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Learning from Toyota

May 11, 2010

Toyota has had an amazing reputation and loyal customer base over the last several decades, but recently with the “sudden acceleration” recalls of millions of vehicles and the appearance of a “cover-up” they are reeling from the negative publicity on a scale they have never seen. They could have just gotten defensive, or continued to stonewall, but they have tried to address the issues head-on publicly and are trying to move on. I’ll admit my bias. I’m a Toyota owner and have been for years. I’m partial to Toyota and Honda because of their safety, reliability, and resale value over the years. My personal experience has also included years of trouble free ownership of their vehicles.

However, I think Toyota was beginning to get in a rut. They had the best selling car in America with the Camry, and they were selling tons of other vehicles, but I think they were becoming a bit “safe” and boring with their styling and their advertising. Maybe this recall was also a wake up call. Maybe I’m wrong and it is a coincidence, but as a Toyota Sienna minivan owner (don’t judge me…there’s really nothing better than a minivan when you have three kids and a dog to carry 500 miles back home to Virginia for the holidays or to go on daily commutes to softball, color guard, girl scouts, church, camp, school, etc., etc., etc.) I got a kick out of their new advertising campaign…the suburban superhero soccer mom and dad driving their swagger wagon…

I was thinking that many churches are like Toyota. Not to be too crass by putting this in “secular business terms”, but as Christians we’ve got the best product, price, and warranty program around. I mean Jesus was perfect, salvation is a free gift, and you can’t beat the eternal heavenly reward, but so many churches somehow manage to screw it up. Stop playing it safe…eternity hangs in the balance. Rock the boat…better yet, get out of the boat (if you want to walk on water, you’ve got to get out of the boat…to borrow from John Ortberg).

How can we speak to a culture that doesn’t care about Christ by using “churchy” insider language and methods that are stuck in various decades over the last couple of centuries (whether you are in a “King James” only church from the 50s or one with hip “contemporary” music from the 80s). When is the last time you tried something really new, or took a chance, or even went outside and talked to some non-Christians about what makes an impact on them? Don’t change the timeless message of the Bible. Christ is the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow, but Jesus reached people where they were using the “contemporary” cultural references of His time. If he had first come on the scene today instead of 2000 years ago, I don’t think he’d be wearing a toga and sandals…okay, maybe he’d still be wearing sandals, but he’d probably have cargo shorts and a shirt from The Buckle too.

The point is, that the message of the Bible is relevant for all times and all situations, but the packaging of the message (the church buildings, the worship style, the music, the programs) must be relevant to people’s lives and needs to be able to cut through the cultural noise people are bombarded with every day. What is your church doing to lower the drawbridge to your community and meet them where they are?

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