Evangelism as an Ad Model

March 10, 2008 by

I’ll admit, I’m walking in to this conversation a bit late. Advertising Age recently ran a piece called When Evangelism is the Ad Model. It’s actually a book review, so be careful where to point any criticism or praise you might have. Here’s the jist of things (jist (n.) – me explaining a book I have not read via the impression I got from an Advertising Age article):

The evangelistic movement is an ad model for Christianity; it’s the lens through which secular America views our faith. The rise of evangelical Christianity, along with its politics and attitudes, was built on marketing rather than true spiritual revival. Mara Einstein, the author of the book in question, looks at different brands of faith (e.g. President Bush, Rick Warren, Oprah) and their rise to popularity. Then, she examines the relationship between religion and marketing, as well as a looming “disappointment” for individuals drawn to religion by marketing.

It’s a caustic thought–the growth of the American church is due to marketing ploys, and the marketing effect is wearing off. Nonetheless, it’s a conversation we need to be having, and a conversation we at Church Marketing Sucks want to have again and again. Are you making sure that message comes before marketing?

If you’re marketing your church and when people get in you just want to keep them in, that’s a problem. If you’re marketing your church and when people get in you want to provide a theater for them to have an intimate experience with God, that’s not a problem.

But there’s more to this than just whether churches are too marketing-centric, and we’ll look at that in a second post.

Post By:

Joshua Cody

Josh Cody served as our associate editor for several years before moving on to bigger things. Like Texas. These days he lives in Austin, Texas, with his wife, and you can find him online or on Twitter when he's not wrestling code.
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8 Responses to “Evangelism as an Ad Model”

  • Roland Thomas Gilbert
    March 10, 2008

    Here’s where I get into hot water: I’m the Communications Director … but not one of the pastors charged with the direction of our ministry per se. When it comes down to it, I’m charged with taking whatever it is we do and making it “look good.”
    Getting the pastoral folks to take a hard look at the “marketability” of our church … that is, the things we do that make our church remarkable [or unremarkable] … is difficult, if not impossible.
    Many times, it’s not the church marketing that sucks …

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  • Kyle Kinnaman
    March 10, 2008

    Why would we be surprised that anyone who partakes of a product or service (in this case organized religion) on the basis of its marketing and not its merits?
    A little over a week ago McDonald’s restaurants offered a free breakfast burrito with purchase of a drink; a simple loss leader. But the product was so repulsive to me that no amount of prior marketing hype could have made up for its lack of quality. If a consumer with a positive image of a company/product can be disappointed by a single experience it only follows that an individual with a neutral or skeptical view of church will be let down by marketing hype.
    I don’t think most churches are marketing-centric. I think American culture has traditionally been dually church and marketing receptive and the window for both has come to an end. We see large corporations and small businesses fail to deliver, much as we see individuals in our congregations and our neighborhoods fail to deliver. That is the troubling crisis the church faces. Relevance, not hype.

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  • Jon Acuff
    March 10, 2008

    Check out Nike’s “We are all witnesses” campaign for Lebron. Very worship/God focused.
    I wrote about this issue once and the comment that got me started was this one in Communication Arts:
    “As traditional institutions, such as government, the church and the schools, fail to provide meaning, consumers will increasingly turn to products and services to find meaning in their lives. Savvy companies that can align themselves with the core values their customers find meaningful, and do so authentically, will prosper in an economy that’s increasingly based on meaning.”
    I think that businesses realize there is a hole in people and they’re going to fill that hole with nougat or other products if given the chance.

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  • David
    March 10, 2008

    It is a big problem if we as churches get people in the door and provide another theatre experience. Our culture is already intensly media driven and if people are not arrested by the sheer power of the gospel, then it again forces churches to compete with program based outreach that produces more and more attendance with very little fruit. Those who want to see the Kingdom Come must commit to building community and not great preaching and entertainment centers for the masses to come and medicate themselves from the reality that we desperately need to repent and call upon God.

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  • Mark Cork
    March 10, 2008

    I recently wrote about this on my blog and felt like the article had some sobering things to say. It’s good for us to evaluate our motives. I happen to be one of those professional marketers (and a former pastor) who questions how much traditional marketing the church should be doing in the first place.

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  • Gene Mason
    March 10, 2008

    There’s a great book called “A Whole New Mind” which talks about this phenomenon in marketing circles. Basically we are leaving the information age for the “conceptual age”, where the primary motivator is no longer a search for stuff (which we have plenty of) but rather a search for MEANING.
    The secular world is trying to market their way to real meaning, and that’s just not possible. I think Oprah’s “Big Give” and “Extreme Home Makeover” are great examples in the media of trying to find meaning in doing good outside of a religious or faith-based motivation.
    I think the lesson here, as in other examples of the supposed crossover of marketing into ministry and vice-versa, is that in reality, the two are not really related at all, and just don’t mix. Real meaning is found only in Christ, and the church cannot market its way to an understanding of that in the lives of individuals. Christ has to do that work in them, and we need to support His work through the ministry of the Word, rather than marketing.
    Fascinating article, though.

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  • Nathan
    March 12, 2008

    One of our associate pastors gave me an article today that Donald Hayes wrote for the March 7, 2008 edition of the United Methodist Reporter (“Ostrich posture or eagle vision on itineracy?”).
    The best part of the article for me was this quote: “‘If United Methodism is defined by its methodology rather than its mesage, God help us.'”
    I think his statement is true not just for our denomination but for all churches everywhere. If our primary focus is placed on the way we do things – our particular liturgy, style of service, brand of marketing, etc – then we’ve really missed the mark. Those things can be good and beneficial for the Kingdom, but only when they are placed in a context that relegates them to a secondary importance to the Gospel.
    I’m a church Communications Director in my late-20’s, and I tend to think that I’m probably a bit too naive and idealistic when it comes to some things in the Church. But I look around and have to ask myself – “What is it about Christ and the Gospel message that we feel is so insufficient or unattractive that we have to make up for it with entertainment, technology, and marketing before it will appeal to anyone?”

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  • Ben Birdsong
    March 13, 2008

    We as the church have been given the greatest message of all – the gospel. We have been commanded by Jesus to share this message with all nations. The methods, marketing, atmospheres, and programs are all tools to connect people to the message. The tools should never take precedent over the mission itself.

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