categories: I'm curious, church, technology
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October 3rd, 2008

by Bobby Gruenewald

19 comments (+ Add)

What should the Church be learning from political campaigns?

Earlier today, some of my team were discussing the new Obama ‘08 iPhone Application.  In my opinion, the application is a brilliant use of technology to empower and inform volunteers.  The conversation sparked further discussion about some of the things that the various political campaigns were doing and what we (The Church) could learn from them.  It may be offensive to some to compare the efforts of political campaigns with those of the Church, but I really do think there are many things we can learn including: effective communication, motivating voluteers, organizing large and small groups of people, fundraising, social networking, etc.

What are some specific examples of things that you’ve seen political campaigns do that the Church could/should learn from?  Now, please don’t turn this post into a political rant about who you are supporting or specific political issues that you do/don’t support.  I won’t allow it.  I’m simply interested in what we can learn from the systems, techniques, strategy, tactics, marketing, communication, use of the web/technology, etc.

Also, if you are from outside the US, I’m still intersted in your observations about your own political campaigns and/or your perspective on what you’ve learned from the US election season.

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there are a total of19
  1. Oct 3, 2008 at 8:05 am

    The big difference to me seems to be that political campaigns last for a year to a year and half. Motivating the masses to volunteer for a few months based on attacking the other side as a certain enemy seems easier than motivating volunteers for a lifetime of development to serve.

    However, I do think the way things are organized and political campaigns empower individuals to do great things for their cause can teach us a lot about unleashing the power that exists in the “ordinary person.”

    Great things to think about here, Bobby!

    FYI: My wife and I are coming to Oklahoma City this weekend to your Sunday experience. We’re really looking forward to it!

  2. Oct 3, 2008 at 8:29 am

    I just saw this on one of my blog feeds… it is an iPhone app that the Obama campaign has created. Here is the link to it…

    Now I am not an Obama fan or supporter… BUT I think this is cool! Churches need to do the same thing. We need a iPhone App that does the same exact thing for churches and helps us to connect with church members, activities, call somebody in our contacts about church, download prayer requests, watch youtube video devos from the pastor. How cool would this be?

    If I were a developer for the iPhone… this would so be done

    We to need to learn more about grassroot efforts and connecting with those that are not yet Christians.

  3. Oct 3, 2008 at 8:34 am

    You know, many christian gatherings (from conference to coffee house) seem kind of like America’s political campaigns. I hear people talking about what’s wrong with this ‘other’ pastor or church … how no one is ‘doing it’… it’s sad & frustrating. IF building attendance or a following is based on pointing out what’s wrong with everyone else, then we’re building on the sand (not the rock).

    Jesus said IF I be lifted up, I will draw ALL people… that’s the only way we should WIN.

    by the way, the best application on my iPhone IS YouVersion - it places the best tool in my hand: God’s Word! I’ve used it to share with others from parks to Starbucks to malls!!

  4. Oct 3, 2008 at 8:45 am

    I think that most church leaders do a terrible job at handing over their platform to the community they are deeply involved with (the church body). If it’s truly Christ we are promoting and not the church / pastor, then why don’t we allow the body to engage in service, outreach, messages of hope and reaching out to the lost. Too often this is done through too many committees or spearheaded by those who get paid to lead. It’s clear with the election campaigns that votes are only changed when volunteers are given the power to speak for the candidates. Are individuals really free to speak or act for our churches. This could take place via a website, video testimony, promotion material to share about the church, a few minutes in front of the church, small groups, etc. The Spirit at work in one is able to open the eyes and hearts of another.

  5. Oct 3, 2008 at 9:51 am

    I’ve learned:
    - Not to sling mud
    - Not to build myself up by tearing someone down
    - Not to promote myself
    - Not to view myself as the only solution to a problem, as if ‘the other guy’ would send us to hell in a handbasket’
    - To freely admit it when my position has changed
    - To affirm others, even ‘enemies’ for thinking of things I’ve missed
    - To thank others for showing me the holes in my armor
    - To seek other’s opinions when forming my strategy
    - To be honest and open about my shortcomings
    - To admit it when I drop a ball and own the consequences
    - To shun competition with other ministries
    - To welcome anyone who builds the kingdom regardless of their position on minor issues
    - To remind myself that no one leader is perfect, including me, and that my ‘followers’ are being required to extend some pretty significant grace just to let me lead this congregation

  6. 6Nyxll
    Oct 3, 2008 at 9:56 am

    What I have learned from these campaigns and applications is that are a culture obsessed with the latest material gadgets. Cellphones and iPhones are prohibitally expensive for the average person. At least up here in Canada. For $600 I can sponsor two kids for a whole year.

    Admittedly the functionality is really cool, but how much do we really need the latest and greatest?

  7. Oct 3, 2008 at 11:41 am

    I’m not sure about innovative but I know that political parties have become better at using technology to communicate with volunteers. I was a member of one of these parties and I could log on and accept tasks to gain points which were good for merchandise of the party and candidate. While be a part of this though I realized that I was doing more to perputate the message of this candidate than I was for Jesus so my political aspirations ended in 2004. Maybe we should allow our congregation to accept outreach assignments in which they gain points to earn church merchandise.

  8. Oct 3, 2008 at 12:05 pm

    Ok… for those making comments on the whole iPhone thing… you are missing the point. I agree with Ernie… the political parties are doing a much better job at using technology to get their message out… to get their grassroots constituents [dare I say members/ believers/ followers] out to share the vision… to share the message of the candidate.

    The church needs to get creative, needs to move past old ways of telling the message that has not changed for 2000 years. How can we use technology for greater community? For greater outreach to our neighbors? How can we use technology to make more believers for Christ?

    That is what candidates have done a good job at.

    Hey I don’t have an iPhone… but how about this… take the $400 you would spend on the phone and the $120 service package and put that into a local community effort to reduce poverty. Or you take that and buy groceries for a single mom and her kids each month? That would be grassroots, that would be connecting with the community… I love all the different groups that do child sponsorships… but get involved yourself, personally in your community that you live in.

  9. Oct 3, 2008 at 12:34 pm

    I think many churches really haven’t captured the essence of what it means to create community across a whole country. If you look hard, most Americans align with one of two parties, but it is up to those campaigns to get their partners off their feet and out to work for them. Ultimately it isn’t the politician doing all the work - it’s the people. But the politician can employ technology resources that people enjoy to help persuade them to be proactive in their movement.

    In the same way churches should empower their congregations to create community so it’s not the pastor doing all the work, it’s the people. I should think they would be willing to do whatever it takes to reach people in new ways using all sorts of technology, but too often they just build a Web site and stop there.

    What would it look like to see a Bible study group that only meets on Facebook? To fill in the blank on sermon notes on your iPhone and e-mail the completed PDF directly to yourself? To ‘grab’ a clip from a video sermon and share just that part with a friend? To submit prayer requests the show up live on screen during a sermon on prayer?

    Of course, these ideas aren’t the greatest, but I think as the church, we should definitely be forward thinking and moving in a more connected direction. And there’s not better way to mobilize people and empower them fast than technology.

  10. Oct 3, 2008 at 12:58 pm

    The campaign has taught me more about communicating vision. Even when they sound monotonous, they keep repeating the same aspects of their vision so that you really get it. “WE can’t afford 4 more years of…” Or “I will make them famous” or “That’s the ultimate bridge to nowhere” or “The American people want straight talk” or “Change” or “maverick.” ALL of these statements are getting monotonous to me BUT they have all stuck with me. No new taxes for people making less than $250K a year- okay I get it! But no matter how monotonous its gotten to ME, they keep saying it and I remember it.

    Lesson, repetition of vision makes the vision stick.

    Now I’m just waiting for SOMEONE to repeat something of some substance…

  11. Oct 3, 2008 at 1:31 pm

    As someone who was born outside the US (Romania, to be more specific; Central SE Europe for the geographically-challenged), and one who is able to finally vote for the first time, here are some things that I have seen in the political arena that the church could learn from. I will try not to repeat what others have said above, though some duplication may be present.

    Dedication. The political parties, especially the candidates, are dedicated to their platforms. They spend lots of money, time and effort to make their agenda known to the voters. I wonder what would happen if the church goers/church leaders would be just as dedicated? I wonder what would happen if we gave all we could to the spread of our “agenda.”

    Spread. The candidates go out, meet people, go from state to state. The church was not set up to be a “bubble,” yet, sadly, many churches live this way. I do know of a great few churches who are truly dedicated to the spread of the Gospel and not just to teaching it to their own group of already convinced church-goers.

    Conviction. The idea of the candidates and their platforms and their ads is to prove themselves (or, sadly, to sling enough mud on their opponent to “disprove” them) and what they stand for. The church needs to have conviction and passion and love behind the message it sends out.

    Involvement. It seems that, especially as the end of the campaign draws near, the candidates try to get themselves involved in the lives and communities of their (would-be) followers. The church needs to be involved in the community. Help those less fortunate. (Hopefully, unlike the candidates, do it with love and not just to get a “vote”)

    Hope. What the candidates try to achieve is to convince the people that they will bring hope (and change) for the future. We have the best message, pointing people to the best Hope there is, so they can experience the best change and future they could possibly have.

    One of the things that amazes me about the political arena in the US is the amount of effort and resources that go into each campaign. Cars, trains, airplanes, TV ads, radio ads, technology - anything would be and could be used. “I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some.” (1 Cor. 9:22) Don’t change the message, just he package. Reach the community your church is in with the best tools available, which are relevant to your target audience (my marketing background tends to show up at times).

    Sorry for the long post.

  12. Oct 3, 2008 at 3:15 pm

    I worked in politics for a number of years and there is a lot that the church can learn, here are some comparable thoughts:
    *Fundraising (Developing givers)
    *Door-to-door(1 person = 1 vote; 1 person = 1 soul)
    *Motivating the base(Motivating the members/volunteers)
    *Yard Signs(Decals and branding)
    *Twitter(Twitter) Social networking & media
    *Rally’s (Bring-in events, gatherings)
    *Motivating/Inspiring volunteers (same)
    *Understanding that people will serve and give to a cause they believe in!
    *People follow leaders, not political parties
    *If all of the congressional leadership are senior citizens, there might be time to reach the generation of young candidates (same for the church, reach the young people)
    *If you want a community to elect you, they need to have your respect before you ever declare your candidacy (If you want people to come to your church, the community needs to know who you are and what you are about)

    I could go on and on and even add some behind the scenes… but I’m done! :-)

  13. Oct 3, 2008 at 5:28 pm

    I was in Haiti last week and was surprised to find that while most common people knew nothing of the state I presently reside in (Texas), nearly everyone instantly reacted to finding out my home state is Alaska by saying, “Wow - we like that Palin lady. She seems good.” It seemed ludicrous that people starving, poorly educated, under-resourced, battered by hurricanes, suffering under corrupt governments would be even aware of either party running mates. Yet, they had emotionally attached themselves to this “good lady.” They didn’t know what her policy points were, they just liked her. It says something about the ethos and pathos of character that common people can still indescribably detect. Every candidate for office over the past 2 centuries has espoused some degree of Christian affiliation…how many would people describe as “good”?

    The Obama campaign has done a marvelous job at catalyzing allegiance and passion around “hope” and “change.” He’s forged an identity that everyone knows, even if they have strong feelings against his overall platform. What would the central, all-pervasive ethos of the Church be described as by the unchurched American? The campaigns have shown the sensational and nebulous potency of a people inspired by hope and change that is pervasively relevant to their situation. At times, the church has faded in that historically prominent arena.

  14. 14Kim
    Oct 4, 2008 at 9:57 am

    Here’s what I see the political campaigns doing…they take those people who are already passionate about their cause and empower them to spread that passion to others. So, find your most motivated, passionate Christ-followers, and unleash them, empower them, encourage them, challenge them. Sometimes we forget about those who are most passionate in our congregations as we go after those who still need Christ. We appreciate them for sure, and we want them for leadership positions. But we sometimes act as if they are “done” and we stop pouring into them. I believe that if church leaders pour into those who already “get it”, they will naturally spread their passion for Christ to others.

  15. Oct 4, 2008 at 10:02 am

    I think the youtube debates was a pretty cool concept ( Not exactly sure how to incorporate that into the church, but I think there is something there. At the very least integrate the concept into a message series. Maybe a unique way of doing a Q&A.

  16. 16elena
    Oct 4, 2008 at 10:33 am

    My two cents: The church can learn to focus on a particular message, repeat that, make it central to everything it asks of people and really believe that message.

  17. Oct 4, 2008 at 12:04 pm

    I absolutely agree. There’s a lot we can learn from them.

  18. Oct 5, 2008 at 9:58 pm

    Hey great post. I agree that the church could learn a lot from this. There has to be some way to get the word out about churches and ways to open up the Christian community to God. Maybe send an email or idea to Steve Jobs at Apple and see what he say’s. The only thing is the economy and the pit it is in. It would be hard and costly. But I’d buy a livechurch application from apple

  19. Oct 6, 2008 at 9:25 am

    Hi from Australia

    As a pastor I’m fascinated by Obama’s skill in attracting people thru WOW communication skills. We can always learn to connect better with the folks who listen to us week after week.

    I admire Palin’s courage in the face of some pretty spiteful opposition.

    I remain amazed at the USA’s church’s emphasis on abortion & homosexuality in connection to the political realm - looks over the top from this distance!! Sorry - don’t flame me!

    But love Americans & am fascinated by your political process.