The Holy Church of TOMS Footwear
-Pastor Melissa Fain-
While in Argentina, Blake Mycoskie ran across a couple of women who were there to deliver shoes to the people. Deciding to help, he learned how many diseases are transmitted through feet. That was the moment TOMS shoes were born.
Buy one pair, and one pair will be donated to a community in need.
Sounds pretty awesome, doesn't it? I know I saw my share of friends and colleagues sporting TOMS. At their zenith I was at my lowest, and couldn't afford their hefty price tag, otherwise I would have been among them. (The best I could do at that time was purchase ethical eggs, which isn't the same as free range, but that's a story for another time.)
There were multiple problems with TOMS.
No one asked the people if they wanted or needed shoes. We, the American people, will almost always follow the path of least resistance. There are so many brands that promise a one to one giving model, and we buy it at twice the mark-up.
It hurt local economies where the shoes were given. Not only were taxes not being taken for these freebies to help local governments, but shoe repair and sellers were not able to compete. A problem that Mycoskie would eventually hear a decade later.
It is too easy. It's far too easy to sit in our ivory castles, making choices for people who we are not listening to. TOMS were not for the people getting the second pair we purchased, it was so we could feel good about the pair we wore.
The Buy-One/Give-One Model of Digital Church
I did not think, going into the pandemic a year ago, I would be writing the words I'm about to write. I had more hope for my Christian brothers and sisters. I seriously thought, if everyone was where I had spent the past eight years, people would finally see the problem. Instead, the situation became worse.
Churches- you are considering online ministry now. You are considering throwing a few hundred dollars a week at a person who will copy your brand of corporate worship, and paste it online for your homebound and congregants who are away. At the same time, many of you are marketing this as also a way to meet those who have been disenfranchised or unable to come to church. It's your buy one/give one model. It's an easy solution to a national crisis of faith.
If you are reading this, and you are a congregant or minister from an established church, realize you are setting up the TOMS of online worship.
I'm happy you want something for those in your church, established in your church, who cannot get in the church for whatever reason. Great! Name that, and don't try to pretend you are doing something for those outside your building.
For years, I have been waving the banner of meeting the needs of those who have found themselves online, like a mission field. God is already present. God is already working, and what real online ministry will look like won't look like corporate worship. For years, churches have met me with a horrible sentence, "What we have works, so they should come see what we already have."
That one sentence completely and totally negates so many people who don't agree. It's also not just because they don't care for a church's particular brand of church.
Of course, there are those broken by the church. When a person has been broken by a system that was supposed to care for them, things that used to be comforting become stigmatizing. Everything becomes dangerous. Words of comfort become stabbing moments of crisis. And guess what? The internet was supposed to be their way to escape that, and Churches all over the nation just oversaturated everything with it! What you are bringing is literally making broken Christian's world worse. Like forcing a painter with a broken finger to continue painting. There's healing first, and we're negating the process.
There are also those who haven't been able to enter churches because of physical and mental disabilities. It is difficult for them to get in a car and drive to the church. I'm sure many are thinking their brand of copy/paste church was for them. I'm sure many are thinking this group is all over 70 years old, and just want to watch. You'd be wrong. Especially with long Covid, we now have so many people in their 20s-60s who now are physically disabled. These are people who long to not only see worship but participate in it. Some of this means rethinking how worship is done, and asking them how they want to be part of the Body of Christ.
There are also those who just don't want to go. These are the ones churches have been drooling to get in worship for over a generation, and have failed spectacularly.
It is stunning how in every case the church just decides to throw out the BOGO method of evangelism. As if that's not off putting to those on the outside glancing in.
"We're already doing what you're doing, only better."
This is the biggest slap in the face.
Going back to TOMS for a moment. Imagine if Mycoskie decided to personally deliver a crate of TOMS to Ecuador. Then imagine if a shoemaker came to Mycoskie as he was passing shoes out and the shoemakers asked Mycoskie to stop or help with his business, because TOMS was hurting the shoemaker financially. Then, imagine Mycoskie responding to the shoemaker with these words, "We're not going to stop, because we've figured out how to do what you are doing, only better."
In that situation it sounds scandalous. Well of course a 1st world country knows how to make shoes better than 3rd world shoemaker! They have more at their disposal to make a high quality product. That doesn't mean that a 1st world product is what a 3rd world needs. Mycoskie would eventually hear what was being said, and would change the model. Instead of giving shoes, they give opportunity to entrepreneurs to create what they need.
Churches need to hear too.
The people on the outside don't want your production from the inside. Sure, it's well produced, but it's not part of their community. They have no ownership or say in it. All these fancy productions are destroying the ministries that have been around longer than the pandemic. (Yes, that includes us.)
We are choosing who our net-vangelists are. The longer churches live in the delusion that they are somehow the next big thing, the easier it will be for wolves to step into shepherds leadership roles. We are on a timer now. Fig Tree wants to be exclusively online, but without real support that's a fools dream. I have to watch churches drop their TOMS brand of ministry all around me, and there is nothing I can do... alone.
I've been told I'm obsolete. That's only true if your vision is nearsighted. We're not obsolete, but we do need help. BOGO is not the way to go. Support is. Support us.