Buying the Meatballs


Before I got married I had two pieces of furniture: a rollaway bed and a dresser.  After I got married my wife decided that we needed furnishings.  I agreed with her, mostly because we could’ve played racquetball in our apartment.

The only problem with my wife’s idea is that we were poor, youth pastor of 20 kids poor.

My wife’s plan to overcome this was to drive three hours north of Portland to what was then the only Ikea store in the Northwest.  Since I had never been to an Ikea, this sounded like a great idea.

We borrowed a van and left the house at 6 AM.

We got home at 10 PM.

We were out of the house for 16 hours.

If you do the math you become painfully aware that that day I spent 10 hours wandering through carefully staged, scenario presentations of products named Lack and Gronkulla.

While we did manage to outfit our tiny home for less than $400, I have to admit that we played right into the cleverly designed post-American master planning of our Scandinavian lifestyle consultants…

We bought the meatballs.

See you might think that Ikea’s top-selling product is a Dagstorp or some Smorboll, but in reality it’s the meatballs that they sell in the cafeteria.

Ikea sells 150 million meatballs every year, and it isn’t by accident.

If you start walking through an Ikea at opening, and you follow the little path they’ve laid out, you will walk up to a cafeteria, located near the center, sometime between 10:45 and 11:45 AM.

If you, being hungry, choose to leave Ikea for food at this point there’s a chance that you won’t come back and visit the second half of their store.  This is why Ikea offers something that both hungry men and the women who need them to load their cars can agree on: Meatballs for lunch.

I didn’t drive up to Seattle for food, but without the meatballs I wouldn’t have made it for the first 5 hours, and without the cinnamon rolls and Swedish fish I wouldn’t have made it through the last 5.

Unbeknownst to the young and unfurnished version of me, Ikea had mastered the art of helping people find what they needed while getting them to walk out with more than they expected.  This is in sharp contrast to the classic retail strategy of advertising more than you can deliver while hoping to keep recruiting new customers everyday.

Where other retailers have mastered the art of “bait and switch”, Ikea has learned to deliver on their bait before you even leave the store.

This probably why I can’t pick up a tiny allen wrench without salivating.

The irony of these observations is that the young and inexperienced youth pastor version of me had mastered the ministry version of the bait and switch;

Promise more that you can deliver: “Come to the Greatest Weekend Camp Ever”, then keep recruiting more customers: “Bring all your friends”.

The problem is that there’s no way a youth pastor can deliver on the promise of the greatest camp ever, and this means that eventually people are going to feel ripped off… usually on the bus ride home.

Eventually I learned that offering people what they need is what leads to them walking out with more than they ever expected.  It just means focusing on what they need, and letting them bump into the other things that they’re looking for.

Promising only what I could deliver: “A weekend full of opportunity to experience the living God”, meant trusting that GOD WOULD deliver what everybody needed: “Communion with God and friends” in a way that could produce faithfulness long after everybody graduated.

This was a huge relief to me because inviting people to join a community of believers as they lived out their faith was what God was looking for me to do all along.  He wanted me to introduce people to Jesus, not win them over to lifestyles for Jesus.

Because Jesus always satisfies us in ways that “Christian” experiences can’t.

People often come to church looking for friends, dates, and good experiences, but these are just the interesting things that will ultimately leave us unsatisfied and jaded.  While churches do contain these ancillaries, they are simply the byproducts of the Jesus that we are actually promoting.

Unfortunately I didn’t begin in ministry focused on Jesus as the need, but without him I wouldn’t have made it through the first 5 years and without him I wouldn’t have made it through the last 15.

See we might think that the local Church’s most important offering is community or justice, but in reality it’s the God who produces the good and noble offerings that we run into as we make our way through his kingdom.

“Let them thank the Lord for his steadfast love, for his wondrous works to the children of man! For he satisfies the longing soul, and the hungry soul he fills with good things.” – Psalm 107:8-9

4 Responses to “Buying the Meatballs”

  1. Sharon O November 8, 2013 at 12:45 pm #

    I have been to Ikea, it was exhausting and overwhelming.

  2. Jen Smoker November 8, 2013 at 1:16 pm #

    Move forward on that analogy – Ikea delivers meatballs at the right price too! I know people who go there just for the cheap (and surprisingly good) breakfast and then go shopping! Fishers of men have good bait and deliver at a good price- rags for riches, sin for forgivenss, control for Godly wisdom… :)

    • Jon November 8, 2013 at 2:18 pm #

      It’s all win-win with the Gospel.

  3. janie November 9, 2013 at 6:04 pm #

    Give me Jesus every time. (Help me truly share You, Lord.) You’re so right-on, Jon… all else fails and is, unfortunately, my go-to strategy as I try to create “the experience” for others. Yikes.

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