert or marching for peace could sign up and send their request out to the mob. People who can drop by and help out sign on, and in a matter of minutes the need is filled.
No long committee meetings. No months of planning for an expensive mission trip. And who knows, you might actually get people of all backgrounds working for a common cause. And it could work for spontaneous gatherings or worship events of all kinds. Send out the word, invite people and see who shows up.
It’s probably a dumb idea. My wife says I have more ideas than good sense, and she’s probably right. But when I get an idea that keeps me up that night, it’s usually one that won’t leave me alone for a while. And really, it’s not that different from how Jesus did his ministry. Show up somewhere, notice the needs, address them and invite others in to hear a good word, then go out and change the world.
Just imagine if Jesus had had a smartphone!
Christian Piatt is an author, editor, speaker, musician and spoken word artist. He is Director if Church Growth and Development at First Christian Church in Portland, Ore. Christian is the creator and editor of "Banned Questions About The Bible" and "Banned Questions About Jesus." His new memoir on faith, family and parenting is called "PREGMANCY: A Dad, a Little Dude and a Due Date."