5 Lessons from the Salvation of Blue Like Jazz

5 Lessons from the Salvation of Blue Like Jazz

October 13, 2010 by

On Sept. 16, author Donald Miller announced that plans to turn his New York Times best-seller Blue Like Jazz into a movie had fallen through (the script-writing process of the movie became Miller’s latest book, A Million Miles in a Thousand Years). A financial backer had pulled out at the last minute. They were going to have to pull the plug.

Enter  Zach and Jonathan. Incensed, these two contacted Don and asked him to consider a 30-day extension before killing the project. He agreed, they launched Save Blue Like Jazz, and 10 days later they had raised $125,000. The movie was back on.

If you read some of the comments surrounding the campaign, you’ll see one of two reactions: 1) absolute rapture that the best memoir about jaded spirituality is hitting the big screen, or, 2) abject horror that a thousand couch potato Christians couldn’t think of a better way to spend $100K.

But I saw something else: an opportunity.

One person remarked that the money should have gone towards a humanitarian project, like fresh-water wells in Africa, for instance. It’s hard to argue with that, but I wonder: Why hasn’t the church done something this inspiring lately?

I’ve seen fund-raising attempts in churches before, and I’ll bet you have, too. I’ve seen big vision-casting speeches delivered from the pulpit and well-meaning attempts at faith-based viral marketing campaigns.

Many have tried.

And many have failed.

So, why can’t the church do something like the “Save Blue Like Jazz” guys? Good question. Here are a few things I noticed that Zach and Jonathan did that we don’t typically do when it comes to church marketing:

1) They were really, really passionate about their message.
Let’s face it: most Christians just aren’t as passionate about the gospel as they say they are. All you have to do is observe your typical evangelical family at church on Sunday, then follow them home and see how they act around the TV or at a major sporting event.

Most churches also do fund raising for a building. It’s hard to be passionate about the education wing.

2) They crowd-sourced.
The Save Blue Like Jazz team crowd-sourced their project (in a good way, not the Gap way), inviting everyday people to help. Giving up control is scary, especially in bureaucratic institutions. The people with power don’t want to give away the control of the message to the masses.

However, when it comes to creating a “movement,” you have to radically give away power. What’s interesting about how Zach and Jonathan did this was that they didn’t spam a bunch of people. They made a list of 40 people they personally knew, and asked them to get the word out to their networks. And it snowballed.

3) They had a clear goal.
How many times has your church tried to make a major change, and it didn’t have a measurable means of determining success? Save Blue Like Jazz had a goal, and they regularly shared progress reports.

4) They used technology.
If you’re reading this blog, you probably have at least a little geek in you. Jonathan and Zach used social media and technology to make their campaign more efficient and effective. They set up an account on KickStarter.com (an online fund raising site), posted a simple video on YouTube and Vimeo, launched a campaign landing page, phoned a few friends, and utilized Facebook and Twitter to provide live updates. It worked like a charm.

5) They told an amazing story.
They didn’t just hound people or guilt them into donating. They created something so compelling that people were dying to be a part of it. They also rewarded them by fulfilling this dream (if you donate a certain amount, your name is listed in the credits).

Many churches are failing to tell a great story on a lot of fronts that matter. Instead of providing irresistible opportunities to get involved in the kingdom of God, they are positioning themselves as antagonists of culture. What if we just told a really compelling story? (And for the record, I think the gospel is the best story ever told.)

People Became Advocates
So, here’s the rub: People cared enough about Blue Like Jazz to not only to support the cause, but to become advocates themselves. They were passionate and motivated and committed to seeing it through till the end. And they did it.

They are, in fact, still doing it. At the time that I’m writing this, they’ve passed their initial goal, but are forging ahead to hit the $200K mark, which would make this the most successful campaign on KickStarter ever. They’re making history. What if your church could make history like that?

Post By:

Jeff Goins

Jeff Goins is the communications director for Adventures in Missions and is also a blogger, author and speaker. You can find him online at his blog, follow him on Twitter and check out his new book, Wrecked.
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19 Responses to “5 Lessons from the Salvation of Blue Like Jazz”

  • Jesse
    October 13, 2010

    Nice write-up. This whole thing is a great story for the Church.

  • @PaulSteinbrueck
    October 13, 2010

    Jeff, thank you for writing this post. I can’t believe people would criticize “Save Blue Like Jazz.” On second, though, I can. There are always critics for every innovative idea, even successful ones.

    As for your question, “Why hasn’t the church done something this inspiring lately?” It has. There are tons of stories like this. We just haven’t heard most of them.

    A few examples… Shaun King & Eva Longoria raise over $500k through TwitChange http://bit.ly/ccdeTD, Jon Acuff raised $60k to build 2 kindergartens in Vietnam http://bit.ly/9mhcCe, TOMS shoes has given away more 1 million shoes to kids in 3rd world countries, Sherwood Baptist Church in Albany, GA produced the feature film Facing the Giants.

    All of the people in these examples also did the 5 things you mentioned, which is a good indicator of how important they are.

    • Jeff Goins
      October 13, 2010

      Thanks for the comments, guys. @Paul – You’re right; however, those are all examples of people circumventing “the system” and doing something on a boot-strapping level. We don’t see this kind of momentum in the institutional church very often (at least, not where I’m looking). One recent example I can think of is Pete Wilson’s church here in Nashville (CrossPoint) that was one of the biggest local mobilizing forces for flood relief earlier this year.

    • Jeff Goins
      October 14, 2010

      Thought I replied to this, but it must’ve not been sent. Anyway, sorry about that.

      Thanks for the comment, Paul. Those are great examples of individuals proactively pursuing opportunities to make change. Certainly the church has been doing some great things, but with the exception of Sherwood Baptist, those are all examples of people doing something outside of the traditional, institutional church, which may be all well good. However, I’d love to see churches as organizations apply more of these principles in how they reach their communities with their messages of hope.

      • @PaulSteinbrueck
        October 15, 2010

        I see your point Jeff. I thought you were talking “the church” as a whole, rather than individual churches. I’d love to see more churches applies these principles as well. And I’d like to see when they do that those stories get told and shared better.

  • Beth G Sanders
    October 13, 2010

    I would love to see the church leverage this kind of passion. Sadly, too many of our members are more interested in what the church can do for them; will you play the music I like? Will I like the sermon? Will I disagree with anything I hear? Because if I see or hear something I don’t like, I’ll go to the church down the street.

    Obviously this group believes in something larger than themselves; beyond their own preferences, needs and feelings. Kudos to them for getting off their butts and getting it done. A marvelous example.

    • Jeff Goins
      October 14, 2010

      Well said, Beth. I see that in church, too. It’s sad. To be sure, it’s the human condition, but sad, nonetheless.

  • Sarah
    October 13, 2010

    It’s so true that they told a great story. They knew that people (like me!) would want to be a part of it.
    Many people became advocates of the project naturally, but Donald Miller and the Kickstarter campaign originators also asked the fans to do it. They asked that people blog about it and post the link to their Facebook. It’s always a good idea to ask your biggest fans to become advocates and give them tools to help them spread the word.

    • Jeff Goins
      October 14, 2010

      Agreed. This was what I really loved about the campaign — how strategic these guys were in asking just the right people who would then ask others. It has this beautiful organic feel to it, not something forced or contrived.

    • Sheila
      November 30, 2010

      Good point about fans. When I think of Christians, I don’t think of “fans” of Jesus. If that were the case, if we were fans, church might look a lot more like a British soccer game (without the rioting, of course!).

  • Ian
    October 13, 2010

    6) Blue Like Jazz [the book] is really, really popular already. =)

    Seriously, though, I think you might be on to something with that “antagonists of culture” line. Instead of beating people over the head with dogma until they give up worldly culture, why *don’t* we just focus on telling the story we have? The gospel is a story so compelling it has led me [and others like me] to view the world differently–and it is this transformative power of the story that I believe Christ commissioned us to share.

    Donald Miller sold a ton of books to Christians and some non-Christians as well, because he told good, meaningful stories about faith. It’s time for the church to follow suit.

  • Jeff Goins
    October 14, 2010

    Good point, Ian.

  • Jon Mertz
    October 15, 2010

    Great post, and what a great example set by this initiative. It is truly amazing how people and technology came together to make a difference. Having a good purpose and story helps, but I am so glad to be a part of this and help make this movie happen. Thanks!

  • aircraft engines listing
    October 16, 2010

    I would love to see the church leverage this kind of passion. Sadly, too many of our members are more interested in what the church can do for them; will you play the music I like? Will I like the sermon? Will I disagree with anything I hear? Because if I see or hear something I don’t like, I’ll go to the church down the street.

    Obviously this group believes in something larger than themselves; beyond their own preferences, needs and feelings. Kudos to them for getting off their butts and getting it done. A marvelous example.

  • Ian Robertson
    October 18, 2010

    Great points Jeff. I do think you missed one important element behind the success of the campaign: they incentivized pledging. People weren’t just giving to a cause with a great story they were passionate about; they were giving to a cause with a great story they were passionate about that they got a cool return on. Starting with a “Thank You” call from the film’s director for giving $10 or more and moving all the way up to Donald Miller providing a private book reading for a donation of $8000, the organizers of the campaign did a great job of creating different tiers of returns for different levels of donations.

    I think the power of the incentive shows up the most in the fact that the most popular pledge amount is $100. I don’t think this is because 570+ people had an extra Benjamin laying around. I think it’s because at $100, they get an Associate Producer credit for the film and will be listed as such in the film’s end title crawl. It seems to me that the incentives give people a chance to not just donate to the financial needs of the film, but to really involve themselves and become part of the film at a much deeper level.

    • Jeff Goins
      October 28, 2010

      Well said, Ian. I agree – the “incentive” was a sense of belonging to something larger than yourself.

  • Deanna
    October 23, 2010

    I’m very happy that they received the funding that they needed! I think this is a great testament to the things that can be accomplished when you put your mind to it, especially when you have a great story to tell.

    The only thing is that I don’t think Blue Like Jazz should be a movie. It’s too much of an emotional journey. A lot of it is internal dialogue and internal emotional processing. How do you film that? I just don’t want to see his incredibly moving book to be warped into just another chummy Christian movie.

  • Peter Hamm
    October 25, 2010

    Well… I don’t think I would have given money to the movie, but these are great principles for how to make the cause of Christ and the mission of the local church relevant in the 21st century. Thanks!

    And yes, I can’t WAIT to see the movie… I hope it doesn’t stink like so many Christian films (but not all) do.

    • Jeff Goins
      October 28, 2010

      Thanks, Peter. I hope it doesn’t stink as well. I have it on good authority (from several who’ve read the script) that it won’t.

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