Sunday, April 26, 2009

More traditional evangelism, and anonymity (Flannel/NOOMA)

During today's sermon at Shepherd of the Hills Lutheran Church (a sermon entitled "Uncertainty Can Be Valuable," the second in a six-part series), a short film was shown that is entitled "Rain".

NOOMA Rain | 001 Rob Bell

Things don't always work out the way we want them to, or the way we think they will. Sometimes we don't even see it coming. We get hit with some form of pain out of nowhere leaving us feeling desperate and helpless. That's the way life is. Still, it makes us wonder how God can let these things happen to us. How God can just stand by and watch us suffer. Where is God when it really hurts? Maybe God is actually closer to us than we think. Maybe it's when we're in these situations, where everything seems to be falling apart, that God gets an opportunity to remind us of how much he really loves us.

Here is a trailer:

Since I no longer have a religion blog any more (I used to), I'll concentrate on the company that produced this and other films.

Flannel is the nonprofit behind the NOOMA films. We are a group of people committed to giving everyone a fresh look at the teachings of Jesus. We're just a small company that is donor-supported and loved. We are not affiliated with any church, denomination, religious organization, or religious movement.

No particular names are associated with Flannel (at least that I could find). I guess one could argue that the anonymity helps to focus the attention on Jesus Christ rather than the human purveyor of the messages, but anonymity often raises questions in some people.

So, in the spirit of 1 John 4:1, I continued to search. And a whois search at least showed a city and address:

Registrant ID:DYNDNS328753
Registrant Name:Flannel Webmaster
Registrant Organization:Flannel
Registrant Street1:25 Ionia Ave SW
Registrant Street2:Suite 400
Registrant Street3:
Registrant City:Grand Rapids
Registrant State/Province:MI
Registrant Postal Code:49503
Registrant Country:US
Registrant Phone:+1.6167767775
Registrant Phone Ext.:
Registrant FAX:+1.6167767765
Registrant FAX Ext.:

But the "Rob Bell" mention (Trace's dad) paid off, when I found this post in a blog called Church Marketing Sucks (you see, it's not only the secular world that has problems with marketing).

Rob Bell founded Mars Hill Bible Church in Grandville, Mich. while in his 20s and the church exploded, bringing in over 1,000 people the first day. All of that without any "marketing" as Bell would say, because it makes him sick....Bell also teaches in the Nooma series of short films that can be used in church services or small groups. You could also describe Bell with that hard to define, catch-all emergent label—so you can take that however you like.

But another hint as to the mysterious Flannelers was provided in a software consulting firm's news release:

Grand Rapids, Michigan – August 24, 2006 – CQL, Incorporated, a leader in software development consulting and a Microsoft Gold Certified Partner, announced the release of a new public interface for the viewing and purchase of faith-based NOOMAs (

NOOMAs are short, faith-based films, distributed by FLANNEL, LLC, and are released approximately three times per year. They are available in DVD format and come with optional discussion books. The name NOOMA is an English phonetic spelling of the Greek word pneuma, which is commonly translated to “spirit” or “breath.”

“These NOOMAs are sold around the world through an interface that was developed by CQL,” stated Mark Lardieri, President of CQL. “We’ve been very proud to have a part in spreading these faith-based messages throughout the world.”

CQL created a new system that would allow the FLANNEL staff to easily control the content, media, and production information associated with the NOOMAs. This effort has greatly helped Flannel improve the management of the NOOMA process. Additionally, the system has advanced the efficiency of the distribution center to allow the staff to streamline their processes.

“CQL was an important partner in creating a sophisticated delivery mechanism for these important spiritual messages,” said Debbi Blackport of FLANNEL.

Blackport's name led me back to Flannel, and to a newsletter that listed a fairly complete staff roster:

Carolyn Baas, Office Assistant*
Charity Barton McClure, Development Director
Dan Klyn, Information Architect
Debbi Blackport, Executive Assistant
Jessica Ophoff, Customer Service*
Joe Elmendorf, Interactive Developer
Joel Swierenga, Post Production Manager
Jon Middel, Designer
Jordan Ophoff, Customer Service Manager
Julie Bishop, Accounting*
Kathy Bowers, Accounting*
Leslie Mosher, Production Director
Mark Baas, Creative Director
Seth Herman, Senior Designer
Steve Carr, Executive Director
* Part-time staff

Yet I couldn't find a way to navigate to this newsletter from the website itself - just odd little tidbits here and there, such as this page referred to "our development director" without naming said director (although the embedded link mentioned a "charity").

Perhaps this is, as I said earlier, an attempt to focus on Jesus Christ rather than the messengers. Perhaps this is an attempt to boost the Flannel and NOOMA brands. Perhaps it' marketing ploy. And perhaps it just strikes me as odd because I'm in a reading circle that continuously emphasizes putting a personal face on your brand.

But for me, it's still weird to watch a guy walking through the forest while having no idea who's behind the camera.


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