Sucky Approach

November 4, 2004 by

2004_11_04suckshirt.jpgLisa Sampson has an interesting post (with several comments) from October 26 that started as a comment about and ended with a unique T-shirt approach she found a church was using. The shirt says:

our church invitation
We Suck…
We have nothing to offer…
We don’t know anything…
We are just a small group of people
in a small room trying to discover
more about God…
Come be confused with us…

While I appreciate the spirit behind this, I am not compelled to check out this church. By the very nature of the shirt, they don’t appear very intellectual so the false sense of pseudo-intellectualism exuding from it confuses me. I think by using the word “confused” they are inferring that they are seekers of Truth and want you to come join them in their quest. I can dig that, but I doubt people who are really seeking Truth are relating to this shirt, its approach, or even the person wearing it.

I like what Rick said on a recent comment he made here on Although I don’t believe these are the rule #1 and #2 for advertising, I appreciate his perspective:

“Rule #1 in advertising: If your ad has to be explained, it sucks. It fails.

Rule #2: If your ad makes people laugh, cry, jump up and down, yet fails to sell the product, your ad sucks… it failed.”

I wonder how many people (of the kind they are seeking) are visiting the church as a result of this shirt?

Post By:

Brad Abare

Brad Abare is the founder of the Center for Church Communication. He consults with companies and organizations, helping them figure out why in the world they exist, why anyone should care and what to do about it.
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12 Responses to “Sucky Approach”

  • kevin
    November 4, 2004

    I’m not sure I completely agree. The medium not withstanding (who could read that much text on someone’s shirt without being obnoxious?), I find the copy intriguing. If this were a newspaper ad or a postcard that came in the mail, I’d be interested.
    I think I question Rick’s rules, in that not every advertisement thoroughly explains what it’s talking about. I think a successful ad is one that can pique someone’s curiosity enough to get them to check it out. The ad doesn’t explain everything, but it creates enough mystique that they have to check it out. Now maybe the “ad” is defined as everything you need to make the “sale,” in which case the successful ad includes the initial commercial and the web site where I get my follow-up information. But I’m giving Rick the benefit of the doubt here.
    This shirt falls into that category, as something that would make people ask questions, seek out some answers, and maybe quite possibly try the church. If one person asked about the shirt, it seems ten times more effective than a polo shirt with the church’s logo embroidered on the pocket.
    As for the confusion lingo, I don’t know if it’s my favorite (again, the copy is too long for a T-shirt), but I like the idea it creates. Certainly God is not the author of confusion (if you want to start quoting Bible verses), but as a broken church and as a broken people we’re awfully confused. The church needs to stop pretending we have all the pat answers.

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  • kevin
    November 4, 2004

    Though this does spark an idea. I’d love to see a shirt that said:

    My church sucks.

    on the front, and on the back:

    Wanna come?

    I can see a lot of people asking questions about the shirt, and a few people being offended. And I love the idea of explaining why my church sucks–because we’re broken. Yet it’s still my church. I’m a part of it (I suck, too), and together we’re finding a path to faith in the one God who doesn’t suck.

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  • brad
    November 4, 2004

    I like your shirt idea a lot better, Kevin. You and I still differ on the approach and result of the approach as seen above in the dialogue. No one said we had to agree, right?

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  • Rick
    November 5, 2004

    Hey Church fans,
    Nice commentary on the advertising. My only point on my comments, was that too often we attempt to be cute or creative and we fail to communicate.
    When I have an ad sitting in front of me and I am going to spend 100k in the next month to place it, I want to be certain that the ad does what it is supposed to do. If the creative director is attempting to help me understand his sense of humor or the point of his ad, then his ad sucks. we write ad for our potential “consumer”, not ourselves.
    I made a post on another blog. Pehaps the real ad should be, “Come die with us.” For essentially we are inviting people to die. Not too find a way to live comfortably in the suburbs, but to die to self and all that stands in the way fo the Reign of God.
    Thanks for the great post and getting me to think.
    Rick Luoni

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  • Rhinoguy
    November 5, 2004

    I think y’all are overestimating the marketing appeal of “sucky” things. Besides the terrible double-entendre of “My Church Sucks. Wanna Come?” what is the appeal of the slogan? I mean, airplanes have mechanical problems all the time but no carrier is going to use that as a selling point to differentiate themselves in the marketplace: “Our Planes Suck. Come Fly With Us.”
    A T-shirt with the church’s name and slogan “Now 17% Less Judgmental” I can buy into. It’s open and honest (hopefully) and gets the point across with humor.
    “Come for the sermon, stay for the tepid coffee and stale danish” also works, but you really should exceed expectations with great coffee and pastries.
    It’s one thing to recognize that your *marketing* sucks. It’s another to embrace it and promote your church that way, rather than try and improve both your marketing and your church.
    My $0.02

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  • kevin
    November 8, 2004

    Chris, I don’t think it’s so much the idea of promoting that your church sucks, as in wrapping an entire campaign around the idea, but just acknowledging it. I’d love to see a t-shirt that says ‘My Church Sucks,’ but probably not a whole ad campaign. It works on a T-shirt because you can ask the person face to face about it. It doesn’t work in a newspaper ad because there’s no person to ask. I think that makes a big difference.
    And somehow this facet of a church sucking is different from any other business out there. Of course an airline isn’t going to promote the fact that they stink. That’s not their core business. But a core idea of Christianity is that we’re sinful, broken people. Talk about a hard sell. Not many Christians are eager to hype that idea by admitting how sinful they are. I think it’d be interesting if we did.
    “Now 17% Less Judgmental” — now that’s funny!

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  • Rhinoguy
    November 11, 2004


    I don’t think we disagree on the need for “church” to take a look at itself and confront its flaws. Within the context of this site and its definition of the word “sucks,” we’re agreed. our churches suck. And as much as I’d like to see churches acknowledging their flaws, I don’t think a blanket statement on a t-shirt’s the way to do it.

    Think about it, how many people have asked you about a t-shirt you’ve worn? I’ve got some with rhinos that people have said “cool shirt” about, but that’s about it. From their comments I’ve concluded that they like rhinos too and/or I’ve got good taste in t’s. Some people have hissed at my Yankees hat, but for the most part it goes without comment.

    If you wore a “Free Winona” t-shirt, would you expect people to come up and ask where they could get their Winona at no cost to them or their family? Would anyone but someone who already understood the message of the shirt comment on it (raise fist, say “right on”)?

    So, say you’ve got a “My Church Sucks” shirt. First, people are going to have to appreciate the distinction of the personal pronoun; it’s not “Church Sucks” but “MY Church Sucks”. I think a lot of people would give you a “right on” if they were already convinced that church in general sucks (and not necessarily using this site’s definition). Some people from your church who are on their way out the door to find another church might also agree with you. I’ve been waiting for “lifestyle evangelism” to pay big dividends; I think the “My Church Sucks” shirt is going to prove similarly ineffective.

    One exception I could see would be a shirt with “My Church Sucks” on the front and “Ask Me Why” on the back (instead of “Wanna Come”). It has the cachet of the old Herbalife pitch, and it might draw some interest from folks who want to join you in your rant against the church.

    BTW: “Now 17% Less Judgmental” has been dibsed by the Annex Christian Reformed Church in Cochrane, Alberta. I’m gonna okay copyright use to one church in each time zone (US and Canada get separate approvals); just send me some swag.
    (Same deal with “Ask Me Why.”)

    Sorry for the length of this comment (I should be so verbose in my NaNoWriMo project).


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  • beth keck
    May 5, 2005

    Funny – someone just wrote me asking me how to get a bunch of these T’s for his church members …and when I went online I found your link instead of mine …
    Just in case you are interested, this was never meant to be advertising …I was (still am) being honest … You can read more about it here – and know that my mother was particularly offended … I explained it to her the same way I explain it to anybody … I thought it was less offensive than saying “all of our good deeds amount to less than used menstrual cloths” … (Something I was quite shocked to read when I was in Bible College …)
    I enjoyed reading the links and different opinions about the statement … And really, it did get many people talking (Socratic Evangelism, if you will) …
    You may also like to know that I never recieved any financial kickback (although that was the premise I was asked for permission to quote it under) – I read on a link that it sold quite well – and I know people who wear that T (some of their names might surprise you) … But still – never got one red cent …I wonder who did …?
    Lastly – I dont have a Church invitation T of my own – mostly because I don’t like to call any more attention to my chest than it already gets …

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  • Connie Knighton
    May 27, 2005

    Thank God Beth wrote.

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  • Logan
    October 17, 2005

    How about a shirt that says.
    “My shirt sucks”
    and then on the back
    “but my church is ROCK”
    with a very soft hand feel
    perhaps hand done lettering.
    the ROCK could have lightning bolts.
    God likes lightning, right?

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  • dan
    October 17, 2005


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