Create a Craving!

Despite USA Today's recent article that said the Seventh-day Adventist Church is one of the fastest-growing denominations in the United States, those of us who are faithful members of the church know how to interpret those statistics.

Much of that church growth in the US is what we have identified as "immigrant growth." We see at our General Conference session reports that one of the fastest growing divisions of the world church is the Inter-American Division. (The Inter-American Division includes Jamaica, Mexico, Cuba, the Caribbean, etc.) Immigrants who come to America from that division where the SDA Church is making great strides, join the Seventh-day Adventist Church in America and push our numbers up.

Unfortunately, we are not doing such a good job as Americans reaching Americans with the Everlasting Gospel (Rev. 14:6).

I am a Seventh-day Adventist preacher who spends a lot of time in churches and with preachers of other faiths. I am constantly comparing and contrasting the structures of their ministries and their churches within their denominations with mine. I see strengths and weaknesses in theirs, and ours.

There are some things that I believe our denomination does very well in comparison to them. And then I see things that I believe many of them do a better job at than us.

One of the areas I see for improvement in our denomination is in reaching and keeping Americans born in the US.

What I am about to say is not rocket science, but as William Augustus Jones used to say, "The greatest profundity is found in simplicity." In order for a person to become a member of a church, he or she will first become a regular attender. For that person to become a regular attender, the church has to convince that first-time visitor to return.

I believe some churches are much better at doing that than us.

Let me illustrate. In the early 1900s a Claude C. Hopkins put together an advertising campaign for Pepsodent toothpaste. Hopkins' advertising campaign was so successful that by the 1930s Pepsodent brand toothpaste was being sold all over the world, including China, South Africa, Brazil, Germany and other points on the globe.

Hopkins claimed that the secret of his success was that he had found a certain kind of cue and reward that fueled a particular habit. The formula? Find an obvious cue (your teeth feel gritty, dirty) and clearly define the reward (your mouth will be clean). What Hopkins didn't realize is that there was even more to Pepsodent that made people all over the world buy it and use it. People bought Pepsodent over other toothpastes because of the mint oil and citric acid combination in its recipe. Other toothpastes that cleaned equally as well lacked that mint and citrus combo that leaves the brushers with a tingling sensation.

That tingling sensation creates a craving that feeds the habit loop.

Craving is essential to any habit loop. The cue is that your breath stinks, or your teeth feel dirty, or you've got something stuck in your teeth after a meal. The routine is that you brush your teeth for a couple of minutes. The reward is that your mouth is clean. But underneath all of that is the craving created, that tingling sensation that makes you say, "Ah!" at the end of it all.

Pepsodent succeeded where others failed because it created a craving. You didn't just KNOW intellectually that you had cleaned your teeth. The tingling sensation also made you FEEL that your mouth was now clean.

I have discovered that many of those churches that are successfully reaching Americans (knowingly or unwittingly) create a craving for those they are adding as members. They create a craving and people return again and again.

Many faithful SDAs have the habit loop down. The cue is that it's 9 am on a Saturday morning. The routine is to head to the house of worship for Sabbath School and Divine Worship service. The reward is that the adherent has honored God's Holy Sabbath.

While that works for the hundreds of thousands of our denomination's faithful adherents (many of whom are second and third generation, so the habit was formed very early), it's missing elements that could create a craving for the first-time visitors we are also called to reach.

Christian Schwartz in the book Natural Church Development says that a common element of growing churches of all denominations, in all countries, of all sizes is "Inspiring Worship."

Inspiring Worship doesn't have to mean that people are dancing in the aisles and speaking in tongues. Inspiring worship does create a craving. If people will return to check out service again and again, we need to appeal beyond the rationale mind to the emotional brain. I don't think I'm too far from Jesus on this one. "And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength: this is the first commandment" (Mark 12:30).

Our worship experiences should introduce people to the Lord Jesus Christ who desires more than just head worship. He wants heart worship as well.

The late D. James Kennedy of Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church created a craving with that massive choir dressed in gorgeous robes singing lofty hymns and his confident proclamation of the Word. Many of my Baptist brethren create a craving by "tuning" as they come to the point of celebration of the Gospel at the conclusion of their sermons.

I believe there are myriad ways to create a craving around our worship experiences. We need to prayerfully consider this as a denomination. I have been to many a dry worship service in an Adventist Church. It creates no craving. Remember, in order for people to become members, they must first become regular attenders. If you will have regular attenders, you must convince first-time visitors to return.

A few years ago one of the fastest-growing Seventh-day Adventist Churches was in Tulsa, Oklahoma. The church fed people before and after their teaching and preaching services. In other words, they fed folk breakfast and lunch! Good food creates a craving. I'm sure that a smiling face and an attentive greeter at the door of the church creates a craving in an increasingly selfish society. Well-prepared and authentically delivered songs and sermons also create a craving.

We should study this! This does not require compromise on the message we preach. It only requires that we intentionally place that message in attractive enough packaging that people will want to come get it again and again.

April 11, 2012
Atlanta, GA


Belle said…
As a life-long Adventist who no longer goes to church, I would say what the church needs is no more sermons. I once went to one of our churches that had share and prayer time before the sermon. In this way we all got to know one another - we could pray for each other. You can go to church for years and never feel like you belong because you have problems and it doesn't seem like anyone else does. But when there is sharing and praying together you find out we all have needs and problems and need understanding and prayer. The old people in this church didn't like this part so they finally got rid of it. Old people never like change. Mrs. White says there should be mostly sharing on Sabbath and people shouldn't expect sermons all the time. But I notice our church doesn't tell people this. They only tell the congregation what they want them to know. I don't hate the church, I'm just tired of it and I like just having my life with God at home.
@Belle Wow...I hear ya! Church does nothing for me as well. The sermons I hear constantly are the same. It’s like ok... Iknow he is coming soon, yes obedience i got that the first or second time.... Sermons are typically not designed for mature christians who have gone beyond the milk of the word. So, Church is rather boring and unfulfilling!

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