Six thousand people attended a Tony Robbins self-improvement seminar, “Unleash the Power Within,” at the San Jose Convention Center on July 22. Participants paid between $600 and $2000 to attend, grossing Robbins’ organization something in excess of $5 million. One element of the seminar invited participants to walk on hot coals. Almost all did. About two dozen suffered burns on their feet.
I cannot imagine a similar even – with or without a fire walk – occurring in the Episcopal Church. The average annual pledge in the Episcopal Church is less than $2500. How many Episcopalians would pay $2000, or even $600, for a single weekend’s experience in the Church? The highest average Sunday attendance is less than 1900 people, not quite a third of the attendance at the Robbins’ seminar.
Most, perhaps all, of the injured took responsibility for their burns. One woman, for example, reported that she became afraid, losing her focus. In our litigious society, Robbins’ willingness to risk the fire walk and the participants’ acceptance of individual responsibility are striking.
What can the Church learn from Tony Robbins?
First, people hunger for spirituality. That hunger is sufficiently great to support high-cost, large events such as those Tony Robbins orchestrates. Most small congregations cannot organize such events. However, dioceses can. The diocese, not the congregation, is the basic organizational unit in Anglican polity.
Second, people value what promises to speak to their spirituality. The Church should not hesitate to emphasize stewardship. We give out of gratitude for God's love and we give to enable the Church’s ministries. Too often clergy and laity are loathe to discuss money, over reacting to both the excessive emphasis on money in some (thankfully, not Episcopalian) congregations and the distorted prosperity gospel preached elsewhere. Silence about money is irresponsible. Generally, the Church cannot function without funding.
Third, the Episcopal Church offers a deep and genuine spirituality that does not depend upon publicity generating gimmicks such as fire walking. However, we need to do a much better job of telling our story, of emphasizing what the Church offers rather than incessantly engaging in non-productive self-reflective criticism. Similarly, individuals who accentuate the positive are much more attractive and endearing than are individuals who accentual the negative.