By Fred Koenig
“I’m not sure how I feel about the Christmas Experience tour...” So opined one of my fellow coworkers here at the Conference office, and I didn’t disagree – I too had mixed feelings about it.
For the past two years, United Methodist Communications has taken out a truck on tour. They contract the truck from a marketing agency and drive a big lap around the country. So, the downside of these mixed feelings mostly circle around, “Wait, how much does that cost? Is that really effective?” But let’s keep this editorial on the positive side of that mix.
The tour coordinates with the local churches via the conferences. If you think the people who work for the general agencies need to get out among local churches more – well, they are doing it. The tour aims at getting to high-traffic areas, and spreads a message of peace and good will. It gives away hot chocolate – who can argue with that? It nice to have some kind of United Methodist Church branding effort going on, and for goodness sake, it is just one truck for two weeks for the entire denomination – that doesn’t really seem that extravagant.
United Methodist Communications is not just talking the talk of taking church outside the walls, but they are walking the walk, or in this case, driving the very long drive. And they aren’t doing it solo, they are asking local churches to partner with them at each stop along the way.
For the first time, the tour had a stop planned for Missouri. As the route worked out, their last stop would be in Kansas City on Monday, December 17. UMCOM contacted me and asked for recommendations regarding where to go and who to partner with.
I checked in with Rev. Keith Morgan at Country Club UMC, and he immediately said yes. We then had a few conference calls where we all talked, and the UMCOM reps somewhat nervously asked, “Do you think you’ll be able to get some volunteers out there to help?” to which Keith confidently replied, “That won’t be a problem.” They were asking people to do sidewalk evangelism outside in December on a Monday afternoon/evening within a week of Christmas with only a couple of weeks notice. Keith’s can-do attitude impressed me.
He wasn’t overconfident; he just knew his church. The volunteers from Country Club UMC were out in full force. Young adults, moms with little children, older adults – there were all kinds of volunteers. As soon as the truck opened up, it was surrounded by a diverse crowd of people out having a good time, and they were all Country Club volunteers. That created critical mass for passerbys to be able to check out what was going on without being put on the spot. It all just worked – because Country Club UMC made it work. They enthusiastically greeted shoppers and diners, offered them hot cocoa, took photos, colored Christmas cards for Della lamb – the church even brought their brass quintet to the scene. I think the UMCOM rep must have been pretty impressed with the way Missouri capped off their tour.
Creative marketing always runs the risk of looking silly or in some way improper, but the plus side is people were getting out there sharing the love of Christ in the midst of the Christmas hustle and bustle. The religious and secular sides of Christmas met up on the sidewalk and seemed to like each other and get along pretty well. The best way to go about outreach is debatable, but I give thanks for all the people willing to step up and try something new. May we all be open to new opportunities to reach others in the coming year.