No Shame in Church Marketing

May 6, 2006 by

Yet another article on mega-churches, this one covering their Easter plans from the April 14 Everett, Wash. Daily Herald (yeah, we’re a little behind). But it also has some comments from our founder and Buzz Conference-speakin’ Brad Abare:

There’s no shame in selling what people are looking for, said Brad Abare, president of the Los Angeles-based Center for Church Communication.

“There’s not a single day when McDonald’s doesn’t sell a hamburger, the thing they’re supposed to be doing,” he said. “But there are many days when churches don’t see members or new visitors come into their church or people come to Jesus.

“The premise of churches is we have the greatest story ever told. Churches realize they have to learn how to tell the story better.”

Though you’ve got to love this comment from John Vaughan of Church Growth Today: “When you believe in God, you don’t dream small dreams.”

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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9 Responses to “No Shame in Church Marketing”

  • Scott Shepherd
    May 6, 2006

    i agree that churches need to be more effective in the process of telling people about christ but you also have to remember about the holy spirit factor…though you message may not have all the components of a skillful marketing campaign a prayed up, bible filled christian can be more effective than a 20000 seat church in his sphere of influence….1 Cor. 2:24 My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power

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  • kevin
    May 6, 2006

    You know, I get so tired when people constantly say that (no offense to you, Scott, I just see the same comment a lot).
    Did Brad (or anybody else in the article) say to forget about the Holy Spirit? Did Brad say that God has left us high and dry so we better get some better marketing or we’re screwed? No. They never said that.
    We’re never told to sit back and let the Holy Spirit do everything. Yes, the spirit can work through a terrible speaker. But that doesn’t mean we should aim for terrible. The Holy Spirit can also work through our hard work, preparation, and application of marketing techniques.

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  • Dan
    May 6, 2006

    How will they hear if nobody tells them, Paul said.
    Saying we’re just going to let the Holy Spirit talk is a cop out and avoiding our responsibility to take the message TO the people. Instead, we so often are content to just have our services and expect people to some how magically walk through our doors.
    I do agree that we should trust in the spirit and no in programs, but that’s no excuse to not be as effective as we can. God told Joshua to walk through the Promised Land and it would become his. But Joshua still developed effective battle plans.

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  • Joshua
    May 8, 2006

    I think that it is great, it reminds me of what the old academics used to say about the “spiritual” Christians.
    The story was something like: They say “Ten minutes in prayer is better than ten hours in studies over the Bible” I say “WHAT THEN, of TEN HOURS OF PRAYER while studying over the Bible!”
    While Paul was not a great speaker, and his ministry was not simply words but demonstration of Power, we must remember that Apollos WAS trained in rhetoric and was a great speaker.
    Can we imagine all of our “natural” AND the power of the Spirit on top of it all?
    But we must not forget that there will be times that the Spirit will use a prayered up believer to better effect. But we shouldn’t begrudge either, should we?

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  • Gene Mason
    May 8, 2006

    Actually the Bible is repleat with examples of talking on the part of the believer being synonymous with the coming of the Holy Spirit. When the Holy Spirit came down at Pentecost, the immediate result was that the believers shared their witness.
    In the Old Testament, when the Holy Spirit appeared, it was immediately followed by testimony or prophecy. So it seems to me that this is a both/and. WHEN the Holy Spirit is present our response should naturally be to share the Word.
    I think the issue regarding the Holy Spirit is to recognize that our work is not supplementary to what God is doing–God does the saving, folks. The Holy Spirit’s presence demands that we testify to what God is doing in our lives and our churches.
    The “slap in the face” comparison here, to me, is to liken God’s saving work in the life of a person and our part in sharing His Gospel and our witness with others as similar in any way, shape or form, to marketing hamburgers at McDonald’s. The two could not be more dissimilar. The fact that McDonald’s sells a lot of Big Macs and many churches don’t reach a lot of people has much less to do with our marketing practices than it does with our desire to be obedient to the Holy Spirit in our lives.
    I too look at secular marketing practices on occcasion to apply useful principles in the church. But there’s a big grain of salt there. If ours is the most important “product” of all time and history, should we not be devoted to making our message as simple, clear and targeted to the unchurched population as possible? And is that something that can happen mostly through emulating the marketplace?
    I think not. It is the Holy Spirit, again, that gives us the power to speak Truth, and truly does the saving work of the Father. Church marketing should not be “on top of” the Holy Spirit, but rather embrace this Peson of God and ask “how is God calling us to work with His Spirit in the lives of unbelievers?”

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  • mikeCorbeil
    May 9, 2006

    Firstly, this is the very first time I’ve come across this website or blog, and it already appears to have some fine content.
    For the article this webpage is for, and my very first posting here, I see some fine comments have been made here, while also seeing that there appears to be a number of flaws though. That, of course, is based on my understanding of the Christian faith.
    1) I did not see any mention of Jesus having told the first apostles and therefore for all ensuing apostles of His to work on spreading the Good News. This is a key aspect of the faith and is explicitly enough related to this article and the reader comments.
    2) Gene Mason says, “It is the Holy Spirit, again, that gives us the power to speak Truth, and truly”, and if that is indeed true in a strict sense, then it is obvious that the Holy Spirit (HS) speaks through people of other religious faiths, for many enough speak Truth. That, in turn, does not mean that Gene Mason’s saying these here-quoted words is at all false, but only as a reminder that not only Christians truly seek and speak Truths.
    3) Gene Mason also says, >, and of course ‘Peson’ is meant to be ‘Person’. However, and not for the sake of arguing but only as something Christians can carefully think about, what causes Christians to believe that the HS is a Person?
    After all, the HS is not represented as a Person in the Bible. From what I recall, the HS is represented via the blessed dove above Jesus’ head when He was announted by God via John the Baptist, and then as little flames above the heads of the first apostles and disciples at what I believe to recall was the first Pentecost following the crufixion of Jesus and His re-ascension to Heaven, while also as a matter of power or faith-power, including courage to stay with the faith and to contribute to spreading the Good News. On this basis, I conjecture that the HS may be a divine projection of God’s will, instead of another Person, as we know is the case for Jesus, who was a human and who said He would or will be found seated at the right hand of God the Father, basically sharing God’s Throne. With Jesus, we have proof that He’s indeed a Person, but we don’t have this for the HS.
    4) Gene Mason additionally states, “The fact that McDonald’s sells a lot of Big Macs and many churches don’t reach a lot of people has much less to do with our marketing practices than it does with our desire to be obedient to the Holy Spirit in our lives”, and these marketing practices are multi-facted while residing on a crucial basis, the need to be truthful in our communications about faith, and to be openminded regarding questions that people can legitimately think of and pose, while they can seem offencive to Christians.
    F.e., questioning whether or not the HS really is a Person, vs a divine projection of God’s will and therefore of His Person, such a question needs to be very carefully considered, researched as honestly and best as we can with the means we have, and then addressed or answered with complete fairness towards the questioner.
    Another example is the notion of “Holy Mother of God”, it being questioned by many enough Christians, disbelieved, believed to be in error by many of us, etc., and those of us of this position have legitimate cause for this “take”. After all, blessed Mary mother of Jesus of Nazareth is referred to as the most blessed of all women, so she’s recognised a woman, a human woman, and from what I recall of the Bible, she’s therein referred to as daughter of God, while Jesus constantly referred to God as The Father who sent His Son Jesus to teach and show us the Way, said that only that God is Lord, and, among other things, …, as per above, where Jesus said He will be found in Heaven, seated at the right hand of God the Father. On such grounds, while there are also more reasons, it is totally legitimate to say and believe that “Mother of God” is myth, and to believe that it may possibly have been adopted wholly or in part because Hindus have such a female divinity in their religion’s mythological elements.
    The point is that when people wish to truly try to apply themselves as apostles, via being spreaders of the Good News, then this should be done VERY carefully, with great care towards those taught, and very careful reflection on all questions that can strike overly senstive Christians as offencive, for then offence is not intended, then it is to not be treated as present. MANY Christians commit this error though, and it is yet another “marketing” failure, for it helps to drive innocent people who can critically think for themselves away, and it’s the most critically sound people who make the very best members of any religious faith.
    Actually, another example of faith claims made and which everyone has all the legitimate right in the world to question about, and where the RCC is specifically concerned, we can that the notion of “holy father” for popes is nonsense, and is certainly contrary to the Bible, including both Testaments of it. We have only ONE holy father and He is God the Father, even Jesus referred to apostles and disciples, some of them anyway, as His brothers and sisters, not as His sons and daughters. Jesus also said to a woman calling Him good not to do this but to keep the reference nicely reserved for use only in reference to God the Father who sent Jesus.
    (It becomes all the more obvious that we can’t legitimately call any pope “holy father” when we become aware of the rather many satanic symbols at the Vatican, including in papal wardrobe and ring. Of course this is true only if those reports and the supporting pictures are indeed truthful, and I can’t travel to the Vatican in order to be able to verify. But the reporting on this strikes me as certainly credible and likely true, indeed.)
    As for support from the OT, we have the Ten Cs to refer to, like the one(s) which says that there is only one God and that only He is to be worshipped. Referring to popes as “holy father” is to be in rather obvious worship of them, and this is [contrary] to the TCs, which Jesus explicitly enough and implicitly supported.
    To even refer to popes as fathers is off-base, for they’re not fatherly towards anyone, unlike clergymen like, for one example, Fr Gerard Jean-Juste, who truly is in a fatherly role towards the children he helps to look after in concrete manners. And the adult Haitians of the RCC can also think of him as fatherly with respect to themselves, if they wish to do so anyway, for he’s politically in real defence of their rights and dignity, working protect them, and fathers who are sane protect their sons and daughters. But no human can be really called “holy father” in a Christianly legitimate, founded manner. If Jesus is Brother to us, then no priest is really father to us, but they can be thought of as fatherly in the human sense.
    Again, etc.
    For this Christian, or person who wishes to truly be one anyway, a major “marketing” problem is the too common lack of truly sound teaching and correspondance with others. All of the flaws that were made of the Christian faith, over 2,000 years or so, these are part of the reasons for people abandoning Christian churches and without necessarily abandoning the faith itself.
    A literal form of flaw is mistranslations of the original texts, like, f.e., “thou shalt not kill” being mistaken, for it’s supposed to be “thou shalt not murder”. This is according to at least some apparently sound and truthful Jewish scholars or experts, and their whole argument on this strikes me as the Truth.
    Another form occurs, f.e., when people know this about “thou shalt not kill” vs murder and then learn that the churches don’t do more than barely anything to oppose wars of aggression, while instead continuing to climb in bed with leaders of the criminal states launching such wars. We have concrete example of this with the new pope of the RCC, who’s not condemned the wars on Iraq, Afghanistan or Haiti (and the black ops covert one on the indigenous and poor of Colombia), all while he’s hyportically condemned Muslims in terms of them absolutely all being full of hatred against others and the extremely criminal aggressors acting against Muslims in many places in our world. That’s the pope siding with Bush et al, yet it’s not the sole example, for he’s also called on Bush to provide golden immunity for RC clergy members accused of paedophilia against children and the church’s very own members, for extra “icing”, the golden immunity to guarantee that such acts are treated with IMPUNITY.
    There are so many hypocrisies in Christianity that this is a very real matter that needs to be very carefully realised, never forgotten about, never treated as non-existent, and as very destructive for the churches to do or in any manner side with.
    People wishing to spread the Good News today need to carefully realise all such realities, for if we don’t, then we’ll make very incompetent spreaders of the faith. It is essential to be as thoroughly competent as we can be, and the Holy Spirit is not going to make up for all of our wrongs or mistakes in any way that will cause us to avoid being wrong or mistaken.
    As it is, most clergy members, ministers, reflect that in reality the HS is not with or in them, or operating through them. It is up to Christians to do their utmost best to be true in their faith and what they say of it to others. The HS will not make up for our wrongs, but will, at least occasionally, help to provide Truth and courage to people who are really sincere and seeking Truth and courage. Such people, I believe anyway, have experience that tells them that the HS has really been at work in and or through them, but this is a matter to be also very careful about, for we also have to carefully discern whether what we feel or sense is the HS working, or just human emotions.
    F.e., zealotry is not the HS at work, well, certainly not idiotic, close-minded, …, zealotry anyway. That distinction is made only to make sure that it’s not misunderstood that what’s meant is all zealous appearances, for appearances can and indeed sometimes, if not often, are deceiving, we could confuse a sane approach with being zealous just because the person deemed to be zealot is doing something we would not do and perhaps out of fear. Such “zealots” are not zealots, they’re just exercising courage, or love, say, while real zealots are really idiotic, as well as prone to being abusive.
    Now, to try to lead people to joining churches or parish churches where ministers are abusive is to be zealot, for the first thing then needing to be done and crucial so is to get the ministry to clean up its act, to get rightful and sound instead of wrongful.
    And the very best way to work on spreading the Good News is to combine this with acts of good will. Francis of Assis and others did, although Jesus did first. As I believe it was apostle John said about this, faith without works, which may be real efforts that just don’t succeed, well, faith without works of good will is EMPTY, i.e., worthless, and he’s logically right, for real, true faith moves people to acts of good will. And it is mainly if not strictly only people of true faith and true search for it whom the Holy Spirit will be able to work through most. That’s not to say that God cannot use the Holy Spirit in order to help people convert, come to Believe, but I doubt very much that we’ll find the HS at work in people claiming be Christian when they’re very evidently hypocrites and therein illustrate that they really and either don’t know what they’re talking about, or they’re liars. The HS does not lie and does not inspire us to lie.
    Yet, there’s another matter to be very careful about, for lying can be essential to do. F.e., in a hypothetical scenario in which an innocent is approached by murderers, such as of state forces, inquiring where some other known innocent individual is found, so that he or she can be unjustly treated, we have the legitimate question of whether or not the asked person should lie about the whereabouts of this other innocent, or tell the truth about it and thereby become complicit in the injustice(s)? That’s also on the assumption the person does know the other’s location, but the sanest answer essentially is to lie, to not help turn over innocents to murderers, etc., and regardless who they are or what entity they represent, that is, temporal entity.
    In that sense, sound Christians can also live according to the principle of “there is an appropriate time and place for everything”, including for lying. When we are definitely certain that Christian and Judaic faiths are right in the TC against lying, it is when it’s done in unjust manners.
    I believe that there is this additional order of planning and working when it comes to marketing religious faiths and churches. And I think to have gathered that this website also is concerned about the churches needing to be totally truthful about Jesus Christ and therefore, I assume anyway, the faith.
    Long, eh!

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  • Mike Corbeil
    May 9, 2006

    Furthermore, people wishing to work on spreading the Good News can also carefully realise that most people of teenage and adult age are already aware of the faith, and they do have the legitimate right to protect their children from preachers, if this is the position taken.
    Another important way to carefully think is with the realisation that if we had been born and raised as Hindus, f.e., then there’s a serious likelihood that we’d still be Hindu too.
    What this all means is that probably most people who’ll be amenable to joining Christian churches are people who are from Christian families or upbringing to begin with. That is meant with regards to places like the US and Canada, f.e., for the very poor, plighted like in South American countries have also proven to be amenable to adopting the Christian faith. But a lot of poor, plighted people of countries typically thought of as well-off are not interested and very much because of the very real and too common hypocrisies in the churches.
    If I became a minister in the RCC, then I would not believe that there’s much chance in preaching to others being a matter to be likely successful. I’d much more generally believe that this would not be successful, for I know very well that the hypocrisies are many and real, and too serious to be easily disregarded. It’s far easier to disregard approaches made by ministers or servants of the churches when they’re churches are too hypocritical and this goes ever onward without serious efforts being made to eliminate these wrongs, to apologise, and when called for, to provide reparations, which also are a Biblical requirement or commandment, when reparations are due and, especially, when they can indeed be provided, instead of withheld.
    There’s too much or severe lack of leadership by real examples, and this is crucial to carefully keep in mind. If we don’t live strongly by example, then preaching is not going to be very successful, and while very plighted people may at first join, because of their serious despair, when they come to realise the many serious wrongs in the churches, then these people may choose to abandon membership too.
    And there are real reasons for why ever more people want churches but without ordained ministers, or at least those not selected by the laity, which constitutes the largest body or population of Christianity. Christian churches essentially need to be very close to the laity, instead of treating themselves as elitists vis-a-vis the laity, who also constitute the “bread and butter” of the churches. Too many clergy or ministers NEGLECT this need and order of a ministry that is Just, instead of unjust. With the laity, the churches would be bankrupt and incapable of operating. It is the laity which forms the backbones of the churches, but they or we are too often treated with abusiveness, arrogance, etc.
    The best church representation, in my present belief anyway, is one in which ministers are ordained to serve full-time in the ministry, but selected by the laity, then approved by whoever the laity has for highest ranking ministers (while rank can simply be only years of service, rather than titled, like bishop, etc.), and in which the laity is recognised as the indeed backbone of the church or parish church. The laity should never be treated arrogantly but like Jesus did. After all, He and no one else is The Role Model for true Christians.
    Too many ministers, however, have adopted and exercise the attitude that they’re actually pretending to very fully replace Jesus, instead of truly [serving] in His holy name.
    Working on speading the Good News is a fine idea, but I’ll stick with the position that this cannot be soundly done without seriously combining the need to clean up the acts of the churches’ ministries. The latter, for me, is job No. 1 to see to, or else the consideration of starting the Laity’s Church, or the Church of the Laity, say, the one or kind herein described.
    Quakers are about as close as I’m aware as it getting for a soundly lay-respectful church or denomination, just that they, from a recent reading anyway, do not have ministers, or no ordained ones, and I believe that churches can legitimately have ordained ministers. After all, it’s basically what Jesus did with the apostles.
    Given that apostle Paul may not be purely but was in part a self-appointed apostle, well, it seems to me that lay Christians can do so too, it only being a question of whether or not others support this appointment.
    It is far saner to do that, than it is to support hypocritical and abusive ministers who pretentiously claim that laity can’t ordain themselves or ourselves. After all, it is far better to have that happen and to then have authentic ministers true to the faith, and while being in defence of not impunity for ministers but against that, and against it also being applied to members of the churches, as well as in general.
    On this basis, people have all the reason in the world to realise that the mission Jesus asked of Francis of Assisi (St) to carry out in terms of either rebuilding or repairing the church, because it had too far strayed away from being truly faithful and sound, well, this mission is still incomplete(d). It’s an ongoing need to repair if not to rebuild anew the overall church.
    And wealthy ministers do not constitute accept ones, not in my beliefs anyway, for their incomes need to be modest in order to be in conformance with Jesus. After all, wealth necessarily means hoarding, and to do that in a world that has extremely many people unjustly suffering from poverty that is very much due to wealthy people profiteering en masse while totally disregarding the plights of people in need, well, it is then very clear that such ministers certainly are not in compliance with Jesus and therefore have nothing worthy to offer to others in terms religious faith.
    For Christian faith to be really true it is when it is in strong, as comprehensive as possible conformance with Jesus, and anyone who’s read the NT knows very well what Jesus told the wealthy Jewish man who came to Jesus with words to the effect of, “Well, Jesus, I’m wealthy but have always adhered to the Ten Cs, so what more can I do?”, and Jesus told the man to share his wealth with those in need.
    Many Christians only want to remember or apply of the NT and OT that which suits them, while disregarding the remainder, and this is to certainly be … [not] a Christian, not a true or serious one anyway.
    God’s Forgiveness, as Jesus taught, is available to the truly repenting, but not otherwise, well, not otherwise for people who’ve been unjust in their lives anyway. Jesus, from what I recall, also said that He had not come for the Just, and made it clear that Forgiveness is for sinners only, for it depends on whether or not the person truly repents. We can’t repent over Just acts or words for they’re Right and therefore not sinful.
    (That of course throws light on the notion of “original sin”, about the most likely if not certain fact that it is another mythological part of Genesis.)
    (Now, as of over the past few days, we get the Vatican’s astronomer, or lead one, saying that Creationism is myth and that it can’t be legitimtely taught alongside Darwinism. While his argument is fine enough, the conclusion that Creationism is myth is clearly enough false, though. After all, scientific law states that there definitely is a cause for everything that exists, and if we logically take this corresponding law to its full extent, then we conclude that God exists and did Create. The problem is not Creationism, but the treatment of it as literally true with respect to God having Created the universe(s) in six days, leaving implied human, 24-hour days, and so on with what else Genesis says about this. We can legitimately think in abstracted terms, metaphorically, and realise that Creationism is indeed true, but we’re in no position to be able to say or even believe that it happened precisely as described in Genesis. There is no just reason for it to be exclusive of Darwinian-like theories, for if God wanted evolution to be part of the processes of Creation, then there’s nothing to stop Him from doing so.)
    Yet another goofy minister or priest that Vatican astronomer makes too, for the above is very easy to realise, and there really is no other way to comprehensively explain how all came to be. What such clergy members illustrate is that they spend rather little time carefully learning and reflecting upon the faith. He could make beneficial use of reflecting on what Copernicus, the or one of the “fathers” of astronomy, said, that he dedicated rather very little of his time to this science, instead mostly focusing on the faith and his religious role in the church. He said that that is rather required of ministers, and he’s right. Of course, though, it means focusing plenty of time on social order issues, like injustices, poverty, war, etc., for it is the sanest of ways to be minister, and Jesus illustrated as much.

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  • Gene Mason
    May 10, 2006

    Uh, Mike… For once I’m speechless (and for people who know me, that’s rare).
    I’m sorry, what was the question? :)

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  • agnostic
    October 18, 2006

    Firstly, this is the very first time I’ve come across this website or blog, and it already appears to have some questionable content.
    How can you [Gene Mason][Mike Corbeil] say so much without saying anything?
    Fundamentally, (probably the wrong choice of words when conversing with RCCs and Muslims) marketing implies the act of facilitating a sale – which in the context presented here implies that faith, church and Jesus are for sale. Once you have established that GOD is up for sale all that remains is to haggle over the price – how much is a ride to heaven worth?

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