Blue Like Jazz: Inadvertent Lessons for Church Marketing

March 29, 2005 by

Blue Like JazzI read Donald Miller’s Blue Like Jazz this week and a few things stuck out at me. It’s not a marketing book, but it does have a perspective that can teach us a few things about marketing. The most important is how we as the church should be loving people.

Miller has two examples that really spell this out:

1) What’s Not Working
Miller spends a chapter talking about what he doesn’t like about church and why he loves his current church.

Here are the things I didn’t like about the churches I went to. First: I felt like people were trying to sell me Jesus. I was a salesman for a while, and we were taught that you are supposed to point out all the benefits of a product when you are selling it. That is how I felt about some of the preachers I heard speak. They were always pointing out the benefits of Christian faith. That rubbed me wrong. It’s not that there aren’t benefits, there are, but did they have to talk about spirituality like it’s a vacuum cleaner. I never felt like Jesus was a product. I wanted Him to be a person. Not only that, but they were always pointing out how great the specific church was. The bulletin read like a brochure for Amway. They were always saying how life-changing some conference was going to be. Life-changing? What does that mean? It sounded very suspicious. I wish they would just tell it to me straight rather than trying to sell me on everything. I felt like I got bombarded with commercials all week and then went to church and got even more. (page 131)

He goes on to talk about churches that tow a political party line and the ever-present war metaphor that lets us forget about loving people. The important thing here is that the Christian message is about love. If people aren’t getting that in our churches, if they’re distracted by our language or our politics, then something’s not working.

2) What Is Working
Throughout the book Miller talks about attending a “heathen” college–a place so anti-Christian none of his Christian friends could understand why he’d want to be there. But while there Miller meets up with other Christians and they form an incredible community. Every year the college has a big drunken-orgy fest sort of weekend, and this small band of Christians decided to set up a confessional booth in the midst of the debauchery. But rather than letting the drunk college students confess, the Christians were the ones doing the confessing. They confessed their personal failures and the greater failures of Christianity over the years. Rather than judging those college students, they opened a door for discussion and dialogue.

Sometime around two or three in the morning, the night we took confessions, I was walking off campus with my monk robe under my arm, and when I got to the large oak tree on the outskirts of the front lawn, I turned and looked at the campus. It all looked so smart and old, and I could see the lights coming out of the Student Center, and I could hear the music thumping. There were kids making out on the lawn and chasing each other down the sidewalks. There was laughing and dancing and throwing up.

I felt very strong that Jesus was relevant in this place. I felt very strongly that if He was not relevant here then He was not relevant anywhere. I felt very peaceful in that place and very sober. I felt very connected to God because I had confessed so much to so many people and had gotten so much off my chest and I had been forgiven by the people I had wronged with my indifference and judgmentalism. (page 126)

I don’t want to suggest every church should open a confession booth–this is an idea that only works in a certain time, in a certain place, with a certain approach. But the idea is that Miller and his friends really did something to make Christianity real to their fellow students. They didn’t picket or yell at people from street corners. They engaged people in an honest and loving way.

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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15 Responses to “Blue Like Jazz: Inadvertent Lessons for Church Marketing”

  • Dan Gibson
    March 30, 2005

    Oddly, I finished _Blue Like Jazz_ about a week ago, and I was definitely struck by how as people that really should be defined by love, how far we’re off the mark (that goes for me, personally, as well). Besides that the church really owes society a number of apologies for our actions, the “confession” chapter made me think…are our communities where people (inside and outside) feel comfortable with opening up about our sin? For all the multimedia sermons and trappings of our religious era, if you have something you need to get of your chest, would there be someone at your church you could really talk to? Maybe, maybe not, which is a troubling.

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  • Jason Silver
    March 30, 2005

    Wow. Seems like a book worth reading.

    I too have noticed that appropriate transparency goes further than slick salesmanship.

    Even if there aren’t measurable ‘results,’ I’ve come closer to demonstrating humble love.


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  • Dan Gibson
    March 30, 2005

    Jason (and anyone else),
    Maybe it was just how the book affected me personally, but I’ve been recommending it to everyone I know lately. Very much worth picking up.

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  • rev-ed
    April 2, 2005

    I picked up “Blue Like Jazz” a couple of months ago on a lark. I don’t agree with everything in it and it sometimes makes me uncomfortable. That’s why I recommend it highly.

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  • Michael Box
    April 3, 2005

    I loved this book. For a long time, I felt like I was the only guy noticing the “salesman” mentality. I don’t know that it is the fault of one church, one movement, or one denomination; but the negative vibe I get from most churches really pushes some people to the margins. Sure Christ is about love. Sure the Church is about meeting people where they are. But if we don’t actually practice these things and only speak of them, then we are doing a disservice to the Gospel and to our fellow humans. Re-thinking and re-teaching the Message of Christ is a great step in the right direction.

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  • Michael Courey
    April 8, 2005

    I’ve read Blue Like Jazz and it kicked my butt. Simmilar with Michael Box, I thought there was maybe something wrong with me for thinking this way, but I am noticing that many people are feeling the same way but not many are talking about it. A big thing that I’ve learned since reading this book is that there is no point in talking about the issues with the church and ourselves if we are not going to take a constructive active approach to doing something about it. I’ve seen people (chrisitians) notice these issues with the church and start hating on the church and others, destroying people. We need to see the issues, love the people and be the church. It starts with you and me. Thanks, Mike

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  • thoughts
    December 31, 2005

    2005 Reading List

    This past year has felt even worse for reading than 2004. But I guess it always feels like that. It’s just been bad lately because I’ve felt like I can’t get through a book to save my life. It just…

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  • Jamie Martin
    April 6, 2006

    I dove into this book without really knowing anything about it. I had to read it for a class and found the book amazing. I think any person who reads this will connect with it in some way or form. His narrative style of writing really connects with the postmoderns. I highly recommend this book to anyone who is in a rut or simply needs some good reading material. No matter what, you WILL get something out of it. I think the people who dislike this book are simply afraid of what Miller says and proposes. Miller is the guy who isnt afraid to say what the church should do and what we should be doing as Christians.
    Something I ecspecially liked about this book was his chapter on confession. Miller has a beautiful chapter about confession. His story about his confession booth at Reed College is truly amazing and an inspiration to all. This chapter is very interesting in part because of the contrast. The contrast is between a campus event that emphasizes drunkenness, drug use, and etc. and a group of young believers who want to make a difference. Given the setting, the most natural thing to unfold in the chapter would be the “confession booth” where these college students turned from their sin. Instead, you have these young believers in the confession booth to confess the sins of the church to those who would listen. Several things come to mind when reading this. First, there is a strong need for the church to be a humble people. They need to stop hiding behind defensiveness or self-justification over past failures, but to confess to them. Such humility can actually be attractive. Second, the churches failure to own up to mistakes in a serious fashion. A good example of this would be the failure of the Catholic Church to take serious years of sexual abuse by many of its priests. This has probably contributed to the disillusionment in many people. Third, how refreshing it could be to find such honesty. Last of all, the reader should realize what the students at the festival at Reed were doing was wrong, but the church is not the place that they feel they can confess there sins. This idea that Miller and his friends did was something to make Christianity real to their fellow students. They engaged in these people in an honest and loving way. He gives readers something to think about and shows that you can take theology beyond the doors of the church and put it into practice.

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  • Buddy Bagwell
    May 31, 2006

    I just finished “Blue Like Jazz”. I was stopping all through the book saying, “YES” this guy gets it. I am 47 years old and Don helped bring that spark that was there with that 18-year-old Christian Idealist. The years can make you a bit jaded but with the help of this book, I dug though and came back to my first love, Jesus. This book is my new favorite. I am buying copies for many of my friends. The people in my Bible Study are tired of hearing about it so now they will get to read it.

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  • courtney
    October 29, 2006

    i was just browsing the net when i found your blog. i read Blue Like Jazz not too long ago. my favorite section is this:
    “Andrew says it is not enough to be politically active. He says legislation will never save the world. On Saturday mornings Andrew feeds the homeless. He sets up a makeshift kitchen on a sidewalk and makes breakfast for people who live on the street. He serves coffee and sits with his homeless friends and talks and laughs, and if they want to pray he will pray with them. He’s a flaming liberal, really. The thing about it is, though, Andrew believes this is what Jesus wants him to do. Andrew does not believe in empty passion…Andrew is the one who taught me that what I believe is not what I say I believe; what I believe is what I do…Andrew would say that dying for something is easy because it is associated with glory. Living for something, Andrew would say, is the hard thing. Living for something extends beyound fashion, glory, or recognition. We live for what we believe, Andrew would say” (110-111).
    i thought that was beautiful. i think too often in church we focus on how we’re supposed to love, but it isnt very regularly talked about how to put that love into action. it seems pastors are too worried about starting an argument about faith and works. i dont care. we need to do as much as love. its all in response to God’s love anyway.

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  • Jeremy Standifer
    November 17, 2006

    I read this book recently and it really impacted me because it spoke so closly to what I have gone through in my own walk with God. Now I am read reading a book by Lee C. Camp called “Mere Discipleship”. If you liked Blue Like Jazz but are still scraching your head and wondering how we got here, and what do we do? You have to read this book. My confidence as a follower of The Way has been revived as I read these books and here from others that God is changing in this world, and how much a part of everyday life Jesus Christ is really is.

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  • Steve Trent
    January 14, 2007

    Miller’s book reminded me in a fresh way that Christians are called to be light and salt to a lost world. He is effective in pointing out that traditional churches need to rediscover a passion for the lost, get their people outside the “holy huddle” and into the world, loving people to Christ. His picture of “Christian spirituality” parallels what others have termed “friendship evangelism”. This was epitomized by the LJC himself when he walked the earth and was “the friend of sinners”. However it is not the only face of Christian spirituality presented in Scripture and not the only model for evangelism found there. For instance, in the Bible we also see the confrontational model of evangelism or as it is sometimes called, “the turn or burn” model. This is found often for instance, in Paul’s ministry or in Peter’s Pentecost sermon or in Jesus’ confrontations with the Pharisees.
    At one point Miller relates his experience at a “fundamentalist” Christian camp in the Colorado Rockies where he memorized Scripture and made vows of spiritual discipline with a group of other young men that he found himself unable to keep. In reflecting on that experience he states he is now “ashamed” of his involvement with that element of the body of Christ. I couldn’t help but wonder from the context if he was in a veiled way, referencing the Navigators. This is regrettable as the Navigators and other “fundamentalist” para church organizations like them have been used by God in a mighty way to bring many to faith in Christ and to disciple them. To me, groups like the Navigators are the special forces (to use a military metaphor; sorry Don) of the body of Christ. Their approach may not have worked for the author but it has transformed the lives of many others. Miller needs to acknowledge that discipline and accountability is important in the Christian life. His brand of Christian spirituality is not the only valid one. It may work well for the post-modern Reed College crowd but it may not work as well in a blue collar or rural setting. Different approaches to evangelism and spirituality are healthy and necessary for we are all different. Diversity is a biblical principle.
    Having said that, Miller’s critique of the institutional church certainly has some validity and needs to be heeded. The institutional church needs to do some self-examination and make changes in order to become more relevant and effective.
    I also have concerns with Miller’s criticism of Christianity’s involvement in politics. Certainly, there are dangers present when the Church engages the political process and history records significant abuses and mistakes in this area. But to not do so would mean surrendering the soul of our society to the ravaging forces of moral declension that press powerfully against us from every side. The problem is not that the American Church has involved itself in politics but it is that it has waited too long to do so. True, we can’t transform the soul of our nation through the political process. But no one is saying that. The point is that through the political process we can have significant influence on public morality. Similarly, the Law of Moses was never designed to be the instrument of salvation but it did have a restraining influence on sin in Hebrew/Jewish society and provided order and standards of conduct that all societies need. And, what is good for society is good for the Church.

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    • Jodi
      October 13, 2010

      The “fundamentalist” Christian camp Miller referenced is actually Summit Ministries. Miller himself, when confronted by some of the other young men he mentions, confessed that he had lied about many aspects of his story regarding Summit Ministries for effect. If you are looking for a good book to read, I suggest picking up a copy of “Why We’re Not Emergent: by Two Guys Who Should Be” by Kevin DeYoung and Ted Kluck.

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  • Kwesi
    May 3, 2007

    I read the book about six months ago and I still remember the impact it had on me. I like many others wondered if I was crazy. So much in the church isn’t working. So much is ignored that should be fixed. I love that the discussion has started and pray that it continues.

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  • CP
    October 11, 2007

    We’re currently doing a study over this text, and it’s been awe inspiring to say the least. A passage that really struck a chord with me as a marketer of a great church is this…
    “I don’t think any church has ever been relevant to culture, to the human struggle, unless it believed in Jesus and the power of His gospel. If the supposed new church believes in trendy music and cool Web pages, then it is not relevant to culture either. It is just another tool of Satan to get people to be passionate about nothing.”
    Something to keep at the forefront of any marketing plan to say the least.

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