Jesus is Not a Brand: The Good

January 6, 2009 by

This is part two of a two-part post discussing the recent Christianity Today article Jesus is Not a Brand, by Tyler Wigg Stevenson, the author of Brand Jesus: Christianity in a Consumer Age.

Recently we discussed the shortcomings of Tyler Wigg Stevenson’s views in “Jesus is Not a Brand.” But he also has some wonderful insights to challenge churches in their marketing, and I’d like to look specifically at three of them.

Marketing is full of segmentation.
Wigg-Stevenson mentions Ford vs. Chevy and Mac vs. PC. Kem Meyer captured the essence of our spirit of debate succinctly recently on Twitter:

Here’s an idea: How about this in 2009? Respective Apple & PC fans stop gloating and wishing for the other to fail. It’s annoying.

We could go on down the list: Hunt’s vs. Heinz, Democrat vs. Republican, the Cowboys vs. the Redskins and more. It’s been said that the best bond is a common enemy, and all too often in the church, people band together because they all don’t like something.

When creating a strong brand, how will your church also create a brand that values unity and peace?

You can’t just adopt the brand, you have to adopt the lifestyle.
You know the fish magnets, (They’re the ones on the back of all the super-slow cars.), the “Pray Hard” shirts and the gaudy cross necklaces?

Your goal isn’t to get people to wear those. That isn’t a metric for success either. Apple is succeeding when people are slapping Apple stickers on everything. Bands are succeeding when people list them as their favorites on their Facebook profiles. But the church succeeds when the world is changed by Christ-followers, not when people sport lots of “cool” cross necklaces.

That is to say, they can’t just promote the brand, they have to give everything for it and live out the brand’s values.

Felt needs are not the end goal.
“Felt needs” is marketing-speak that’s tossed around a lot. Essentially, when someone realizes they lack something, and then want it, they have a felt need. In the business world, people need to be able to check their e-mail every six seconds, so companies produce phones that accomplish this. They’re called needs, but they aren’t actually needs. “Felt need” is a nice way to say, “wants.”

In the church world, people are fearful, so we provide hope. People are hurting, so we provide relief. People are starving, so we provide food.

But some “felt needs” are inherently unbiblical. The “need to be entertained at all times.” The “need to be safe.” These are not biblical imperatives, they are cultural ones. And the church is not obligated to meet all the demands of a worldly society. Evaluate the felt needs of your congregation, and ask whether they are truly biblical. Sometimes they feel a need, and it is your obligation to explain to them that there is something greater. Church marketing demands we put the gospel and lifestyle modeled after Christ above all else.

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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7 Responses to “Jesus is Not a Brand: The Good”

  • David
    January 6, 2009

    Last time I checked, I believe Kem Meyer is a female.

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  • Daniel Darnell
    January 6, 2009

    However we market Christianity, we must remember that Jesus is not a product to be consumed. Growing up, I always heard the there was a God-shaped hole in my heart that only Jesus could fill. First of all, that scared me to death to think I had a huge hole in my heart. Secondly, that’s infomercial logic and marketing: You have a problem. We can offer a solution. Just get our product.
    Like Tyler says, you can’t just adopt the brand, you must adopt the lifestyle. Jesus calls believers to take up their cross and follow Him. Jesus isn’t an easy-fix solution to our problems, so we can’t market Him as such. Leave the infomercial-style marketing to Billy Mays and OxiClean.

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  • Joshua
    January 6, 2009

    @David Sorry, that “he” was referring to Wigg-Stevenson. I’ll get that cleaned up.

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  • Jean
    January 7, 2009

    The “Church” markets because it does not want to change, only grow. How can institutions be Christlike? It is people who are anointed. It is disciples that do the work of Christ. So engagement with the worldly ways of religious camps is not automatically Christianity.
    To follow Jesus, to continue his work can be discovered through his words and sayings. An example of “church” failure is evident in the few numbers of people that show up for prayer – one of Jesus’ most regular practices.
    The multitudes were fed earthly food and stories, but the chosen received closely held knowledge and understanding. Ultimately, we must know him for ourselves; that is, spiritual pursuit free from the encumbrances of programs and stuff.

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  • Megan
    January 7, 2009

    Joshua, I love your distinction between felt needs that are biblical and those that are not.
    I think the heart of God for us is for those felt needs to be met – look at the Garden of Eden. That was his original design. Christ came that we might have life, and have it more abundantly – NOW, as well as in eternity knowing him.
    Communicating that could look an awful lot like selling out to the “consumerism” mindset – after all, we’re offering people everything they’ve ever deeply wanted and never knew they needed. But it’s telling them the truth.
    We have to spread the word, and that’s marketing. I agree with what’s been said before: the key is that we not compromise or confuse biblical truth with cultural values.
    If our church marketing is designed to appeal to someone’s flesh – their desire for STUFF, convenience, entertainment, you know, selfish motivation – then we’ve missed the boat. But if we market in such a way that we call out to their spirits to come and receive from all that Christ has genuinely done for them – then that’s just creative evangelism.
    My two cents. ;)

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  • Hal
    January 13, 2009

    I echo the kudos for distinguishing between “felt needs” & “biblical needs.” This is something the church really needs to think about when implementing technologies that make things “more convenient” for its members.
    It’s not that convenience is bad. But creating convenience can sometimes be counterproductive for organizations like churches that – among other things – try to foster the development of community (i.e. interactive, authentic relationships).
    Real community, real relationships, are many things, but “convenient” is rarely an appropriate descriptor.

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  • Sheila Branscombe
    February 9, 2009

    Good job Joshua. When the church is open to discussion and criticism and takes a good hard look at things (what Jim Collins calls Confronting the brutal facts but never lose faith), without getting defensive or self rightous, the hearts of people can change.

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