Attack Ads from the Pulpit?

August 20, 2005 by

One of the the basic principles of good marketing is to focus on the power of your own product (i.e. the VW campaigns that focus on the “cool” factor of their cars). While it’s not uncommon for companies to take cheap shots at their competition (i.e. the ongoing cola wars), it’s not really a classy way to advertise. While I’m all for an improvement in church marketing, I think the church needs to remember to stick with the former approach.

For example, I’ve always looked for a church where the pastoral staff challenges me. In my opinion, “make-you-feel-good” preaching is one of the leading causes of stagnant Christianity. A good pastor isn’t afraid to delve into controversial topics, or of offending the congregation by asking hard questions.

But there’s a line that needs to be drawn when hard questions turn into venomous outbreaks against other segments of the church. I can’t count the number of times I’ve sat in church and listened to the pastor tell me how wrong “denomination x” is and how their erroneous theology is going to lead them all to hell in a hand basket.

Just like the cola war ads, that type of preaching leaves a bad taste in my mouth. While the message may be accurate, the delivery is bad.

Anthony Bradley over at the World Magazine blog had a great post on this topic last week. A few quotes:

“I actually know guys doing PhD in theology and biblical studies, not for the sake of advancing the kingdom, but just to fight with other Christians.”

“So I’ve noticed, and this is really disgusting part, I’ve been around people so bent on fighting with other Christians that when I speak about men coming alive and boldly speaking the truth fearlessly in all places and all times many criticize me and warn me about the types of theologically driven men they will become.”

The church needs to ask more hard questions. Seekers and believers in this day and age aren’t looking for a pat on the head, they’re looking for a challenging environment that will help them grow spiritually. That said, from the perspective of image and branding, the church also needs to make sure that they’re not crossing the line from promotion to attack.

What do you think? Does the need to question bad doctrine outweigh the risk of putting a bad taste in a seeker’s mouth? Or is it like I suspect… it’s simply a matter of tone and delivery of the message?

Post By:

Jennifer Laycock

Jennifer Laycock is a search engine marketing consultant and editor of Search Engine Guide. She's also a full-time work-at-home mom to an adorable little girl named Elnora.
Read more posts by | Want to write for us?

9 Responses to “Attack Ads from the Pulpit?”

  • Anthony
    August 20, 2005

    A man once said: “Methinks the lady doth protest too much”. It may be that some folks spend all their time putting others down because that is ALL that they have to say — they have no depth or wisdom or fresh manna from God – so they have to spew out venom. My Pastor is an excellent shepherd – he does not mind stepping on OUR toes but he rarely if ever says anything about another specific denomination or specific church. There is so much that we need to learn that is in the Bible that there is no need to concentrate on “other” stuff. It’s like they say, if you want to lose weight, do not concentrate on what you cannot/should not eat, but instead focus on what you DO get to eat and what your ultimate goal is :-)

     | Permalink
  • Michael Rew
    August 21, 2005

    My favorite denominations are twenties, fifties, and hundreds.

     | Permalink
  • Greg Wythe
    August 21, 2005

    I think there’s a range of “diff’rent strokes” that ought to be seen as beneficial. It’s one thing to sense a need for challenge (I’ve been there … and may well be there again). But after a long churchless walk of my own, I’ve rededicated my relationship with Christ at Houston’s Lakewood Church, which often gets a few too many knocks as a feel-good church, or worse. I think there is something of a challenge to keep churchgoers focused on a positive vision of Christianity in a time when more and more of us are under time, family, professional, and other pressures that challenge us enough … and often lead us to stray from our walk with the Lord.
    I guess my response, then, is that the concept of a “challenge” means something different to different people. And just as many of us look nonjudgementally at other denominations, we would be wiser to view other ministries this way. Yes, there will always be snakes trying to infiltrate the church … there will always be wolves in sheep’s clothing. And we should be on guard against them … but that doesn’t mean looking for a neat, uniformity that does away with legitimate diversity in the church and therefore brings different people to God in different ways.

     | Permalink
  • Scrivener
    August 22, 2005

    Last time I checked, reproving and rebuking were part of the gospel.
    They may or may not be the best tactic at any given time (you’re probably not going to convert anyone by getting in their face and screaming, “You’re a sinner!”; doesn’t exactly communicate love), but it’s certainly commanded by Scripture. Not in order to build yourself up, but to teach what the truth is.
    I’ve generally found it’s best used with people who know better, though. Otherwise, begin with what the truth is and move on to what it isn’t only after that. Letting people come to their own conclusions of what’s right and what isn’t based on the Bible is most productive, if not always possible.

     | Permalink
  • Jen
    August 22, 2005

    I don’t disagree with any of you. My point isn’t that we are not allowed to call out those that are teaching false doctrines, it’s that we shouldn’t be screaming that ours is the only way when it comes to debatable issues like “do we drink wine or grape juice” and “do we have seats or pews.”
    There’s nothing wrong with Coke or Pepsi, but that doesn’t stop them poking fun just to try and get more folks to drink their product.

     | Permalink
  • Suzi
    August 29, 2005

    Just a minor point on what you said, not the main article.
    You said that you didn’t like “make-you-feel-good” preaching, because that leads to stagnant Christianity. And it may well do that in the majority of cases.
    But what I thought of when I read that is a church we’ve been visiting. There the message is always positive and upbeat. Even when it could be used to beat you over the head. Instead of using the Good Samaritan story to talk about how Christians shouldn’t shirk their duty (not an appealing topic), the pastor used it to talk about how we need to go beyond our prejudice. And, believe it or not, he tied it into “giving to God.” The church has many wealthy and many poor and the preacher said, “If you don’t have money, don’t worry about it. Give your time.”
    It was the first sermon in years to motivate my husband.
    And it was an encouraging word to a soul thirsty for living water.

     | Permalink
  • Phillip Ross
    September 4, 2005

    You said, “One of the the basic principles of good marketing is to focus on the power of your own product.”
    So exactly what is the “product” of Christ’s church? What is it that the church is selling?

     | Permalink
  • creativekidd
    June 14, 2006

    Must we(church) forget what our function is on this planet. It’s not for us to make everyone AG or Baptist or whatever we are. We where made to become and image of Christ. Yeah! Christ did stand up to those who where stuck on legalism. But did he ever strike them down with anger and bitterness. No! He merely focused everyone’s attention onto more important aspects. Likewise we as mere Christians should do the same. Just be an example of Christ and that’s all we need to do. Nothing more nothing less.

     | Permalink
  • Marcia Dunbar
    March 13, 2007

    I agree to a point. Especially about “feel-good” pastors however at some point you do want to evoke an emotion be is “feel-good” or not. I heard it said best that “if the pastor is stepping on your toes, then maybe you should be moving them!” This means that if something is said that ruffles your feathers, maybe it is because it hits too close to home and you should work on something in your own life.

     | Permalink

Brand & Identity