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23 yo male cyclist, chai drinking poet seeks small group

How do you feel about programs and small groups in churches for every imaginable sub group and sub sub group?

Here is a list from an “emerging type” church in our area. They are known for being pretty open, progressive and generous in service to the community (to their credit). They’re pretty young and hip compared to most other churches in the area. They have the atmosphere, movie clips and alt. worship. They’ve hosted the likes of Brian McLaren and Jim Henderson/Matt Casper And they’re big. This is only what they have going on at one of their 2 locations and it’s for just this fall.

Sunday Morning Conversation

Young Marrieds Group

Parents Connection Group

College-Age Group

Good Sense Budgeting Course

Song of Solomon Bible Study

Pick-Up Basketball

Christianity 101

New to Parenting Group

Ephesians Bible Study

God in Film

Divorce Recovery Group!

As far as I know, these aren’t in collaboration with anyone, they’re being offered by the church itself.

When David went to the Missio conference, Alan Hirsh (I think) talked about the reality that many of our “emerging” churches are not necessarily better at making disciples, they’re just creating more sophisticated consumers. Once upon a time, the most sophisticated consumers in the church world were looking for sharp, edgy teaching from a guy in snappy casual clothes, a decent small group program, a good children’s ministry and a hip contemporary worship band - now we’re demanding candles, art, experiential worship, freedom to drink alcohol and have tattoos, young leaders….etc etc etc

The point wasn’t to say that those things are bad but that they’re not necessarily key in making disciples and they also aren’t what defines a missional community - just a cool one.

I’m not making a judgment at all. Obviously, as a leader of a missional community (we don’t call ourselves a church for good reason) with 8 or so adults and 2 kids, churches like the one I mentioned give me a complex (even though we are impacting our world more than any mega church I’ve ever been a part of) but at the same time, I’m not so sure I want to be them. But also at the same time, I’m not suggesting they should be doing anything different…I’m just thinking….

David Fitch wrote about the problems with the mega church awhile back and he (sort of) said what I have said for a long time - just because God is moving there doesn’t mean he’s giving his stamp of approval. Or is he?

What are your thoughts on the highly programmed church? If you led a community like Revolution with 8 people and it started to grow, would you create a typical highly programmed big church or would you intentionally do something different? what would you do different?

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  1. Jennifer — November 2, 2007 #


    Did you see the “Willow Creek Repents” post on OutofUr?

    Basically, they are asking the same question - Do programs help make disciples? And they are aswering it : Not necessarily.

    They also have some really interesting stats on who is least happy with the church. It’s not new beleivers, they feel well served….its people who are more mature in their faith that feel the church is kind of pointless in helping them grow. The video they put out is really something http://revealnow.com/story.asp?storyid=48

    I’m not a big Willow Creek fan, but when the most programed church in America is rethinking things, I want to listen.

  2. Jonathan Brink — November 2, 2007 #


    The best “church” I’ve ever been part of is my discipleship group. We’re 11 guys taking the same journey together, engaging what it means to follow Jesus in mission. We don’t have candles. We don’t have anything other than 60w light bulbs. We don’t even have a killer band. But we do have communitas and restoration.

  3. carmen — November 2, 2007 #

    wow. it’s always a strange and wonderful experience for me when i run across someone who’s expressing thoughts hovering on the edge of my own but articulating them in a way that makes me sit back and almost weep with relief. i wish i could sit down and drink a cup coffee with you.

    what you have, your community, is what we (husband, me and two kids) are prayerfully waiting for ourselves. i say “waiting” because, from i’ve been reading and hearing from other’s experiences and the little experience in this i’ve had, i’m thinking they form with relationships and the Spirit and not by standard advertising and or “church planting” (but maybe your’s formed differently?). also, i’ve got what you so aptly and simply describe as a complex when it comes to highly structured and programed ways of “doing church.” this is all to say that my experience is minimal and so my responses to your questions will come more from what my gut says than what my limited experience tells me:

    so, to your questions, i would do things differently and do so with wild thrill. i would think about muliplying rather than growing bigger. i would think about relationships instead of programs. i would think of walking with those i’m walking with for a season rather than trying to wall it all in and preserve it, because don’t you think that’s like trying to program and wall in the Kingdom - this wild and wide open space of God’s love, grace and life in charge?

    thanks for the opportunity to bring those hovering thoughts closer. i’m looking forward to reading through your blog. i’m happy your out there, makeesha. blessings.

  4. Mak — November 2, 2007 #

    Carmen - you’re spot on on all accounts. Yes, our group formed through relationship rather than advertising or church planting and your ideas are EXACTLY what my dream is. I love especially what you said about traveling for a season instead of trying to wall it in - this is something that is almost the “unspeakable” in the “church leadership” world…the very notion that we would embrace the transient and the temporary is almost sacrilege.

    Thank you so much for stopping by, I would love to have coffee with you - maybe some day we will :)

    That awesome Jonathan. God’s blessings on you guys.

    Jennifer - I DID see that - but I’m not sure I can see Willow Creek or any other mega church for that matter start desolving their programs for the purpose of multiplying instead of growing….but I guess we’ll see. (and nor am I positive they should…again, just thinking)

  5. carmen — November 2, 2007 #

    mak, while i wish it was mine, the walking for a season is something i embraced from Wayne Jacobsen’s writings (lifestream.org). and i hope you’re right about the coffee. i think we would have lots to share. blessings to you and yours.

  6. Jennifer — November 2, 2007 #


    Did you watch their video?

    I dont think they’re yet saying they’re going to disolve anything, but they are saying that people’s involvement in programs does not seem to make any difference in their spiriutal life. They’re doing more research to see if this is true across the board, or just in their church.

  7. Mak — November 2, 2007 #

    oh yeah, I read it and watched it. :) I think it’s amazing what Hybels is doing - very brave.

  8. Lainie Petersen — November 2, 2007 #

    Great post!

    I guess I have concerns about “niche fellowship”: I understand the desire to meet people’s specific needs, BUT:

    1. Is meeting “specific needs” (such as sponsoring a support group) necessarily the mission of the local church?

    2. When you segregate the “young marrieds” from “seniors” and “new parents” from “experienced parents”, you deny members of these groups the chance to learn from each other. Besides, how the heck are people supposed to get discipled if they are all equally inexperienced and ignorant?

    3. I don’t understand why people can’t figure out how to socialize on their own. If people actually take the time to get to know each other, they are likely to form their own relationships (some age segregated, some not) without the church programming their personal lives for them.

  9. Mak — November 2, 2007 #

    thanks Lainie, and thank you for your thoughts.

    I have those same concerns…specifically number 3. I just had a conversation with a friend about that very thing. It concerns me that so many in the Christian world don’t know how to create a social web because churches have been doing it for them since they were infants (in my case anyway)…and the entire web lies inside the walls of the church. The saddest thing I hear and hear on a regular basis is Christians talk about how they really have no friends outside their OWN church , much less friends outside THE Church.

    I’m concerned that while we think we’re doing good by providing all these things, we’re actually fostering a prolonged spiritual adolescence.

  10. Lainie Petersen — November 2, 2007 #


    Agreed on everything, though I would take your observations a bit further and note that if people either don’t have friends outside the church OR have two distinct groups of friends (one inside, one outside the church) there is a serious problem. Any sort of missional activity is going to be stymied by the lack of interconnectedness between individuals, and their individual social networks.

    I’d also say that this is where we need to get back to valuing hospitality. If people are opening their homes to their friends, and their friends’ friends, there is an organic (as opposed to programmed) opportunity for real connections to be made and relationships forged. No church building, no matter how well designed, no retreat/conference, no matter how well programmed, can substitute for what goes on in people’s living rooms and backyards.

  11. Mak — November 3, 2007 #

    absolutely Lainie. I forget that while it’s implied with me, it’s not always so obvious to others that our social web would be just that - an interconnected web that is “mixed”

  12. traveller — November 3, 2007 #

    For most of the 20th century the “church” relied on programs in ever increasing sophistication to “disciple” those within. It has been an umitigated failure. If people within the “church” have matured as a follower of Jesus it is in spite of, instead of because of the “church”. Father never intended for his community of followers to be an institution or an organization, but to be an organism. This can only occur in small groupings of people. As they grow the organism must be willing to divide and yet remain interconnected in a network similar to our body cells dividing from the one united sperm and egg untill we have a complete body. That body has distinct organs but still connected makes a whole with each playing its part…..Paul’s point in Corinthians.

    In my view, the whole issue of mega-churches or even traditional or non-traditional institutional churches is one that is resolving itself with time. Just reviewing the twenty plus years of research by George Barna shows a definite trend line that the institutional expression of church is dying. Given a few more decades I suspect most, if not all, will be gone. Small de-institutionalized, decentralized, networked communities of the ecclesia in some form is more likely in the years ahead. In this environment, it is possible, though not assured either, that people will grow in becoming the humans we were created to be by Father. The transition is not easy since so many of us are tainted by our institutional experience. Even those who claim to be “emerging” carry so much baggage from their institutional experiences and heritage. However, I trust the Spirit will continue the re-formation process of the ecclesia in the years ahead.

  13. Geoffrey — November 3, 2007 #

    On the one hand, these programs might just be answering a need. On the other, they might just be filling up empty calendar space during the week. Who knows? Many of them sound interesting and informative, and if they are well-attended, and feed the people, I’m not sure what the fuss is about.

    The last point is my main one, not just about this cafeteria menu of programs you list, but about anything the church does, from its Sunday worship service to the sacraments to any fellowship groups associated with it, and on and on. If they are filling the needs of the people, I say go for it. If they are nothing more than trying to meet some goal set by the pastor to look busy (remember that old t-shirt, “Jesus is Coming! Look Busy!”?), then they might incidentally meet the needs of some folks, but only because the Holy Spirit manages to fill in whatever gaps exist in our best laid plans.

  14. Mak — November 3, 2007 #

    good points Geoffrey

    I guess I have this lingering feeling of discomfort with comments like “I’m getting my needs met” or the more popular “I’m going where I can get fed”

    If I can “get my needs met” socially, mentally, spiritually, recreationally, educationally, charitably, etc all within one big monolithic system then why would I venture outside the walls of my church building? ya know? It’s my one stop shop for all my “needs”….that disturbs me.

    Maybe it shouldn’t. Maybe I’m jealous. Maybe I have issues because of my past experiences…but I can’t shake this feeling that if a church gets that big, it’s not actually meeting TRUE NEEDS by creating an a la carte list of programs.

  15. Pingback - Rest Stop « Merging Lanes — November 3, 2007 #

    [...] - 23 yo male cyclist, chai drinking poet seeks small group (Swinging From The Vine) [...]

  16. Paul — November 3, 2007 #

    thanks Mak, you always make me think and i appreciate that!

    i guess my leanings are towards needing all sorts of different shapes and sizes of church - there is always going to be a tension between inward and outward activities and investing in a programme that can help me in growing as a disciple is hopefully an investment that will impact on my whole life.

    In a small community maybe there is less need/resources for programmes but on the other hand you have high relationality so it is much easier to commit to each other and disciple each other than way. Which i guess in a larger church environment the emphasis is on small grps often to provide that kind of space to share life with people.

    some people of course love the whole big church thang and some people love the small church thang, in fact most like the latter because everyone gets to know everyone - it’s partly why the average church size in the UK is about 50 because that’s a nice safe sustainable size of knowing everyone, know one is particularly interested in getting any one else to come in.

    On the other hand when there is a big church the dilema is as you say that people can get into a state of expectation rather than participation - a consuming mentality.

    although i also wonder what limiting the effect the business of life has on programmatic structure - in that people maye too busy for that sort of approach, or at least tell themselves that they are.

  17. Mak — November 3, 2007 #

    paul - it’s interesting you mention the 50 size, according to research, 50 is the number of individuals in a social network an individual can manage and still feel connected.

    I certainly am not looking for a dogmatic answer or response here - I would be willing to concede that we “need all kinds” - but it’s a response I’m still not totally comfortable with. I just can’t escape that uneasy feeling in my gut.

  18. Raquel — November 5, 2007 #

    a couple of thoughts.

    What if we are choosing to join with a church as a reaction to our past experiences with church? Is that the appropriate answer?

    I mean, let’s say that I was badly wounded at X church and so I went and found something that was the total other end of the spectrum and then sat back and pointed out what sucked about the church that I came from.* Would this be helpful to the body as a whole? Who’s going to stick it out (where they’ve been wounded because it happens to all of us) and join with the Spirit in shaping the body into a more healthy version?

    too many programs, not enough programs. not enough diversity too much diversity. baptizing with a sprinkle or a full dunk. sabbath on saturday or sabbath on sunday. whatever. It seems to me that if God reveals brokenness, it isn’t so we can go somewhere else and start all over (in most cases) but so we can help mend. Division in the body is the enemy’s way ~ not ours!

    I may be way off on this but if unity is found in Jesus Christ and the trinity ALONE, then why are we hunting for unity elsewhere? can you see where I’m going with this? it seems to me that we (the ‘church’) need is a major refocus.

    And I totally agree with you that it’s our responsibility as Christians to reach out to the larger community around us. I also believe that this should be done AFTER Christ has taught us to fly. I don’t want want to be the judge on the matter of who’s a capable flyer and who’s not, I leave it up to Him. But intentionally sending baby birds without wings to perform ‘works’ may skew their view of Christ’s acceptance which is the utmost of importance in my opinion. Baby birds may remain baby birds forever and that’s their deal… I see one of my functions as a part of the body to encourage and pray for the baby birds; but they get to choose whether or not to grow, and that has to be cool with us. Baby birds can’t be expected to collect food for themselves nor for their family. They can’t even leave the nest without breaking something. Ya know?

    If the church we’re in is full of baby birds who choose to stay that way, should we not be there for them just in case they may finally decide to grow? My not-so-clever rhyme for this is (I’m laughing) God reveals so God can heal. Blind cannot lead the blind. Who will stay?

    *clause: there are certainly extremes where it is safest for an individual to leave a church and join another body. depending the situation, we may not be able to personally heal while remaining at the original church. I don’t want to over-generalize.

  19. Mak — November 5, 2007 #

    “What if we are choosing to join with a church as a reaction to our past experiences with church? Is that the appropriate answer?”

    probably not, it’s often what happens though and I don’t think it’s necessarily “bad”.

    “It seems to me that if God reveals brokenness, it isn’t so we can go somewhere else and start all over (in most cases) but so we can help mend. Division in the body is the enemy’s way ~ not ours!”

    I think this is very idealistic but most people I know who say this aren’t Eastern Orthodox or Roman Catholic (if you are then obviously you’re exempt) so there was a separation at some point on their journey.

    as for your thoughts about “baby birds” I couldn’t disagree more. First off, “behaving” as a follower of Christ as one gains knowledge is the more historical approach to spiritual formation. As Christians we are to live our lives in the world - whether we have just started consciously following Jesus or have been our whole lives. We are to engage those around us in loving friendship with the support of our Christian community. There’s no indication whatsoever in Scripture that Christians were encouraged to disengage until they’re “mature enough”.

    “If the church we’re in is full of baby birds who choose to stay that way, should we not be there for them just in case they may finally decide to grow? My not-so-clever rhyme for this is (I’m laughing) God reveals so God can heal. Blind cannot lead the blind. Who will stay?”

    I honestly don’t know exactly what you mean by “full of baby birds”. We certainly shouldn’t take the idea of leaving our local church lightly but the whole baby bird metaphor is a bit lost on me I think.

  20. Raquel — November 5, 2007 #


    Idealism? Maybe. Not anything that I would expect from the body, just hope and encourage for others to do. I could name a million things wrong with the church that we attend (at one point I was so fed up with it that we church- hopped for six months but God called us back) but those that attend there are His babies and He wants them to grow in Him even more than I do… even more than I can imagine. And the beauty of God is that we learn from every angle. God has grown me big time by sending me back. Not because I’m the all wise and powerful Christian, quite the opposite. He changed my perspective by revealing to me more people’s stories… more grace for why they are where they are. And also, He showed me that they don’t have to like/love me! It’s cool. As long as God and I are straight, whatever. (I state this in one sentence but it’s taken me four-five years to get here and I’ve still got work to do ;) ).

    Concerning baby birds, my suggestion is not that they should isolate themselves in anyway (quite the contrary, actually, and I apologize for insinuating it as such) from the ‘world’. More like expectations should be lowered and where they are should be accepted because of their baby-ness. Geez, lemmie think of an example.

    Very recently, a friend of mine suddenly lost her father - leaving her an orphan at 19 yrs old. She was raised in the church but hasn’t yet fully embraced Jesus and His endless love for her. She’s afraid to trust Him, questioning why God would leave her without her Daddy. She is a believer, but one who’s still figuring out the ropes. She needs healing from Christ before she can be expected to run around town evangelizing and leading small groups. Not that she should hide from what Christ puts in front of her, rather I believe that our expectations of what she can/should give to others ought to be limited and embraced. This is an exaggerated example but only because we know her story. Looking in from the outside, one might wonder why she isn’t more involved in the community or even in childcare within the church. After all, according to church records, she’s been attending since she was born! You see what I’m getting at?

    The church full of baby birds (by this I meant full of hurt and possibly stagnant believers) deserves grace because we don’t know their stories. They, shown by their fruit, need His healing as well. ..I hope I’m being more clear this time..

    I guess, bottom line, is if more mature Christians aren’t walking with the less mature Christians, then what’s the point of the body? Had a particular woman (I refer to her as my spiritual mom) not taken an interest in me, I’d be missing out on SO MUCH Jesus. Ya know? I desire for the church to give that gift of maturity to itself, but also the grace to love ‘em where their at. I NEED more mature Christians to help me grow up and see things right. I need them to answer my questions, pray for me, and spur me on.

    We straight?

  21. Mak — November 5, 2007 #

    no, I’m still not understanding what you’re getting at or how it relates to this post…I’m just not understanding as it seems that you are contradicting yourself. I’m sure there’s a communication gap on my end, sorry.

    you and I are fully agreed that we need to care for one another and be in community even when it’s not easy. That we need to extend grace to everyone - mature, immature, whatever. I’m not sure if you’re just emphasizing the point or thinking I suggested otherwise. I absolutely advocate embracing people where they’re at, loving them and walking with them on the path. It’s one of the primary tenets of our community.

    As for sending people out to lead small groups and evangelize - I actually don’t like the traditional concept of “evangelism” so I’m not sure where that came from - and the whole point of my question was to ask about the purpose, intent, or validity of small groups in the first place so I certainly wouldn’t suggest that someone with tremendous hurt actually lead one. I’m not even sure if small groups and “meeting needs” through programs is a good idea. Meeting needs it important in any relationship, but I’m not sure that creating programs to do it is the right thing….that’s all I was pondering in this post.

    As for your comment about staying in your church - the reason why I think it’s idealistic is because it’s easy to say “stay no matter what” in theory but in practice it’s just much more complex than that.

    God has clearly given you a mission there at your church and that’s fantastic. But I avoid judging the “rightness” or “wrongness” of people leaving their church. I have been in so many varied situations in churches, I know first hand it’s never clear cut. And just because I have grace to stay somewhere where people dont’ like or value me doesn’t mean everyone else has this grace.

  22. Geoffrey — November 5, 2007 #

    I agree that sometimes, bourgeois focus on self-fulfillment becomes a part of suburban mega-church programming. I also agree that, if the sole focus of such a laundry list of programs is to just feed the people, they will become (spiritually speaking) fat and lazy. If they are fed, however, in order to have strength to run the race that is set before them, however, or putting on the whole armor of Christ (to use two scriptural metaphors) then I do believe that it is possible that there is more going on.

    My experience is different from yours. I understand your reluctance to endorse this kind of thing based upon that experience. I, however, am willing to allow the Holy Spirit to fill in the holes. Even if ninety-nine percent of those who attend these things do it solely for satisfying their own spiritual needs, if one percent feels moved to go outside the walls, and take it to the world - then, God’ work is done. All have different gifts, and because of these different gifts, all are fed differently. Some people like lobster bisque, others like chicken noodle soup, but both of them end up coming out the same place in the end, you know?

  23. Mak — November 5, 2007 #

    I see what you’re saying Geoffrey and I agree in so far as it goes.

    The only reason why I’m still on board with “churches” at all is because of what you have said - even at it’s worst, it’s probably better than nothing at all.

    As I said, I’m not looking for a dogmatic answer but I think it’s something we need to keep critically examining.

  24. Warren — November 5, 2007 #

    Hey Mak,

    You bring up a good point that deserves some reflection. It points out the glaring disconnect between people who follow Jesus largely because they see their own depravity, and those who are only around because of seeker-sensitivity. We usually take the former and make them leaders, and the latter become pew-warmers.

    But in genuinely missional communities, I think the picture we get is that there is always a starting point — whether it is Pentecost in Jerusalem (Acts 2) or the forum on spirituality at the Areopagus (Acts 17) — but the starting point is never the end goal.

    This is because genuine conversions that take place don’t stop there either: they are followed by things like baptism, diverse and giving fellowship, moving on and preaching elsewhere, new churches planted, etc… Those who were baptized at Pentecost went home. Peter and the Church spread out. Paul moved to Corinth.

    Yes, Paul and Peter wrote letters, and visited as often as they could to ensure the strengthening of good leaders, the continual growth of the people, but the emphasis was on sowing the seed and watering, but the importance of God making things grow.

    Often times we pour our resources into these interest groups as if they are what makes people grow. This is wrong. People must act out their faith.

    Yes, the groups are good. But they can also be very limiting to the work of the Spirit. The activity and movement of the church didn’t revolve around static entry points for people… it happened on the way as people were acting out their faith.

  25. Mak — November 5, 2007 #

    “Often times we pour our resources into these interest groups as if they are what makes people grow. This is wrong. People must act out their faith.

    Yes, the groups are good. But they can also be very limiting to the work of the Spirit. The activity and movement of the church didn’t revolve around static entry points for people… it happened on the way as people were acting out their faith. ”

    warren, you make very good and well stated points here, thank you :)

  26. Pingback - Headspace @ www.lainiepetersen.com » Give Away Your Church Building — November 6, 2007 #

    [...] In a typically excellent post, Makeesha Fisher questions the niche “ministries” that so many churches have. To which “thinker” responded: [...]

  27. Paul — November 6, 2007 #

    I’m sure your gut is onto something :)

  28. Angela — November 9, 2007 #

    Sorry for commenting late on this one. Obviously too late to get in on the conversation but still wanted to throw my 3 cents your way.

    First off I just have to say…ahhhh (as in a relaxed, satisfied sigh) something we agree on- missional. :):)

    To answer your questions….

    “What are your thoughts on the highly programmed church? ”
    My thoughts vary depending on the specific local church. I have been in churches with more programs than I care to count. I have been in a church with VERY little progams. I would lean toward more small groups myself and these would not be segregated groups. They would be small groups where different people could speak into one another’s lives. That being said I don’t have a huge problem with groups such as New parents, etc. Those can be a help. My thing would be to pray and ask God specifically what the particular group of people needed, or what the people we were trying to reach out to needed. This may be different all across the board. Spirit led would be the key to the “programming” if I were leading a church.
    I tell you what I would DEFINITELY focus on…I would focus more on the church being people and less on the whole “church is a building” thing. WE are the church. Not a structure. The building is just a gathering place. The one thing I DO see as a hang up to many small groups that meet in a specific church building- people tend to associate the building with the church. The believers in that body don’t think outside he box. Why would they need to. If the church doesn’t have a program going on (in the actual building) then they don’t see a need. When the church (people) start meeting each others needs outside of a program and outside of a building I think we are much closer to acting like the Body of Christ. Especially considering that then you can break down this friends only in your specific church building thing. I rebel COMPLETELY agains that whole thing, yet I’ve seen it happen time and time again. It’s like, “you go to such and such a church now so THEY can take care of you when you’re sick” instead of dropping off a meal to your sister in need.

    So, to answer your other questions I would intentionally do things different. Not for shock value, not to be “seeker friendly” but to head back to a unified Body of Christ mentality.
    I personally would encourage brothers and sisters to remember that the meetings we have with each other are not the sole place we get fed. We come to worship Jesus together, to encourage and strengthen each other, etc. but that we need to do these things all the time, outside walls because we are the church!

    I don’t think I have all the answers but these are things I have been seriously thinking about over the years. Sorry this got long. Thanks for listening to my ramble. :)

  29. Pingback - Random Acts of Linkage #34 : Subversive Influence — November 10, 2007 #

    [...] Makeesha wonders about emerging church programs and the establishment of multi-site ministries with special-interest groups for every niche. Me too… I’m the one who said publicly, “If it’s even possible to have an emerging megachurch, the Americans will figure out how to do it.” Maybe I should clarify… that wasn’t a challenge I wanted to see met. [...]

  30. Angela — November 10, 2007 #

    Just letting you know it was me again. I didn’t think to leave my website on this comment either.

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