Thursday, May 24, 2012

One Year Later

When I was driving to the church this morning, the sky had an eerie yellow cast.  Not something any of the survivors of last year's tornado in Piedmont would take comfort from.    Luckily, the skies are looking a little more cheerful as the day progresses.
Garrett Rempe of Piedmont First United Methodist Church
helping with debris removal.

I met with the Central Oklahoma Recovery Effort (CORE) at 10 am as we continue to try to help with the final cases in our communities.  We've done some good work but sometimes it seems to move frustratingly slow.  I chastise myself when I realize that my frustration is only a small fraction of what the affected families are feeling. 

My thoughts dealing with the theology of this event have been published by the new Piedmont Daily website (which I will be contributing to on a monthly basis).

As families continue to recover and put their lives back together, they enter what we call a new normal.  Nothing ever goes back to the way it was and that is to be expected.  When large events happen, we are changed.  My hope as a pastor is that the majority of the families will be able to change for the better - that they will be stronger and more confident.  

They will know that they can get through tough times and they will hopefully realize that God worked in their lives to help them along the way.  

As you read this please say a prayer for the Oklahoma families whose lives were altered last year - and a prayer for bluer skies wouldn't hurt either!

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Those Dinosaurs Never Saw It Coming

Well, I've spent nearly two weeks of my life in Tampa at the United Methodist General Conference which occurs every four years.  During this time, delegates from around the world get together and try to figure out how we can best be the church to a variety of places and cultures.

One of the ways I've tried to push us was toward better communication for some of our denominational publications.  I suggested that several things be available for free download such as our Book of Discipline, Book of Resolutions and the Guidelines for Leading Your Congregation which are written for our various local church committees and based on the structure we put forth at each General Conference.

The dinosaurs were surprised by an extinction event 65
million years ago.  We can see ours coming and might just
avoid it if we can take appropriate steps.
The first two books are documents that are produced by the action of the General Conference.  We own these as a denomination and I believe that they should be shared as widely as possible.  The only argument against releasing these for free is that it would cut into sales by our publishing house (Cokesbury).  Currently, you must purchase the print copy or a CD-ROM edition or pay a subscription fee to view them online.

Now let me make this clear: As cheap as I am, I'm not worried about paying for my own Book of Discipline.  I will continue to purchase a printed copy.  However, I am thinking about the generations coming after me who have certain expectations when it comes to online availability.   One of my youth serving on our local church youth council and involved in our conference youth programs, recently searched online for something within the Book of Discipline and came away realizing that it was not easily accessible to him.

It's not that he couldn't afford the $14 subscription fee - but he was left wondering why his church was charging for this information in the first place.

We want you to follow our polity and know our rules but we're going to charge you to do it.

In a business analogy, it would be like charging employees to buy copies of their personnel policies or worse yet, their organizational goals and vision.

The Conferences Committees agreed that the Book of Discipline should be available online but removed the word "free" from the legislation which simply adds more words to the Book of Discipline without really changing anything.  The General Conference ran out of time before this piece made it to the floor for discussion.

The Guidelines mentioned above actually passed on the consent calendar but was then later removed and referred to the publishing house because of the financial implications. A publishing house representative shared that it would cost around $100,000 to produce these electronic files and that Cokesbury (our United Methodist bookstore) would lose $1.1 million in sales (you can watch the drama unfold here at about the 1:05:30 mark).

I believe that these were inflated numbers presented so that the body would vote to do nothing.  If the production number is true, we need to reevaluate how our publishing house is spending its money.  The Guidelines should be written by agency staff and so we shouldn't need to pay a royalty fee to anyone.  They are based on information directly from the Book of Discipline which we own.  Currently, no author is listed on the individual booklets (at least online).

Furthermore, they already produce electronic documents of the Guidelines.  Downloads cost $2.65 each compared to $2.95 for the print version.  Any printed material is produced electronically before it is published so that is basically a sunk cost.

We need to get creative here.  How much does Cokesbury spend on advertising? Sending out all those multiple catalogs to churches is pretty expensive.  If the Guidelines were available as a free download, you would have multiple hits on the Cokesbury site as churches acquired their copies.  In fact, you might have 27 different people from each church going to the Cokesbury site for their particular committee responsibility. Cokesbury ad banners for related materials for purchase would probably more than make up for any lost revenue that the Guidelines would produce.

Electronic sales on our website is the future for our publishing house (just ask Borders Bookstores).  If we offer enough hooks free material through our website, it will generate loyalty as well as multiple hits.  If we overcharge for everything, today's consumer will find it cheaper elsewhere and might never venture back to our publishing website.

The petition on free Guidelines was referred to the publishing house.  My hope is that this will help them to take a serious look at not only how we do business in today's world, but how we communicate effectively.

Which I think is the purpose of having a publishing house in the first place, isn't it?