Pastor's Blog

I have always struggled with “marketing” the church.  We usually market “products”, so what product is a church producing that is to be marketed?

It seems to me that the church is, itself, the product God is producing.
The gospel calls people to turn from sin and to turn to Christ and follow him.
A church is a group of people who have responded to that invitation.  Our individual lives are being changed, and we connect to other people that find themselves in that process, and we encourage each other as we make our way together through this ‘unnatural’ (read “supernatural”) process.

The church itself is the product.
Not the building.  Not the ministries performed in the building.
The “people” – both as individuals and as an interconnected body, a little “society” as it were – that is the product God is producing.

Does one market this or simply live it out?  I guess you can “market” the congregation (the people).  But it seems to me that marketing shows you the best side, the positive, the upbeat.  Marketing is designed to take the photos in just the right way to make things as attractive as possible. 
Which means you have to conceal, or at least minimize, the weaknesses and the blemishes. 

But isn’t this the opposite of what being a Christian is all about?  Isn’t this the opposite of the biblical understanding of the church?

Is the church only “the beautiful people”?  Is everything always sunshine and flowers, joy and glory and success?  Or is our congregation full of normal people wrestling with the difficulties of life and the temptations of sin – often falling and often failing, in need of both rebuke and encouragement and care as we struggle and wrestle and argue our way through life?

But marketing the ugly side violates the purpose of marketing – doesn’t it?

If you market both, then you are marketing the ordinary.  Who needs “the ordinary”? 

Isn’t the church supposed to be the result of the supernatural?  Isn’t that what we want to market?  My personal experience is that every encounter I’ve ever had with ministries that have “marketed” themselves as some sort of extraordinary encounter with the divine, some sort of miraculous heavenly experience, has always proved to be at the very least a disappointment and at very worst an outright lie.

If the gospel is changing hearts, and if those changed (better, I think, to say changing) people are encouraging one another as a body of people – they are the product and the marketing of it.  The people are the product – and the marketing.
If our people are a bad advertisement – then what is there to market?
If we are a good advertisement – what more marketing do we need?

I have always struggled with “marketing” the church or the Christian faith.  I don’t want to struggle with it.  But there’s something about marketing Christianity that makes me uncomfortable.

We market products or services.  So what product or service is the church called to provide to the world?  What is our “product”?

Some people think the product/service is “the message”.  My struggle begins with the nature of the gospel and the nature of marketing.  Marketing is about presenting your product in a way that the buyer finds attractive.  You want the buyer to like it.  If he likes it, he buys it.

But the gospel begins with things that aren’t attractive and can’t be made so. 
Sin, God’s wrath, the final judgment, eternal hell, the crucifixion of Jesus, and repentance are neither happy nor popular subjects.

Liberal Christianity jettisoned these ideas 150 years ago and replaced them with the pretty and pleasant (and more marketable) fatherhood of God, the brotherhood of man, and of course, love.  Today the pews of liberal churches are mostly empty (save a few snowy heads) and their denominations are on life support.  Many of their churches are now occupied by evangelicals.

Evangelicals should learn from this lesson of history.  Some do, but many still feel a need to present the message of Jesus as something purely upbeat and positive.  Jesus will make you successful (happy, rich, healthy, more confident).  Others promise miracles of healing or experiences with the supernatural.  Still others promise that Jesus will cure all your emotional pain or relationship troubles.

We’ve all heard these kinds of things.  It makes for great marketing. 

If only it were true.  But how many times has divine providence pulled back the curtain to reveal ugly reality that doesn’t match the message?

I had a friend in my early days in the faith whose mother insisted she had been healed of a fatal illness.  She died insisting she had been healed.  My friend saw behind the curtain and came to hate Christianity and Christians.

I had friends who spoke in tongues who revealed that they had been taught how to do it and how to practice it to get better at it.  (One can get better at a divinely endowed miraculous gift?)

How many of us know fervid worshipers who speak evangelical jargon fluently (“Oh, hallelujah, praise Jesus!”), who seem spiritually mature, but who are discovered cheating on their spouses, hiding an addiction to pornography or alcoholism or gambling, or who cheat others in business without any guilt or remorse?

Then there are the people who pretend to be joyful publicly and talk about God’s work in their lives.  They are sweet and kind and always seem upbeat.  And then you get to know them and it’s all an act.  They are miserable, discouraged, angry, anxious, or depressed.  But to be truthful about those things is not socially acceptable in their religious circles.

And how many of us know parents who are shocked to find that their faithful Sunday church-attending Christian-schooled rule-keeping teenager has been partying with Christian friends (all saved at age three, of course), getting high, getting drunk, and having sex every Saturday night?

And how many of us remember the one-two gut punch to evangelicalism’s reputation by the revelations of the secrets of Jim Bakker and Jimmy Swaggart?

How does one keep a straight face and market “the power of the gospel to change lives” when you’ve seen so much behind the curtain – not to mention the hypocrisy in your own heart?

 

 

 

 

 

Back in the 1980’s a friend of mine planned his honeymoon trip to a small Caribbean island.  He showed me pamphlets with pictures of lovely white beaches.  It was amazingly inexpensive and affordable, even on the modest wages we made in those days. 

Too good to be true, I thought.  But I didn’t want to rain on his parade.

He and his new bride returned from the Caribbean frustrated and disappointed.  “There’s only one small beach on that island and every picture shows that one beach – just from a different angle!”  He complained that the beach was uncomfortably crowded, and worse, the island was populated with goats that roamed the beach and pestered vacationers. 

The goats weren’t featured in the pamphlets.

My illustration, like most formative experiences in my life, comes from pre-internet days when the consumer was at the mercy of the marketer.  The internet has given consumers a leg up to a more even playing field.  The ordinary person now has access to information that will confirm of the marketer’s assertions and to contrary information that the marketer may have withheld.  I don’t think that’s a bad thing.

I’m using the illustration to get us to think about the “marketing” of a church, of ministry, and even of the Christian faith.  We live in a society that expects marketing.  Marketing tells them why they should buy into what product you’re selling or what service you’re providing.

Marketing, I think, necessarily involves presenting the good things about a product and minimizing the troublesome or distasteful or difficult aspects of the product or service – the things that will prevent the consumer from buying it.

But the gospel begins with buying into things that are troublesome, distasteful, and difficult – about myself

The gospel seems to me an attempt to sell you a beach vacation on a Caribbean island that is too good to be true -- but there are those pesky goats on the beach.  What do I do with the goats on the beach?

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