Saturday, July 30, 2011

Factors that Lead The Unchurched to Choose One Church or Another

The unchurched reported on a number of factors that led them to choose a church that reached them. 90% report the pastor and preaching as the most important factor, and more specifically, "Preaching that teaches" is the single most determinative factor.

1. Pastor/Preaching 90%

2. Doctrine 88%

3. Friendliness of Members 49%

4. Other Issues (not sure what these were) 42%

5. Someone from Church Witnessed to Me 41%

6. Family Member 38%

7. Sensed God's Presence 37%

8. Relationship Other than Family Member 25%

9. Sunday School Class 25%

10. Children's/Youth Ministry 25%

11. Other Groups/Ministries 12%

12. Worship Style/Music 11%

13. Location 7%

Source: Thom Rainer, Surprising Insights from the Unchurched and How to Reach Them

Preaching is Critical in Reaching the Unchurched

Thom Rainer's research uncovered that the most critical factor in reaching the unchurched is preaching.

The preaching is heavily expository (a verse-by-verse explanation of the Biblical text); by way of comparison, narrative preaching is the least used style by these pastors.

The preaching does not shy away from deep, difficult, or controversial topics.

The pastor of churches reaching the unchurched spend about 22 hours per week on the sermon.

The pastors of churches that re reaching the unchurched place preaching as their most important task. By comparison, pastors not reaching the unchurched place pastoral care as their most important task. I think I read somewhere that among UM clergy, Will Willimon and Henri Nouwen are the most widely-read authors. Great guys, and Nouwen is definitely one to emulate... but where is the passion for reaching those who don't know Jesus, who have stepped away from church, who need to hear the Gospel?

Friday, July 29, 2011

Summary of Insights About the Unchurched

In a few posts, I'd like to summarize for you some insights from Thomas Rainer's book, Surprising Insights from the Unchurched.

The unchurched-- people who are either unbelievers or inactive Christians-- are who we are trying to reach. No, it's who we should be trying to reach. We are going to have to reach them at an increasing rate. Better to start now than in 10 years when the situation for the average American church is going to be desperate.

Rainer looked at a number of unchurched people and also at pastors who are reaching the unchurched. It's eye-opening stuff.

Let me say at the start that even tho I am constantly warning about the coming decline of the church in America, I am optimistic. I have mentioned a number of times that I am optimistic because the Lord knows exactly what to do in times like we are facing. The New Testament is a manual for precisely the times we face and will face increasingly. The Book of Acts. Nuff said.

Ok-- so Rainer jumps in with some myths about the unchurched.

Myth 1: "Most unchurched think and act like Anglo, middle class suburbanites with not church background."

I must say, this is going to be hard for the church, which has generally been a place of "good behavior.". What will we do with people coming out of addictions? People who have been formed by secular culture? It is going to be hard, charitable work.

Myth 2:"The unchurched are turned off by a denominational name in the church name.". This is actually pretty good news for Unite Methodists, as we have a very good reputation among the unchurched. Stop naming your church something or other Community church.

Myth 3: "the unchurched never attend church." they are there at Easter and Christmas and sometimes they come just to make sure church is still as lame and hypocritical as they think it is!

Myth 4: "the unchurched cannot be reached by direct personal evangelism." It is critical to not only invite people to church, but to invite them to accept Christ!

Myth 5:"The pastor Must be a dynamic and charismatic leader..." Good news here! Just be faithful!!!

Myth 6: "The Church should not communicate deep and complex Biblical truths that will confuse the unchurched.". Rainer will later discuss that doctrine is a critical issue in reaching the unchurched. People want to go deep... Maybe because they know the root of sin goes deep?

Myth 7: "Sunday school and other small groups are ineffective in attracting the unchurched." The formerly unchurched are more likely to be active in Sunday school than transfer members!

Myth 8: "The most important evangelistic relationships are in the marketplace [your network of acquaintances]". While not downplaying this, Rainer says that family relationships prove to be the most significant.

Myth 9: "The unchurched are concerned only about their own needs." Te unchurched come to church often for their children. Rainer doesn't say this, but I wonder if the Methodist good name is a factor for us UMs as our good name comes largely from the perception that we do a lot of good in mission?

I am pumped to share some of the other insights Rainer shows in his book. It's important for us to look squarely at the challenges we face, but also to know the Lord is with us.

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Poor Paul

Read an introduction to a book on the Didache, by Tony Jones. He hints that it's a good thing that the Didache, as a manual for an alternative Christian community, doesn't know about Paul's theology.

Let's assume for a minute that's true and then let us reflect on what a poor model for Christian life it must be.

The Didache would know nothing of grace-- because Jesus never said a word about it.

There's a segment of the church that wants to get Paul out of the Bible. But they grieve the Holy Spirit.

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Thursday, July 28, 2011

Bible Reading

So I am thru Galatians. I may not get thru the new Testament as I planned. But it will be close.

Reading thru the last few chapters of 2 Corinthians, I was struck by Pauls worry for the church there in Corinth, that he had grieved them by taking a stand against sin.

I wonder if congregations know about the struggles their pastor has?

The concern for all those in the community who do not know Christ.

The grief that some in his church have not found salvation by grace, thinking they will be saves by good works-- or perhaps thinking they do not need to be saved at all.

Some do not pray. Most do not fast.

What if they are tempted by the pleasures of the world?

What if they are carried off into captivity by the desire for wealth?

What if they are caught in sin?

Adultery? Addictions?

We feel the pain of wayward children, of frightening diagnoses...

So what will we preach on Sunday? The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ.

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Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Takin Er Easy fer All You Sinners

So, my vacation is going as planned.

Not getting out of my swimming trunks.

Hitting the sauna hard-- sauna, cold shower, sauna, cold shower... Repeat many times.

Hanging with my family.

Going to read the New Testament.

Taking naps.


The Dude

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Wednesday, July 20, 2011

No Time For Church

Someone told me recently they did not have time for church. An honest answer-- better than lying and telling me they go to church when they don't. And also better than a slammed door or a curse.

I have been thinking about that response-- no time for church. I think I have to agree. I don't have time for church.

But I do have time and make time to worship God.

So, don't go to church. Go to that building where they worship God in singing, praying, offering, and preaching the pure word of God!

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Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Car Free Day

I really like car free days. They should be as simple in Morehead as they were in Lexington, for the most part. You tend to have to drive more in rural areas, but there is a lot downtown, and the church is just a few minutes away by foot. Additionally, I plan to use some of the longer distances I might need to go to stay in shape. Our brutal ride to Annual Conference this year showed me a few things. First, I liked riding the long distance. I was a little afraid I might get off the bike and hate life and decide I was done riding. NO, I really liked it. Sick, I know.

Second, I need work on hills. And boy is this the place for it! Just a ride to the Morgan County line would be a real beast for me right now.

I just did some evangelism visits and made a quick grocery run on the xtracycle:

The xtracycle is an add on to an existing bike. I bought a Diamondback on sale and added the xtracycle with the wideloader platforms. I can carry about 200-250lbs of cargo, and have. Everything from turkeys for the poor to kids to a wheelbarrow. As you can tell, I love my xtracycle!

Are you familiar with Sustainable Morehead? Check out our church's website, Some folks from the church started the organization to promote sustainability in transportation and the food system.

If you're new to this blog, especially because I left a card at your door, welcome! I hope you'll come back frequently and check out the church!

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Olney Lullaby, part 2

The second verse:

Let us praise the Lord who bought us,
Pitied us when enemies
Called us by His grace and taught us
Gave us ears and gave us eyes

In some ways, this hymn reminds me of "Amazing Grace," with a kind of journey-- first verse tells us of the purpose of the 10 Commandments, to at once hold out a standard of righteousness and show that we cannot meet that standard. So therefore, God must save us by grace, a free gift.

This second verse begins to talk of the Lord and His mercy, how He simply cannot let us go to the Hell we would create. Christ dies for us while we were powerless, while we were His enemies. Sounds strange for a lullaby, but there is something of the tenderness of a parent for a baby-- helpless, nothing to offer in their own defense, for their own sustenance. It's why we know to call God "Father." That family relationship is critical. We ought not be surprised when the Lord loves us in spite of ourselves, when He calls out to us with salvation while we are still sinners, pouring out love and grace, to lead us into a full, mature life.

This hushes all our loud striving.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Church Without Jesus

I want to follow up on a tweet I sent out, something like, "the church that can do what it is doing if Jesus never existed will not survive the current American cultural landscape."

That is a twist on something George Hunter has cautioned against, churches that can do evrything they are doing whether there ever was a Jesus.

There may have been a time when a church could just have service and people came bc that's just what you did.

But no more. It's not just that for 50 years Christians did not win their children to faith; we did not win anyone else either. This creates a dangerous illusion: the church still has lots of people we know in it, so there is a false sense of security. Give it 10 more years tho. Those two generations we failed to win-- their absence will be keenly felt.

Here's the issue: church was an entertaining social function. Not to say there was no power or spiritual vitality. But here is how churches do what can be done if Jesus never existed:

You can go anywhere and hear good music.

You can go anywhere and sing songs we all know-- a baseball game is a great example.

We can go to YouTube and see and listen to interesting speeches about being a better "you."

We can give money to any number of charitable concerns.

We can gather in groups to study books.

We can join lots of groups that will have civic service projects.

There is no need to go to church to do or find or experience these things.

So why go to church for such things? Clearly next to no one is going to. The future is bleak for church in America.


We commit-- and beware! What the church will become in the future will be committed to doing nothing except what can only be done in Jesus' name under the discipline of the Holy Spirit.

It cannot be about the style of music.

It cannot be about the preacher.

It cannot be about the people who are there.

It must be about praising God.

It must be about preaching the pure Word of God.

It must be about being a disciple of Jesus and obeying His great commission.

The church must have a desperate desire for souls. Our hearts must be broken so that we will pour our time and money and effort into seeking those who do not know Jesus, and offering forgiveness of sins and newness of life in His name.

The crucial question, issue: will we do this before we have to? Will we do it before it is such a drastic change that many will perish and return to slavery rather go where the Spirit leads?

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Friday, July 15, 2011

Thoughts from my friend Theo

Hi Aaron
some thoughts that I wrote to a Missiologist/Missionary Professor friend off ours who has too many immature churches with too few pastors in his region. This grew historically so skew because westerners pumped in money without developing the indigenous people in their church stewardship.

Anyway, we know about the early church growing very fast but having the benefit of evangelizing among Jewish people who were already used to tithing and to religious leadership. However, further growth in outlying areas such as Greece, Roman Empire, Germania and Scandinavia must also have grown quickly. Can we learn from what happened during the Reformation and the Great Awakening itself?

All of this brings up the question, are we really ready for a revival? We pray for it but do we have a mechanism in place to absorb and feed the multitudes of immature Christians. What if the Spirit would move the people of an entire country to repentance? We assume He would also supply the tools. Or would He wait til we show a willingness to be ready. Perhaps Christ is calling the Church to make better preparations before He will poor out His Spirit. Perhaps we corporately don't even know what to do because we have been so focused on feeding ourselves. We have forgotten the Great Commission and staying largely in beautiful church buildings with well-paid pastors. How much of a building does one really need, how much maturity of a congregation does one need to be able to replicate, are elders able to feed and safeguard the flock while only seeing a preacher/pastor once in a while? Do we need more itinerant preachers, circuit riders?

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Thursday, July 14, 2011

So a member of my Staff-Parish Relations Committee comes in to a meeting and asks if I got my tape?

I looked puzzled and he said, "The clerk at the post office saw me and said, 'your pastor bought this roll of tape and forgot to take it with him..."

I had been at the post office with Kulothungan, sending a package to India, and in the confusion of customs forms and getting the weight down... Talk about customer service, tho!

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Wednesday, July 13, 2011

And I Always Thought It Would Be A Pimp That Got Me

Back in high school, my friend Ching Cruz wrote in my yearbook: "You have a quick mouth. One day it's gonna get you hurt real bad." In the movie they make of my life, ZZ Top's "Under Pressure" will be playing during that scene.

I wear a clerical collar for a variety of reasons, but the first is because one day I went to visit one of my toughest parishioners. Tough as in mostly the life he had led, did lead. The first time i met him he was renting a bathtub in a house so he would have a place to sleep. Once we cranked up the Monday Night Service, Billy started coming. Got to know his story, like how on his birthday two years ago he passed a milestone: he had finally been out of prison for more time than he had been in...

Well, I asked if I could come see him and he gave me an address on Upper Street, north of 7th, a tough street, no doubt.

I did not remember that he had also told me that sometimes pimps and dealers take over his house, kick him out and then sell drugs and women. It's a lot easier than having your own house, apparently. Pimpin' ain't easy.

Well, I go to visit Billy and three dudes come off the porch next door and head right to me. You don't have to be a genius to know that a beat down is coming. Luckily Billy had been exiled to a back room and he stuck his head out and hollered, "Hey! Hey! It's the preacher!" So they left me alone, and even let me come in to the house. NOte: the next time I came back I was able to share the Gospel and pass out some tracts, and a playa in a big brightly colored car took some, saying he was not ready but maybe some guys he knew... how weird.

Anyway, I always figured if I was going to be beat up it was going to be by one of those dudes. Or my neighbors. Come to think of it, that list could get LOOOOONG....

So imagine my surprise when on Twitter, after posting about evangelistic techniques that I think we Americans could learn from our Indian brothers and sisters, a thread was started that began with being told I better not set foot in India!

Tuesday, July 12, 2011


Ever had that feeling there isnt enough time? Maybe it's not quite that as much as it is the things to do keep rolling. There's time to get it done, but it seems like each day passes faster.

We had a great time with Brother Kulothungan of Maharashtra Village Ministries. Starting with the Evangelism Resources Dinner in Wilmore on Saturday night, it seems we have been doing lots of praying and singing and dreaming of how not nonly to advance missions to unreached groups in India, but how what Indian Christians know can help us in an American context that is a kind of secular Hinduism--pluralistic, syncretistic.

When I stop and think of all that we have before us to complete the mission of Jesus Christ--the Gospel will be preached in the whole world (Matthew 24:14)-- organizing children and youth ministries, preparing Christians to witness to their Lord, planting new churches... the things to do keep rolling. Tomorrow will be another full day. So praise God, the only thing to do it to take care of today!

Monday, July 11, 2011

Disturbing. Be Sure You Know What Youre Doing If You Watch This

This is a video I got from twitter. It is hands down the most graphic and violent thing I have ever seen. This is the death of a Christian in Afghanistan.

A few questions. If we believe the Gospel, Latif is our brother, his widow our sister, his children our children.

And then, what is it about the Gospel that has inspired such responses over time?

Do not click on the link if you cannot handle it. I believe that you have probably never seen anything this brutal.

Click here

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Olney Lullaby, part 1

You know John Newton and William Cowper from two great hymns they wrote, "Amazing Grace" and "There is a Fountain Filled With Blood" respectively. But did you know they were close friends and wrote many, many hymns?

Newton was an Anglican priest (after his long experience as a sailor) and Cowper was a parishioner. They would meet together for prayer, and would write hymns for these meetings. Michael Hughes turned me on to this after I asked him to learn a hymn I love, "Let Us Love and Sing and Wonder." The hymns, of which "Amazing Grace" and "There Is A Fountain Filled With Blood" are a part, are called The Olney Hymns, from the village they were in.

I plan to delve into this a little more, as Michael Hughes has put music to two of the hymns, "The Lord Will Provide" and "The Good Samaritan," and the words are just too much, touching the soul.

But to the point: "Let Us Love and Sing and Wonder" has become a lullaby for Nay Nay. And it is just so sweet to see her curled up in my arms, about to go to sleep. I suppose not simply the tune, but also the words are peaceful:

"Let us love and sing and wonder,
Let us praise the Savior's Name.
He has hushed the Law's loud thunder,
He has quenched Mt Sinai's flame."

Of course, "hush" is the point of a lullaby. but what peace to the soul! The Law's loud thunder and Mt Sinai's flame are equivalent and mean the Ten Commandments. Mostly we think of the Ten Commandments as basically good advice. But are you aware of their awesome power? They are what the New Testament means when it talks about The Law. The Bible tells us that all the Ten Commandments can do is condemn you!

Yes, they are great advice--if we would or could live them!!

As it is, when we hear that we should not make idols, we are condemned for all the idols we have made-- anything that takes the place of the Lord in our hearts. When we hear that we should not commit murder, Jesus reminds us that anger is enough--the heart is where the terrible passions that spill into open sin come from.

So the Law condemns us. It is loud thunder and powerful fire. But praise God, Jesus has taken the punishment meant for us. On the Cross, He took the Law into His own hands-- and feet, as it were. And so indeed He has hushed its loud thundering against our souls and has quenched its burning flame.

And in its place has brought us His righteousness so that where we, in the natural body and mind might desire to follow the Ten Commandments yet find that we cannot, now under the discipline and power of the Holy Spirit, we can follow the Ten Commandments by following Jesus, by trusting that He will lead us.

I think this lullaby is more for me than for Nadia.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Evangelism Tactics

You knock on doors and pass out cards during the day pretty much to NOT meet anyone. That sounds strange, but... You will meet a few people, and get to talk to them, but generally, you are looking to get out as many cards as you can, to let people know when you worship, where you are, etc. You're trying to get them to recognize the church when they see you later (because you'll go back won't you? Who goes out visiting just once!?!?) or when they hear something about an event at the church or see your people working on a Habitat House... Get the word out, savvy?

You take a stack of cards with you walking through neighborhoods of an evening for the people you will meet. This is slower but more fruitful.

As I was going out today, I noticed that Pizza joints and Chinese restaurants put stuff on people's doors. Is what they have worth more than Jesus?

I heard from a church member today that he went door-to-door for two months to get his business started.

Here's a secret: I can go out and visit and knock on doors all day long. But that won't bring as many people in as if each family in the church would pray and then invite a friend to come to worship with them. So, who will you invite to church?

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Wednesday, July 6, 2011


We have to go back to about this time of year, 11 years ago. I had just arrived at my first appointment as a United Methodist pastor, at Dunaway UMC, in Clark County, KY.

It was a small church, and to be honest, I was not sure what to do! Other than that my mentor Howard Willen had instilled in me the value of visitation-- in homes, hospitals, jails, wherever. So I made a card with basic info and hit the road. I had a map of Clark County and was intent on visiting every house in my end of the county. And I I'd. Each house once, many houses twice, a few, when led by the Spirit, as many times as I felt I needed to!

But pretty quick into my time there, I kept finding that someone had been there before me: Ark of Mercy Church of God! They even left a card at the parsonage!

They had a real dynamo of a visitation person, Sister Anna. She was a spry older lady. I would tell Dunaway that I was so sick of hearing about Ark of Mercy! I wanted them to hear that Dunaway had got there first! (Now, I was not really sick of them! I admired them!)

But one day they really got me good. Sister Anna came out of a house in a hurry-- she had seen me working the other side of the road. "Brother Aaron! Come quick! There's someone in here who has accepted the Lord! You need to pray with them!"

I was rejoicing, but I was also wondering, when will the Methodists get this serious?!?!

So now here I am in Morehead, having a flashback. Two families I have seen out and about that I have invited to church tell me they already have a church, Crosspoint. I have the sinking feeling they are going to be Morehead's version of Ark of Mercy. I don't know that they have a a hard core visitation going on, but it seems that lots of folks go there.

I don't know what they do to be so successful. Don't care. I admire them for reaching people with the gospel. But rather than worry about it or imitate it, this is what I want to see: the people of Morehead UMC to simply invite friends and family and total strangers to worship. If each family-- not even each individual-- invited one person, we would not have room!

It's just that simple.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Years Of Struggle, Part 2

The reason I am not bummed by the coming crisis for the Church, the reason why others I know are not bummed, is because we have faith. Not a faith that means thinking everything is going to work out just fine. Listen to me now and hear me later, I do not expect God to pour money into our current system to keep it afloat. I fully expect that in many, many deep ways, the current system will be scrapped. And what will have power, what will have resources, is the plain work of the Gospel.

More than that, I am totally pumped when I think of what is coming. Sure, I can look at the pain that we will face, the continuing sense of shame and inadequacy clergy will feel as they watch what they have known and worked for slip away, or rather, just be ignored in the "marketplace of ideas."

But what keeps me going, what gets me excited is to know that apostolic times demand apostolic ministry. We are living in times that are more like what the apostles faced than at any time in 1800 years (speaking of Western Christianity). We live in a world that does not believe there is only one God or only one way of salvation. We live in a world of multivalent sexuality. A world of growing inequality between rich and poor. A world that does not believe in such a thing as truth. Yes, we live in a world Paul, John, James, and Peter would know all too well.

That's what excites me! Faithful Christians will get to have a ministry like the apostles did. Full of hardships and persecution, but also full of signs and wonders, the power of the Holy Spirit; full of bold ministry, marked by repentance and conversion. Becoming a Christian will be like having your eyes opened after years of blindness! And we will get to see and participate in that!

There is one coming reality, but multiple options.

Wait and see, and you're done.

Try to fix the finances, and you're done a bit more slowly.

Accommodate the culture, and Jesus will spit you out.

Or you can live and pass on what is of first importance, that Jesus died to save sinners and was resurrected on the third day. It's that simple, but we have not yet seen how powerful it is!

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Years of Struggle, Part 1

This post is one of a series, maybe just two, but who knows.

There are some years of struggle ahead for churches. Many churches now don't see it-- things are going along fine. But I guarantee you, denominational leaders see it. The big question is, will we do anything about it? Will we make changes and take initiatives while we can control the outcomes, or will we have difficult measures forced on us?

The problem appears to be financial, but it is really not. It looks like we have about 10 years before there is a severe drop in giving. Most giving comes from people over 60. In some way, that is only right; their earning power is generally greater, and with kids out of the house, their income is more "disposable." But as you go down in age, not only does giving decrease, there are fewer people in each age group in church. There are not enough 50 year olds to replace the current 60 year olds. Get below 30 years of age, and you can see that if 60 year olds are our best givers, there will not be much left of the United Methodist Church in 2040. It will be a precipitous decline. But, we have been watching it happen for years. In some sense, we are in the middle of it. It looks bad, but it's not so bad yet that we feel like we have to do anything drastic to alter course. In fact, there are people starting ministry now who will be able to finish their careers without seeing too much pain of decline in their ministry. There will always be growing churches. The denomination as a whole may be croaking, but there will be exceptions, and each Annual Conference, there will be people flocking to figure out what the growing churches did. Sadly, the power of the guru will grow.

I said the problem only appears to be financial. I guess I should say that if we try to solve it financially, it will only drive us further into ruin. We may drag it out a little longer, but that's it. Sure, we will have to cut salaries, staff, buildings, programs, denominational spending, but we probably won't do any of that until we have to, and it won't be in ways we can control, ways we can downsize with an eye to be more effective. We will be forced to change, with little time to think, even though we have seen this coming for forty years...

If we look at it only financially, we will be trying to preserve the form of the institution, not the work of the Kingdom of God. We must recapture our love for the mission. We must have a zeal that compels us out of the walls of the church to find those who don't know Jesus and tell them of His great love and salvation.

If we look for new members thinking that will affect the bottom line (which it will, but watch out, that is Judas thinking), then we wont be making disciples. And if we're not making disciples, God will be done with us. He'll let us go.

But if we return to our first love, saving souls, everything will be fine. More than fine. the Holy Spirit will have His way in our churches and we will find our institutional forms lining up with His purposes. We may not have the money we want in the places we seem to want it now, but we will have the sources for the work God would have us to do. We will be "aligned" with The Lord's purposes. And then, sometime in the future, after we have again become complacent, someone will have the same problem we have, pushing against a ponderous institution that cannot clearly see, articulate or implement mission in Jesus' name.

All that said, sounding negative and pessimistic, tune in for why I (and others I know) are not discouraged, but rather are pumped up and ready to roll!

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