Marketing Jesus: CMS in CT

January 2, 2009 by

Marketing JesusThe January 2009 issue of Christianity Today features a cover story on church marketing, “Jesus is Not a Brand” by Tyler Wigg-Stevenson (author of Brand Jesus: Christianity in a Consumerist Age). The lengthy article mentions Church Marketing Sucks and even quotes our own Joshua Cody.

It sparks a great conversation in the continuing debate about church marketing, though it doesn’t seem like our perspective was fairly represented. We’ll be posting a two-part response next week. Until then, what do you think? Is church marketing a lost cause, doomed by the very medium? Or is more complicated than that, a difficult journey through a minefield to find church marketing that touches the soul without selling that soul?

Personally, I always find it ironic when anti-marketing proponents communicate their message in a way that relies on marketing.

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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32 Responses to “Marketing Jesus: CMS in CT”

  • Alex
    January 2, 2009

    I think in today’s media rich culture, church marketing is a must. We have a Biblical mandate to use all means to reach people for Christ, so why should that not translate to all mediums?
    I think this article has some good points, but I think it takes some things out of context. It equates a brand basically to a logo, when in reality it is so much more than that. Should we use marketing as our only or primary form of evangelism? Of course not! But in today’s culture, marketing is a valid tool to connect to people in order to begin that conversation that can later be continued in more personal mediums. It is a bridge.

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  • LeadersPerspective
    January 3, 2009

    Marketing is nothing more than
    1) The number of people that see you
    2) What the conversion rate is, what percentage of those that see you do what you wanted them to do
    3) Which all results in how many do what you wanted them to do.
    Which says, that if you don’t get out there and let people know about you and ask them to do what you want them to do, then you won’t have an impact on the world. Therefore, marketing is necessary, IF you want to make an impact on this world.
    The other commend was about “branding” and, I believe a typical misunderstanding of what branding is. Branding can be about a logo or a church name or denomination, OR it can be around what difference you make to someone’s life.
    When marketing if you are talking about Christianity, The Church, Your Denomination, you are missing the point. True marketing should NEVER be about you, it should be about what your prospect gets. It should be what he wants, and from his perspective, not yours.
    If you are known for the results you provide in someone’s life they will come. The people that really need you won’t come to “join a church” but they will come to get the life changing things they want and need. And THEN they will learn about your church and join. A totally different perspective.

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  • Paul
    January 3, 2009

    I don’t really get this question. All churches market themselves. It is impossible to not market yourself unless you live in a jar. Some churches are much more deliberate about it than others. Some don’t consider what the do either in evangelism or proselytizing marketing, which is wrong. Some are so slick and put together that it comes across like a corporate machine that turns people away from the lack of human touch. But all people, groups, churches,etc. market themselves.

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  • Paul Prins
    January 3, 2009

    It was a very long article and I felt as though his primary grudge was against consumerism and not really marketing. I wrote a short review/response piece to it at

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  • Brit Windel
    January 3, 2009

    I would agree with Paul in as far as that ever church Markets them selves in some way or another. Its the level in which they Market.
    I don’t have the answer just more questions to the original question.
    What is there to Market with the Gospel’s? How can you package something that is living and incarnate
    As a pastor I know I am out of my league with marketing people in the language needing to be used, but when I see things like Nike, Puma, MTV, Axe, eHarmony, Apple and so on they are marketing a product of material and lifestyle that will ‘make better or get you one step ahead’. When I see churches and christian organizations try to market themselves it sickens me because of the lack of professionalism and creativity…so we just steal what is already out there. I mean look at half of the sermon series out there based on common place TV shows
    this is not the church (bride of Christ) living to her fullest.
    but I don’t know what or how one should think towards christian marketing…because it seems with the marketing terms being so relative I hear and see marketers applying how Jesus ministered along with Paul the greatest form of Marketing, which i don’t believe, but it makes for a great point for those saying we should be more market driven.
    I believe it comes down to our market minded culture. Christianity has never been marketed until about a 50 years ago. Its the way our society thinks about everything… and thus I don’t think how God thinks about his Kingdom or people

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  • Stephen James
    January 3, 2009

    Someone’s got to market and think about it. It just shouldn’t be the focus of the church–after all most “new-comers” come from other churches and its an endeavor we humans shouldn’t claim all the credit for (which is hard to do sometimes).
    I’m guessing the author hates the terms and mechanisms of the adaptation of business practices to Church practices.

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  • Paul
    January 3, 2009

    I think this post depends on what you think marketing is. I DO think that all churches/people market themselves, but I’m not sure I would say that it should be the first or last thought.
    Jesus was great at marketing, though I’m not sure he did that intentionally. I think the Gospel (not the four spiritual laws) is incredible marketing, though only when it is the actual good news and not just the plan of salvation.
    Also, I’m not sure you can separate the message from the package/medium and that really shows what marketing is. Some people are put off by corporate style marketing from the church, but just as many are probably into it.
    I think in many situations people equate advertising and marketing and that probably is a big mistake.

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  • Antwon Davis
    January 3, 2009

    Marketing happens.
    Whether you strategically plan for it or not.
    It’s unavoidable.
    The issue is… How do we leverage this thing called marketing? How do we get the most out of it?
    I think the topic of “marketing” is indeed relevant. It challenges us to think about what we do, how we do it, and how it looks to others. It makes us… think.
    People that usually bash topics like marketing are afraid of Christians thinking. Ignorance is bliss.
    Therefore, as more and more Christians begin to have these types of conversations (instead of bashing them), we will find more and more churches being more effective.

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  • David (Marketing Integrity)
    January 3, 2009

    Rather than write a lengthy comment here, I have written my thoughts in a blog post:

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  • Dan
    January 4, 2009

    I am wrestling with this in very practical ways right now. I co-own a design & branding firm, and until now I have refused to take on projects that market “ministries” because having come from several big-church/mega-church settings, I am pretty much opposed to marketing Jesus.
    I am also part of an organic/house/whatever church that could really use a web site update. It was their web site that I found with a simple Google search, so I believe there is value in having a tool like a web site for those of us whom want nothing to do with the marketing methods and processes being used by the masses in our faith.
    The tool is good and useful in and of itself – it’s the marketing of it that I’m opposed to. But it’s a fine line that I suppose only one’s intentions can dictate the ultimate verdict on.
    I mean, let’s face it, as the great Francis Schaeffer points out in his essays on “Art and the Bible,” God called up His artists and architects when the first temple and arc were to be built. Not the priests, not the ministry programmers – the freaking artists, designers, architects. We have a big role in His Kingdom. He digs us in a unique way.
    But how does one do what we do and have it not be just another turd on the heap of crap that any “christian” bookstore has piled up to the ceiling?!
    That is what I wrestle with.

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  • Marshall | bondChristian
    January 4, 2009

    Well, I tend to agree with you, and I especially liked that last point. Marketing happens whether we like it or not – we should therefore be conscious of it and use it to glorify God just as we use anything else to glorify God. That’s a lot of the message behind this whole site.
    I’m looking forward to reading your response to the article. Keep it up.
    Marshall Jones, Jr.

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  • Melissa
    January 4, 2009

    Question: Does believe any of the effects of marketing that Wigg-Stevenson point out on pages 24-25 (they’re numbered and bolded)? Do you believe that marketing creates a culture where products create identity, that marketing promotes discontentment, it diminishes the superiority of Christ, and encourages disunity among the universal family of Christ?
    Or no? Would churchmarketing sucks say they disagree with those things?

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  • SeanPdesign
    January 5, 2009

    That article is so right on.

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  • Kevin D. Hendricks
    January 5, 2009

    Melissa, I think bad marketing does those things. Wigg-Stevenson assumes that all marketing fosters consumerism and leads to the negatives he lists. I agree that those things are all negatives, but I don’t agree that marketing automatically leads you there.
    Those are definitely pitfalls of marketing and things we need to be on guard against, but I don’t think they occur simply because we do marketing. If that were the case, Wigg-Stevenson would be guilty of them as well (his book is marketed, the magazine in which his article appears is marketed, etc.)

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  • Josh Hatcher
    January 5, 2009

    I think that marketing jesus isn’t a good thing…
    “networking” might be a more appropriate word… because we use our existing social networks to share Christ with people, and we expand our social networks frequently to do the same.
    marketing the contemporary organization that we call “the church” isn’t all that bad.
    The “church” is the people… it’s a social network of people who believe.
    But now we this great beast of a thing that has grown out of it. It’s a “business” sometimes… with a CEO, a CFO, and a board.
    It’s a “social club” sometimes…
    It’s a number of things to a number of people.
    The contemporary model of church isn’t necessarily a bad thing.. it’s a tool that we use so that the REAL CHURCH, which is the body of Christ, can thrive.
    We should “market” to get the word out about our organization, but we need to remember that CHURCH is not the building, or the meeting that we go to… the CHURCH, or EKKLESSIA is the group of people that have been “called out” by God.
    Marketing? Sure. Just be conscious of the perceptions that we communicate and perpetuate to the “unchurched”… or we’ll never reach them.
    Graphic Design Solutions

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  • Jeff Goins
    January 5, 2009

    I do marketing for a living, but by and large, the concept of church marketing leaves a sour taste in my mouth. However, I remember reading a post on CMS (maybe it was by you, Kevin) that basically stated that marketing is not something that one can avoid. It is simply representing an idea through some sort of communication medium. Whether churches want to market themselves or not, they are. I think one of the best church marketing strategies isn’t much of a strategy at all – it’s just giving your parishioners (or whatever you call them) lots of opportunities to build relationships with visitors.
    But there is a difference, I think, between marketing a church (inescapably an institution) and Jesus. Jesus is eternal. He’s omniscient. He’s all-powerful. He doesn’t need a cool ad campaign. However, his imperfect followers need to be careful how they represent the entire Body of Christ. And I would call that “marketing.”
    Maybe you guys should become the Center for Church Communications Blog?

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  • seanPdesign
    January 5, 2009

    Kevin is always right on.

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  • Steve
    January 5, 2009

    Aren’t we marketing the church anytime we do any sort of outreach? And, in effect, isn’t the church all about introducing Jesus to the world? Isn’t that the concept behind marketing? When I preach I am trying to persuade people about their need for Christ, again, isn’t that marketing? I am always fascinated about how hot this topic can become.

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  • Brett Duncan
    January 5, 2009

    To start, this is my first visit to the site, and I’m really enjoying it.
    I have not read the article yet, but I think I get the feeling from the comments.
    The main struggle churches deal with today isn’t so much marketing Jesus as it is marketing themselves. Their pastors. Their books. Their ministries. Their location. Their size.
    This isn’t bad, but it’s not the same as marketing Jesus.
    Without a standard definition of marketing, it’s difficult to know where you stand on the issue. THe easier way to look at it is in terms of communication. Churches need to communicate what makes them special (their brand). We Christians need to communicate the power of Christ.
    But how do we do it? It’s in how we go about doing it that causes all the friction. We are heavy consumers living in a capitalistic society. We are communicated to as consumers, therefore our most natural way to communicate is as though what we have needs to be “consumed.”
    Of all the comments above, I like what Antwon Davis says most. “Marketing happens.”

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  • Joshua
    January 5, 2009

    Thanks so much for all of your comments here, this is a great conversation.
    @Brett, we’re glad you’re enjoying the site, and I agree with you and many others that the main issue surrounds the language that’s framing the issue.
    Marketing does happen, and I’m so thankful to be part of a community who is focused on doing it well. Good marketing is not defined by clever gimmicks or sweet graphics that sell a church to someone, good church marketing is when we live as a church in such a way as to convince people that giving up everything to follow Christ is the best decision they can make.
    Wigg-Stevenson makes some great points, which you’ll see discussed here soon.

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  • Ron
    January 6, 2009

    I find it sad that well-meaning folks like that from Christianity Today misunderstand the essence of church marketing.
    I would admit that church marketing is not perfect per se, and just like everything else, it is subject to corruption. I believe that the real culprit is not whether church marketing is right or wrong, but on what are we really promoting/marketing? Granted, Jesus isn’t a brand nor a product – He’s too priceless for that.
    But in a world that peddles religious deception with predator-like ferocity, we Christians don’t have the luxury of standing back and quarreling between ourselves whether we should “market” or “evangelize”. The fact is simple: the world still needs the Savior – Jesus Christ, but with a lot of religious trinkets confusing their sights, we need to catch their attention first for us to share the Gospel. For me, that’s what marketing is about – equipping the church with the means to fight (earthly) fire with (Godly) fire.
    Of course, some tend to get distracted and make a mistake of promoting the church itself rather than the Head of the church, but that’s a different issue, really. And one that we don’t even need to debate about.

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  • Ron
    January 6, 2009

    Hmm, on second thought – I think I’d like to take a double-take on the idea that Jesus is a brand :D
    Well, He is after all the only quality standard that God Himself had given us – and we Christians have the responsibility of bearing that very brand of righteousness and holiness in this fallen world.
    Being a Christian should be a noticeable brand (albeit a firebrand for some), to offer hope and salvation for those who are tired of the “leading” brand of this world. But nobody will know that such a brand of people still exists (or should I say, that such a Savior does exist) if we don’t get out there and let them know.
    Well, hope I didn’t offend anyone :p

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  • Rob Bosveld
    January 6, 2009

    Jesus not a brand? Come on. He is the best brand ever.
    What is the essence of a strong brand? A strong brand delivers on his promise time and time again.
    What is Jesus promise? Come to me all that are weary and I will give you rest. (etc) If you believe in Me, you will be saved. (John 3:16)
    Is there anyone who want to debate whether Christ delivers on His promise?
    Reading the article and the comments I get the impression that the real issue is ‘integrity’.
    Marketing is considered to be fake, false, all but honest or sincere. Which is often true.
    But just as one can use a knife for evil purposes, it can be done the other way around too. Same with marketing. It all depends on the person handling it.
    BTW I agree: you can’t ‘un-market’ yourself. ‘No choice’ is a choice too.
    However. Integrity is at stake. And I agree that integrity is easaly compromised.
    Start with yourself. Look at the clothes you wear. Are those clothes always the exact representation of who you really are? In fact, do you really know yourself?
    We make an interpretation of reality, ourselves, our church, our God, continually.
    It is a daily battle to be honest, true to your self, true to what you really believe.
    Marketing is nothing more than an organised way of interpreting the truth. The question whether marketing is good or evil is not answered by an analysis of the process, but by an analysis of the heart of the marketeer. Regardless whether it is churchmarketing of cocacolamarketing.
    If churches try to sell a sexy gospel, they are not sincere or true to themselves. But if they take the effort to really discern what makes them into who they are, let them go out and show it to the world as creative as possible.
    The world is suffering for churches and christians with a sincere message of hope. God provided the message. He asks us to go and tell it.
    I hope many talented story tellers, designers, strategists, writers and so on, will use their talent for Gods kingdom. Amen. ouch.
    (Beg your pardon for my English, im not a native speaker).

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  • Church of God
    January 6, 2009

    What is wrong with church marketing? What is wrong with trying to get a positive message out to and attract more people into church? Looking forward to reading your 2 part response!

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  • Chris Moncus
    January 6, 2009

    Didn’t Richard Reising make the argument that churches are ALWAYS marketing and their choice was to either do it good or bad? Funny that those who say churches shouldn’t market usually do a bad job of it.

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  • seanPdesign
    January 7, 2009

    Not really dude.
    Churches that set to of a priority on marketing do a bad job of marketing.
    Churches that focus on doing church right, try to be consistent in everything they do, incorporate the arts, are highly involved in the community, give to its people and surrounding communities, teach, speak truth, love. These churches are the most successful at marketing.
    The best marketing is when your product/message/cause is done so well that people spread the word of your awesomeness for you.
    When I was involved in the club scene in Hollywood before I was saved, we didn’t get people to line up in hopes of even making it in to our clubs by promotions and marketing, we got them to line up by focusing our energy on making the club the best club in town, the people had a blast, they brought their friends.
    Church should be the same way. People are touched, moved, convicted, healed, loved, effected. They see the awesomeness of God in your place, they will tell their friends. Strangers will hear of the news. You do it right, people will come, hear the truth, be and be blessed.

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  • Stacy
    January 8, 2009

    The commercial marketing industry has been using the methods and language of evangelists for years. We even use the term “evangelizing our brand.” (Wasn’t something similar written here on CMS before?)
    I think this is ironic because so many churches seem to shy away from the term evangelism…I think because it conjurs images of “seed money.” But, if they are shy of the term marketing, too, what’s left?

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  • Bradley Cochran
    January 11, 2009

    I agree with Kevin Hendricks.
    Stevenson misunderstands the role of branding and marketing in the church.

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  • Sheila Branscombe
    February 9, 2009

    To me, this is all semantics – what we attribute to words like marketing, brand, organization etc. And of course, we are going to have trouble with semantics when we use church (meaning the body of Christ)interchangeably with church (meaning the building; meaning the sunday service or whatever you do). Comparing Christ and his church, and the church to any of these terms is simply a way of understanding, communicating a truth about the current situation of North American christianity today.
    Jesus represented himself, the Father and the Holy Spirit to the masses. That can be defined as marketing. He told them about a new way to live life (branding the Trinity). In the 21st century, perhaps we have relied more heavily on external marketing techniques than on internal. By this I mean, that if we are the hands and feet of Christ Jesus, how well are we representing him, the Father and the Holy Spirit? The answer is pretty poorly. Great external marketing will never be able to replace poor internal marketing.

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  • Brian Klassen
    February 10, 2009

    I’ve really enjoyed this conversation as we deal with it on a daily basis. My opinion and what I communicate to the people we are trying to help is honesty. Honesty combined with a pure heart keeps marketing and communications on the right track. The wrong track begins with self and ends in disaster.
    The general point of marketing being bad is concerning, but I can see how this conclusion could be reached. What I am more concerned about is how Christ believers have allowed the world to take something which Christ ordained as good, and allowed them to make it bad.
    Lets not be fooled. The tactics which churches and people who don’t believe in marketing are taking (under the radar relationship building – a type of viral marketing) are being adopted by sophisticated marketers at an alarming pace. Are we now going to say that building relationships is an inappropriate means of communicating the loving message of Jesus? No. What we really need to do is keep our focus on others as Christ did.
    We don’t need to fool people into becoming Christ followers. We just need to communicate the loving message of Jesus to the very best of our God given abilities and He will do the rest.

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  • Neil Bull
    March 3, 2009

    The number one form of all marketing today is Word of Mouth barr none… I believe that the religeous term is personal evangelism !

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  • Isaac
    September 11, 2011

    Should this discussion not start with whether the thing we call “church” today is even Biblical? If it isn’t we should not be promoting/marketing it, we should be rejecting it and instead be living out Biblical Christianity, which the Holy Spirit will continue to build the true Body of Christ through.

    The Bible does not define the “church” as a group of people who have come up with a way of “doing church” including a paid staff that promotes and lives out its “vision” through its “congregants”. This model is the norm, but it is built upon a man-centered model first promoted by the Catholic Church in the fourth century.

    Bible studying/believing people should study this subject to find if this is how Christ wants His Body to function. Should ministers benefit financially from “teaching/preaching” the Gospel? Does the Bible promote the concept of local churches deciding on their own Biblical interpretations and developing their own “this is what we believe” statement? Does the Bible promote the professional class of “leaders” that we have all accepted? Are we so ignorant of true Biblical Christianity that we are following a man-focused lie instead Christ Himself?

    Study Paul’s books, read Christ’s teaching’s in the Gospel’s, Consider Peter’s writings in 1 and 2 Peter, look at John’s books, Jn 1, 2 ans 3. Do you see Biblical Christianity, based on these Bible books, anywhere around you? Was Christ a professional teacher? Was Paul? Was John? Was Peter? Did they work at a local church and recieve a weekly/bi-weekly/monthly check to support them? The only time money was given to them was when they were traveling, in transition (they couldn’t work while traveling to a new destination) to teach and preach.

    Paul gives us the example to follow in numerous books; that we are to work with our own hands to support ourselves financially. He preached and taught for free, read 1 and 2 Cor. The weekly giving he promoted in Cor. was not to go to him, nor the Cor. church, it was to go to the Christians (the people, not a leadership group) in Jerusalem that were being persecuted. Strangely, at least to the modern hearer, the money was not collected to support church leadership; it was collected to help other Christians who were in need. There is no place in the New Testament that suggests we are to take up an offering or a “tithe” to support a pastor, or any leadership in a local church.

    If we are marketing a lie, we should stop. If we are promoting unbiblical christianity, we should stop, Period.

    Read your Bible. Live it out submitted To Christ an empowered by His Spirit living in you, allow Him to strip away any misconceptions you have bought into about how “church is done”, and He will use you to spread His good news. If you are led to be a part of or start a local group to minister to your community, look to 1 and 2 timothy and Titus and the book of Acts to pick a group of Elders to lead the local group. Stick to the Bible. Don’t expect pay. Keep your job. Use any funds or goods that are given to help the sick, poor, widow and fatherless. Never think of yourself as so important that you need to be in “full time ministry” and therefore need to be financially supported by “your congregation” to be used of God. If each member of Christ’s Body does his or her part, there will be no need for what we accept today as full time ministers. You will be a minister wherever you are.

    Thanks for reading, May Christ fill you with His wisdom and love.

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