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Posts published in “Day: June 11, 2006”

Open Mike

Credit due on a campaign tactics that - imagine this, if you will - brings a major candidate for a major office face to face with a wide range of people in a state, over a period of weeks.

McGavick at WestlakeIf that sounds more like the way campaigning used to be than the way it is now, well, too often it is. But give Mike McGavick, the Republican running for U.S. Senate in Washington, some credit for human interaction at his "open Mike" events.

A Thursday item on his blog said, "For about an hour this afternoon, I took questions from a great crowd at Westlake Center in Downtown Seattle. The crowd of people taking a break from work and passersby were great. I truly believe that this informal, question and answer session is one of the most real and genuine ways to conduct a campaign and there should be more of it in politics. As candidates, we can’t be afraid to just show up in a crowded place and spend some time answering questions. We shouldn’t shy away from events where you are going to encounter people who disagree with you. And if we truly believe that we are in politics to make a difference, we can’t shelter ourselves in what we know will be only friendly and sympathetic audiences."

Starting July 3, he's planning to take this approach on the road at around 40 communities around Washington, many of them smaller population points.

McGavick isn't the only candidate to take it on this road this season, of course. But U.S. Senate candidates who have enough money to run much of their campaign on television often shield themselves from the risk of human interaction. We'll be interested to see what develops from this effort.

An expanding mainline

One of the key social trends in recent years has been the growth, among religious organizations, of more conservative megachurches and the relative decline of moderate (and usually less political) mainline churches.

The trend has been noted for a decade and more in books and endless articles. The evenhanded and dispassionate Transformation of American Religion: How We Actually Live Our Faith, by Alan Wolfe (a highly recommended title), suggests that one part of this transition has to do with the way some of the new, conservative and large churches operate and they way they interact with their congregations. They give people a sense of individual recognition by undertaking much of their activity in small groups. They offer convenience (burger stops and coffee bars at church are not unknown). They offer entertaining multi-media presentations. They offer help with watching the kids.

None of this is anything a more mainstream church couldn't do, though many have felt some of these things remove a critical sense of solemnity from the proceedings. But what if a mainstream church, without changing its message, used some of these "marketing" tools - might they, too, grow? (Obviously, the implications here are not religious only - they have significant in the political and social sphere too.)

One partial answer comes in a Seattle Times piece today on the University Presbyterian Church at Seattle, located near the University of Washington. Far from diminishing in recent years, the church's congregation has grown to about 4,400 today, adding about 500 in just the last seven years.

From the article: "'It is unusual. It bucks a trend,' said James Wellman, assistant professor of religion at the UW. The church's success can be attributed to a combination of factors: its longtime emphasis on outreach to university students; its focus on developing one-on-one relationships; the numerous small groups, missions and ministries that members can become involved in; sizable staff and resources; strong preaching; and a tradition of not too much politicking at the pulpit. 'It just hits on so many of the right buttons that the synthesis of the total is greater than the parts,' Wellman said."

It's a case study that's bound to be watched, which at some point may make it ever less an anomaly.