Wile E. Coyote Ministries: Vacation Bible School

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This post is the recent in a periodic series on failed outreach ministries.  The intro post is here.

I should warn you from the get go that this blog post is going to consist of a series of educated guesses about your local congregation.

My first guess is that your congregation did a VBS this summer.

If only those lousy pagans loved it as much as we do!

My second guess is that after it was over, everybody hailed it as a crazy success.

My third guess is that some kid probably “gave his heart to Jesus” or maybe you had many.

My fourth guess is that sometime in the next year a family whose first connection with your church was at VBS showed up for one or two Sunday morning worship services.

My fifth guess is that your VBS cost a lot of money, required a lot of human power and consumed a great deal of time, more so for the one “lead” person who planned the whole thing.

Oh all those cartoon characters are happy, wearing the same shirt and raising their arms in some weird exercise posture. That is just what is missing in kids’ lives!

My sixth guess is that VBS is so encoded into your DNA, (aka your hidden curriculum), that nobody even bothered to ask “why” you were doing a VBS.  However, if those involved were asked “why?” they would probably give some vague answer like, “to reach people for Jesus” or “to show the church of the future that Jesus loves them.”

I would further imagine, though not guess, that if someone in your church did ask, “why are we doing this?” they were probably laughed at, but not a jovial laugh, the judgmental kind whose hidden threat was, “we banish people who dare call into question VBS.”  I am further assuming, though once again not guessing, you are giving that laugh to me right now and are not reading this any more but typing your judgment in the comments below.

Aren’t these the kids from the last picture? Let’s put them in a boat. That will really convince those heathens to come.

My seventh guess is that most, if not all, of the kids who showed up were kids from Christian families.  I would further assume (though not officially guess) that a great deal of the “new” faces were the kids from other churches who were camp hopping all summer so their parents could take advantage of all the free babysitting.

My eighth guess is that there was almost no follow up with the unchurched and non Christian kids who did show up.  You probably hoped they would get connected but I am guessing they didn’t.  Furthermore, nobody probably even bothered to take them out to coffee or ice cream or whatever people are drinking and eating these days.

What is with the arms? Seriously, picture google vacation bible school and you will see the worst insults to graphic design every designed.

If I am right about all this, and trust me, I mostly am, than your VBS was an epic Wile E. Coyote type failure.  You spent tons of time, money and energy and burned out your poor children’s director to reach all ready reached kids and further alienate the unreached people who dared to show up.

But hey, at least you provided free babysitting.

More than that, you got five extra discipleship times with your church kids, which is dang difficult to do these days.  And you probably did a lot of good team building with your laypeople which will increase your congregation’s “friendly atmosphere.”

So VBS isn’t all bad (which I am going to say to all the people who comment on this).  But its purposes need to be stated.  You are not going to reach un-reached families with a fifty year old ministry model based off of flannel graphs and silly props and costumes.

However, you are probably going to reach them if you follow through on all that contact information in a non-confrontational, friendship evangelism type way, like over ice cream.  Here I do offer a warning:  It won’t take just one follow up ice cream.  Prepare to buy a bigger belt because you are going to have to meet with them once a month for a year or so before they darken your church’s doors.

But if that is going to work you need your follow up strategy figured out before you even buy your curriculum.  You need to encode that strategy into every aspect of VBS.  You need to plan every part of it, right down to, “Who is going to take who out to ice cream after all this is said and done?”

That brings me to my ninth and last guess.  I am guessing some of you have figured out the follow up strategy and seen great results with your VBS.  Please do share those success stories in the comments below.  The rest of us Coyotes need to hear them.

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Wile E. Coyote Ministries: Introduction

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A few months ago I was meeting with my new District Superintendent, talking about church planting, missional movements and ministry in the 21st century in general.

As our hearts and minds met on the drastic need for the church, particularly the Church of the Nazarene, to become more innovative he repeated to me what he had heard from someone else who had heard it from someone else who had read it in a book somewhere,

“The church is Wile E. Coyote in a Road Runner world.”

For those of you younger types (like me) who might be tempted to think Wile E. Coyote and Road Runner were names for obscure characters in that Mad Max movie that came out this summer, let me explain the reference.  There is this old, actually ancient, Warner Bros. cartoon that used to play on Saturday mornings.  It just had two characters.  One was a hungry coyote, cleverly named “Wile E.”  The other was a rather simple but crazy fast bird named the “Road Runner.”

Fatal Flaw #1: Sets tail on fire instead of rocket.

Every episode involved the coyote coming up with some elaborate, cleverly detailed scheme to catch the Road Runner.  And every episode the Road Runner, without so much as a plan or a strategy, just ran right through the scheme.  The humor in the show almost always centered around each plan’s fatal flaw.  Even though the plan was brilliant and well thought through and cleverly executed, there was always one chink in its armor, one thing Wile E. did wrong, one humorous oversight that let the road runner slip away.  In well over half the episodes, the flaw wasn’t a flaw.  It was just the world not working like it is supposed to.

For example, there is the now classic scene where the coyote paints a mural of a tunnel on a cliff side, hoping the Road Runner will smash into the cliff.  Instead, the Road Runner runs right through the mural into an actual tunnel.  The lesson is simple: The world doesn’t work like the coyote wants it too.

Its sad how the church is remembered for our foolishness, not for how well we can execute a potluck that only feeds “us.”

And we are the coyote.  Our programs, or to put it more religiously, our “ministries,” are elaborate.  They are schemed up by outreach committees in 3 hour long meetings.  They are emailed to pastors with subjects that read, “the brilliant plan that will save our church.”  While we pass the offering plates on Sunday morning, a passionate and dedicated layperson explains them to the congregations.  We claim it worked out just great for that mega church in Seattle or that mushrooming church down the street.  Our congregants get all excited and we all jump on board.

But they all have one fatal flaw and that flaw makes all the time, money and energy we just spent worthless.  Most of the time that flaw is we just failed to understand the world we are living in.

Fatal Flaw #2: We don’t know when to stop.

When that flaw manifests itself and our brilliant feat of outreach falls flat on its face, we at least have a number of cliches we use to comfort ourselves.

We say things like:

“Well God doesn’t care about results.  God just cares about faithfulness.”

“That’s just the way the world is.  God has hardened their hearts so that nothing we say will get through.”

“Well at least we tried.  Church of the Baptist Jesus down the street isn’t even trying.”

“We planted a ton of seeds. Go us!”

Some of that may be true and I am all about comfort in the midst of epic failure.  After all, comfort is what gives us the means to get up and try again.

But what if our problem isn’t that we aren’t dedicated enough, passionate enough, wealthy enough or smart enough.  What if our problem is that we just don’t take the time and energy to understand the world we are living in.

Over the next week I want to write a bit about what I perceive are “Wile E. Coyote” ministries being run by many churches.  My hope in this is not to be overly mean or critical but to think deeply about how we spend our time, money and energy in the hopes that we will become better stewards of our callings.

Even more than that, I hope that our mourned failures would turn into seasons of rejoicing as we truly reach the world for Christ.

Until the next post, here are some great articles elaborating on this concept:

http://pres-outlook.org/2000/10/wile-e-coyote-or-the-roadrunner/

http://time.com/3735089/wile-e-coyote-road-runner/

http://www.preachingtoday.com/illustrations/2013/march/3031813.html

http://new-savanna.blogspot.com/2011/04/desire-and-causality-in-road-runner.html