Tyler Wigg-Stevenson, author of Brand Jesus, has a very thoughtful and provocative article in Christianity Today that challenges those who want churches to adopt modern marketing methods in evangelism:
The champions of better church marketing say that withdrawal and resistance are not options for a local church that seeks a public presence. We live in a commercialized culture that accepts that virtually everything is for sale. There is simply no way to be in the public arena without engaging in marketing. Even if you do not intend to market your church, that’s how consumers are going to perceive your outreach. They will take it in through market-conditioned filters. If we ignore this fact, we will probably wind up doing bad marketing, and that doesn’t do anyone any good.
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The difficulty with the pro-marketing arguments, however, is the failure to recognize that marketing is not a values-neutral language. Marketing unavoidably changes the message—as all media do. Why? Because marketing is the particular vernacular of a consumerist society in which everything has a price tag. To market something is therefore to effectively make it into a branded product to be consumed. The folks at ChurchMarketingSucks.com have no problem with this: “Marketing is the process of promoting, selling, and distributing goods or services. It’s a business concept, but something very similar happens in the church. As much as we bristle at comparing evangelism to a sales pitch, there are certain similarities.”
There are indeed similarities. But evangelism and sales are not the same. And we market the church at our peril if we are blind to the critical and categorical difference between the Truth and a truth you can sell. In a marketing culture, the Truth becomes a product. People will encounter it with the same consumerist worldview with which they encounter every other product in the American marketplace.
Thus our dilemma: The product we are selling isn’t like every other product—it isn’t even a product at all. But if the gospel is not a product, how can we market it? And if we can’t avoid marketing it, how can we keep from turning it into the product it isn’t?
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In other words, people who respond to church marketing approach Jesus as another consumer option. This is first and foremost a problem because it is blasphemy: We are talking about the incarnate Logos, not a logo. Additionally (in case blasphemy isn’t bad enough), this should concern us because of the problems it creates for discipleship. Consumerism isn’t just a social phenomenon—it’s a spirituality. And it comes with spiritual habits and disciplines that conflict with the particular practices of the Christian life.
The entire essay is well worth reading in full, and can be found here.