Asking End-User Questions in a Post Christian America

I was at a meeting yesterday with a very nice young guy.  He is in his late teens/early twenties, and is quickly becoming the leader of one of the small groups in our youth ministry.  He does on attend mid week (he is out of high school), but he attends the small group every single week.  I hadn’t met him yet, so I wanted to hang out a bit.

He seemed well grounded and friendly.  It was obvious that God was working in his life.  When I asked him what church he and his family attended, however, he told me that they used to attend a church in town for many years, but haven’t gone anywhere in almost a year.  When I inquired deeper, it was obvious that leaving this church and not attending a local congregation was an intentional choice that the family made together, and in his words, “I can’t see myself attending a church any time in the future, at this point.”

What were his reasons?  He said that he noticed that attending a church didn’t seem to be producing any sort of meaningful change in people’s lives.  They seemed to simply attend on Sundays and not connect that with any other part of their lives, and in his view that idea seemed to be almost built into the whole church system.

Now, I am sure that there is more to the story.  Without peppering him with questions there is no way to know if a fallen leader impacted him negatively, or church discipline of the family was involved, or just a growing sense of complacency bothered them.  But what I do know, is that there is a rapidly growing number of Americans who feel that church is simply not essential in any meaningful way to their lives.

The somewhat recent book The Essential Church highlights this problem and suggests some possible answers.  I’m not going into them here, except to say that it surrounds a national survey that shows 70% of Americans between 18 and 22 drop out of church and never return.  I think part of the answer is that the Church in America needs to start asking itself end-user questions instead of system questions more frequently.

For those of you asking, “What does he mean by that,” let me illustrate.  In sales, they teach you to not tell a customer about features of a product, but instead to tell them about benefits.  “Ma’am, this lawn mower has 6.75 horsepower and has rear wheel gear drive,” sounds a lot less enticing that “Ma’am, this lawn mower has plenty of power to cut even in thick grass, and since the rear wheels are driving, it won’t lag as you mow uphill.”

6.75 HP, rear wheel gear drive, and even Briggs and Straton only tell people who may already know a lot about mowers what they need to know.  They are insider information.  If you had never used a lawnmower before, 6.75 HP would mean absolutely nothing to you.  But power to cut thick grass and helping you mow uphill are end-user language.

So when a church is talking about planning the Christmas eve candlelight service, I really wish that more churches would ask themselves questions like, “Why are we doing this?”  Or another, “What lasting thing will this do for them?”  Instead, we ask “What should we sing while we turn the lights off and slowly light the candles?”  This totally misses the point, but we have survived on this kind of thinking for centuries, because the people had essentially no options.

Now they do.  Maybe 50 years ago, things like not attending a church or living together outside of wedlock (not equating the two) were pretty taboo to most people.  Today, they are normative.  Today people who feel that the church is becoming rote and impotent can simply leave.  In fact, they can do so while still considdering themselves Christian, and still feeling connected to other Christians.  Or they can just leave the faith entirely, if they think the impotence goes too deep.

I have said for a long time that Christmas Eve candlelight services are usually pointless.  Honestly, I get nothing from singing Silent Night and lighting a little candle.  In fact, my inner dialogue during that time goes like this:

“Wow, it is pretty with all these candles.  I hope Peichi doesn’t spill wax on my pants when she tilts her candle…”
“Please don’t spill the wax…”
“Uh-oh…there is little drip of wax.  I hope it doesn’t go past the little star cutout thingy in the little paper disk…”
“Dang it…It made it past the paper disk.  I’m going to hold it at the bottom.  Maybe it will cool by then…”
“Ouch, it didn’t cool down.”
“I hope I can blow it out soon…Oh good, we’re done.  I can blow it out, but don’t blow too hard, or  ge waxt on my pants…”
“How did it get on my pants?.  I was so careful”

You know what is funny?  This is not made up.  This is what I got out of the Christmas Eve service.  I know that not everyone is like me.  I know that people would get upset at me if this got out…oops.  But, I think the church would benefit if we starting by asking those end-user questions, instead of assuming them.  Maybe the church would stop losing great people as a result.

It’s A Fact

It's a Fact

It has been very widely publicized that In N Out Burger has a secret, unplublished menu.  What many people do not know is that there are quite a few other restaurants that have their own secret menus as well.

Shortly after In N Out’s popularity started becoming a threat, McDonald’s launched their secret menu.  If you go to any McDonalds drive “thru” in the nation today, you can order their hidden items.  Try ordering some of these:

  • The McFluffy   –   This is a milk shake with a small order of french fries stuck one by one into the top.
  • McTaco Tower-   One bottom bun folded around a folded hamburger patty.  Inside the folded patty is cheese, special sauce, and pickles.  This is held in place with a toothpick.
  • The McLiberal-   This is a simple variation on the Big Mac, but the order of the ingredients is backward, and the top bun is on the bottom, and bottom bun is on top.  The price is 40 cents more than the regular big mac.

RyanShinn.com Your Source for Movies

Pretty much exactly what meets the eyesPeichi and I saw Transformers last night.  Wow, what a movie.  Wait…that didn’t sound quite right…a missing modifier somewhere.  Let me correct that.  Wow, what a worthless movie.

Still doesn’t sound right.  Perhaps my command of the English language isn’t sufficient to explain how bad this movie really was.  But, I will do my absolute best to anyway.

First, I am completely aware that when one goes to see a movie based upon a storyline originally intended to do nothing but sell small toys, one cannot have the highest of hopes.  This must go double when the story involves interstellar robots who are alive, and also, for some reason become cars and trucks on their day off.

At this point, in the interest of full disclosure I must confess that I grew up watching this cartoon every day.  I had and played with the action figures, including Optimus Prime, the Holy Grail of Transformers figurines.  Because of this, I was expecting more from this movie.

First, I’ll get out of the way the things that I like about this movie (and there isn’t much).  The non-CGI aspects of this film’s special effects are quite cool.  There are planes, tanks, missiles, and machine guns galore.  They paid for everything from an F-35 to an SR-71 in this movie, and burned up fuel flying them.  Apparently, Michael Bay also detonated the largest movie explosion in history during filming as well.  All of that was pretty cool.  But that was where the fun of this movie ended.

A movie about transforming robots should have tons of screen time with transforming robots, but there wasn’t.  What transformers you did get to watch were usually shown in the midst of full screen grapples with other robots.  You know the standard movie scene where some giant factory or piece of machinery explodes with wires and tubes and flying metal everywhere?  Well, imagine a constant closeup of that continually flooding across the scene during any CGI shot.  This made all of the digital special effects not only worthless for me, but a little nauseating sometimes.

But of course, many people were not watching the movie for much other than provocative pictures of Megan Fox.  The movie did not disappoint fans on this one.  The whole thing really seemed at times like little more than a vehicle to show her and other scantily-clad vixens.  Sadly for her, she does nothing in the movie but look pretty.  At times she gets to woodenly deliver lines between that look she constantly makes telling the world “I’m really hot, and I can get anything I want just by looking at you.”  She also gets to do pseudo-romance skits with Shia LaBeouf that are about as believable as that movie where Ellen DeGeneres was looking for a husband.

The most excruciating part of this film was the actual plot itself.  I am fine suspending belief enough to watch emotional robots change into cars.  But we all know the feeling when the logic of a movie chews you up and spits you out, and suddenly you are looking around the theater going “what the heck?”  This happened repeatedly.

Part of the “plot” of Transformers 2 (no real spoiler alert—you wouldn’t notice anyway) involves Shia’s character going off to college.  Here is what we learn about college during the school scenes.  First, college is full of mostly attractive scantily-clad women.  There are no fat women or ugly women at all.  There are also no asian, hispanic, or black women.  They are all white.  They are mostly there to try and have lots of sex.

Your dorm mate will be really eccentric and will be running a super-hacker conspiracy website which will be staffed with 5 or 6 guys.  The whole setup will easily fit in one area of your 2,000 square foot dorm room.  You won’t be spending much time there though, because you will be attending a lot of parties.  In fact, your first night there you will be invited to a massive frat party, even though no one invites freshman guys to frat parties.

You will also be in class with every other person you know at the university.  Your astronomy 101 class (cause every freshman takes that required lecture class) will be taught by a super-sexual 35 year old professor.  He will make sexual innuendo during his first lecture during which he doesn’t talk about the syllabus at all, but instead mentions a few constellations and E=MC2.  There is no real reason he does this.  All the girls also want to bed him.

Then we go pretty quickly to the ultra-secret US military group who is working with the Auto-bots.  Why are the good guys only able to transform into cars, but the bad guys can transform into virtually anything?  Sorry—-I took a detour.  Where was I?  Oh yes, the military.

The military gets to do secret military work in countries like China, and the other governments don’t care about this at all.  In fact, they love it!  They love it so much that our military gets to air drop into Egypt without even notifying Egypt at all, and when the pyramids start blowing up, the Egyptian army doesn’t bother showing up, because, hey, those American troops must have it all worked out.

So, the American troops drop out of 2 C-17’s and set up right at the base of the pyramids.  Ten minutes later, when the Decepticons attack, the military has beemed in 20 tanks and managed to fill the skies with fighter planes.

I could go on and on, and I have.  The point is…well…just don’t watch the movie.  Go and get that original Transformers movie from 1986.  It is much better.

999 Words

UK PictureI Stumbled Upon this today.  As I read the caption, I laughed for quite some time.  In case you can’t read it, the caption says “A trainer wearing a traditional Vega (L) costume performs with a Beluga at the Hakkaijima Sea Paradise aquarium in Yokohama, Japan.” [emphasis mine]

What I found most funny was the “(L)”.  That is aparently in case you couldn’t tell that the trainer was indeed not the one on the right.

-By the way—I seriously crunched the quality of this picture for this entry.  The picture quality is way better in the original.