What Can Openers and the Church Have in Common

What we can learn from little-known facts of history.
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History fascinates me. It's the strange little facts that impact humanity and change history that interest me. Where did ties come from? Why do men's and women's shirts button differently? As is typically the case, I was intrigued by one of those simple, little known facts. For years, canning food was a normal part of life in America and around the world. Food was put into jars with lids and rings as is done in kitchens today. I remember my mother and aunt canning things. My aunt had a pantry the size of small garage, and it was lined with shelves packed with jars of canned goods. You name it, it was there, and it was good.

A program I watched on the History Channel pointed out that the problem with this canning method is the fragility of the glass jars. They would break easily. It was nearly impossible for soldiers to carry these effectively without breaking them. Who wants bean juice in their backpack? Because food distribution is one of the largest problems facing any army, wartime forced this issue. Trying to find a way to can food and store it in a less breakable way became a priority, even warranting a healthy reward to the developer. A French man earned the reward by developing the process in which foods can safely be stored in tin cans, thus making them more durable. This revolutionized food distribution to armies around the world. It also changed the way we eat and the grocery stores that supply our homes. You still see these cans by the thousands at the grocery store near you today.

Strangely enough, even though the canning process in tin cans was developed and employed for soldiers, the means to open one of those cans of food was not developed then. It wasn't developed—are you ready for this?—until 50 years later by an American man. Fifty years, Do you get the picture? Those poor soldiers were issued cans of food with no way to get to the food inside the can. No doubt there were soldiers, frustrated and hungry, trying everything they could think of to get those blasted things open. Stab it with a knife, shoot it, have a horse step on it, throw it at a rock; better yet throw it at the enemy. If it weren't so sad, the image would be rather humorous. Finally 50 years later, an answer came, and soldiers could easily get to the food. Hmm, I've had some of those rations … maybe they were better off before the can opener.

Bizarre? Yes, but I can't help but wonder if we do the same sort of thing today here in the church. Not with food, but with people. For seven years I was an Education Minister in South Texas and for a long time I have been aware of the "backdoor" problems that churches have. You know the problem—we may be bringing people in the front door through our programs, marketing, smiles and more, but there are just as many slipping through the cracks and disappearing out that backdoor. We have a lot of people joining our churches, but at the same time those churches are not showing any growth. Truth is, for years, churches have developed programs for ministry, which looked good in theory but in the implementation stage the personal element was often overlooked. The results were great programs that were ineffective. Maybe a church leader bought a book or a video series, or maybe they went to a conference and, boom, the church is renaming everything, hanging new signs, and restructuring. But those programs never seem to work as well as the book said it would. Churches put things in place that work in theory, but not in reality. It's starting to sound like tin cans without an opener, isn't it?

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