Advent Conspiracy

Check out what some Churches are doing to simultaneously free themselves from slavery to Christmas consumerism while making significant inroads to solving big ticket problems like the developing world’s need for clean water. What is truly visionary about this experiment is that the goal is not for a bunch of individual Christians to ‘do good,’ and spend money more wisely this Christmas. Rather, it is about the collective Church rising against the idol of consumerism and completely eradicating the $10 billion dollar water crisis.

The Advent Conspiracy
Every Christmas it happens; I get excited for the celebration of Jesus’ birth – that moment in history when all of scripture came to life! God became flesh. The Christ-child moved into our neighborhoods and revealed to us another Kingdom: pregnant Mary, evil empires, and that moment when the world stood still to worship with the angels. It was the pinnacle moment of redemptive history!And then I get depressed; inundated with commercials of what new gadget to buy, people in mad rushes to get more stuff, credit cards opening up sink holes that people will be climbing out of for months to come, and newscasters telling us that fights are breaking out at Wal-Mart over the last Xbox 360.It isn’t just THEM! It’s us too! We’re missing out on this powerful moment of worship that changed the world because we are spending every spare moment buying meaningless sweaters for uncle so and so. Can you name two presents you got last Christmas? I can! For the first time, I can tell you what I got for Christmas, six months after Christmas is over.We preach of His greatness, we sing the songs, and for that sacred hour on Sunday we get pulled back into what matters most. Then we are quickly hit in the head by the elbow of a competing shopper, assuring us that what matters most is not what matters most.Last Christmas, some pastor-friends and I pulled the plug on Christmas. What started out as an experiment ended up transforming us, our people, and a whole bunch of other people with whom we shared the love of Christ. We worshipped the Baby as though it was for the first time. Because God gave us His Son – the world has never been the same. So here’s the story, and I am praying that as you read it you will want to join us. It’s so simple it’s scary; so revolutionary it’s world-changing. We decided that we would ask our people to live the advent story – not just talk and sing about it or dress up like shepherds. We asked them to live counter-culture lives that modeled our celebration after His incarnation.

Christ resisted the empire of Herod by coming in weakness as a baby, making Herod so insecure that he murdered hundreds of toddlers. We decided we would resist the empire of consumerism and spend a lot less.

Because God gave us a relational gift, his Son, we decided to give meaningful and relational gifts too. We didn’t want to focus on just buying stuff but rather concentrate on things we could make, trips to take, poems to write – the kind of things you keep forever and will recall a year from now when someone asks you what you got for Christmas last year.Since Christ re-distributed his wealth by becoming poor to make us rich, we redistributed our wealth also. We took all the money we saved by giving relational gifts and we gave an offering with the money that was left over. We brought in close to half a million dollars between five churches. Crazy! We adopted low-income schools and blessed hundreds of people, locally and globally, with the monies we raised. We also decided that we would use a large portion of the money to bring clean water to people around the world whose very lives are at risk because they don’t have clean drinking water.

Just this week I received pictures of four wells we are sponsoring in Liberia. People are drinking clean water because God gave us the Water of Life.Because Christ was worshipped, we worshipped the Baby in a way we never had before. The kids led the way. Everyone feared they would hate it, but it turned out that they understood it better than the adults. Some children emptied their whole piggy banks the day we took the offering. The Imago Dei Kids bought alpacas for some families in South America. (We had a llama at church that day to show them something close to an alpaca.) Our worship started on Sunday and went all week. Instead of rushing to the malls, families were hanging out at home making gifts. Because God gave us His Son, we in turn were giving of ourselves to others. There were so many stories it was, and continues to be, somewhat overwhelming. It had a viral effect. The main factor was not the offering, or the meaningful gifts, or the hundreds of people who were helped – it was that everything we were doing pointed us back to The Story – God gave us His Son and we have never been the same.After an amazing last year, churches started asking us about what we did. So, we began to dream. What if the church created a conspiracy of kindness at Christmas? What if every church in the West celebrated Christmas this way? What impact could that have on the proclamation of Christ in our communities and our world? So we created the Advent Conspiracy and we are inviting you to join the revolution. Now, every year we anticipate the coming of Christ at Christmas because we can’t wait to worship Him and see how He changes the world again!Ten billion dollars gets clean water to everyone in the world. Fifteen billion feeds everyone. In America we spend 450 billion at Christmas. Get the picture? The world is watching for the star to rise again and the people of God to gather around the Baby. Will you join us?What is the Advent Conspiracy?The Advent Conspiracy is a catalyst to help churches and organizations equip their people to engage in the Christmas story in a way that will transform their people and as a result bring transformation to the world through their people as they worship Christ at Christmas.

The Five Themes:

1. Worship
The central theme of the Advent Conspiracy is that Jesus is worshipped in such a way that His followers experience the power of Christ coming into the world. This powerful story brings with it the promise of transformation in his followers as they celebrate His birth with faithfulness and integrity. People being led in this journey will not be competing with the consumerist impulses of our culture but instead be aligning themselves with Christ, thereby worshipping Him in a holistic way.

2. Resisting the Empire
When Christ was born the empire was threatened, and as a result Herod, who was one of the more powerful kings of the day, ordered the killing of all the children two years old and under who were in Bethlehem. The reason for this was that he hoped to take out the child-King that posed a threat to his kingdom. While we are not living under Herod’s reign, there is another empire of consumerism and materialism that threatens our faithfulness to Jesus. Jesus brought with him an extraordinary Kingdom that is counter-culture to the kingdoms of this world. A part of saying “yes” to Jesus means that we say “no” to over-spending. We say “no” to over-consumption. We say “no” to these things so we can create space to say “yes” to Jesus and His reign in our lives. The National Retail Federation was forecasting that Americans would spend approximately $457.4 billion at Christmas in 2006.1 The American Research group estimated an average of $907.00 per family to be spent at Christmas in 2006.2 After the Holiday we work for months to get out of debt, only to find that the presents we bought in the name of Christ furthered a consumerist mentality in our children and us and took our focus off of the greatness of Jesus. As Christ-followers, the Advent Conspiracy starts with us resisting a culture that tells us what to buy, wear, and spend with no regard to bringing glory to Jesus.

3. Relational Giving
In saying “no” to over-spending we are then invited to say “yes” to give in relational ways. We do this because we worship a God who gave us a relational gift. God gave us His son. This is an incredible opportunity to reclaim the heart of what matters most as we learn together to give gifts of meaning instead of simple material gifts. Pictures, poems, pieces of art, a baseball bat and a trip with dad to the ballpark all become relational alternatives that foster what matters most in life. In thinking in a new way about what it means to give ourselves to each other, we are transformed by the story of Advent, knowing that we give relationally because God gave relationally. Some organizations have done do-it-yourself workshops to help their people learn the art of relational giving. Whatever you decide to do, the key is that you spend less and give relationally of yourself.

4. Re-Distribution
Christ, though he was rich, became poor to make many rich. It was in the Advent that Jesus entered our poverty so we would no longer be poor. With the money we save by giving relationally and resisting the empire we, in turn, re-distribute the money we saved to the least of these in our communities and world.We recommend that, before Christmas, each organization take an offering made up of the money that was saved through relational giving and resisting the empire. With these funds each church and organization decides how to re-distribute the money. It is an amazing picture when you see how much money is collected and how much good it can do in the world. In 2006 only five churches participated and they collected just under half of a million dollars. Through this kind of radical giving we are transformed by the Advent story as we worship Jesus more faithfully.

5. Water
The Advent Conspiracy exists to be a catalyst for the church to help us worship Jesus more fully at Christmas and therefore be transformed by the God of Advent. We believe that we are better together than we are apart and that each year the Advent of Christ should be an opportunity to declare to the world that God has given us the greatest gift. We are asking that each church and organization that participates designate at least 25% of the offering for clean water projects around the world. The vision is that in the next decade Christ-followers, acting as one people, can blot out the water crisis in the world. The estimated cost to solve the water problem is 10 billion dollars. This is doable given the number of churches and the amount of money that is spent on Christmas each year. According to the World Water Council, 1.1 billion people live without clean drinking water; 2.6 billion people lack adequate sanitation. 1.8 million people die every year from diarrhea diseases, and 3,900 children die every day from water-borne diseases.3It is truly a declaration to the world that Jesus cares and that is why He came and created the church to act on His behalf. How you go about spending the money for clean water is up to how God leads you. We will let him be in the CEO on this and just faithfully respond to him.

To Get Involved

We ask that you sign up at our website: AdventConspiracy.org. Through the site we will provide you with great stories, helpful resources, recommended agencies that you can work through, and all the facts you will need. You will be able to use our blog to meet other people participating in the event. We only ask that you come back after the holiday and share your story with the rest of us, including how much money was re-distributed, in what ways it was distributed, and what creative ways you discovered Christ’s transformation in your community. We will send out a monthly e-mail newsletter called the Co-Conspirator, with helpful information that can inspire your group as Advent approaches. For more information, visit AdventConspiracy.org or email Jeanne McKinley, Director of The Advent Conspiracy, at Jeans@imagodeicommunity.com. Taken from The Catalyst GroupZine Volume 3: Courageous in Calling, © 2007 by Catalyst and Thomas Nelson Publishers. Used by permission.Rick McKinley is the founding pastor of Imago Dei Community in Portland, Oregon. The church has grown rapidly, loving and blessing the city through the arts, justice and community while embodying the life of Jesus to the culture. He also serves as a consultant and coach in the area of church planting and the emerging church. He and his wife, Jeanne, have four children. 1.The National Retail Federation, “NRF Sees Subdued Holiday Gains in 2006” September 19, 2006.
2 American Research Group, Inc., “2006 Christmas Spending Plans Hold Steady” November 22, 2006.
3. D.Zimmer & D. Renault, “Water Crisis Facts and Figures” World Water Council, 2003.