Thinking Out Loud

November 5, 2009

Adapting To The Culture

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 10:47 am

When the pastor at Family of Christ Congregation walked out the side door of the church and ran into the manager of the local radio station next door, he didn’t know his ministry and his world were about to change.

Family of Christ Congregation (FCC) was his third pastorate.   A rather imposing figure of a man, Pastor Tyrone Lexington Boone was born to an African American father and a Latino mother in a middle class suburb of northern Ohio; but the posting at FCC found him in a Tennessee medium-sized town that was “part south and part midwest” in its outlook.

The church seated 185 according to the fire marshal; though they once packed 210 people in for a wedding without resorting to extra chairs.   Sunday mornings tended to attract a fairly full house mixing young and old, suits and shorts, whites and non-whites, Charismatics and conservatives and the occasional “I’m not there yet” seeker.

The block was a mix of commercial and residential, but the church’s lot was deep, so parking was at the back of a skinny driveway.   You didn’t want to be going in when everybody else was coming out, or driving out when others will trying to come in.   There was a rather large bed and breakfast place on the other side of the driveway, and the local radio station was next door.

Currently operating under the somewhat dated name “PEACE 99;” the radio station wasn’t even a 99 at all, but broadcast at 98.9 FM.   But their studio was well insulated and the church never heard any noise from the place, especially on Sunday mornings when they ran some pre-recorded music commercial free.

Pastor Boone usually used the back door to the parking lot, but went out the side door more to see if the door actually worked or if it would prove to be sealed shut in the event of an emergency.    It was at that moment that Dan Righter — or at least that was his on-air name — the afternoon guy, station manager and owner of PEACE 99 walked out the side door of his building to see if the building lawn might need cutting.

“Hey!   I never use that door;” they both said to each other, almost in unison.   Dan Righter was also the station’s best sales representative, even though he had guys hired to do that job.   He was a quick study and his philosophy was that nothing in life is coincidence.  He saw an opportunity.

Pastor Boone muttered something about a “divine appointment” and was therefore quite receptive when the radio guy said he had an idea.

“I don’t actually make any money on Sunday mornings.   It’s not a good time to sell advertising spots.   So we just play stuff from the archives.    Heck, I even put a kid’s audition tape on the air to fill the time.   But I am under pressure from our community service advisory board to be doing more to help out in the town.   So Pastor, how’d you like to broadcast your Sunday service, free of charge?”

radio-towerBoone shrugged his shoulders and said he’d never thought about going the radio before.    That was a lie.   It was all he thought about.   The Bible college he went to was next to a university that had a 100-watt campus station that could be heard for miles.    Not knowing he was from the adjacent institution, the students that ran the campus outlet gave him a four hour show on Monday nights.    He played an eclectic mix of music that had listenership from around the broader community.

“I don’t know about putting the church on the radio;” he replied.

“Look;”  Dan said; “There’s larger churches in town I can offer this to, but it’s a real hassle technically if I’m just giving the time away.   With you guys, I can run a line from your sound system right through these doors we just walked through, and when it’s over, it takes about 30 seconds to roll up the cable.  I’ll put the ‘free’ part in writing and we’ll commit to each other for 26 weeks.  If you want to walk away in six months, that’s fine.”

“You got a deal;” Pastor Boone blurted out, realizing even at that moment that this was a rather major decision he was going to have to clear through his board members, all ten of them.   Plus, he was at first going to have to make it sound like something he was considering, instead of something that was a done deal.

Nonetheless, the men shook hands on it.   Starting that Sunday, Family of Christ would begin sending their audio signal next door for PEACE 99 to spread throughout the town of 26,000 people.

It was Tuesday.

Selling the concept was easier than Pastor Boone thought.   He decided to poll the board members individually.   In the big cities, church boards meet to arrive at consensus.   In smaller towns, board members talk to each other throughout the week so they can determine consensus before arriving at the meeting.

Of course it helped that he said, “The radio guy next door is offering us a chance to run our audio signal into the station for ninety minutes on Sunday morning, for six months, free of charge.  Any objection?”

You might as well make cold calls to the board and say, “The humane society needs us to provide shelter to some stray cats for a few weeks.  Any objections?”    I mean, how can you say no to cute kittens?   But more to the point, how can you formulate any objection to something that blindsides you from out of nowhere?

So the thing breezed through stage one with all ten board members quickly; so quickly that Pastor Boone then phoned them all again and asked, “Hey, about that radio thing, we don’t need to have a meeting on this, do we?”    The weather was nice that week, so a meeting to discuss one emergency agenda item didn’t have a lot of appeal.

And so the biggest thing to happen to Family of Christ Congregation was thrown together in about five days, with no formal board approval and absolutely no knowledge of the congregation.

The church sound technician, Gary, was also a board member, but Pastor Boone told him he was going to set up some things to be controlled from the platform so that he could “avoid dead air.”   He explained that way they could take up the offering without the radio audience even knowing it was going on.

Some of the board members mentioned the concept to their wives who in turn may have told an extra person or two, but Gary had a busy week at work and was happy that Pastor Boone was going to take care of all the advance details.    The pastor phoned once to say that he would also be doing the actual mix from the platform and that Gary simply needed to control a single channel to set the auditorium volume level.

So a few people knew about the radio thing, but only one person knew about the technical specifications — or lack thereof — and he didn’t speak to anyone.

As a result, not even the board members were prepared for what awaited that Sunday morning.   The rest of the church family had nothing with which to mentally process what they saw on the platform when they walked into the sanctuary that Sunday.

The pulpit had been replaced by a large DJ console, complete with twin turntables, a bank of CD players and a couple of cartridge machines that were in wider use at radio stations before everything went computerized.   There was a very large boom stand supporting an equally oversize microphone and a large — 18 inch — institutional analog-style clock of the kind you only see in radio stations and hospital operating rooms.

The screen that normally hosted the lyrics to the congregational worship songs bore the news:

Starting this week and for the next six months, we will be broadcasting from 10:00 AM to 11:30 AM live on PEACE 99; 98.9 on your FM dial.

And at 10:00 AM that’s exactly what happened.    Pastor Boone’s usual greeting, “Good Morning;” which was always followed by a pause during which the congregation would reply “Good Morning; ” was replaced with the pause-less, “Good Morning this is PEACE 99, it’s 10 o’clock on a wonderful Sunday morning and you’re listening to Sunday Morning at Family of Christ, broadcasting from now until 11:30 from our church located next door to the PEACE 99 studios, and we just wanna invite you to turn up the music and pretend you’re at church with us, except you won’t be pretending because thanks to the magic of radio, you really are at church with us Family of Christ Congregation, the place to be on a Sunday morning, broadcasting live in stereophonic sound on PEACE 99.”

It seemed like one long sentence.   But maybe not as long as what — without even the taking of a breath — followed.

“My name is Tyler Boone and I’m the pastor at FCC Church and we want this next 90 minutes to be the highlight of your week.   I want you to kick back in the most comfortable chair you got, and turn the music up loud.   If anyone walks in the room and tries to tear you away from the radio, I want you to say, ‘Be quiet, ’cause we is in church.’  It’s 62 degrees right now and we’re going for a high today of 74 degrees with light winds from the southwest and clouding over late in the day.   It’s the day the Lord has made and you are gonna get rejoicin’ with it.  Right now we’re going to kick things off with my brother Israel Houghton and New Breed singin’ ‘I Am A Friend of God.'”

And with that the CD started playing, “Who are you that you are mindful of me; that you hear me, when I call?”

People in the congregation liked this song.   But right about now they would be actually singing it, not hearing it played from a CD.    The choir looked equally bewildered, but not as much as they would be when the song started the final chorus and Boone signaled to the choir director to get the choir standing and ready to do their first song.  He whispered to the pianist to start playing as soon as he gave the cue.

As the CD faded, Boone opened his microphone again, “It’s 10:05 and that was Israel Houghton with our first song.  So are you a friend of God today?”  Then he cued the pianist to start playing the choir intro even as the last of the music from the CD was still lingering in the sound system.   “Right now we got the Friends of Christ Congregation Choir who are gonna make you wanna sing along.”

He cut the rest of the intro short when the pianist reached the part where the choir hit their first note.   In one respect, the choir couldn’t compare with the recorded music, but on the other hand, it was an absolutely perfect cross-fade between the recorded and the live music sources.    Technically it was a flawless transition.

When the choir was into the final bar, he cued the congregation to break out into ‘spontaneous’ applause, and before the applause died down he was back with another time-check, an invitation to a movie the church was showing that Friday, and some patter about a football game he’d seen on TV the day before.

And so it went.

There were sound effects, public service announcements, commercials for a number of Christian organizations, lots of recorded music, a couple of live solos from members of the choir, a seven year old girl perfectly reciting a memory verse, and a sermon that was preached in three twelve-minute sections instead of the usual forty minute version.

Oh yes, the congregation did get to sing.   One song.   Just one.   Only one.

Three quarters of the way through the service, Mr. Alkins, one of the longstanding members of FCC got up from his usual place in the third row and walked down the center aisle making circle loops around his ears the way you do when you want to convey that someone is a lunatic.   A few other people left before it was over as well.

But the next week, there were at least a dozen or more adult visitors, some with children in tow; though an equal number of FCC-ers had decided to simply stay home and catch the service on the radio.

The week after that the trend continued.    Dan Righter may have thought that Sunday morning was a ratings graveyard, but there were enough people tuned in to PEACE 99 to give the church a bit of a reputation and want to stop by for a visit to the “radio church” on Sunday morning, even though an equal member of the Family of Christ church family were reported to be attending churches elsewhere.

As for Pastor Boone, he was on a perpetual high in his new role as combination pastor and disc jockey.    Technically, the “show” only got better from week to week, and the choir members who stayed mastered the art of weaving in and out around the recorded songs.   In fact, there was now a waiting list to join the choir, caused in part because FCC only owned a total 22 choir gowns.

The sermons were as informative and inspiring as they had always been and even though the congregation didn’t get to sing as often, there was an equal amount of music in the service.

While Family of Christ was the kind of church that you could always attend while sneaking in a cup of coffee, some people did notice that there was an increased amount of talking going on during the morning.   There was also a lot of foot traffic coming and going throughout the service, not to mention the people who came late or didn’t stay for the whole 90 minutes.

The quality of the ‘fellowship’ somehow seemed more genuine however.   Whether or not that was due to the increase in talking during the service, or simply a result of the bond shared by those held captive by a common force was anyone’s guess.

But nobody had ever attended a “radio church” before, so people simply accepted that they were breaking new ground; creating a new paradigm.   And Pastor Boone’s wife Mazie smoothed over any negative criticisms with, “Hey, at least we ain’t on television;” followed by her larger-than-life laughter that made you want to laugh even if you were really upset about something.

The ten board members were more shocked and perplexed than anything else.    This whole thing had happened in a moment, in a heartbeat, without board approval.   They figured it would disappear as quickly as it had come, but hundreds of time checks and weather forecasts and even a couple of traffic reports later, there was no denying that it was a rather creative and clever initiative on Boone’s part.    They were mad as hell at him on the one hand, and huge fans of the radio format on the other.   And by about week ten, the church was the talk of the town.

Especially during week eight, when the first “outside” donation came in.   It was a farmer, about three towns to the east, who sent in $50 with a note saying he hadn’t been to church in years and that “the PEACE 99 service” was the highlight of his week.   He said he’d dusted off his Bible in order to better follow along with the “sermonettes” as he referred to the individual message sections.

And that’s how Family of Christ Congregation got on the radio.   Instead of taking what they normally did on Sunday morning and simply plugging in a line out from their sound system to the radio station next door, Pastor Boone simply brought the radio studio to church, either choosing to live out a dream or feed a massive ego; or willing to risk everything to be the best expression of a church using broadcast media to reach their corner of the world.

“It’s 11:09 and this is Tyler Boone bringin’ you the help and hope and the good news that Jesus is alive and He loves ya and He wants you to get to know ‘im better and get on with what He made you for doin’ and we’re here at Family of Christ right next to the radio station you’re listening to; and it’s no coincidence you’re listening to PEACE 99 this morning because God wants you to be a part of the Kingdom He’s buildin’ and preparin’ and you can’t afford to refuse his offer.    It’s a beautiful sixty-seven degrees with winds calm and don’t forget that at noon PEACE 99 has live coverage of the State basketball semi finals and don’t forget tonight at seven we’ve got the Fireproof movie screening free of charge right here at FC Congregation absolutely free of charge.   Right now we got the music of the Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir and they’re gonna take us away with a classic song from 1993…”


1 Comment »

  1. […] Related post on this blog — A fictional story about Pastor Boone, who gets offered some free r… […]

    Pingback by Christian Radio in Crisis « Thinking Out Loud — February 18, 2010 @ 3:57 am

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