Fake News as Good News [Update]

Some people try things out in their church and look for feedback online.  I try out my crazy ideas online and use the feedback to make my local church ministry more awesome.

Back in November, I wrote about the effect a fake New York Times had on people and I wondered what would happen if we did something similar in the church: Using Fake News as the Good News.

Well, I tried it this past Sunday.  Here's what happened. 

Note: yes, there's a lot of "I" language in this.  While the laity are very involved in worship, I made this a pastoral secret effort that surprised even the most well-connected of people.  I would not recommend it, it was a lot of work!

  • The Plan
    • Form
      • The original plan was to send a mailing out to everyone with a fake newsletter with an explanation of how we need to envision the future.  This was scrapped due to time constraints.
      • The modified plan became to put it in the bulletin with the tagline above, but also with another slip of paper with the instructions "Write the headline you would most like to see on the slip of paper and drop it in the offering plate."  
    • Content
      • Most of the headlines had to be idealistic but not crazy.  In other words, I didn't want them to seem pie-in-the-sky, but still feasible.  Do we have a bell choir?  No.  Do we have a confirmation class this year?  No.  But we could.  Could one of my members be knighted for saving the Queen from falling into the river?  No...but it was funny.
      • Headlines were written only, with filler text being used in place of articles so the focus was on the headlines not the "how did we get there"
  • The Newsletter
    • I wrote the fake newsletter in full color, dating it July 25th, 2009 (six months from Sunday).  Some headlines read:
      • Evening Worship Service Draws 250 People on First Night
      • Capital Campaign Exceeds Expectations, Raises $125,000.  Excess given to Food Pantry
      • Sunday School “Casting Nets in the nets” program offers bible study between soccer games on Sundays
      • Adult Bible Study Writes Acclaimed Curriculum for Global UMC on “Lifetime of Bible Reading
      • Children's Choir cuts new CD of Christmas Music
      • The Bell Choir is going to state bell choir competition in November
      • Church Leads UM Conference in Baptisms. Confirmation class largest ever at 30 youth
      • Rev. Smith, [and two others] arrested (again) protesting the inhumane treatment of pound puppies, third offense for Smith.
    • At the bottom of the newsletter, I included a section of 
      • ...What if this were all true?  It can be. This is just a vision, one possible future.  What does the future of our Church look like to you?
  • The Reception
    • People were smiling in the pews, laughing at some of the more ridiculous headlines.
    • There were a few members there that I called out specifically and included their names in the newsletter (I redacted them above).  I could see there was some light shined when I called out their hidden passions for everyone to see.
    • One member in particular said to me "you know, I've always thought about this."  Those are golden words to pastors!
    • One bad reaction: I didn't have time to write the content of the stories, just the headlines.  So I filled the articles with small-case latin "Lorem Ipsum" etc.  This should have been a giveaway it was fake, but one member complained about us putting the bulletin "in Spanish" without english translation...needless to say, the member was quickly corrected!
    • We had a first-time visitor that day, and the visitor's words at the back of the sanctuary were "When I first read it, this church sounded awesome."  I didn't ask what he thought after reality came crashing down, but it was an affirmation regardless!
  • Lessons Learned
    • Do this in a context you can control.  Sending it out in mass could work, but in a worship service where you can frame it worked marvelously.  I incorporated the newsletter into the sermon not as a preacher's trick, but to illustrate the value of embodying and envisioning what the Good News looks like.
    • Take the time to write the stories.  Filling them with "Lorem Ipsum" was a time-crunch decision, and not a good one.  Do it.
    • Include response where people can write their own headlines.  That was well-received and I got many of them back (we asked them to write their own headlines on pieces of paper and pass them in the offering plates).
So, there you have it.  Questions about our experiment, or ideas you want to share about your own?  Discuss.


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