I’m not embarrassed to admit that Ron Popeil, the Ronco guy, is one of my heroes. Inventor, entrepreneur, marketer, and the godfather of the TV pitchman has four easy lessons for churches.
Ron Popeil appeared on television using the catch-phrase, “But wait, there’s more!” as early as the mid-1950’s, and won the Nobel Prize in Consumer Engineering in 1993. The founder of Ronco sold his company in 2005 for $55-Million, a far cry from the under $20 Pocket Fisherman, Dial-O-Matic, Chop-O-Matic, Veg-O-Matic, and my favorite, Mr. Microphone. His business acumen has been inspirational to other businesses, sales, and inventors around the world. When I speak to church leaders and congregations, I usually try to work in something from Mr. Popeil.
Easier – Better
This simple statement, “Make things easier, make things better,” was the founding principle for Ronco. Ron’s father, Samuel J. Popeil started a kitchen products business that created the Chop-O-Matic, making it easier to chop nuts, potatoes, vegetables, eggs, meats, and even ice without gouging your hands on a grater, or onions without shedding a single tear. It was this kitchen gadget that sent Ron down the road in flea markets, later Woolworths, and finally to television. I’ve got a Chop-O-Matic, and it really is easier and better.
So, what’s easier and better at your church? I’ve been to churches where the liturgical flow is clearly outlined in a program or on a screen. I’ve also been to churches where it’s assumed you know what’s happening now; when to stand, sit, kneel, shake, turn-around, get-down, and get back up again. Does your church provide easily accessible privacy envelopes for people who want to give during the offering time, making it easy for them to get an annual tax record? Do you provide a Square pad or kiosk at the church for giving from debit/credit cards, or a way to donate online? Does your church make it easy to contact the church office, pastor or other leaders, ask questions, and have conversations? Or does your church keep that information a secret? What happens when someone calls your church office? Is there a voice mail box, menu of options, or does that phone just keep ringing? Does your voicemail and website lead with what time your services meet? Do you have Bibles available for people who don’t have one, or do you keep those chained to the pew?
Those are just a few things I’ve seen, over time, at different churches. They’re not too expensive to implement, and these easy access points truly do make things better for new people, and your beloved regular attending saints.
But Wait, There’s More
Ron Popeil always got to that point in his presentation when he would utter the immortal phrase, “But wait, there’s more!” You could count on it. Ron would tell you what seemed like everything you could possibly want to know about his latest miracle product, including the price, and the 5 easy payments. You were as hooked as a fish on the Pocket Fisherman, and as drawn in as the smoke in the smokeless ashtray. Then, he’d hit you with it. “But wait, there’s more!” There would be a cookbook with 50 secret recipes by world famous chefs. There was a food injector, a complete set of knives, and the perfect fishing multi-tool. He never left you with just the main course. There was always something more.
How about at your church? Do you have Sunday morning services followed by… next Sunday’s services? Do you have something else going on during the week where people can get involved, and build relationships? Some people are going to look for service projects, study groups, or purely social activities. You might even consider personally inviting them. How many events are in the program, posted on a bulletin board, and mentioned from the pulpit, but out there in the narthex – nobody ever invites anyone to go? Is your pastor blogging and inviting conversation about the messages? The sermon is already written down, it’s pretty easy to break it up into sections and put it online through a blog or on social media. At the end of your Sunday morning is that all there is, or can you say, “But wait, there’s more!”
Isn’t That Amazing!
Ron’s rapid-fire and breathless excitement conveyed his passion for the greatest inventions he’d ever seen, and he’d invented them. It was as if it was the first time he’d ever told anyone about this latest gadget. He believed in the products and it came through in everything he did. In each pitch, when he showed people how his product worked, he said those three little words, “Isn’t that amazing!” The phrase was said as an exclamation, not a question. At the same time, he looked for his audience to respond. Later, in his infomercials, you saw the audience nodding their heads and heard them answer.
Never forget how amazing is the gospel of Jesus Christ! In Matthew 14:22-33, Jesus is walking on the water, and Peter joins him. Then, he forgets how amazing it is that Jesus, and now he, is walking around on the surface of the water. Peter gets scared, and starts to drown. The reality of the storm around him strikes Peter, and the “Amazing” starts to wear off. Does the amazing wear off from time to time? When you preach or teach do you communicate the awe? Have you gotten excited about who Jesus is and what he does lately? Does your church ring with the amazing good news about Jesus Christ, or is there something else going on that acts as a distraction?
(Never) Set it and Forget it
This catch phrase from the Showtime Rotisserie oven was great for a roasted chicken or shish kabobs, but dangerous to the church. The world around us is constantly changing. Communication tools and styles evolve over time. The ways people understand and relate to each other flip like Ron’s automatic egg turner. Some people struggle with change. Some people are the first in line for a new wiz-bang whatchamacallit. The church was on the cutting edge of print with the Gutenberg Bible. The church was an early-adopter on the radio with S. Parkes Cadman, and Fulton J. Sheen who successfully switched to television, winning a number of Emmy Awards. On the internet, The Bible Gateway pioneered online Bible search, and YouVersion continues today with their popular mobile Bible app.
Simply, the church must never “Set it, and forget it.” The mentality that might use that phrase, or the more common, “We never did it that way before,” or “We’ve tried that, and it didn’t work here,” often create a spirit of hopelessness and defeat in the church. New communication tools, new methods, and new approaches are always popping up, and change is happening faster than ever before. The church must become an early-adopter of ways to communicate. Just because a printed newsletter or an email blast worked last year, that doesn’t mean it will work the same way next year. Of course the message of Jesus Christ never changes, but the delivery methods do.
If you want to get a sense of how Ron Popeil started, here’s the original Chop-O-Matic television commercial (before his famous catch-phrases). Produced with his friend Mel Korey for just $500.