Does Marketing the Church Suck?

October 23, 2007 by

Throw down the gloves. Hide the women and children. Have an ambulance in the vicinity. Christianity Today is looking for a fight. All right, only kidding. But they recently posted a piece asking why Jesus didn’t say, “And you shall be my marketers unto the ends of the earth.” So we thought we’d do a point-counterpoint for just a moment. Not to be smart alecks, but to illustrate the trouble with terminology.

But there’s a reason Jesus said “You shall be my witnesses,” and not “You shall be my marketers.”
True. Jesus was speaking Aramaic. My research shows they didn’t have a word for marketing.

But I wonder if soft-pedaling the Good News is intrinsic to the message. Jesus spoke in parables, he said, not to reveal the Good News but to hide it …
We’re all welcome to wonder. But being a city set on a hill, taking the gospel to the ends of the earth and going out into the streets to gather people for the feast don’t seem like an impetus to keep quiet.

But it also implicitly suggests that when they “buy” or consume that good, the church somehow receives some benefit.
Very very true. We always hope that when people “buy” or “consume” Christ (Eucharist jokes aside, please), to use those terms, the church benefits. Don’t confuse Church with church. We’re here to see the Church advance, not just the churches advance. That’d be missing the forest for the trees.

Marketing, by its very nature, contradicts the essence of the gospel lifestyle of Jesus, who came not to be served, but to expend his life for others–no exchange implied or expected.
Service is one of the many definitions of church marketing for us. You can’t market yourselves without serving others. Community services and mailouts are not mutually exclusive.

We are indeed called to the four corners of the earth to be witnesses of Christ’s transforming love. But witnesses are not carnival barkers. Sometimes it feels like the church is just another voice shouting for attention in the marketplace.
Amen. And that’s another example of what we’re always saying–there’s a big difference between good marketing and marketing that sucks. But you can’t condemn marketing itself based on bad examples. That’d be like dismissing Jesus because a few of us Christians are hypocrites.

I wonder what would happen if we quit shouting, if we quit trying to tell the world how beneficial the faith is or what a difference going to church can make–and simply told others, when appropriate, what God has done for us, and let our lifestyle “market” the message.
And in the end, we all agree. Sounds like this could be a guest blogger piece waiting to happen.

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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15 Responses to “Does Marketing the Church Suck?”

  • Greg on the Run
    October 23, 2007

    Wow. A marketing blog that says what I feel! Found you via the latest issue of HOW magazine though I think I heard of the site before this.
    In my experince/opinion, the marketing of the local church can’t happen without the congregation being onboard. They must be willing to invite along with whatever message the church is putting out and they must be willing to receive those that walk through the door.

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  • Joseph
    October 23, 2007

    It seems to me like Christianity Today has been out of touch with modern church culture for quite a while now, so it shouldn’t come as a surprise to find an article like this on their website.

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  • studio kinate
    October 23, 2007

    Hooray! I loved that you made a distinction between Church and church.
    When I read the article I was so thankful. At 53, I’ve thought that many have missed the fullness of what Christ commanded us to do.

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  • WorshipCity
    October 23, 2007

    Oh wow! This was a GREAT point/counterpoint! Loved the thoughts and distinctions. I too loved the Church vs. church thank you for that.

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  • Carole
    October 23, 2007

    Hey, I consume every issue of Christianity Today Magazine, it is the very best magazine out there today. I have read things, in just about every issue that I don’t agree with but that doesn’t make it any less relevant.
    Your response was good.

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  • Pastor bill
    October 23, 2007

    I tragically though this was a good site until I can across this message. I will agree the term “s…” in very common in American English, (as well as other languages I’m sure…) BUT Do we realize this word roots from the slang for oral sex!!! The modern American church will be one of those who the Lord will say ” I never knew you” These subtle terms although with many definations are as the response by the American Commander to the Germans at the battle of the Bulge in WWII when he replied “nuts”. Same sexual implication. We need to stop using cliches in our speech and use English without cliches to keep ourselves from the WORLD!!!
    For my critics – how do you explain this term to one who has English as their second language??

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  • Dan B.
    October 23, 2007

    My criticism would be of the author’s failure to grasp the difference between marketing and crass salesmanship. I don’t criticize Christianity Today for publishing the article nor do I think it represents their mindset. I appreciate the opportunity for dialogue and your point-counterpoint.

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  • Bill A
    October 23, 2007

    I think “Christianity Today” should change their name to “Christianity Yesterday.” Not to pick on them, but they always play it a bit safe, ie they’re always a bit behind culture.
    Church Marketing Sucks keeps me up to date. Thanks!

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  • Seth
    October 23, 2007

    Marketing happens, whether the church tries to market or not. It’s also interesting, since many churches have various processes and events that have defined goals (and dare we say, conversions).
    I will note, though, that our church has grown significantly once we focused more on ‘being a church’ rather than trying to promote ourselves to fill a niche. But even when not advertising, it’s not like we didn’t pay attention to details once people walked in the door.

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  • Brad
    October 24, 2007

    I’m not against this website, I have learned and used a great deal of information from it. But at times I think churches spend too much focus on marketing and less time on the real needs of people who come to the Church.
    Here is someone who could care less about marketing:

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  • mrben
    October 24, 2007

    I think one of the biggest problems with marketing is that people have a tendency to mistake “advertising” for marketing, when it’s just a tiny part of the whole.

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  • Lex
    October 24, 2007

    I love it here.
    I’ve never seen an issue of Christianity Today, but I assume, if this is their stance, that they don’t accept advertising for churches or ministries … right?

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  • Steven
    October 25, 2007

    I will boast in the Lord my God! That’s my stance on marketing the gospel of Christ. CT makes the point that there’s an assumed perception about the market place that says both parties will gain something of value from the marketing, but they miss the point that it’s not the church itself that we’re marketing and therefore not the church itself that is gaining. It’s the Kingdom of God that stands to gain from this marketing and the people who receive salvation as a result of it. The church is simply there to do what Jesus said to do – spread the good news.

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  • Todd Wold
    November 1, 2007

    I’m sorry if this sounds argumentative, but I think this is an extremely important discussion to be having right now. I think you may miss one of the points of the article in your counterpoint. Marketing puts the Gospel into a product context, and puts the target audience into a consumer context. This is an issue in the consumer culture we live in. I think you need to engage this specific point, although it wasn’t stated as clearly in the article. High quality marketing or low quality marketing aside, the overall contextualization of the message matters. Are we converting sinners or customers? Are we holding services or providing services? Who do we attract, and who do we alienate in the process? Marketing changes the context of our communication in ways that may be at cross purposes to the Kingdom. Then, when an entire cottage industry derives profit from the enterprise of marketing the church or the gospel, this presents another conflict of interest that needs to be explored much more than it has been. The stakes are very high.
    I thank you for engaging on this, but keep going. Allow the harder questions to come through.

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  • Brian Klassen
    November 6, 2007

    I’ve always looked at the term marketing within the context of the church to be a non starter (a wall builder for some). Having said that, I do understand the heart and we shouldn’t get caught up in the words that divide but the thoughts that unite. Whether we are putting a clever saying on the sign outside the church or developing a website with all the bells and whistles, these are all tools that God can use to affect the hearts of those who experience them. What we all need to do is our best as Christ exemplified. If it means communicating Christ’s message to 5000 people at once or with your neighbor after work, do it to the best of your God given ability and watch Him work.

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