31 July 2008

The Church-Marketing Fad

by Phil Johnson


More on the Fad-Driven® Church
Part II of a series

(First posted 20 July 2005)

PyroManiac

n the book Tony Campolo co-authored with Brian McLaren (Adventures In Missing the Point: How the Culture-Controlled Church Neutered the Gospel) Campolo seems to suggest that seminarians ought to pay more attention to marketing techniques and less attention to theology, exegesis, original languages, and other traditional seminary curricula. After all, those are academic subjects with limited practical significance, and pastors these days hardly ever use such stuff after seminary. In Campolo's own words:

What if the credits eaten up by subjects seminarians seldom if ever use after graduation were instead devoted to more subjects they will actually need in churches—like business and marketing courses? It is not true that with a gifted preacher, a church will inevitably grow. Good sermons may get visitors to stay once they come, but getting folks to come in the first place may take some marketing expertise.

It was a marketing degree, not an M. Div., that Bill Hybels had when he launched the tiny fellowship that would one day be Willow Creek Community Church. It's not that Hybels is a theological lightweight, contrary to some critics. His sermons are biblically sound and brilliantly relevant to the needs of his congregation—and the relevance comes not from giftedness or theological discernment, but from thoughtfully studying his congregation. As any good marketer would, Hybels deliberately surveys his people with questionnaires in order to determine what they worry about, what their needs are, what's important to them. . . . Then he schedules what subjects he will preach on in the coming year, and circulates the schedule to those on his team responsible for music and drama in the services.

The result is preaching that is utterly biblical and acutely relevant. But the process isn't something you'll learn in most seminaries. Maybe it's time that some business school courses find their way into seminary.

I don't know where Tony Campolo has been for the past twenty-five years or so, but if that advice sounds the least bit fresh or novel to you, you haven't been paying attention to the drift of the church growth movement and its influence in seminaries over the past three decades. What Campolo is suggesting is precisely what many evangelical seminaries started doing some twenty years ago.

Pastors these days are thoroughly indoctrinated with the notion that they must regard their people as consumers. Religion is carefully packaged to appeal to the consumers' demands. There are even marketing agencies that specialize in church marketing. (Typical slogan: "Changing the Way the World Looks at Christians.") There are seminars for church leaders who want to learn how to "brand" their churches as a marketing strategy.

This stuff is everywhere. Fad-driven® pastors can even buy prepackaged, market-tested sermon ideas or whole sermon series. ("New fall message series designs!" now available.)

Church leaders these days are obsessed with image, opinion polls, public relations, salesmanship, merchandising, and customer satisfaction. They have been taught and encouraged to think that way by virtually every popular program of the past two decades.

It has been nearly twenty years since George Barna published Marketing the Church. In that book, he proposed this then-revolutionary notion: "The audience, not the message, is sovereign." That is the basic idea that underlies every Fad-Driven® church. And it's a notion that thousands of pastors and church leaders have uncritically imbibed—and it has been parroted in virtually every major book on church leadership up through and including The Purpose-Driven Church. The audience is sovereign. Their "felt needs" should shape the preacher's message. Opinion polls and listener response become barometers that tell the preacher what to preach. That's what Barna was calling for back in 1988. He wrote,
If [we are] going to stop people in the midst of hectic schedules and cause them to think about what we're saying, our message has to be adapted to the needs of the audience. When we produce advertising that is based on the take-it-or-leave-it proposition, rather than on a sensitivity and response to people's needs, people will invariably reject our message.

Compare that with the words of the apostle Paul, who said, "The time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, because they have itching ears, they will heap up for themselves teachers; and they will turn their ears away from the truth, and be turned aside to fables" (2 Timothy 4:2-5).

What was Paul's point? Do you think he would have agreed with Barna, who said we must adapt our message to the preferences of the audience, or risk having them reject the message?

I think not. Here's what the apostle actually did say to Timothy: "But you . . . fulfill your ministry." "Preach the word! . . . in season and out of season. Convince, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching."

That is what pastors are called to do—not ape the fads and fashions of our culture. Not even to follow the silly parade of evangelical fads. I'm convinced that those who do not get back to the business of preaching the Bible will soon see their churches shrivel and die—because, after all, the Word of God is the only message that has the power to give spiritual life.

And, frankly, the death of the fad-driven churches will be a good thing in the long term. It's something I hope I live long enough to see.

Phil's signature

93 comments:

troutdude said...

Vintage and still spot-on!

Stan McCullars said...

Campolo needs to meet up with Pat Robertson and they should both move to a remote island with no means of communicating with the outside world.

My thought for a better world.

DJP said...

I'm down with that.

They could take Joel Osteen with them.

NothingNewUnderTheSun said...

In retrospect my first exposure to Emergent-Church nonsense was back in the mid-1990's when I attended annual College retreats @ 'Forest Home'.

At Forest Home I remember hearing sermons from Tony Campolo and Brennan Manning and thinking to myself that something doesn't sound right.

Did anyone here ever attend college retreats @ Forest Home and have similar experiences?

michelle said...

Reading this makes me heartsick...and we do not seem to learn our lesson.

I would add George Barna to that list we've got going.

Terry Rayburn said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Mesa Mike said...

> They could take Joel Osteen with
> them.

Why be so discriminating?
There's also Kenneth Copeland, Kenneth Hagin, Benny Hinn, Patricia King, John Haggee.... There's so many. There could be a really big glory party on that remote desert island.

Jean-Paul said...

Hi Phil .... the problem with many pastors today is that the desires of their heart for the church (and for many other things too, frankly) are not pure, not biblical. They do not value the things that God values in a church, a marriage, and on and on. They hunger for church growth and numeric success verses a pursuit and contentment with Christ-likeness and pleasing Him. And the pews tend to follow the pulpit. The church needs reaffirm M'Cheyne's words, "It is not great talents [or marketing strategies] God blesses so much as likeness to Jesus. A holy minister is an awful weapon in the hand of God" (quotes from Spurgeon's Lectures to my Students, p. 8). Pastors need to find their joy in the Lord and delight in Him, and then their desires will be pure, their discernment razor sharp (hopefully), and their example trustworthy.

Willem Bronkhorst said...

Hi Phil,

These guys should learn from William still, who long ago already taught us that: "We are called to feed the Lord's sheep; we are not called to entertain goats. let the goats find their entertainment in goatland. You cannot turn a goat into a sheep by pandering to its goatishness". The only advice these guys seem to have is on how to entertain goats. No wonder these "churches" look and worship the way they do.

I agree: I hope I, too, live to see the death of these fad-fellowships. If we're both around I'll invite you to a South-African "braai" (barbecue) to celebrate.

Willem Bronkhorst.

bjirvin said...

Let's stock a library on that island...I'm thinking D. Martin LLoyd Jones, Spurgeon, a wide array of Puritan authors, and just to really frost them, a complete set of the works of John MacArthur!

Willem Bronkhorst said...

And some faddish colouring books lest things become too theological and these guys make overtures to come back.

Carol Jean said...

Once a church begins to go down this road it must continue to feed the fad-beast - ever tweaking to get just the right diet for it.

After receiving the results of their "Reveal" study, our church was told by the Willow Creek gurus that the church was "mature believer"- heavy and that the "Exploring Christianity" segment was too small and they weren't being served(have low levels of satisfaction with the church services). The church felt compelled to obey. Therefore, it has set a goal of reducing the percentage of mature Christians (20 years +) to 60% to alleviate this "problem." This is setting off a frenzy of changes to satisfy the desires of the insatiable fad-beast.

Let the entertaining of the goats begin!

BJ Irvin said...

Carol Jean - maybe your church could work a trade with the Red Sox, they are looking to dump Manny Ramirez and, I'm just guessing, could use a few "Mature believers" hanging around the club house.

They better hurry though, the trading deadline is getting close!

trogdor said...

Something I've wondered recently: how much of the dumbing-down trend is related to churches taking on massive debts for building projects? Several years ago, one of my old churches made two announcements within a month of each other: a new $12 million facility, and the Sunday morning service would be going seeker-sensitive.

The way I see it: the church wants to build the mega-facility to 'better serve' people. "In faith", they go massively in debt to do this. Then they have to keep the crowds coming in (and possibly increase just to make the minimum payments) and can't afford to risk driving them away. The teaching is softened accordingly, and the hard John 6-type demands that tend to thin the herd go away. So they build this facility to reach the masses, and in the process ensure that what they're reaching them with is of little or no value.

Am I way off-base here?

Carol Jean said...

BJ: We've already had Manny around here. He's been known to go through the lost and found, taking his teammates underwear. He'd probably be riffling through the clothing drive boxes at the church : )

Trogdor said, "Something I've wondered recently: how much of the dumbing-down trend is related to churches taking on massive debts for building projects?"

The other side of this coin is that in general, the "seekers" are not the ones giving and supporting the churches. I have a friend who recently visited an extreme youth-oriented, seeker-sensitive church and, being an experienced usher, noticed that the offering plates were nearly empty.

Susan said...

Good post and comments with a bite--a deadly combination!

Carol Jean said: "The church felt compelled to obey. Therefore, it has set a goal of reducing the percentage of mature Christians (20 years +) to 60% to alleviate this "problem."

Carol Jean, forgive my ignorance, but how exactly does your church plan to do that?? By planting another church and put the ousted "mature Christians" there (that is, if they are not too incensed already and still kind enough to stay)? Or, better yet, because they are "mature Christians", make THEM plant the church themselves?? Or simply excommunicate them all together???

NothingNewUnderTheSun said...

trogdor,

I think you're on to something.

As the economy continues to drag it's feet, many of these mega churches could find out they're more 'DEBT-Driven' then anything else.

Watering down the gospel in order to pay down excessive amounts of debt doesn't seem very biblical to me.

Matt said...

After receiving the results of their "Reveal" study, our church was told by the Willow Creek gurus that the church was "mature believer"- heavy and that the "Exploring Christianity" segment was too small and they weren't being served(have low levels of satisfaction with the church services). The church felt compelled to obey. Therefore, it has set a goal of reducing the percentage of mature Christians (20 years +) to 60% to alleviate this "problem." This is setting off a frenzy of changes to satisfy the desires of the insatiable fad-beast.

Wow. To be honest, even though it wasn't very nice of me, I was laughing when I read that. Honestly? Seriously? That kind of strategizing reminds me of my time in the corporate world. Before I started dairy farming.

I wonder what would happen if dairy farmers did church consulting...

wfseube said...

How sad that this is still so relevant three years later. Another year, another fad.

Michael Buckingham said...

So when we read in the bible "compel them to come in..." we should ignore that?

When Christ told his disciples that he spoke in parables "so that those that don't know the truth can understand" should we shake that off?

Church marketing is about bringing the word in a way that people understand, in a way they can relate to so they can then pour it into their lives.

It's not about dumbing anything down...it's about delivering it in a way that people can digest and apply.

Why is that wrong? Because it's not religious? Well Christ had some things to say about the 'religious leaders' as well...but I'm sure that's all bunk to?

Seems like a very narrow minded viewpoint...one that fears change and expects things to always stay the same.

Susan said...

Carol Jean, I just wanted to come back and say that if my previous comment sounded like I was tearing your church apart, I'm really sorry and humbly ask you for your forgiveness. I was not trying to be completely sarcastic--I honestly have no conception as to how any church can take the approach to downsize their "mature Christian" population based on some "expert" study, and your comment simply shocked me. One would think that the "mature Christians" are valuable assets within a church...apparently some don't see it that way! (May the Lord provide for you in these sad times.)

ALL FOR ONCE/ ONCE FOR ALL said...

The professing wise (Hybels etal)have self inflicted an unwitting type of "Sokal hoax" - it has a short term payoff with their clients but a fatal longterm downside. Live by pragmatism die by the same.

Susan said...

(Addendum to my apology to Carol Jean: I don't know if you or your loved ones will be affected by the changes your church plans to implement, but may the Lord also provide for anyone else who will be directly or indirectly affected by the changes.)

Solameanie said...

Michael Buckingham,

Actually, if you read the text in Matthew again, Jesus' reasons for using parables was just the opposite of what you state.

As for "compelling them to come in," look again at the context of the passage. Jesus' words were aimed at the Pharisees and religious leaders for a specific reason. It had nothing to do at all with using marketing techniques and fads to draw a crowd.

While I don't know if you personally adhere to Emergent/Willowcreek philosophy, the comment you made is a good example of how those who advocate that philosophy handle Scripture (if they use it at all). The way they handle Scripture causes many of us significant concern. They'll cherrypick a verse or two, yank it wildly out of its context and insist that they've got biblical backing for their church-growth/ministry ideas.

In reality, that dog won't hunt.

jeff said...

After receiving the results of their "Reveal" study, our church was told by the Willow Creek gurus that the church was "mature believer"- heavy and that the "Exploring Christianity" segment was too small and they weren't being served(have low levels of satisfaction with the church services).

Carol-Jean,
What do the Willow Creek gurus believe that the church should do with the mature Christians? Do they believe that if they preached to them that they would be preaching over the head of a new believer or unsaved person. I would disagree. I believe that any text from the Bible is applicable and effective to any audience, no matter how mature or unmature the person is.

The Word of God will not return void. It will acomplish what God intended for it to acomplish, whether anyone gets saved or not.

As Christians grow they must be fed strong meat and new believers need the milk of the Word. Lost people need to hear the Gospel preached. A good sermon will contain all these elements.

Joe Blackmon said...

I think I threw up in my mouth a little bit. Sad doesn't describe the kind of theology those market driven churches spout. Blashpemy comes closer.

Michelle said...

Yesterday I listened to John Mac's message "Dealing with Sin in God's Family - Matt 18:15-20" and he said (very loosely paraphrased) that in the church we should be so emphasizing the importance of holiness and not tolerating sin in the lives of professing believers that no-one will want to be part of the fellowship on his own. It is the Lord's church and He will build it and add to it numerically (those who are being saved - redeemed people).

We need more Bible and less Barna methinks.

Matt said...

Solameanie, your rebuke of Michael is really a non-starter. It doesn't matter so much what the Bible actually says. What really matters is that the majority of us in this comment thread disagree with Michael.

Michael, your rebuke of the rest of us is very narrow-minded. You appeal to the Bible to make your point when clearly, a simple poll would have revealed that most of us here agree with Phil's original post. That should more-or-less settle the truth of the matter, no?

I mean, the majority couldn't possibly be wrong.

Michael Buckingham said...

You're throwing out the baby with the bathwater.

Marketing is evil? Then you need to take down your sign, throw away your hymnals, and by all means shred your bulletin.

Marketing is simply communicating in a way that is compelling and that sticks. Your doing it right now in your church...the only question is how effective is it?

For Christ this meant teaching in parables, in the modern church it means teaching with graphics and video.

It's not for everyone, I get that...do it your way. But do you really think it brings God glory to attach another church for methods?

@matt Are you serious? I have to agree because the rest of you do? Not sure whose philosophy that is, but sounds very distorted to me.

My guess is that you've not spent any time in the churches you attack, or even anytime listening to their sermons...they are preaching the truth of Christ. They are just paying attention to the way they are saying it. Like many christians you'd rather turn your nose up and tell people how much better you are.

Carol Jean said...

Susan said, "Carol Jean, forgive my ignorance, but how exactly does your church plan to do that?? By planting another church and put the ousted "mature Christians" there (that is, if they are not too incensed already and still kind enough to stay)?"

Don't sweat it, I'm having trouble understanding too. And I covet your prayers! Apparently the plan is to add various "venues" to make the services comfortable for every possible demographic (the hoary heads, the emo crowd, the candle lighters, etc.). However, I don't suspect that will be enough - I will not be surprised to see more topical/theme/lifestyle sermons, more use of the "culture" in the church, and yes, probably some 'dumbing down.'

Here's what I don't get: Isn't this the exact thing that Willow Creek said their people were complaining about? That they were tired of being fed milk and tired of seeker sensitive? And now they're exporting it to other churches? Bizarre!

Seven Meditations said...

I personally think Piper, MacArthur and Sproul have done a wonder job of showing how modern marketing techniques can be used as an effective tool to lead the lost to solid preaching. Even the Pyros here use these tools well.

It cannot be denied that God used the talents of artisans to design his ark and his temple, all as means to draw the spiritually bankrupt to himself. Good marketing can even be used to take away objections of the theologically weak-kneed, by discouraging them from assailing Christ-centered churches with yet another ill-informed stereotype. But Phil lands some solid blows here. Barna's mantra is, and has been for quiet some time, that Christians should acquiesce to the world's demands - that they conform to certain cultural rituals and accepted "rules of engagement" before they would have any expectation that the Gospel would move hearts. The moment an aid, such good graphic design or a catchy slogan, becomes that thing which is relied and depended upon in order to remain relevant in the eyes of the world, is the moment that Christ and his Word is merely a part of the program rather than the "power of God unto salvation."

Brad

Puritan said...

"It was seven years before Carey baptised his first convert in India; it was seven years before Judson won his first disciple in Burma; Morrison toiled seven years before the Chinaman was brought to Christ; Moffat declares that he waited seven years to see the first evident moving of the Holy Spirit upon his Bechuanas of Africa; Henry Richards wrought seven years on the Congo before the first convert was gained at Banza Manteka" -A J Gordon, The Holy Spirit in Missions."

Where all those men who were greatly used by God have it wrong, or are many today preaching a another Gospel?

Phil Johnson said...

Michael Buckingham: "Marketing is simply communicating in a way that is compelling and that sticks."

Here's a more technical definition of marketing, from a university marketing dept.'s website: "Marketing is the process of planning and executing the conception, pricing, promotion, and distribution of ideas, goods, services, organizations, and events to create and maintain relationships that will satisfy individual and organizational objectives"

Hard to apply that to the gospel without compromising in the beginning stages.

The nonsense being done in the name of church marketing provides ample proof of this, and it always amazes me how whenever this subject comes up, church-marketing aficionados pretend to be amazed that anyone would be so critical (and so out of step with current fads) as to think there's anything wrong with the pragmatism inherent in their philosophy. (Remember the "Church Marketing Sucks" guy when he commented here? Couldn't seem to hear what the actual criticism was.)

Do you guys never read your critics' books? Or is your only answer to act astonished that thoughtful students of Scripture might sincerely think you're doing more harm than good to the church?

But have you actually LOOKED at the spiritual state of the church lately?

PS: I think your baby crawled out of that bathwater early on.

Johnny Dialectic said...

Marketing as "communication" in our information soaked culture is one thing. Being market "driven" is quite another.

"Christianity will always reproduce itself after its kind. A worldly-minded, unspiritual church, when she crosses the ocean to give her witness to peoples of other tongues and other cultures, is sure to bring forth on other shores a Christianity much like her own....The popular notion that the first obligation of the church is to spread the gospel to the uttermost parts of the earth is false. Her first obligation is to be spiritually worthy to spread it. Our Lord said "Go ye," but He also said, "Tarry ye," and the tarrying had to come before the going. Had the disciples gone forth as missionaries before the day of Pentecost it would have been an overwhelming spiritual disaster, for they could have done no more than make converts after their likeness, and this would have altered for the worse the whole history of the Western world and had consequences throughout the ages to come." [A. W. Tozer, Of God and Men, 35-37]

Seven Meditations said...

Michael,

I took a look at your website and was struck by this statement:

“The world is a noisy place, everyone trying to get their message across. The same old clipart covered brochure isn’t going to cut through the clutter.”

So let’s take this assertion out further because it seems to be the heart of your objection. Let’s say a snazzy well-designed brochure gets you noticed and puts a few more bodies in the pew. Then what? An endless cycle of continual marketing during the 90 minutes or so a week you have them, all just to keep them coming back? At what point, does the marketing end and the Gospel begin? The concern here isn’t using modern graphical art and a visual medium to get your point across. The concern here is a substitution and compromise of the Gospel for the sake of retaining the approval of men – which incidentally is the opposite to the Gospel and identifies our basic need for the Gospel.

You said that parables were used by Jesus in order to attract the masses. I’d have to disagree. Miracles were by far the greater attraction, yet even supernatural acts by God in human flesh weren’t enough to convince the masses. In other words, if the Gospel ultimately doesn’t attract then no amount of well-conceived visual communication ever will.

Matt said...

Michael Buckingham: Are you serious? I have to agree because the rest of you do? Not sure whose philosophy that is, but sounds very distorted to me.

No, I wasn't serious. Hopefully you see the irony in the way you answered. It actually appears as though you agree with the rest of us that we "do church" according to God's standards, not according to majority opinion, polling information, or demographic data.

The church belongs to God, not to us.

Michael Buckingham said...

@phil That's one definition, but not the definition that most are using when working to help the church create better marketing. We do see marketing as not a slick sales pitch (definition 1) but marketing is the way and the methods of communicating.

My point is that we shouldn't throw both of those out. We discount everything a pastor does because you feel they are watering down the gospel, etc. Definition 1 is terrible, but definition 2 is beautiful.

Christ didn't use parable to draw a crowd, he used parables as the way and method of communicating (marketing) so that people could understand.

It's not about simply drawing a crowd (though I will never understand why drawing a crowd is looked at as a bad thing) it's about drawing a crowd AND then communicating with them the truth of Christ.

I agree, we shouldn't adjust the core of WHAT is being spoken. Truth is truth. But we need to adjust HOW we are speaking it. Christ did.

Willem Bronkhorst said...

Michael Buckingham: “Marketing is evil? Then you need to take down your sign, throw away your hymnals, and by all means shred your bulletin”

No, marketing in itself is not evil, but it is an “earthly thing” and the fad-driven church has allowed it to cross the boundary into holy things. That’s the problem. Michael Horton, in his chapter "The Solas of the Reformation" in "Here We Stand"
(edited by James Montgomery Boice and published by Baker, 1996) argues, and argues convincingly that the first thing the church needs to do in order to recover the sufficiency of Scripture for doctrine and godliness, (which includes, of course, how we worship and witness), is that we must distinguish things heavenly from things earthly. Horton's remarks are so helpful to this discussion, I think, that he is worth quoting at some length (p. 105):

“An owner of a business is free to be pragmatic in in determining how to improve prophet margins and to employ marketing strategies. Further, a Christian who is an elected official need not fear making political compromises from time to time in order to seek policies that he or she thinks will, in the long term, better serve the public. Such approaches are appropriate to these activities. The problem comes when we confuse these legitimate gifts of creation with the saving arena of redemption. Compromise and pragmatic considerations may not necessarily be sinful in the secular arena, but they are utterly corrosive when questions of ultimate truth are at stake. It is not when Christians exercise their citizenship, read an Updike novel, explore the solar system , and take in a football game, a movie or concert that they are necessarily unfaithful, but it is when their discipleship, evangelism, and worship reflect the obsessions of this passing age rather than “the city without foundations, whose builder and maker is God”.

Speaking about “this passing age”: Many analysts (David Wells comes to mind, among others) have convincingly shown that our culture is a dying culture- it cannot even keep itself alive for too much longer- how do we expect its principles, prophets and practices to “come to the rescue” of God’s living church? There is an almost amusing kind of naiveté (if not arrogance) in the notion entertained by the dying spirit of this age and its prophets that they are needed to keep alive and build the living church of our Lord Jesus Christ don’t you think?

Mesa Mike said...

> Christ ... used parables as the
> way and method of communicating
> (marketing) so that people could
> understand.

Did he really?
It seems even Christ's parables were incomprehensible to most of his listeners.

Jesus himself explains why he spoke in parables (Matt. 13:10-23):

-------------------------------

And the disciples came and said to Him, "Why do You speak to them in parables?"

Jesus answered them, "To you it has been granted to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been granted.

"For whoever has, to him more shall be given, and he will have an abundance; but whoever does not have, even what he has shall be taken away from him.

"Therefore I speak to them in parables; because while seeing they do not see, and while hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand.

"In their case the prophecy of Isaiah is being fulfilled, which says (Is. 6:9,10),
'YOU WILL KEEP ON HEARING, BUT WILL NOT UNDERSTAND;
YOU WILL KEEP ON SEEING, BUT WILL NOT PERCEIVE;
FOR THE HEART OF THIS PEOPLE HAS BECOME DULL,
WITH THEIR EARS THEY SCARCELY HEAR,
AND THEY HAVE CLOSED THEIR EYES,
OTHERWISE THEY WOULD SEE WITH THEIR EYES,
HEAR WITH THEIR EARS,
AND UNDERSTAND WITH THEIR HEART AND RETURN,
AND I WOULD HEAL THEM.'

"But blessed are your eyes, because they see; and your ears, because they hear.

"For truly I say to you that many prophets and righteous men desired to see what you see, and did not see it, and to hear what you hear, and did not hear it.

Mesa Mike said...

> ... how to improve prophet margins...

Oh, my. That's the problem with a lot of churches these days.

Phil Johnson said...

Michael Buckingham: "That's one definition, but not the definition that most are using when working to help the church create better marketing. We do see marketing as not a slick sales pitch (definition 1) but marketing is the way and the methods of communicating.

That's what they all say when challenged.

But I'll let our readers follow the links from your comment back to your own marketing agency's website and look at the work you have posted.

Here are my observations about your website (including some final thoughts about marketing philosophy and gospel ministry that were prompted by your website):

1. You do excellent design work. Nice logos. Stunning print pieces. Kudos on your eye-catching graphic abilities.

2. I don't see a single piece in your portfolio that illustrates the definition of marketing you have given. Not one of the samples you have posted actually does communicate the gospel clearly. Your designs are very "attractive" in every sense that you seem to aim at, I'm sure. But have you ever done anything that actually does communicate the gospel--as opposed to publicizing fashion shows for the women's ministry, etc?

3. The contemporary market-driven approach is a significant departure from the pattern of communication we see in the NT for this very reason: the first priority in their strategy (not the last) was to preach the gospel as clearly and powerfully as possible, not to slip it in secretly (or not at all) at the very end of everything else.

4. I have no objection to slick artwork and good design per se, and I especially love sharp logos (which seem to be a specialty of yours). But if you think those things make the gospel itself more powerful, or if you think marketing accomplishes some evangelistic goal that preaching the gospel alone can't do--or if you think a toned-down market-driven appeal is what we should communicate to the world while the hard parts of the gospel are kept veiled behind a curtain (at least until we get people hooked with our marvelous marketing skills)--then your philosophy is fundamentally flawed.

5. In other words, it's not "marketing" per se (within proper boundaries) that troubles me, but a market-driven approach to ministry. Too many pastors today are pimping the gospel rather than proclaiming it. If you can't see the difference, you are definitely part of the problem.

Michelle said...

Michael, I think it is courageous of you to stick around here, really, and I pray that the responses to your reasoning will lead you to think very carefully about how your whole approach gels with God's Word.

You said "Truth is truth. But we need to adjust HOW we are speaking it."

The truth is that the Truth of God's Word is foolishness to those who are perishing, but the gospel (not clever schtiks or cool graphics) is the power of God unto salvation. Simply proclaimed, it is used by the Holy Spirit to do the work of salvation. Our job is to proclaim it. It needs no great explanation or adjustment - a child can understand it.

Please also think about what the church actually is. It is a body of believers. There is a church in Vancouver with a sign above the door that says "You are now entering the mission field." You read it on exiting, not entering.

Matt said...

how to improve prophet margins

How did this thread suddenly become about Benny Hinn's accounting team?

pimping the gospel

Tonight at 8ET on Discovery.

Mean Dean said...

So long as we have full-time pastors who need to protect their paychecks and pensions, we will see mainstream marketing measures employed to muster the metrics to justify their existence.

DJP said...

Most Clueless Comment Of The Day?

Habitans in Sicco said...

M. Buckingham says-- "I agree, we shouldn't adjust the core of WHAT is being spoken."


Yeah, sure. Sure.

But then here's what you said on your own blog.

So tell me: how is a sleazy campaign with billboards promising people 30 days of sex not an "adjustment" of our core message? Where do you see anything like that in the NT?

Phil Johnson said...

The whole market-driven definition of what is "relevant" lies at the heart of the problem. Looked at from a gospel perspective, nothing is more urgent or more truly relevant than the realization that we are sinners deserving of God's wrath and we desperately need cleansing from the guilt and power of our sin.

But where is the church-marketing guru who sees that as "relevant"? Instead, the market-driven notion of what's "relevant" is exactly the same as what anyone seeking self-gratification is going to be interested in--sex, self-esteem, success, and money. Ergo, that's precisely what virtually all these billboarded sermon series are about.

Jesus' gospel doesn't appeal to people's hunger for self-gratification; it rebukes it. And that runs exactly counter to all worldly notions about what constitutes "good" marketing.

And you'd have to be willfully blind not to see that market-driven notions about what is "relevant" are destroying the testimony of the church even as they inflate the slick megachurches' attendance figures.

I'd love to see a discussion of that on "Church Marketing Sucks"; "Holy Cow"; or one of the market-driven blogs.

On a related matter, it kills me that Emergent Village types pretend to be outraged by the silliness, shallowness, and sideshow flavor of seeker-sensitive evangelicalism. But then look what Pagitt and friends are doing this summer.

Mean Dean said...

Phil says: "I'd love to see a discussion of that on "Church Marketing Sucks"; "Holy Cow"; or one of the market-driven blogs."
Okay, so I think we're in violent agreement here.

The issue IS NOT MARKETING itself, no more than a computer, telephone or walkie-talkie is the issue.

What is at stake here is WHAT is being marketed, and in that respect I agree. You could have the slickest church website, but if you're not healing their souls - then your message sucks just as bad - it just doesn't look bad when you do it.

Susan said...

1. Carol Jean, thanks for being so kind regarding my comment toward your church, and thanks for explaining. It looks like you and I both (as well as most commenters here) know that your church's proposed solution isn't a good one! As for your comment about Willow Creek's contradicting ways (i.e., decrying such tactics in their own church but exporting them out to others), it kind of reminds me of tobacco companies that are working toward a more smoke-free environment here in the States yet still export their cigarettes to third-world countries. I don't know if that's an apt comparison, but that's what came to mind when I read your comment!

2. Brad (Seven Meditations) said: "I personally think Piper, MacArthur and Sproul have done a wonder job of showing how modern marketing techniques can be used as an effective tool to lead the lost to solid preaching. Even the Pyros here use these tools well."

Brad, may I also add to this that MacArthur's church services do not utilize any big screen TVs, Microsoft Powerpoint(R), or the like; and at one recent Ligonier's Regional Conference (2006?) down here in SoCal (Anaheim), Sproul got really animated and started to walk down the steps toward the first row when he realized that someone in the front row (Ligon Duncan III? I forget.) was not looking directly at him speaking but instead at the his image projected on the screen. It drew chuckles from the audience, but he seemed a bit annoyed.

So, yes, while it is true that MacArthur, Sproul et al. have utilized technology in hopes of furthering God's kingdom, they don't see technology (or for that matter, other things that can be use in market-driven tactics)as helping God to make His message more friendly or more need-oriented toward the people. More accessible, yes--but not more seeker-sensitve.

Michael Buckingham said...

First let me just say that my comments are not meant to upset anyone. They are meant to give you some insight of the world of church marketing that you just don't truly understand. I hope you take no offense in it.

@phil
1. Thank you.

2. Our work is one instrument in an orchestra of ministry. It draws a crowd, it sets the stage...the preaching then expands on that.

You mention the fashion show. 1000 women showed up to that fashion show. 1000 women heard that Jesus loves them the way he created them. 1000 women learned that Christ designed them to be beautiful and modest. 1000 women heard that Christ could heal them of the hurt they may have concern appearnaces. Again the marketing was one instrument in what turned out to be a beautiful symphony with women's lives changed.

3. One of our areas of expertise is in what we call 'sermon branding'. It's purpose is to help "preach the gospel as clearly and powerfully as possible" this is done with visuals, props, planning...marketing.

4. No! Never have I, never will I, say that design is more important or more powerful than the gospel. Never. I never said to tone it down...shoot some of our work heats it up.

5. I agree that we should not shape and form our churches to match the market. We shouldn't skirt issues just because they aren't popular. But we should be preaching the full gospel in full excellence. Some have gone too far and water it down...some haven't gone far enough and play it safe.

@habitans
Shame on the church for making sex, between a husband and a wife, sleazy. That church was celebrating the gift God gave to married couples. That's a core message of marriage...didn't change because we were talking about it or using the word sex.

@meandean
We shouldn't be changing the WHAT we should be changing the HOW.

Libbie said...

Oh please. It's not about saying sex between a husband and wife is sleazy. What is sleazy is using it as a hookline to get people into church.

Susan said...

I previously said: "More accessible, yes--but not more seeker-sensitve."

It should say: "More accessible, yes--but not more seeker-sensitve--and definitely not a prominent player (if at all) in their services/conferences."

Solameanie said...

I am now going to begin recommending TeamPyro for lessons in alliteration.

Seriously, Michael..you didn't respond at all to the point made by myself and a few others here about the parables of Jesus and His reason for using them. The Emergent folks really seize on the parables to justify their "storytelling" approach, but that is a distortion of what Jesus was doing. Scripture itself makes this plain.

And please don't say that we don't understand marketing. In addition to studying marketing in college, I've been a broadcaster for 30 years. I understand marketing just fine. I don't agree with a market-driven emphasis for church ministry. It's not biblical.

Susan said...

Solameanie said: "I am now going to begin recommending TeamPyro for lessons in alliteration."

Sounds like I should have left bad enough alone! :)

Phil Johnson said...

Michael: "1000 women showed up to that fashion show. 1000 women heard that Jesus loves them the way he created them. 1000 women learned that Christ designed them to be beautiful and modest. 1000 women heard that Christ could heal them of the hurt they may have concern appearnaces. Again the marketing was one instrument in what turned out to be a beautiful symphony with women's lives changed."

Too bad they didn't hear the gospel.

You have further illustrated my concern about the market-driven ministry fad: This approach has taken the emphasis completely away from the gospel for so long that most in the movement have forgotten what the message was supposed to be about. Despite your protestations to the contrary, marketeers have substituted messages people want to hear, and they have relegated virtually all the great soteriological truths of Scripture to the back of the closet, because so many of those truths simply have no market appeal.

I'm willing to believe most marketing gurus do not see (because they do not want to see) that they are doing this. You have insisted that your marketing pieces actually spice up the gospel rather than toning it down. And I believe you are sincere when you make that claim—because in your mind (evidently) as long as some preacher is saying things about sex that are true and biblical, then no one can accuse him of "changing the message" when he uses sex as a hook to grab people—even if he ends up leaving the gospel completely out of his messages about sex and self-esteem. (Which he will certainly do, practically every time.)

When I suggest that this approach has indeed altered the message, what I am pointing out is that certain essential truths simply don't fit the paradigm, so they have been left out. You cannot pimp and peddle the truth that people apart from Christ are dead in trespasses and sins—children of wrath, bound for hell. That idea has absolutely zero market appeal. But it is our duty to proclaim it anyway—undiluted and unsoftened. The reality that my sin is not a "hurt" I have suffered but a damnable offense I have committed against God is likewise not marketable. It's a radically different notion from vain women's concerns about their physical appearance, or whatever. "Sin" is about the evil we have done and the offense we have caused to a righteous God. Again, that's not really a marketable idea, but it's the starting point of the gospel.

You could go through every point of biblical soteriology and you'll find that until you get to glorification, unless you severely blunt the edges, there's not a single notion there that is capable of being sold to sinners with enticing words of human wisdom—or any amount of marketing savvy.

So for a quarter-century or more, market-obsessed churches and Christian leaders have been leaving out those truths, filing off the sharp bits, toning everything down, or altering the hard ideas so radically as to make them virtually unrecognizable. Now a new generation is Emerging, and they've never really heard the gospel unadulterated, so they aren't capable of recognizing heresy, even when it sits in their laps.

You say your role as a marketer is to help the church make her message as clear and effective as possible. That's what the "Church Marketing Sucks" guy said, too. I have challenged you both with the fact that on your respective websites there is not a single good example of any marketing tactic you have devised that actually does give a clear, precise, biblical gospel presentation. That proves, I think, that you are not doing what you seem to think you are doing.

You reply is that your work is part of an orchestra and not the whole picture. I say the strings and woodwinds are missing from your band and the percussion has got so loud that none of the drummers have even noticed yet that the real musicians have left the building.

jonny said...

so I am new around here... but it seems like the heart of this discussion (and the issue in the Church today in general) is this...
Reformed theology teaches (for the sake of those who might not know) that salvation is ALL of grace and that it is totally and only accomplished by the work of the Spirit of God in a life. It places no confidence in the abilities of man. It places full confidence in the Holy Spirit and Holy Scripture. If you are not reformed, market-driven church makes perfect sense! If it is up to you to talk someone into accepting Christ, you had better do some marketing!

The Gospel must preached for no other reason than because the one who preaches is compelled to preach, as Jeremiah said in 20:9 "But if I say, 'I will not remember Him Or speak anymore in His name,' In my heart it becomes like a burning fire shut up in my bones; And I am weary of holding it in, And I cannot endure it." If you are preaching to get people saved rather than to preach the Gospel because you are so compelled regardless of (whether people are saved or not)... you had better do some marketing...

I wonder... if Isaiah and Jeremiah had used marketing techniques might it have worked better for them... would it have pleased God? Somehow I doubt it...

Warren said...

interestingly i posted a similar concern on my blog.
great post!

Michael Buckingham said...

"Too bad they didn't hear the gospel."

How do you figure they didn't hear the gospel? Because no one preached an expository of the gospel? Right. Neither did Christ. Sharing the gospel is about more than word studies and preaching...it's about loving. And if you don't like that, don't take it up with me, take it up with the Book.

I indeed work with many churches that embrace excellence in marketing and preach the hard truths of hell and sin. You're simply wrong and narrow minded. It's not your style...I get that, but to tell me that it's wrong because it doesn't fit your style? Please.

And again, church marketing isn't the whole...no one is claiming that a great postcard will lead someone to Christ (don't even get me started on those awful tracts people hand out) it's part of a new and better method in preaching the old and timeless truths of Christ and His gospel.

And you say you understand marketing and then you continue to confuse marketing with market-driven...very different motives and methods. Don't confuse the two.

And honestly...if you really believe all you say then why do you have a blog? Shoot...why do we even have churches?

Phil Johnson said...

Michael: "How do you figure they didn't hear the gospel? Because no one preached an expository of the gospel? Right."

No, because the gospel is about sin and redemption, not about "personal hurts," and not about "loving" in the general sense you suggest.

As I sad, you guys seem to have a deep-seated inability to hear what your critics are saying.

Paul said...

Phil - I posted my thoughts here.

I'm putting together a website for a church plant and have been reading Church Marketing Sucks and some other websites simply to make sure our marketing doesn't suck.

You seem to equate church marketing and seeker sensitive. Now our church plant is decidedly reformed and will not be compromising the gospel in any shape or form in our communications. Yet we want to make our website and any outreach events as crystal clear and understandable as possible to the outsider. Not to remove the offence of the cross but to highlight it.

Think of it like the speaking in tongues in 1 Cor 14 - charismatic or not, what's being taught here is, roughly put, don't get caught up in christianese when there might be non-believers about. It is quite possible to communicate the gospel faithfully without using words that end in 'tion'.

So, what would you call what we're doing? It seems to me that we'll be using marketing to serve the Word - as opposed to the many cases we both know of where the marketing rules over the Word. Is what we're doing church marketing? If so, how's that different to your website with its branding and marketing (I just came across one of the pyro car stickers...)?

I know you'll take issue with some of Mars Hill Seattle and what Mark Driscoll does there. But are they using church marketing? Is their use of it bad?

Sorry for the ramble. In summary - is there a form of marketing that is subservient to the Word?

Johnny Dialectic said...

There does seem to be an area where the two circles, Phil and Michael, intersect. That's a good point from which to work, outward.

Again, there is a difference between marketing (gaining attention; communication) and market-driven (changing the content based on data, etc.)

And while the "gaining attention" vehicle is not an adequate way to present the full gospel (Michael rightly points to certain tract designs), it ought to point to more than simply some "faddish" event just to get people through the doors (this is a sort of "bait and switch," isn't it?)

I think Torrey had it right 100 years ago. He advocated advertising for meetings, but always with something in the ad itself to get people to think about what was at stake. The successful marketing vehicle thus a)gets attention; and b)starts the thinking process in the right direction:

"It is of the very highest importance to get people to thinking upon the subject of religion. The very simple reason why many people are not converted is because they give the subject of the claims of Christ upon them no attention whatever. It never enters their thoughts from one day’s end to another. But a wise advertisement will arrest their attention and set them to thinking."
[Torrey, R. A. (1901). How to Work for Christ]

Michael Buckingham said...

I hear it Phil, I just think you are wrong. While I agree that some churches have watered down church into a convenient little package...I think others are delivering the message in better way.

Why did Christ heal people? That had nothing to do with sin or redemption. Feeding the masses? That had nothing to do with sin or redemption. Christ is so much bigger than sin...and he offers so much more than heaven after we die.

Just because I help churches grow and communicate more effectively doesn't mean those churches aren't preaching the full gospel. Honestly, for you to jump to any other conclusion is plain and simple judgment.

Have a great service tomorrow.

greglong said...

Michael, I (and I'm going to assume Phil) object to the term "marketing" in connection with the Church and the Gospel. You seem to be using the word "marketing" with the meaning of simply "communicating" a church's message.

That is not what marketing means. The American Heritage Dictionary defines "marketing" (n.) as:

1. The act or process of buying and selling in a market.
2. The commercial functions involved in transferring goods from producer to consumer.

WordNet defines "marketing" (n.) as:

noun
1. the exchange of goods for an agreed sum of money [syn: selling]
2. the commercial processes involved in promoting and selling and distributing a product or service; "most companies have a manager in charge of marketing"
3. shopping at a market; "does the weekly marketing at the supermarket"

The primary point is that marketing involves selling a product, and products are designed for our use. And as David Wells says in his book The Courage to Be Protestant:

“The gospel is not [a product designed for our use]. The gospel calls us not to use it but to submit to the God of the universe through his Son. A methodology for success that circumvents issues of truth is one that will rapidly emancipate itself from biblical Christianity or, to put it differently, will rapidly eviscerate biblical faith. That, indeed, is what is happening because the marketing model, if followed, empties the truth out of the gospel. First, the needs consumers have are needs they identify for themselves. The needs sinners have are needs God identifies for us, and the way we see our needs is rather different from the way he sees them” (p. 52, emphasis in original).

The problem with church marketing is that is uses the "bait-and-switch" approach...but the "switch" to the true Gospel is never made, leaving people with just the bait.

Libbie said...

Why did Christ heal people? That had nothing to do with sin or redemption. Feeding the masses? That had nothing to do with sin or redemption.

Those are quite astonishing statements. Christ healing people or feeding the masses had nothing to do with sin or redemption?

That looks to me like ground zero of why you are disagreeing with Phil (and, imo, are completely wrong). Christ healing people had everything to do with sin and redemption. The fact that you appear to equate His healing miracles with therapeutic 'best-life-now' gubbins is precisely why the 'market-driven' approach is being appraised as shallow and unhelpful.

Phil Johnson said...

Look:

The problem here is that religious marketeers almost always equivocate on their own definition of marketing when they are challenged. And evangelicals have grown so comfortable with market-driven rhetoric that they are too easily duped by the equivocation.

For instance, Michael Buckingham started out in this thread by saying, "Marketing is simply communicating in a way that is compelling and that sticks." Sounds benign, right? But that is not a true and fair description of what Michael himself (or any other "successful" church-marketing website or guru) is actually doing. They are all helping churches shape and promote alternative messages that have become substitutes for the gospel. Because the true gospel quite simply has elements that are contrary to the goals of marketing.

That's why Michael doesn't have a single project in his portfolio where the actual point of the project is to "communicate [the gospel] in a way that is compelling and that sticks." Pig roasts and fashion shows, yes. Very nice graphics. The gospel? Nada.

Moreover, the definition Michael gave is not even an honest and adequate description of what marketing entails. Marketing is not merely "communicating in a way that is compelling and that sticks"—and as a marketing expert, Michael certainly knows that. Read any secular book or take any college course on marketing, and they all bend over backward to stress that marketing is not just advertising and sales. It involves testing for market response (starting with customer demand); adapting and developing the product, its packaging, and your publicity accordingly; and carefully strategizing in how you present, promote, and price your product—in order to gain the maximum response and therefore the maximum benefit for your organization.

Merely having a cool logo or "branding" your blog (or your church foyer) with a color scheme and graphic style is absolutely not what evangelical marketeers are after when they advocate "marketing the church." In fact, suppose you hired one of them as a consultant and all you wanted was a logo upgrade and style sheets for your print advertising. And suppose you actually said you wanted no input from them on the content of your message or anything else. You would almost certainly get a polite and condescending admonition from the guru about how just having a logo and an eye-catching envelope design is not really a full-orbed marketing strategy, and you really need to do much, much more if you want to market your product more wisely.

Now, let's be honest here about the key point: theological precision is hardly on their radar. Any of them. They'll give lip service to the importance of doctrine when challenged. But if a church intends to take a clear and settled doctrinal position—or to proclaim the gospel unapologetically, un-watered-down, and with the utmost clarity—that church will butt heads with the fundamental goals of the marketeers. Because if people don't like the gospel and if you are unwilling to adjust it accordingly, then at that point you have stopped "marketing" it.

But Scripture tells us plainly that the gospel is a stumbling block and a rock of offense. It's not a commodity that can be "marketed" in the first place. Any shrewd marketing strategy will therefore require that the product be redesigned, repackaged, or replaced with a more appealing message. And that is exactly what every religious marketing guru has tried to do. Search and see. Point out that the marketing plan has replaced the gospel with a different message and the marketeer will tell you you are just too "narrow-minded." But he will not acknowledge that he has in fact changed the message, even when it is patently obvious that he has. That's the biggest problem with the whole movement, and it's the very thing I have been saying from the beginning. We have living proof right in this comment-thread.

Incidentally, I have read the "Church Marketing Sucks" blog for years, and the only time I have ever seen them even casually give lip service to the vital importance of proclaiming the true gospel as clearly as possible is when I challenged on that issue. But when challenged to give a clear, precise, biblical explanation of the gospel, the writer of that blog declined even to try. Check that website even today and you'll find nothing that actually communicates the gospel.

Think about it: if you can't even adequately explain what the gospel is, how can you keep a straight face when you claim all you're doing is helping churches "communicate their message in a compelling way that sticks"?

Phil Johnson said...

Michael: Why did Christ heal people? That had nothing to do with sin or redemption. Feeding the masses? That had nothing to do with sin or redemption.

Libbie: "Those are quite astonishing statements. . . . That looks to me like ground zero of why you are disagreeing with Phil.

Bingo. You can't divest the gospel ("Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures . . .") of its focus on sin and redemption, and then have any credibility when you try to claim that your approach to marketing has nothing to do with altering essential aspects of the Christian message.

Wow.

Just . . . wow.

Phil Johnson said...

Paul: "You seem to equate church marketing and seeker sensitive."

Not exactly, but there certainly is a relationship between them. Read any bona fide definition of marketing and I think you'll see it. But market-driven concerns have also shaped Emergent, Emerging, missional, and post-evangelical approaches to outreach, and lots of people in those movements are extremely critical of seeker-sensitive superficiality. So to be market-driven is not necessarily to be "seeker-sensitive" in the Hybels/Warren mold.

I'd say it like this: All seeker-sensitive models are shaped by market-driven philosophies, but not all market-driven approaches can be classified as "seeker-sensitive."

In my judgment, however, market-driven outreach, including the most benign-sounding "missional" approach to making our message seem more tame than it is, are wrong-headed. The more market-driven someone is, the more inclined he/she will be to think in terms of pimping the gospel rather than proclaiming it. And that's the root of the trouble in all those movements. It is the main reason why I wouldn't sign want to be part of any of them.

First Corinthians 2:1-5 (and the rest of that chapter, as well) seems to be Paul's manifesto against the very way of thinking that underlies the entire church-marketing fad.

Paul said...

Yeah, that's right- seeker sensitive and emerging/ent - I shouldn't have been as limiting.

And again, I'm agreeing with what you write, and have no interest in market-driven either. What we do in Jesus' church should be ordered by what Jesus says. And marketing isn't the life or death of a church, by any means.

But what about gospel-driven, preaching of Christ crucified so that Christ crucified is the stumbling block rather than bombarding a non-Christian with Christian jargon/websites that look like this. People can still come and hear the gospel at this church (it is mine) but these churches (1 2) are more likely to get random visitors, and that may or may not be a good thing.

Market-driven? Eugh. Marketing/branding/accessability aware gospel-driven? Yum.

Just like your blog...

Michael Buckingham said...

I am all for intelligent debate.

But don't you dare sprinkle that with lies, and accuse me of something unless you know it to be true.

"They are all helping churches shape and promote alternative messages that have become substitutes for the gospel."

That is offensive and spoken out of pure ignorance. The message that we support visually is the gospel. Here are just a few from last month:

- The story of Samson
- The importance of tithing and being generous
- The beginning of the study of Ephesians
- Making the Christ that core of your life

And at the end of each of these services is an altar call to respond, including salvation.

You see our work is but one of many...just as the church buidling doesn't lay out the gospel, it plays a part...just as they speakers don't lay out the gospel, it plays it parts...church marketing doesn't do all the work either, but it plays its part.

Each of you...you are all marketing. Your sign, bulletin, building...the question is are you presenting mediocrity or excellence. I think God and His message deserves excellence.

Michael Buckingham said...

I think this post says it well:

http://ministrymarketingcoach.com/blog/2008/08/02/what-about-the-critics-of-church-marketing/

Michelle said...

As a believer I have always found the coupling of the words "holy" and "cow" slightly offensive (as in Michael's "Holy Cow Creative"). Catchy, yes, but appropriate? Not for me and my house.

Phil Johnson said...

Michael: "I think God and His message deserves excellence."

God's message itself is excellent in a way the world can never see with graceless eyes. It doesn't need to be spiced up, toned down, redesigned, or replaced with something merely-friendly in order to penetrate hearts. It won't please everyone who hears it (to some, it has the stench of death about it--2 Corinthians 2:16), but it is nonetheless good news and it has the power to change lives.

We mustn't tinker with it.

As much as you are concerned with artistic excellence, you should be a thousand times more concerned about getting the gospel right first. The profundity of that duty doesn't seem to have struck you yet. I'm not trying to offend you or make you angry, but this really is that important, and I'm not going to pretend that you have satisfactorily answered my concerns or act as if I'm convinced you truly do understand the gospel well and are committed to safeguarding its content, when everything you have said here would lead a clear-thinking Christian to the opposite conclusion.

Phil Johnson said...

Paul:

Sure, nice graphics are better than ugliness, and well-written, well-proofread copy is better than questionable literacy. Let no one think we're championing mediocrity. Those things are important.

However, the importance of good grammar and good design isn't even in the same realm as the importance of getting the gospel right and proclaiming it clearly and faithfully.

As I said once before (when the "Church Marketing Sucks" dude came over here to school us), no one is going to be condemned at the judgment seat of Christ because the church bulletin has dangling participles and old-fashioned graphic design.

If they were half as concerned with getting the gospel right as they are with making the church look cool, I'd have few complaints. But though they insist they have the gospel down pat and would never think to change it, they can't even give a coherent account of the gospel's most crucial features.

That has to tell us something.

Michael Buckingham said...

However, the importance of good grammar and good design isn't even in the same realm as the importance of getting the gospel right and proclaiming it clearly and faithfully.

I couldn't agree more...I never once said superb marketing was more important than the gospel.

If they were half as concerned with getting the gospel right as they are with making the church look cool, I'd have few complaints. But though they insist they have the gospel down pat and would never think to change it, they can't even give a coherent account of the gospel's most crucial features.

And there's the rub. You jump to conclusions based on ignorance. You're making a judgment call based on a handful of churches. The pastors I work with are top shelf and are preaching the gospel without taking shortcuts...some to thousands of people some to hundreds. Here's a crucial feature you might want to check out 'thou shall not judge' once you've got that one down how about taking that plank out of your eye.

I know that probably comes across harsh, but your sweeping generalities have made this personal.

Michael Buckingham said...

God's message itself is excellent in a way the world can never see with graceless eyes. It doesn't need to be spiced up, toned down, redesigned, or replaced with something merely-

Then do we shut down the Gutenberg press? Why do we even have bibles then?

No one said the truth of the gospel needs marketing to be greater...it needs marketing so people can have help understanding and grasping it. Just as your bible has been translated for you to read and understand, sermon branding, for example, supports the preaching of the word for people to understand and embrace.

And I'm sorry you find Holy Cow offensive...I guess you are just simply better than me. Wow...I think you might have something in your eye as well.

Willem Bronkhorst said...

Michael Buckingham,

"I hear it Phil, I just think you are wrong". No you don't hear it. To my mind, the most spot on thing Phil has said to you in this discussion is: "You guys seem to have a deep-seated inability to hear what your critics are saying."

How about engaging Phil in some of "what you hear and disagree with", instaed of just stepping right back and pushing what you have made up your mind you won't let go?

Willem Bronkhorst said...

Michael Buckingham,

"No one said the truth of the gospel needs marketing to be greater...it needs marketing so people can have help understanding and grasping it."

You have decided that for us? Let me give you a little wake-up call: Many Christians (and even a good few non-Christians, I'm sure) are repulsed by the kind of narcissistic yuppy worldling that the church-marketing fad draws into the "church". That is exactly the kind of thing many people had a great need to get away from when they saw their own depravity and the righteousness of Christ. What is troubling about this church-marketing thing is that it causes these worldly, narcissistic, full of themselves people, not to respond to the gospel from a contrite heart, but to latch on to a "church" that promises them little more than getting all that worldliness Christianzed. Has it ever occurred to you that you may be putting some people OFF Christianity with this nonsense?

Go read you Bible again: The whole word of God, as the Reformers, said, comes in two categories: Law and gospel. The law drives us to Christ. Sinners must be driven to Christ by the law; not lured there by some marketing-fad fundies who post pictures with sexually provocative content and references to sex.

Your sarcastic apology for the holy cow thing comes accross really skewed and the reference to "something in the eye" of those who find offence in the soft-porn picture stuck in their faces by a "church" would be amusing were it not so serious.

Paul said...

Thanks for your response Phil - you've confirmed that you were really aiming at gospel-meddlers rather than marketing per se. Although for you marketing's definition necessarily means market-driven, that's not how I've ever used or understood the term. I don't know if that's a British thing, or simply and ignorant thing.

In (brief) defence of Michael - his site (and CMS, etc.) is about marketing. Do you chide C.S. Lewis for not writing the gospel clearly enough in Narnia? Maybe... Lewis certainly falls short in perfect analogies... but these are still excellent works of Christian literature.

Finally, back to market-driven; the only extent to which market-driven should be used is when you consider the population of the area your church is in. What language does it speak? Is it a nominal church, full of unbelievers who've gone to church all their life, or full of ex-druggies and students? The language you use is going to be different.

One final example; two churches - one has heard so much (poor) teaching on justification by faith that they are complete antinomians. Another church is legalistic through and through. You are the guest speaker and can choose your passage. Will you choose the same passage for both?

I realise this is not market driven, in the sense of taking questionaires asking about felt needs, how can we bribe you to come to church, etc. - that's stupid. But it's about communicating clearly the Christian message, not obscuring it behind bushels and the like.

Marketeers - I challenge you... stick a blog post up linking this blog post. Not because I agree with everything about it or because you have to. But some of the people on your websites could do with thinking these things through.

Susan said...

Michael Buckingham said: "Then do we shut down the Gutenberg press? Why do we even have bibles then?
No one said the truth of the gospel needs marketing to be greater...it needs marketing so people can have help understanding and grasping it. Just as your bible has been translated for you to read and understand, sermon branding, for example, supports the preaching of the word for people to understand and embrace."

Question: If the Bible has already been translated for us to read and understand, why would we need anything else extra (e.g., marketing, "sermon branding", etc.) to support the preaching of the Word? Sounds like a contradiction to me.

Willem Bronkhorst said...

Paul,

“(T)he only extent to which market-driven should be used is when you when you consider the population of the area your church is in. What language does it speak? Is it a nominal church, full of unbelievers who've gone to church all their life, or full of ex-druggies and students? The language you use is going to be different.”

Do you really think we can lump people in churches into categories like that- “nominal”; “unbelievers who have gone to church all their life”; “full of ex-druggies and students”? How workable are these categories? Don’t you think there is something amiss with people who stand in “their” church and sneakily suss out a community (or church) in order to choose a slang by means of which to sneak the gospel onto them? I, for one, had a huge problem with that kind of approach on the part of Christians even before I became a Christian. I still do. So do many unbelievers I know. They see these guys coming a mile off and the feel insulted. I have often found the approaches of even secular marketing people to be insulting of the intelligence of thinking people, not to say disrespectful of their personhood. They remind me of a helpless parent who is thrying to "catch the little aeroplanie in your mouthie" vile tasting baby food into their baby's mouth. Can you see what kind of a perspective of people one needs to have to approach evangelism like that? Can you see what kind of perspective of the gospel one needs to have in order to do that? It is demeaning of the gospel and of those it is preached to in this way. People are people- they are not all the time, all of them, in the same place in every way. This is especially true of them with regard to spiritual things. The situation is far more complex than these marketing fundies seem to realise. Better to stop trying to figure out what category (defined by whom, anyway) people (individually and corporately) fit in and just respect and love them all the same and preach the word to them. As Glendon Thompson (of Toronto Baptist seminary) once put it: “Put the Word out there and let it roam free”. It will be made effective by the Spirit of God in the people of God. We do not have to try to do the Holy Spirit’s work by means of the same methods that sell toothpaste (or not).

Paul said...

I think they're very workable in the UK. There are some good guys in Roehampton, London who are planting a church. Check out their website... you'll see that they have expositional preaching every week, a 'Greek for the street' class, and they do freestyling rap evangelism (amongst other things) in the streets of London. Have they either sold out the people or patronised them?

Now consider church planting in an upper middle class small town (20,000 people) environment. Now we'll be hearing expositional preaching each week, we'll have more theological training of some kind, I imagine. But freestyling rap evangelism is going to interest absolutely no one. That would be patronising to these people (just as using hosts of long words would be considered arrogant in the first example.

I can't speak for anyone else but I am not suggesting that in the first place we should present the gospel as 'Jesus is the master rapper, give your life to Jesus, he'll freestyle your soul' (whatever that might mean), or be over the top and sophisticated in the latter. All I mean is meet them where they are; you know, like Jesus did... and Paul... and Peter (on a good day).

The letters of the new testament, and Acts are full of the following kind of teaching: though you may be free to worship God in one way, to exercise Christian freedom in another, if it is going to cause another to sin, ditch it.

The gospel is much too important to stick barriers up in front of it. Yes, God is sovereign and most certainly can (and very often does) break those barriers down and reach people in unexpected ways. But that provides no excuse for lazy churches who have no interest in preaching in the vernacular. (Hey, that's an idea... let's hold our services in Latin so none of the peasants can understand... God is sovereign after all and will save all of his elect).

I'm not suggesting for one second that you or Phil believe that or are like that. I merely point out that you can't get away from marketing... it's just a matter of how faithful you are with it.

Willem Bronkhorst said...

Paul,

“I think they're very workable in the UK.”

I must say I am surprised to hear the UK is so simple-to-suss-out a place. I don’t really want to get into this whole “church planting” thing here- it has, to my mind, become a can of worms on its own, and one I have been lifting eyebrows at for some time. (We have just had the joy of seeing a large Austalian Rockchurch (my term) “plant a church” smack bang in the centre of the most churched area in a major city in our country because they spotted a “niche” in the spiritual “market place”. Guess who they are going to grow from? So, this every second Tom Dick and Harry going about “planting churches” and doing “market research” before they do so is too unchallenged a practice. Yet you seem to just launch your comments from the assumption that it is quite a sound and happy practice.

“I can't speak for anyone else but I am not suggesting that in the first place we should present the gospel as 'Jesus is the master rapper, give your life to Jesus, he'll freestyle your soul' (whatever that might mean)...” Yeah, right.

“The letters of the new testament, and Acts are full of the following kind of teaching: though you may be free to worship God in one way, to exercise Christian freedom in another, if it is going to cause another to sin, ditch it.”

You have jumped categories (from principles of worship to principles of evangelism). Even so, no, the New Testament epistles and Acts are not full of the teaching you state here. The statement you refer to does not present us with the free-for-all for church marketeers that you seem to suggest it does. Read it again.

Don’t worry about the gospel and barriers. The gospel can take care of itself- it is the power of God unto salvation. It is something a tad lamer than the gospel that needs so much help from marketing fundies. That’s the point.

Preaching in the vernacular is one thing; church marketing is quite another. For example: This blog is preaching in the vernacular; holy cow is church marketing- big difference.

Paul said...

I get the feeling I'm talking past you...

I am emphatically not a Church Marketing guru or proponent. I have never read a Hybels, Campolo or Warren book. I do not like anything that is genuinely distinctive about seeker sensitive, emerging or emergent churches.

I have simply explained that you are going to teach 5 year olds differently than 45 or 95 year olds. You know, like this: "1 Tim 5:1 Do not rebuke an older man but encourage him as you would a father, younger men as brothers, 2 older women as mothers, younger women as sisters, in all purity."

You behave differently to different kinds of people. Paul doesn't think this is patronising. Far too much is made of 'all things to all men' but what do you think he was teaching?

Church marketing in the only sense in which I am interested, is that which is inevitable. Every action you take 'adorns' the doctrine of God (Titus 2:9) if they are obedient to God. That is an action that markets the gospel. This is what I'm talking about.

The principle extends to church websites like this: if you break every known usability guideline, break all xhtml standards and talk in nothing but Christianese, at the very best you are going to baffle the outsider. That is an example of bad church marketing.

I have no sympathy for saying church websites have to be brilliant, that you must do branded sermon series, first class art direction, etc. etc. - that stuff can be good but for small churches it's going to be a distraction at best. But we can learn a lot from Seth Godin and others about simply getting the point across.

And the point is nothing less than Biblical gospel, a la Westminster CoF, 39 Articles, Heidelberg, etc...

Paul said...

Oh, but let me say, I'm with you on that kind of Australian church-plant business. Let me say that our church plant is into an area where the Church of England has only one dying (literally), liberal church, and due to parochial boundaries, this is the first legal opportunity we've had to carry out evangelism in this area. And we're not overrun with full-to-the-brim churches anywhere in England.

Willem Bronkhorst said...

Paul,

I am quite comfortable with what you describe in your last response. Evangelicals, especially Reformed ones, have known for a long time to try not to talk or live past people. I am not saying we have always been successful at this, but where we have failed it has been in forgetting our own principles and not in exercising them. But I would not equate sensitive and effective proclamation of the gospel with "marketing". This is the term and concept that makes you talk past me and not the tone and heart that I sense in your comments.

When I wrote about the church plant in our country I knew that the situation would very likely be different in the UK. So, I praise God if you guys have planted a gopsel church where there was not one before and I sincerely pray the Lord blesses your work.

eastendjim said...

Why did Christ heal people? That had nothing to do with sin or redemption. Feeding the masses? That had nothing to do with sin or redemption. Christ is so much bigger than sin...and he offers so much more than heaven after we die.

Christ performed miracles as a sign that He had the power to forgive sin and provide redemption.

Polycarp said...

As Polycarp's wife, I have only posted here once before, but I have to say that once I saw the title of this book, knowing only about the infamous McLaren,I had to laugh. Is he kidding?? The culture controlled church--as if HE thinks that's a bad thing?? Maybe it's not about big business, but I am totally convicted about the FACT that the Emergent Church is all about seeker sensitivity and sucking up to the culture--just a different BRAND of nonsense.
By the way, I visited McArthur's church today, and it was awesome. What I loved the most was the pure joy I felt at hearing the truth proclaimed, both in Phil's sermon on election --God's sovereign grace(and choice) and in Rick Holland's sermon on how God's ways are counterintuitive to man's ways.I felt the joy of Christ everywhere on that campus and I feel priveleged to have attended. It was so different from what is festering in so many churches these days--and books.

When I read this post, I thought about McLaren and his teeny-tiny version of [g]od and his big perception of men. Woe to him!!
In addition, that turning the truth upside down thing that the postmoderns do and then using the same words/ideas that they are actually embracing in a negative way--I mean, really...the phrases "culture controlled" and "neutering the gospel"?? Is this what psychologists call projection??
It's ridiculous. Why do we take them so seriously? After all, God will call who He wants to call. Some will hear the truth. If anyone is hearing this nonsense and believing it, well...it's not for me to judge anyway.
I'd like to end on a positive note. God is so gracious, so forgiving, so incredible, so real. When His pure truth is proclaimed, it really is music to the believer's ears. Our little, sad selves have been adopted by our VERY, VERY, LARGE and capable God and Father. That's good news. Now, contextualize that!!

Paul said...

OK, I think we're roughly on the same page now, and not talking past each other... it's down to a matter of vocabulary roughly...

Polycarp's wife - well said. Christians are to be distinctive and outsiders should, if anything, be terrified when they see the people of God worship together in song, word and sacrament. After all:

"Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel, and not frightened in anything by your opponents. This is a clear sign to them of their destruction, but of your salvation, and that from God." - Philippians 1:27-28 (my emphasis).

Willem Bronkhorst said...

Paul,
"OK, I think we're roughly on the same page now, and not talking past each other... it's down to a matter of vocabulary roughly..."

Very roughly, indeed, Paul, as long as you are happy to let "church marketing" mean no more than "speaking in the vernacular".

Paul said...

So... you don't agree with Paul that obedience adorns the doctrine of God? (Titus 2:9)

adorn...
1 : to enhance the appearance of especially with beautiful objects
2 : to enliven or decorate as if with ornaments

Any reasonable definition of marketing would include 'adorning' your product, no?

Willem Bronkhorst said...

Paul,

Now we're right past one another again. What on earth makes you think I disagree with (the apostle) Paul? I just don’t feel so comfortable with your application of it. What are you pushing for here? Are you WITH the people such as we find on, for instance, holy cow, or not? If you are not, and you are simply for speaking the gospel in the vernacular and in terms that people can understand in their own context, well, these are well-known homilitical principles and ones that I thought landed us on the same page. If you are with them, do you really feel that what these church-marketeers are doing is done in obedience to Titus 2:10? That would be the wierdest application of Scripture that I have come accross in a long time. Besides, as I said earlier: What these guys are doing does NOT make Christian doctrine attractive to anyone except to the people who are already into the fads that the church marketeers are trying to lure them into the church with. I, for one, and I know many others who feel the same, find these things that these guys are “adorning” the gospel with repulsive. I do not like to hang with the kind of people these things appeal to. I used to like these “things of the world” BEFORE I got saved. God does not save us WITH what he wants to save us FROM. That does not mean that I do not see the necessity of speaking the truth in love and displaying CHRISTIAN graces in a way that is alluring to lost people.

eastendjim said...

Paul,

"obedience adorns the doctrine of God."

So we 'enhance the appearance' of the doctrine of God 'with the beautiful object' of our obedience to the doctrine of God.

I agree with you whole-heartedly.

The doctrine of God says, "God is sovereign." The fad driven church says, "The world is sovereign."

So the question becomes, "Will we adorn the doctrine of God with our obedience or will we adorn the world with our obedience?"

Paul said...

Sorry, I'm being unclear. I was simply trying to say that I use the word 'marketing' sometimes for what you call 'well-known homilitical principles and ones that I thought landed us on the same page'. I was just defending that use of the word marketing because adorning a doctrine by obedience means making it look good, which to me is more or less synonymous with marketing.

Sorry, I ought not to have suggested that you disbelieved Titus. It was just this sentence: 'But I would not equate sensitive and effective proclamation of the gospel with "marketing".' Marketing implies adornment to me, which is Titus 2:9 and that's all. But I wasn't at all clear, so I'm sorry.

What I am interested in, with regard to Holy Cow, CMS and so on is this: communicating as effectively as possible the message you intend to. Now, since I hold to solid, reformed doctrine, that definitely means some of the stuff (lots of the stuff?) on these sites is of no use.

For example, lately on the Church Marketing Sucks blog... 'Jesus for president' - they're pretty enthusiastic but wonder if it really will be that effective. That kind of thing strikes me as a gimmick and it raises too many unhelpful issues (e.g. Jesus is already King of Kings, he doesn't need our vote- and Jesus in the sermon on the mount isn't making his pitch to be president... he's authoratively teaching as the president of presidents... and so on).

On the other hand, these websites can be useful- say the recent post on style guides. Misplaced apostrophe's (that was a joke), garish backgrounds and comic sans are not helpful for communication and having a style guide for a church would be a very useful thing in many cases. My old church's service sheets can sometimes be all over the place and make it hard to follow what's going on in a service.

So I think there is useful stuff to pick up from these guys on communicating the true gospel message effectively. And that means throwing out some of what they say.

And to put all this in context, if there were no church marketing gurus whatsoever, the church would be better off, overall. I'd rather have a no-compromise gospel being communicated at 50% efficiency than compromised gospel at... well, any efficiency. But since they're here, let's pick up what we can, and there is some of that there.

Eastendjim - Totally agree. We must adorn the doctrine of the sovereign God. That means playing skillfully on the stringed instrument (Ps 33:3) and aiming for truth and beauty (Keats got it right; truth is beauty, beauty truth, because they both stream from God alone) in all that we do and are, from our worship on Sunday, to our prayer at home, our studies, work and church websites.

Jesus is the sovereign King, therefore we work as hard as we can to please him in the ways that he has asked us to.