Meridian Marketplace Strategy Michigan District Church of the Nazarene
R. Mark Montgomery, Director
November 26, 2010
I am sitting here on a comfortable lounge ensemble in the new Meridian Mall storefront location of the He Cares We Care Center on “Black Friday”, the biggest shopping day of the year. My day started here at 5:00 a.m. and I’ve taken advantage of my own “free coffee”, third cup. Just one week ago, our kiosk operations were suspended by CBL Properties, Inc., mall owners, due to “friendly fire” from an indiscreet Wisconsin Christian radio station announcement.
As I glance up from my work, I see hundreds of shoppers walking briskly by, many pausing in front of our 34 foot window display and entrance. There are turned heads and smiles and waves. Weary feet turn in to rest, and free coffee from Coffee Barrell (owned by SouthNaz members, Tim & Shawn Brenner) is served. This is a bit of mercy.
A Saudi student from MSU circles for about 5 minutes around in front of our window while the JESUS FILM-Children’s English version with subtitles is playing. He is waiting for his Saudi friend to finish checking out in another store. “Holy Spirit, tell us what to do,” Jan & I pray. The guidance is given. I engage the student just before his friend arrives. They are both engineering students. They are delighted that we have their dialect available and make plans to return to sit and watch.
Next, Pong breezes through. He is a Vietnamese orphan, now adult working in the mall. “Jesus is my Father,” he exclaims with a sunny smile. “I play that DVD every day”, referring to the Jesus Film-All Nations Version we gave him the first day of the kiosk operations.
Two young Native American girls make their Anglo girlfriend wait while they watch the JESUS FILM out front, before being torn away to shopping.
Two Islamic teen girls (one Black) walk in. “Do you have German?” “Yes, we do.” They don the headphones as I download that version on the Internet in our lounge area, and watch for 10 minutes, and fill out comment cards. They decide to attend a dialog group here next week.
Next visitors are three husbands and four sons. One is an Anglican priest, another is an executive with World Vision, and a third is an auto sales business owner from Minnesota. They bless our mission with prayer and goodwill, praising God for His work.
Thirty minutes have passed. And there are many more stories to tell like the Hispanic couple from New York who asked for prayer for her two adult children to be transformed by Christ.
All this was made possible, not by good public relations, skillful debate, and pulling strings, but by the Holy Spirit of God. Fasting and prayer of hundreds of Christians around the world, mobilized by networks and lightning-fast technology within a day…and the Hand of God moved according to the Will of God.
Oops! Two elderly people, one after another, stop outside and read the words of Jesus as paraphrased by The Message, followed a minute later by a younger man.
THE NEW DEAL
Mall Management gave us two options on Monday afternoon: 1) terminate the agreement for the kiosk and receive a full refund, or 2) accept an upgrade to storefront space for no extra rent charge and a small token utility charge (as long as we turn out the lights at night.) for the remainder of the 6 month term. They gave us a choice to two storefronts in the vicinity of the kiosk T-79 location. One of those was the very target we had selected for our Phase #2 development of the Meridian Marketplace Strategy: H653-- a former china & bridal shop, a total of 2500 square of move-in ready retail space, plus a stock room, office and unisex rest room.
This offer was officially extended and accepted on Tuesday, and mall management ordered the change over of AT&T service and clean-up and clear-out of the space. On Wednesday, Nazarenes and Lansing Trinity Interdenominational Church workers teamed-up to transfer equipment and supplies to the storefront, and do deep cleaning. Marcia Soderberg donated and arranged for delivery of practically new living room set. Paul & Carol Casarez delivered 60 folding chairs and welcome center fixture and ILNC literature for display. Next week they plan to deliver four computer sets, five-six 5’ foot round tables, and paint.
Lansing Kendron Drive Church of the Nazarene has offered their old earth-tone drapes to the new location, and all Lansing Zone & Owosso churches will bring their literature.
Marcia Soderberg donated and decorated 12 Christmas trees on Saturday.
THE NEW CHALLENGE
In a word: STAFF. While we have been moderately successful in building awareness and excitement among Nazarenes near and far, deer season and the holidays are definitely impacting our ability to mobilize staff we have already recruited. However, everyone, and I mean everyone, who has actually served an assignment has experienced a renewed passion for the lost and expressed strongly the blessing they have received.
We need to, in short order, double or triple the amount of staff (if we count the on-site prayer support) in order to take the fullest advantage of this “open door that no man can shut.” I am focusing my leadership on recruiting and training more qualified staff, and we are adding more daily.
THE EVOLVING STRATEGY
Public Area “Discovery Zone” function. Our Public Area (front room) measures 26 feet wide and 61 feet long. In addition to the old kiosk functions of listening ear, flash prayers, requested praying on the spot, referrals and viewing the JESUS FILM, we are adding “dialogue groups” around 9 tables in the Public Area, provided by Indian Lake Nazarene Camp (ILNC), and led by specially trained staff. The topics are chosen from a “Difficult Question” drop basket, where visitors write down the difficult questions they are struggling with, like “How Do I Get through the Holidays without my lovedone?” I will schedule a Dialogue Group around a knowledgeable, skilful pastor or layminister and post it on a message board in front of the store. Any shopper, including the original questioner, can get in the dialogue.
Front Angled Window Display. One of the 42 inch flat-screen loops the JESUS FILM-Children’s version with English subtitles and faces traffic coming out of Macy’s. Have you ever watched this version? It is the best presentation of grappling with who Jesus really is. Today in a 12 hour period I watched a dozen children sit and watch this presentation for varying lengths of time. One child threw a fit when its parent pulled them away. One tween boy exclaimed “Jesus!” when he first saw the presentation. He proudly proclaim he had just been baptized this last summer. His eyes glowed with the love of Jesus as his parents gathered around him with praises to God as we talked.
(By Christmas, Trinity/Campus Crusade friends had installed a bar speaker on the mall entrance door, donated by ILNC. Sounds great!)
Front Welcome Desk. Provided by ILNC, this desk supports the coffee service and Comment Card box. A staff member sits on the stool behind it often, but always ready with a warm, genuine greeting, and kind gesture of a cup of Joe. It is also our statistical center.
Husband’s Rest Area. This is a half-circle of comfortable chairs located just inside the entrance of the store, in eye-shot of Macy’s. Husbands can keep look-out for their emerging wives, while enjoying a hunting/fishing, automotive, or golf magazine, drinking free coffee, shooting the breeze with other guys or staff, and yet overhearing the JESUS Film. This worked beautifully today with Bill, and he is looking for a church.
Lounge Rest Area. This living room set with an ottoman and end tables and lamps with subdued incandescent light sets the mood for a home-like theatre to watch the JESUS FILM in 1090 languages or the beautiful Creation Calls video. I have both headphones and soon external speakers (loaned by Brian Montgomery, our technical assistant) available for use. A Palestinian elderly man stayed an hour today viewing the Arabic version here. Free coffee is served here as well.
Wall Displays for churches, parachurch ministries, and community services. Every church on the two zones are invited to set up displays of the church’s program offerings in dedicated space. ILNC has already filled one glass shelf, and there are dozens more available. Abundant Living also has their banner and advertising materials out. Celebrate Your Marriage with Jay & Laura Laffoon has literature and promotional pieces there. Displays will be governed by the discretion of the director of HCWC and must relate directly to the disciple-making and edifying aspects of our mission. For-profit business promotion will be excluded except in such cases as significant contributions are made like the free coffee provided by Coffee Barrel. I could advertise my financial planning practice, but I won’t. I don’t take my business cards with me, and I have already turned down four people who expressed interest. I will have no conflict of interest operating here.
Network/Referral Desk. Located in the back of the Public Area, this desk is the check-in for one-on-one counseling, including discipleship, employment, and community churches and resources. There is a map of Lansing, directory of churches and directory of community services for the tri-county area. This is also where we keep the staff journal, prayer request list, and Scripture/Needs Index. All staff check-in and out at this desk, including those who come to pray in the 24/7 Prayer Room and Dialogue Group leaders. The HCWC telephone/answering machine is placed at this desk, so staff can make phone calls for needy visitors.
Internet Café. We have upgraded our electronic equipment (at minimal cost) to include Wi-Fi that shoppers can access for free with a code that we give out daily with medium content security to filter out and prevent undesirable downloads/access. We will offer three computer stations along the mirrored wall with the monitors viewable to the Network/Referral Desk. This service will be a huge drawing card for one type of people we are seeking to reach.
Local Christian Artist Gallery/Global Displays. We are reserving a couple of walls in the Public Area for local Christian artists to display their work for a limited time, and we will rotate often (every 3 weeks). This will help stimulate and encourage all kinds of creativity locally and add more to the overall atmosphere of HCWC. Christian writers can also sign up for pre-reading some of their work with an audience. In the 24/7 Prayer Room, we have display cases for arts and crafts from all over the world that can aide prayer participants in praying for each country.
24/7 Prayer Room. We have been blessed by a large comfortable secondary room for reflection, solitude and prayer, and Sunday worship. Desperate, round the clock prayer was an integral part of the early vision of the Meridian Marketplace Strategy, and now God has made wonderful provision.
Kyle Montgomery, a business management major from Eastern Michigan University, has researched and participated in International Houses of Prayer in Kansas City and Detroit. He is currently working on a business plan for the HCWC Center with emphasis on Phase #3 development of Connections Community of Prayer as an organic church and 24/7 Prayer Room.
December 26, 2010
I opened the HCWC Center at 2 p.m. after church and lunch today, and spent an hour with a couple sets of wonderful Christian friends who stopped in. As we visited, we watched a couple of dozen shoppers stop at the window where the Jesus Film was playing or read our signs.
After my friends left, there was very little activity and no one showed for the 4:30 p.m. gathering for Connections Community of Prayer, our organic marketplace church startup. I had just chalked it up to the holidays, and even fended off the thought that maybe this was not a "go" for the near future. At 4:45 p.m. I started putting away equipment, then felt prompted to leave the back prayer room and head to the front for, oh, a cup of coffee to watch the traffic. There I met a young man.
Chris G. is 27 and a "sojourner" (definition: disoriented God-seeker), and he told me his story after saying: "Something drew me in here". After 30 minutes of conversation as I quietly prayed for Spirit guidance, Chris basically confessed his decision to start following Jesus today, and asked me to disciple him! We will meet for lunch every Thursday and we are using LTG's. Rejoice with me in this new disciple and join me in prayer for him. This is the way the Meridian Marketplace Strategy is supposed to work: divine appointments on the turf of "sojourners".
Ten minutes later, two college women stepped in and told their story: both 3 months old in the Lord, and looking for a way to serve Him. They are being discipled by Campus Crusade and are excited about marketplace ministry. They are signing up as associated staff for the HCWC Center, and are interested in the launch of Phase 3: 24/7 Prayer Room.
You know, I could have gotten discouraged at 4:45 p.m. and closed up for the day. But I would have missed the blessing of these and one other divine moment that occurred after that time!
A great deal more failure is the result of an excess of caution than of bold experimentation with new ideas. The frontiers of the kingdom of God were never advanced by men and women of caution.”- J. Oswald Sanders
Let’s be upfront about the risks. Jesus commanded us to count the cost, didn’t he? We really don’t know where this is going yet. We are tuning in, listening to the Holy Spirit, obeying His commands, and following through, and remaining flexible.
The premise of missional strategies, especially those which are more organic, is that we endeavor through prayer, sweet, and tears to plant Jesus, make disciples, and allow a church to emerge with the flavor of the culture in which it is planted, with minimal cost and encumbrance, so that it is easily and quickly duplicatable.
The VISION announced to the District Church Health Board in October of 2009 was 120 new centers of holy fire in the Greater Lansing Area by the year 2020. The Meridian Marketplace Strategy was designed to accomplish two primary objectives: 1) to deeply penetrate the marketplace and fully engage the previously “unreachable” and unchurched, and 2) to make disciples who make disciples and seed the region with new church plants wherever they may sprout.
But the secondary benefits to pursuing this strategy is helping Nazarenes from the 14 area churches to learn how to exercise their faith, beg God the Father to send the Holy Spirit upon them, boldly go where they have never gone before, and connect with the lost, then take that renewed passion, poise, and power back to their home congregations with some of their own disciples following, to ignite an outpouring of the Holy Spirit and burn up the cynicism-soaked wood on the altar of sacrifice so all will know that the Lord, HE IS GOD, the Lord, HE IS GOD!
What if God turned every church on the Lansing Zone, nay the entire district, “inside out”, meaning that we measure our successful more by our sending capacity, than our seating capacity? What if we spend more dollars outside our church buildings to reach our community for Christ, with the kind of love that jumps the cultural barriers, instead of selfishly requiring the lost to jump all the cultural barriers? What if we all understood ourselves as missionaries?
Jesus is the Head of the Church. He has all of this already figured out. I will follow His Heart and do His bidding, and let HIM give the increase!