Innocent Smoothies and the Church

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These are just a few things I think the church could learn from the international smoothie-making company “innocent”.

1. It’s nice to look nice

First and foremost, the design and visuals for Innocent products are superb. Care has been taken at every level of the branding to make the products fun. They give us an insight into the creators of the product. Without knowing them, I know that they are life-affirming, interesting, and even a little self-deprecating. The syntax, language, logo, and especially the jokes on their packaging are designed to interest and yes, entertain their consumers.

Most churches could do with a bit of marketing training. Simply saying on your church flyers that your church is “fun and interesting” is neither fun nor interesting. In fact having to state it sometimes indicates that the church is neither. Let’s abandon the comic sans and clip-art posters and learn that making things look nice is actually an important, vital part of the mission. It’s not shallow to want quality aesthetics. In this age of digital-everything, not being up to scratch in these small, but crucial things further entrenches the view that the church is stuffy and out-of-date.

2. Be mission-shaped

Lets take a look at Innocent’s mission, which hung above every loo apparently so it’s not forgotten):

Be natural,
be entrepreneurial,
be responsible,
be commercial and
be generous.

Everything they do flows from these 5 values. It determines how they spend money and who they work with, right down to what plastic they use for their bottles. When I look at these values I notice three things: the values are positive, outward focused, and ontological (about being, not simply doing). These are three things the church could take note of.

Positive.
When we outline our values, it’s just better and more life affirming to focus on something positive rather than negative. For example, don’t say “serving sinners”, say “serving people”. Both statements are true, but one needn’t be on your church welcome leaflet. Does this mean you water down the gospel? certainly not. The tough language if needed can come later, when they’re welcome, and a part of the family. When the cultures biggest gripe with the church is that it appears judgemental, I cannot stress how important this is.

Outward
The values are briefly explained on their website. Pursuing each value involves a great deal of different things, but rather than droning on about it they decided to show how each value benefits others, which to be fair is probably the bit we care most about. Every single one of their values improves the lives of others in some small way. Check them out here: http://www.innocentdrinks.co.uk/us/careers).

If a fruit smoothie company can be motivated by world-improvement, then the church has no excuse. The church has historically been a vehicle for great social change. Many churches are doing great at this, but often limit themselves to causing “spiritual” change in their community. They hold prayer events, do worship meetings etc… Theres nothing wrong with that (although I dislike drawing a harsh line between what’s spiritual and what’s not), but it would also be nice if we were fiery and passionate about those basic needs too, from providing water for the developing world to planting trees in the local park.

Ontological
Innocent uses the language of being, not simply doing. This makes a much stronger statement about their commitments, (they don’t just do nice things, they are nice people) and it has the added bonus of sounding far less like they’re blowing their own trumpet. Instead of simply saying “We do creative worship” say “we are creative worshipers” and let your actions speak for themselves.

There is a significant caveat with this approach. Innocent wouldn’t say such things about themselves if their actions didn’t support their claim, and nor should the church. If you say you are something then you need to be it. Your actions don’t necessarily define who you are, but they do reveal who you are. It’s a great cliché isn’t it, “we don’t do church, we are the church”. Sound’s great, and its true, but if we’re not doing stuff we might as well call it a day and all go home. CS Lewis said: “Fine feelings, new insights, greater interest in “religion” mean nothing unless they make our actual behaviour better.”

So don’t just do nice things, be nice people.

3. Senders, not keepers.

Finally Innocent aren’t precious about people in the sense that they actively encourage people to move on to other ventures. They train and encourage their staff to become entrepreneurs themselves and in turn create their own businesses. Not only does this develop the staff, it also likely develops the company. It ensures the company has a fresh injection of people coming in with new ideas, while the current staff are leaving innocent and taking with them all the good business practices they’ve been learning.

The church could follow suit and make its chief aim to send, rather than attract. The parallels with church-planting are easy to see. Just as some of the intrinsic D.N.A of Innocent goes into new business ventures, the D.N.A of a church can go into new churches and faith-communities. These in turn become organisations in their own right, and go on in turn, to send their own people off to do new things. It’s multiplication, rather than just accumulation.

I say again, Innocent isn’t precious about people. Instead, by training, developing and sending their people they’re demonstrating that people simply are precious and that, sounds like a very Christ-like attitude to me.

“Atheist Church” – A Christian’s Perspective

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Sat with a big fat coffee in a Costa the other day my Dad asked me: “Have you heard about atheist church?” A shimmer of excitement went through me. You might expect a phrase like “atheist church” to elicit horror: “Great, a group of narky atheists, grouping together to bash Christianity”. It didn’t however and my excitement at the news was well founded.

In London something beautiful has happened. A group of human beings have decided that they would like to meet up on Sunday mornings to get together and celebrate life. They think it only fair that non-believers get a chance to meet up, sing some songs together, hear some great literature, and be inspired by motivational speakers. It’s being called “Atheist Church”, and the parallels are obvious, right down to meeting in an old, albeit deconsecrated, church building.

The theme of their first meeting was wonder and it was with wonder, and I confess a bit of envy, that I read about their gathering. How affirming! Its easy for Christians to dismiss atheists as being shallow, (the mistaken assumption being that Christians are always deep). Anyway, the cat’s out of the bag. They are real people, with real spiritual needs (though they’d likely use different terminology). Some of them are ex-churchgoers, who still feel a “void” on Sundays.

“I think people need that sense of connectedness because everyone is so singular right now, and to be part of something, and to feel like you are part of something. That’s what people are craving in the world.”

Agreed. More togetherness I say.

However there is one thing that, inevitably, frustrates me. I can’t help but think that Alain De Botton, whom is undoubtedly more learned than I, is wrong about something. “It should never be called [church], because ‘atheism’ isn’t an ideology around which anyone could gather. Far better to call it something like cultural humanism.”

Why? Why go and do that?

Why criticise this church for being called so and for gathering around an ideology? Are they really such dirty words? Of course atheism is an ideology people gather around. Every single day people gather around common ideas like atheism, and this new London venture proves that people actually quite like doing so. He’s simply wrong. It is a church, And they are gathering with a shared ideology. And it’s beneficial to those who are a part of it. Their mantra would not be out of place above a Christian church entrance, “Live better, help often, wonder more”. Amen!

The crucial difference is that the Christian church gathers (or ought to) around a person, Jesus Christ, not simply an ideology. Nevertheless, theirs is a pretty good ideology, and it might even serve as a great motivation to Christendom to get on with the real earthy business of serving others and building a community that is a force for good.

In fact, upon reflection, their “mantra” is not a world away from “love the Lord your God… and love your neighbour just as you love yourself.” Mark 12:30-31 (paraphrase).

Here’s a link to the article:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-21319945

Being Needy = Being Human

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“There were times when the place was seething with bodies – but it was almost as if I was the only guy in the garden.”

Haven’t we all been there? In a crowded party but quite definitely alone? So writes Dave Hopwood in his book “The Blokes Bible”, which rewrites Biblical stories in a way that relates to an ordinary human, and specifically male, experience.

Adam, in the story quoted above, has just finished a long day of naming the animals. he took a “working lunch” while naming the carnivores, and is now chatting to his “mate” (God) while drinking from a coconut.

He’s got a problem, he’s lonely. There’s something not quite right. He doesn’t relate to the animals around him… he wants a companion just like himself.

There’s a very simple truth about humanity to be found in Genesis 2. Man was not built to be alone, and yet we take it as a sign of weakness when somebody feels lonely or “needy”. There is tremendous pressure in our modern society to be self-satisfied and self-sufficient. Having friends is fine, but needing someone? Sounds weak doesn’t it?

And yet, here we are. Way back then, man sat on a rock, chatting to God, laughing about how he had eaten the last unicorn for lunch, enjoying the perfect friendship, great job satisfaction, a roof of stars and coconuts galore. But he’s not satisfied.

Nothing is wrong with the world yet. Everything is right, but man is lonely.

So, it is not wrong, or silly to need people. We were built this way..

Whether historically true or not (it really truly doesn’t matter) the story of Adam, Eve and that famous garden wants us to understand that man was not meant to be alone and that no matter how good things are with your job, with God, with yourself… we all need a human somebody. Not necessarily a romantic partner, but a partner nonetheless.

There’s a lot of us and we’re all clamouring to be noticed. So next time you’re feeling like you’re totally isolated, even in a room full of people don’t imagine that your feelings are pathetic. They are truly human. You are supposed to ache for friendship, and all the people in the party are just as desperate to solve that great loneliness as you are.