Church Marketing: Denied

December 11, 2008 by

MarketingWeek recently covered a church in Belfast who had an ad pulled for being too offensive.

The Advertising Standards Authority has banned a regional press advert from the Sandown Free Presbyterian Church in Belfast for using strong biblical references to campaign against homosexuality.

The ad used biblical references such as “Thou shalt not lie down with mankind, as with womankind; it is an abomination” to convey its opinion on homosexuality.

The article goes on to say that the ASA considered the ad too strong and offensive. Their punishment? In the future, they need to seek approval by the ASA before publishing any advertising.

This brings up a lot of questions. The first of which is why the church is using their voice to speak in a way that’s so evidently doomed to failure. Shouting loud and negative just doesn’t work. Ever.

The other, perhaps stickier, question, is the implications of church marketing censorship. I’ve never really heard of church marketing being censored by a government agency. (And yes, I know the issue isn’t that it’s a church but what the church is saying, but this could be a slippery slope here.) How should churches respond to this sort of censorship?

I would think that if you feel you have a message important enough, censorship should be no obstacle, and creativity should come in to play as a way around the censors in place.

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.
Read more posts by | Want to write for us?

9 Responses to “Church Marketing: Denied”

  • Brit Windel
    December 11, 2008

    What do you think could have and should have been done differently
    i might disagree (i’m not sure yet) there are somethings that the church should speak out on…that in our cultural context would be very negative.
    not to mimic the voices already spoken before me… but the Gospel is very offensive and does draw lines in the sands… so how do we respect that Christ slammed some people (mostly the religious) with the word of God, but also loved…with the Word of God

     | Permalink
  • Jeff
    December 11, 2008

    Joshua, you touched on this briefly but my biggest concern is not the censorship, although it is unfortunate, my biggest concern is that the church would define themselves by an issue like this. Although it is obvious that the Bible condemns homosexuality, what is the point of trying to make unbelievers conform to biblical standards when they haven’t even taken the first steps of believing what the Bible has to say. If their marketing was so brilliant that they convinced all of Ireland that homosexuality was wrong, would they have really accomplished anything for the kingdom of heaven? So now, you simply have unbelievers who are not practicing homosexuality. No unbeliever is better off embracing one less sin. The message of the Bible is Christ first declared me righteous having assumed the track record of Christ’s perfection, then the Holy Spirit begins His work of sanctification in my life. At best, this is a classic case of getting the cart before the horse but at worst it is dangerously close to legalism where we define our Christianity, even our justification, based on what we do or not do. Certainly the wrong way for a Christian church to portray itself before an unbelieving world.

     | Permalink
  • Mark
    December 11, 2008

    At the very core, this is the reason the founding fathers put in place the First Amendment of our constitution.
    It was placed as a protective barrier moreso against the influence of State control on religious practices of all kinds than vice versa. Though in some small way, I don’t think they wanted a Holy Roman Empire either…

     | Permalink
  • Alisha
    December 11, 2008

    I’m an American evangelical missionary currently living in the Republic of Ireland. The story you reference is true, and it relates to UK rules as Belfast is part of Northern Ireland, which is still held by the United Kingdom. I agree with your statement about not shouting loud or being negative; however, keep in mind that it is a very different culture, especially because of the history of the North.
    If you think UK restriction is bad, try the rules in the Republic of Ireland. The BCI here states that religious advertising on the state-run TV and radio is banned completely, and this even includes any Catholic sources. A few days ago, a Catholic bookseller
    (article here:
    was denied a radio ad because of the line: “Christmas: aren’t we forgetting something? This Christmas, why not give a gift that means more?” Whew, how offensive and overtly religious!
    Of course, the state TV and radio, RTE, still show Catholic calls to prayer (The Angelus) at noon and 6pm daily, complete with stills of the Celtic cross and people praying. In light of all the restrictions, our best bet in marketing the church here is relationships and word of mouth.

     | Permalink
  • Rosemary
    December 12, 2008

    I think that if a church finds that they are being censored by the government, the church may need take an honest look at itself, and reexamine its message and itself.
    Two examples come to my mind:
    1. The KKK is a Christian organization. I daresay they would have argued that their message was “important enough despite government censorship.” But in actuality, those guys were insanely out of line, and the government was/is quite right to censor and outlaw their behavior.
    2. A number of years ago, I went on a diet and lost a lot of weight. I thought I looked GREAT, and I was very proud of myself. But my parents, my sister, my boyfriend all started saying I looked anorexic and unhealthy. So I had to ask myself: “Either I’m right or they’re right. Since I am but a small minority that believes I look great, I have to consider the possibility that I am the one with the distorted viewpoint.” I ended up changing my view, and I started eating more. Guess what? Turns out they were right about me after all.
    When you’re censored or told you’re wrong, there may be a very good reason for it.

     | Permalink
  • Rosemary
    December 12, 2008

    I guess what I’m saying is that the proper response to being censored shouldn’t be righteous indignation. I offer instead that it should be humility.

     | Permalink
  • Jason
    December 13, 2008

    When can the church “shout loud” about anything or should churches and Christians continue to be swept under the rug…as we are on almost all fronts? To list a few–Christmas, prayer in school, tax exemption status, “under God,” public school persecution, stances on political issues (that have a clear biblical law)…the list goes on.
    Why is it we don’t blame a pro-choice, pro-homosexual, non- profit that puts a loud and offensive message in the public? What about just good ‘ol plain corporate marketing that often is offensive (as part of their strategy)?
    Now a church speaks up with an ad on their position and they we were wrong and censored going forward?
    Should the church respond “loud” to this?
    Love doesn’t mean a weak response. Jesus tossed a few tables in his day.

     | Permalink
  • Tim Bulkeley
    December 14, 2008

    Of course, if they hadn’t been censored you and I would never have heard of them. The censors gave them a huge publicity boost – for free ;)

     | Permalink
  • Dave
    December 27, 2008

    Well..we can thank God that in our nation no governmental board gets to censor our church advertising. And that church should thank God that they live in a nation where people with ulterior motives do get to stop them from running very poor marketing campaigns.
    Sometimes an extra “review” before print is good.

     | Permalink