Emergent Church Marketing Sucks, Too!

August 3, 2004 by

Reimagining Spiritual Formation by Doug Pagitt and the Solomon's Porch CommunityReimagining Spiritual Formation isn’t exactly a title that makes you sit up and pay attention. But the subtitle should get you: “A week in the life of an experimental church.” This book explores a week at Solomon’s Porch, an emergent church in Minneapolis, through the eyes of Pastor Doug Pagitt and several members of the community. While Pagitt isn’t trying to add to the church marketing discussion, there’s plenty to chew on.

“We join with the many people, professional and lay, who have suggested in writings, conversations, prayers, and pleadings that the Christian Church has not lived up to its potential or calling in the post-industrialized world, but that it could.” (page 23)

The title of the book comes from the idea that Solomon’s Porch sees the current church working on the idea that knowledge is the primary shaper of our spirituality. We go to Sunday School, we learn about God, we get saved. Spirituality in a nutshell. Solomon’s Porch pushes beyond that idea, instead embracing a holistic approach to spiritual formation, primarily centered around community. And while community is a lovely buzzword, they really try to live it at Solomon’s Porch, accepting one another no matter what (as one member wrote: “I could think life sucked and still be in a Christian community.” page 30)

Selling the Gospel
One of the big complaints at Solomon’s Porch is the way some churches treat the Gospel like a product:

“Comodification of Christianity may be among the greatest threats to living a viable Christian faith that we face in our world. This assumption is in serious need of rethinking. Unfortunately much more energy has gone into discovering the best use of marketing techniques for the church than reflecting on what happens to the gospel when it becomes a product of an ever-desiring culture looking for “value-added” faith as the final rung of the self-actualization ladder.” (page 42)

While marketing techniques can be helpful, we’ve lost the plot if we’re more interested in numbers than souls. Any church marketing that loses sight of that is church marketing that sucks.


“Since the beginning of Solomon’s Porch, we have done things in particular, and often peculiar, ways. But we have worked very hard not to be peculiar for the sake of novelty. We are more interested in creating authentic practices than interesting or trendy practices. … Authenticity is more important to us than slick production or professional execution.” (page 54)

The real test for whether or not marketing can be useful to the church is whether or not it’s authentic. And really this is true for any marketing. If a Fortune 500 company has a hollow ad campaign, it’s not going to work as well as one that’s honest and true (though it may take some time for that to pan out). And while a Fortune 500 company can call short-term profits a success (which is why dishonest marketing happens), the church is held to a higher standard. We’re not simply looking for butts in pews or hands raised at an altar call. We want “people who are concerned with more than our own salvation – people bent on practicing a Christian faith that’s useful in the world.” (page 38)

The lesson from the emergent church when it comes to marketing is two-fold:

1) The Gospel is not a product that can be marketed and sold like a pair of jeans. That doesn’t mean we can’t use the tool of marketing, it just means we have to realize we’re dealing with a different animal, and respond accordingly.

2) For church marketing not to suck it must be authentic. An honest postcard with ugly clipart is better than a slick and glossy card that misrepresents a faith community.

For anyone still scratching their head about these emergent folks, you’ll find they’re just like the rest of us (with the possible exception of the couches):

“I leave work in time to make it to church by 5:30 and find a place on one of the low-riding couches. Finding the perfect seat is so essential to worship. Get in a too low couch and your back starts to hurt. Get too close to the front and you might get called on. Sit too close to the kids and their chatter pierces through the sermon. Sit in a chair and look unapproachable and lonely. Sit in a big couch alone and look like a leper or unclean. Sit with the regular group and look antisocial, and sit with a stranger and risk looking like the creepy church guy coming on too strong. Think about it too long and look like an arrogant idiot that isn’t spontaneous enough to just sit down. Man. Church can be so hard.” (page 45)

Post By:

Kevin D. Hendricks

When Kevin isn't busy as the editor of Church Marketing Sucks, he runs his own writing and editing company, Monkey Outta Nowhere. Kevin has been blogging since 1998, runs the hyperlocal site West St. Paul Reader, and has published several books, including 137 Books in One Year: How to Fall in Love With Reading, The Stephanies and all of our church communication books.
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4 Responses to “Emergent Church Marketing Sucks, Too!”

  • thoughts
    January 15, 2005

    2004 Reading List

    It’s time once again for the annual reading list. Well, actually it was time two weeks ago, but I’m just now getting to it. Yet again my reading list numbers are low. It seems not riding the bus to work…

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  • David
    November 14, 2008

    the “emergent church” is kidding themselves, instead of a suits and dress clothes, they dress casual, there’s nothing new or emerging about it, my favorite is really young churches (age of it’s members) who put down singles groups – when their whole church is a singles group/social scene. at some point you have to address SIN and that ain’t to hip at the ol emerging churches who would rather try to impress each other with pseudo intellectual double talk. putting yourselfs and your so called “new” approach up is a slap in the face to your elders and just shows how immature the leadership and members are. for the world that’s coming, it’s going to take a lot more than cool thoughts on Jesus and a “hip” social circle to make difference and no, I won’t sponsor you to go to college and do college ministry, get a job like everyone else did – how blind and spoiled are you?

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  • Gene
    September 13, 2011

    Amen to David. The emergent churches have simply replaced or mistaken Neverland for The Kingdom of Heaven and Peter Pan for Jesus. Lambs need to be discipled and raised into mature sheep but too often you bring in people who have no interest in spiritual growth or leadership incapable of shepherding. Thus, you have the Church of The Lost Boys. Hip and swaggering but of no savor or depth to challenge their culture or themselves to greater heights. Spirituality ends up being a game and this generation of “Christians” end up being worse than the hypocritical generation before them.

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    • MacKenzie
      October 4, 2012

      Hi Gene and David: Sorry that you seem to be so judgemental of the book from the get-go. It’s actually an amazing look into some things that get missed in many institutional churches. You may be espousing accurate stereotypes, but if it weren’t for the “hip” emergents I met in college, I would not be Christian today. The people who damage the great commission in fishing for the young generation are the soap-box guys standing on city street corners preaching original sin to hordes of people who don’t care or have the context to understand why sin matters. Perhaps it’s your opinions that are old and immature, the ones which are damaging the greatest possible opportunity for seeds landing in good soil. Please reconsider and have a look at the book. Sometimes it’s good to have a cup of humble and trust that God really does work through all, even if you think emergent churches are ineffective.

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