Flash Mob Ministry: A New Model for Instant Church

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 no less than 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 any more.”

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.

Yep.

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% 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 interestes, 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!

About Christian Piatt

Christian Piatt is the creator and editor of BANNED QUESTIONS ABOUT THE BIBLE and BANNED QUESTIONS ABOUT JESUS. He co-created and co-edits the “WTF: Where’s the Faith?” young adult series with Chalice Press, and he has a memoir on faith, family and parenting being published in early 2012 called PREGMANCY: A Dad, a Little Dude and a Due Date.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1450705653 Cliff Cole

    You mean our church building may be antiquated?  Now, that’s an interesting thought! Make mine original recipe!

  • http://www.facebook.com/blythespirit2 Teresa Blythe

    I also have more ideas than sense, so I sympathize. I like this notion of just showing up and will kick it around with my new start UCC  team in Tucson.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1590829457 Carla Dietz

    For those of us who are attached to our buildings for worship, what if we had pop up worship outside our churches just before traditional worship? Might carry some pop up worshippers inside?

    • Christian Piatt

      Maybe, but I think we have to get beyond the idea of always trying to draw people into the buildings. We have to rethink what it means to do ministry. And if this in itself is the thing that connects meaningfully for people, we go where we’re called.

  • Benjamin Howard

    I really like this idea.  The concept of deconstructing traditional ideas of church, evangelism, community and seeing what other shapes they might be formed into.  It allows the church to see the sacred in the mundane and everyday, but I think the traditional approach would still be necessary as a centering point.

  • Pastor Pam

    Hurrah – I love this! Here is an example of how flash mob events can draw people together, can be a joyous celebration of our common humanity, and build a sense of community that crosses differences, if only for a short time, and that’s a start.

    http://Www.youtube.com/embed/KgoapkOo4vg?0


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