“Is it a bus? Is it a truck? Is it a boat? It’s more fun than all 3!” A few weeks ago Gary and I and our oldest daughter “rode the duck,” which is one of the hottest attractions in Seattle. The Duck is modeled after a World War 2 amphibious landing craft and is like a duck in that it can travel on both land and sea.
Gary and I don’t usually go in for touristy stuff when we vacation. I prefer hiking all day in the mountains while Gary would be quite content reading a good book in a local coffeehouse. Alas, the quack of the Duck beckoned, and we had a blast. Actually, I enjoy observing organizations who are excellent at what they do and employees who exhibit a passion for their job because those learnings can often be applied to the church.
Ride the Ducks can be found in a number of cities around the world. The purpose of their 90 minute tours is to give customers a unique view of the city and share interesting information by riding the roads as well as traversing the waters.
The key to the success of Ride the Ducks depends on the humor and personality of the driver, audience participation, and the novelty of the “Duck” itself. Our driver Bjorn was a stand-up comedian who had an amazing amount of energy and cracked one joke after another. I knew we were in for a crazy experience when Bjorn encouraged the passengers to blow quackers (duck whistles: only $2.25) and offered to sell us an aspirin ($50 each) in order to mitigate the annoying effect of the non-stop quacking noise.
Bjorn was quick to keep us sleepless in Seattle through his folksy monologues interspersed with a diverse selection of popular songs conducive to clapping, swaying, and singing along. He even encouraged us to interact with pedestrians and other drivers as we buzzed through the city streets.
Most of all, Ride the Ducks capitalizes on its primary asset, which is transforming bus drivers into sea captains. We drove right into Union Lake and went on a mini cruise around the Seattle basin alongside kayaks, sailboats, floatplanes, motorboats, and houseboats. Seeing Seattle from the water gave us a different perspective, as all the puzzle parts of this unique city came together.
It seemed only natural to compare our Duck experience to the church. Why is Ride the Ducks hugely popular, with people waiting hours for their ride, while most of our churches sit half empty on Sunday morning? It’s because Ride the Ducks has found the secret to the 3 critical questions that every organization seeking to be profitable/successful needs to consider.
• What is our mission and how will we fulfill it?
The mission of Ride the Ducks is to provide sightseeing fun from a duck’s eye view. Every aspect of Ride the Ducks is intended to align with that mission. Customer service is prompt and courteous. Ride the Ducks is brilliantly marketed throughout the city, and no one can spend any amount of time in Seattle and not know about the Ride the Ducks. Passengers waiting for Ducks are well organized by staff members who fire up their anticipation by using quackers. The tour blends historical information, unusual facts, catchy music, and crazy jokes to heighten the anticipation of seeing buses morph into boats.
Carefully crafted mission statements are just as important for churches as for secular organizations. Congregations whose ministries and goals align directly with their formal mission statement know who they are, offer compelling worship and outreach, and invite members and guests alike into a transformative experience with God. They develop a marketing plan, are intentional about an online presence, and follow through with guests.
On the other hand, congregations that don’t bother to prayerfully think through God’s unique mission for them often have ministries that are unfocused, scattered, and lack accountability. Worship is described as boring, is geared toward insiders, and does not foster spiritual growth or community. Marketing is dismissed as unnecessary, and sleepiness is common. Is your church crystal clear about its mission?
• How do we best serve our constituents?
Ride the Ducks would not remain in business if it did not connect with its customers. Ride the Ducks has created an experience that allows riders to see the sights in a city in a unique vehicle with an engaging “shtick.” People flock to the ride because of the Duck itself, the deliberate appeal to all ages, the catchy music, and especially the persona of the driver.
Can anyone drive for Ride the Ducks? Of course not. I’d be a terrible driver because I don’t have the right stuff. I am not a full blown extrovert, comedian, and non-stop talker. Drivers are chosen by their ability to engage with their customers and are carefully trained.
The church is also charged to serve its constituents, not just church members. Our constituents are those who have not made a formal commitment to the church but are nevertheless connected to us. They may have relatives in the church, live near the church, or come only on Easter and Christmas Eve. They may even call themselves “spiritual” and not “religious” but still consider us their church home. As John Wesley reminded us, “The world is our parish.”
Just as the Duck is the centerpiece of Ride the Ducks, worship is a primary portal to the church. Vital worship offers a life-changing encounter with God, self, and community through preaching, music, movement, and the dramatic and visual arts. By using scripture, current events, and contemporary stories to help people understand their own stories in relation to God’s story, the preacher speaks the language of both God and the people, and a new identity is created.
The persona of the pastor cannot be underestimated, for people feed off the energy of their leaders. Unlike Ride the Duck drivers, however, preachers have to present a new shtick every week. In addition, effective clergy do not demonstrate one specific personality, but formal training and wise discernment of gifts is essential.
• How do we know that we’re fulfilling our mission?
Ride the Ducks succeeds when customers have a good time, are satisfied that the experience was a great value cost-wise, and become quackers themselves. They recommend the ride to their friends, which, in turn, generates more business and profits.
In The United Methodist Church success is not so easily measured. We’ve become obsessed of late with numbers, primarily because almost all measureable statistical categories continue to decline. Although numbers do reflect health and vitality in congregations, holistic growth also includes spiritual formation and personal transformation, outreach to the local community and the world, a passion to quack the good news and make disciples, and a good dose of humor!
That’s where the Ride the Ducks and The United Methodist Church make odd bedfellows. The genius of Ride the Ducks lies in the ability of the vehicle itself to transform from a bus to a boat. The juxtaposition of 2 seemingly disparate modes of transportation both delights and amazes. Likewise, the genius of our Wesleyan heritage lies in John’s Wesley’s unique perspective on the Christian faith and open embrace of complementary opposites in his theology: social and personal holiness, faith and works, grace and sin, acts of mercy and acts of piety, freedom and responsibility, weakness and strength, inclusive and exclusive.
We know that we are fulfilling our mission in the church when:
• Members as well as constituents are transformed through engagement with the Bible and a challenging theology that gives us the freedom to become who God created us to be
• Worship, outreach, mission, community, and study inspire us to deepen our spiritual lives and prompt us to live out our faith wherever we are
• We can’t wait to become “quackers” ourselves and invite others into relationship with Jesus Christ
Is it God the Creator? Is it Jesus the Redeemer? Is it the Holy Spirit, the Sustainer? It’s more fun than all 3! Quack if you love the church!