Thursday, March 15, 2007

Get a Book, Start a Church

As mentioned last entry, I recently enjoyed Rufus Fears' take on Dante’s Divine Comedy. I noted the Divine Comedy finally brought logic and a realistic motivational approach to the concept of being "Saved" by believing in Jesus. I also promised the that book could offer you a new career as the head of your own evangelical church…using the Divine Comedy can be your (only) sermon source. This entry dives into that….

First things first: I'm not advocating a non-believer put themselves in a position of power over believers. Got it? You could. And Dante wrote the songbook. But it's a bad idea on so many levels. Not the least of which is that if you're a non-believer and you're wrong, yowsa, is there a wild and nasty special level of hell for you! Come on...starting a church for your own benefit using Dante's masterpiece for your sermons? What are you thinking? I mean, if Dante is right about the afterlife, you don't even want to imagine how many of your organs will get gorged on daily by large birds and ugly beasts! I'm not saying that will happen. I'm just's a bad idea. One other thing, as far as I know, there is no single evangelistic tradition that actually holds Dante's work as an accurate guidebook on the afterlife or the rules around ending up, well, where you'd prefer to end up. But it's also true that modern evangelical tradition does not require adherence to any particular form of gospel. So again, I'm not promising redemption, just stellar marketing.

Ok, so we've already covered the basics: Dante tours hell and then goes back up through Purgatory with a glimpse of the levels of Heaven. He hangs out the residents along the way and hears their stories. The rules of getting to heaven are clear: live a life without accepting Jesus and you go to hell for eternity. It might be the bad part of town or it might be the really bad part of town. Either way, you're there forever. Or accept Jesus and you end up in Purgatory and it might also be extremely unpleasant and you might be there a very long time. But you'll have a friend on the other side and someday, someday, you'll check your mailbox--filled for a thousand thousand days with the most useless of junk mail, and you see a glowing ticket to that final, highly coveted field trip to heaven.

The rules are crystal clear and the story is detailed…and has it all. Death (obviously), intrigue, murder, lechery, sex, last-minute changes of heart, wild animals, redemption, hope, hopelessness, bad things happening to bad guys, good things happening to good guys, and a happy ending for the hero. And everything, everything in this killer story is tied to one single theme: accept Jesus and things will be OK. That's it. You've got a rich story with staggering discipline about thematic purity. And it's not just a good story. It's one of the great stories of human civilization.

The point? If you can tell the Divine Comedy in a convincing fashion, you can start a church. It’s that simple.

Success requires knowing the story, managing your delivery, building suspense—all the stuff a good storyteller needs. But the story is done. You could deliver one fiftieth of the story as your sermon every week, take 2 weeks off, and start over in January. And that's your church. Yes, it will take practice and a little talent. In the second year, maybe you start vamping a bit and adding your own color. But if you're a purist, you don't even have to. Believers in the Jewish tradition read the Torah cover to cover (hmm…do scrolls have covers?) and start again each year. You could too. Yes of course, there are business issues to worry about: where to hold services, marketing the availability of your ministry, finding larger spaces as your congregation grows, payroll for staff, etc. But the core is waiting for you for just $15 ($10 for paperback, less if you're OK with "used").

And speaking of the business issues, the marketing lessons are also incredible: personify the challenge as well as the goal, appeal to fear and to desire, contrast long-term value and short-term value, and fundamentally ask “what’s in it for me (to follow these scripture-based laws you keep telling me about)?”

And keep in mind, you have more than a good story--you offer hope. And (I'm sorry, this may sound like the voice of a skeptic, but that's not the intention)…no one will know whether your sermons are correct in time to tell your current or future customers, er, congregants. This could be a very good career.

I'm not pretending this will be easy. How many career changes are easy? But the Devine Comedy is an awesome product (the rules) wrapped in amazing marketing (the story). The story can be told briefly or in deep, gory detail. It has pain, drama, justice, fear, redemption—heck, a one-hour primetime show would get great ratings. And the story does get great ratings! But less on TV than in congregations all over the country. Yes, yes…you have to work weekends….

1 comment:

Kate said...

DANTE wrote the book about nonbelievers being in a position of power over believers???

Are you sure?

What about L. Ron Hubbard? HIS new book should be coming out any day now -- and you don't think that he actually believes any of that drivel now, do you?

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