Getting the Word Out

Watching Saints quarterback Drew Brees on television last night, I thought about something the leader of Southern Baptists’ evangelism program said some 40 or more years ago.

Kenneth Chafin headed up the evangelism department of what was then called the SBC Home Mission Board. In the early 1970s, they had developed a cutting-edge program of personal soulwinning they called “WIN Schools,” for “Witness Involvement Now,” as I recall. I took the pilot training and led many “schools” in churches across the South.

In developing this program, Chafin was talking about how difficult it is to get the news out to the membership of our churches. “It takes 5 years to say hello to Southern Baptists,” he laughed.

The difficulty, as he saw it, was that he had to tell the various denominational leaders of the program. They in turn passed the word on to their underlings. At some point, the editors of the state Baptist weeklies got involved and picked up the news. Even then, the grassroots of Southern Baptists still did not have a clue of the program. Pastors needed to be told and retold, after which they themselves would get the word to the members. How long it would take for the message to penetrate to the bottom layer of the membership was anyone’s guess. Five years was Dr. Chafin’s guess.

So, last night, Drew Brees was on television speaking at a hastily called news conference. He had a bright idea for a new tradition he wants to begin among the fan base of the New Orleans Saints. Furthermore, he doesn’t have five years to do it. Yesterday was Tuesday and the first game of the season comes Thursday night in the Superdome. Brees wanted to get the word out to all attending the game in 48 hours. Furthermore, he intends this as a permanent tradition.

Big plans. A large assignment. After the clip, an anchor raised the obvious question: “Now, the problem is getting the word to the 70,000 Saints who will be in the Dome Thursday night.”

This morning–Wednesday–I found out how Brees pulled it off.

The front page of the Times-Picayune gave full coverage to Brees’ news conference and his plans for the new chant. No one picking up the paper can miss it.

Wonder what it would have cost if Brees had had to purchase the front page. The short answer, of course, is: it’s not for sale. No amount of money would buy that. It is literally priceless.

At this point, readers are probably wondering what the chant is Brees has in mind. Briefly, it’s this. As soon as the referee ends the coin toss, the captain of the Saints team, standing in the middle of the field, raises his hand. When he drops his hand, the stands come alive with chants of “Who Dat! Who Dat! Who Dat say dey gonna beat dem Saints?!

(It might be repeated a couple of times. Not sure.)

Brees wants noise, bedlam even, in the Superdome as the Saints take the field to face their opponent.

He got the word out to the fan base in less than 24 hours. With a little help from the media.

That’s how it’s done, if you have the kind of celebrityhood and influence to command the attention of the news and sports media. Drew Brees does, of course.

Malcolm Gladwell wrote about this phenomenon in “The Tipping Point.” A movement–news of an event or product, any kind of trend–spreads little by little until something happens and suddenly it spreads like wildfire. From then on, it’s get-out-of-the-way, katie-bar-the-door.

Reading your New Testament, you can see this very thing happening in the early days and weeks of our Lord’s earthly ministry. The very first chapter of Mark gives this incident…

Now, a leper came to Him, imploring Him, kneeling down to Him, and saying to Him, “If you are willing, you can make me clean.”

Then Jesus, moved with compassion, stretched out His hand and touched him, and said to him, “I am willing; be cleansed.” As soon as He had spoken, immediately, the leprosy left him, and he was cleansed.

And He strictly warned him and sent him away at once, and said to him, “See that you say nothing to anyone; but go your way, show yourself to the priest, and offer for your cleansing those things which Moses commanded, as a testimony to them.”

However, he went out and began to proclaim it freely, and to spread the matter, so that Jesus could no longer openly enter the city, but was outside in deserted places, and they came to Him from every direction. (Mark 1:40-45)

The KJV says the man proceeded to “blaze abroad the matter.” I like that. It sounds like a raging forest fire. At this very moment, such a fire is consuming everything in its path in Colorado. Once such a fire gets out of control, little can be done.

The fascinating thing in this little story, of course, is that Jesus told the former leper to keep the news to himself and he told the world. He tells us to tell the world and we go home and sit down.

Our assignment is to “blaze abroad the matter.” To get the news out.

Christians today identify with the four lepers of II Kings 7 who were starving inside the walls of Samaria and decided to give themselves up to the Syrians who were beseiging the city. When they arrived at the military camp, they found it deserted. What they did not know what that the Lord had panicked the Syrians during the night and they had run for their lives, leaving behind all their supplies.

As the lepers gorged themselves on the food and gathered up treasures to hide, they became to come to their senses. “Then they said to one another, ‘We are not doing right. This day is a day of good news, and we remain silent. If we wait until morning light, some punishment will come upon us. Now therefore, let us go and tell the king’s household.” (II Kings 7:9)

Historians tell us the first century believers actually did blaze the news of Jesus’ resurrection abroad. Paul Meier, professor at Western Michigan University and author of several excellent books on the early believers, says there had to have been some kind of “religious explosion” in Jerusalem for the news of Jesus to travel so rapidly across the Roman Empire that within the first generation, we read of converts being “of Caesar’s household” (Philippians 4:22).

I fear the problem is that the news of Jesus has come to our house and stopped there. No one is hearing because we are not telling.

Something bad wrong here.