No doubt many of you watched the series finale of LOST on Sunday night (don’t worry, this post is spoiler free), joining the millions of others who are craving concrete resolution(s) to this six-year Rubik’s Cube of a story. For your sanity, and general demeanor around the office this week—I, for one, am hoping all the loose ends and black holes are firmly tied and filled with this capstone episode. Because, let’s be honest, nothing is worse then a loose end in a series finale which leaves the door open for a full-length feature, somewhere in the indefinite future.
Truth be told, I’m no Lost-fanatic, though I can appreciate their use of transmedia and multi-layered storytelling, which I believe is a big reason they have accumulated such a big following… well that and the way they open pandora’s box of infinite regression, in which all questions lead to nuggets of information which act as teasers to watch the next episode (or season).
Now, I don’t want to digress any further down the road of the critic, I just want to bring up a simple question—why can’t we tell the story of the gospel like J.J. Abrams does with LOST?
I’m sure your first response will be something to the effect that your pastor is not J.J. Abrams, nor does your church have a production budget of around $4 million per Sunday. At least, I don’t think so. In defense of creative talent, there are countless pastors, writers and scholars who are just as innovative and astute as the famed producer. And while money helps, it’s not everything (shall we list bare-budget success stories, from The Blair Witch Project to Paranormal Activity?).
But, production budget aside, I can confidently state: The story of the gospel is just as multi-layered as LOST, with multiple characters, books, prophets and cultures which all combine to tell one whopper of a story! There are likely multiple reasons the church can’t seem to tell a story that prompts people to reschedule church.
I think one reason we have been lacking when being compared to LOST is our inability to tell a consistent gospel message across multiple media platforms. This is especially relevant to how we integrate our preaching on Sunday into our interaction with parishioners and others in the community during the week. LOST was known for going above and beyond a television series as they invested in back stories and websites for the various companies in the series. Allowing the enthusiast to find clues and information that made the story that much more robust. It seems if we are to delve into telling a transmedia telling of the gospel, especially one that is transformational, some of our media strategies must be re-hauled. Making sure that we are utilizing video, photography, design, web and written content to tell a consistent story, as opposed to a confusing or contradicting message. In a nutshell: If the sermon is the only way we’re sharing the gospel, we’re not doing it right.
LOST certainly had a handle on quality, something we can’t always say for the church. We sometimes assume that quality is a financial concern, and if the budget is small, then quality will suffer. I would argue that a limited budget actually gives you the opportunity to be innovative to find new ways to communicate the message. To me, quality is a mindset, more of a discipline than anything else. The message of the gospel deserves a well-thought out presentation, and you don’t need a multi-million dollar budget to accomplish this. What you do need is a team of people dedicated to producing a quality product. Don’t be fooled into thinking that churches of all sizes can’t achieve quality. Make quality a value and never use finances as an excuse when you deliver a poor product or Sunday service.
Also, and this is more a theological stance, we need to be better at having a pull strategy, rather than a push strategy. This perhaps gets at the heart of what makes LOST so engaging. What I mean is we must be OK not giving all the answers in our sermons, videos and written communication, because, just as LOST has figured out, the mystery is what makes people curious for more. Pushing truth, as answers or proclamations, deters many from seeking out the truth found inherently in the gospel message that has been inspired throughout the entirety of the Bible. Sometimes we dilute the gospel of its mystery when we spell everything out and leave nothing to be explored. Even in the end LOST has left some questions unanswered, and that’s part of what makes it so compelling. And competitively, if we leave the mystery in the gospel, we do the same, opening a door of hope that this world is not the end, that there is more to it, and the best is yet to come.
What Do You Think?
So how do you think we (as the church) can do a better job at telling the story of the gospel?
- What multimedia elements can we embrace in our retelling of the gospel?
- What ways can we foster quality and clarity in our communication of the story of Jesus?
- How can we leave some mystery in our sermons and church communication, prompting our parishioners’ curiosity?
- And… what did you think of the LOST finale? (OK, not so serious about that one.)