By: Christa Meland
Jesus is with you wherever you go—and, for members of Delano United Methodist Church, so is “Flat Jesus.”
Flat Jesus is essentially a laminated paper doll that’s meant to be carried around to help people stay connected to their faith.
“As a pastor in Minnesota, I'm always looking for ways to encourage people in their faith lives during the summer while many people are away at the cabin or on vacation,” said Rev. Matt Sipe, who introduced the idea to members of Delano UMC last month. “Flat Jesus is a fun way for families to remember Jesus and the church while they are out having their fun adventures during the summer.”
Sipe heard about the idea from a friend who works at a church in Illinois. Flat Jesus is based on the youth literature character Flat Stanley, who gets squished flat one night but survives and makes the best of his altered state.
More than half of the members of Delano UMC—those of all ages—are participating in the Flat Jesus project. After decorating their own Flat Jesus paper dolls and having them laminated, they’ve been carrying Flat Jesus with them as they enjoy various summer activities. Sipe has encouraged them to take photos and selfies with Flat Jesus and to post their pictures to social media with the hashtag #FlatJesus. (Sipe’s own Flat Jesus has gone with him to annual conference, the barber shop, Taylors Falls, church meetings, preschool graduation, lunch and coffee outings, and many other places.)
Congregants’ Flat Jesuses have traveled to places as far away as Australia, Montana, and the North Shore. Kids have taken Flat Jesus to sporting events, birthday parties, and all around the church. Sipe said a semi-truck driver is even taking Flat Jesus with him as he travels cross-country for work.
Each Flat Jesus has a verse from Matthew 28 on the back: “And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”
Not only has the Flat Jesus project been embraced by members of Delano UMC, but it has sparked good conversation.
“It is amazing how many times I have had conversations about Jesus with total strangers or others who have seen Flat Jesus and want to know more about him,” said Sipe. “I have had more conversations about Jesus in the last four weeks by carrying a Flat Jesus than I have in the last four years.”
At the end of the summer, Delano UMC will have a Flat Jesus party—and all participants will be invited to show photos of where Jesus went during the summer. In the meantime, a map on a bulletin board at church has push-pins in all the locations where Flat Jesus has traveled.
Also at the end of the summer, everyone who made a Flat Jesus will be encouraged to give him away to someone who is in need of Jesus’ love and invite that person to come to church. Below the scripture, the back of each Flat Jesus has the church’s contact information and the name of the person who carried it around.
“We hope this will be an evangelism tool to invite others to come to know Jesus and experience God's love through Delano United Methodist Church,” said Sipe.
Introduce Flat Jesus to your church
Sipe wants to invite other churches to join Delano UMC in doing their own Flat Jesus project. The Flat Jesus that Delano UMC used was drawn by a Liberian youth (and is available here). But Sipe encourages all interested churches to have a talented artist from their own congregation draw a Flat Jesus that’s then copied and distributed.
He said the Flat Jesus project has been a great learning experience for himself and others at Delano UMC. Here are a few key things he’s learned:
1. Remember to bring Jesus with you. “Jesus is always with us, but carrying Flat Jesus is yet another reminder of God’s prevenient grace,” he said. “How easily we sometimes forget about God.”
2. Jesus will get dirty and crumpled when you bring him everywhere. That’s okay. “Jesus enters into our dirty and messy life.”
3. Remember to include yourself in the pictures you take of Flat Jesus. “We are his hands and feet,” said Sipe. “We get to act and show God’s love by being involved in mission.”
4. Do not fear. “We are sometimes afraid of what others might do or say by carrying a 12-inch multi-colored Jesus around with us everywhere,” said Sipe. “But Jesus encourages us to not be afraid.” Sipe said no one has spoken negatively about Flat Jesus, and many have instead been excited about meeting him.
Christa Meland is director of communications for the Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church.
Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church