Cover your ears. This word could be offensive: CHURCH MARKETING. There. It’s out. I’ve said it. The C.M. word. Church Marketing. For some, the very thought of Church Marketing sets off a jangle of alarm bells and a load of red flags. For others, church marketing is simply the idea of getting out the good news about the church. How should we think about church marketing? Is it a bad word, or is it a good concept? Check out these five observations, and a video at the end.
Five Observations About “Church Marketing”—The Term and the Concept
Whether you’re of the bad-word viewpoint or the what’s-the-big-problem viewpoint, there are a few things we could all think about—just to get on the same page about things. Here are five considerations when thinking about our use of “church marketing,” whether we’re discussing the term itself, or the act of church marketing itself.
- Church marketing is not an ideal choice of words. So, first of all, the term automatically has baggage. Why? Because “marketing” is easily confused with “schmoozing.” It’s easy to think of marketing like this….Marketing is conflated with the spam that you get from the online merchandiser. Marketing is the cheesy grin from the used car salesman, hoping you’ll buy the lemon for $3,000 more than it’s actually worth. Marketing is the local cupcake shop giving you free samples in hopes that you’ll become a steady, sugary customer. Marketing is flashing banner ads, lying that you’re the millionth visitor to the site, and you’ve won 90 iPads. Marketing is raw commercialism and cut-throat consumerism. Marketing is profiteering, fat cats, greedy execs, and Wall-Street sharks. Marketing is a worldly term. Marketing is negative. Thus, to stick the word “marketing” onto the term “church” is to denigrate the very sanctity of what the church is all about–a set-apart assembly of saints, corporately meeting to worship the Lord. That’s why “marketing” is a four-letter word to some. The church doesn’t market. Or at least it shouldn’t. Or at least in the wrong way. Ok, then what do we call it? Church evangelism? Church proclamation? Church announcements? Church….church…church telling-people-we’re-here? So maybe we’re stuck with a term, which despite its negative connotations, is nonetheless the only term we can use for now.
- Church marketing has suffered its share of abuses. There’s another reason why people shudder at the dirty word of church marketing. A generation ago, a group of forward-thinking church leaders began to “do church” differently. Instead of the lofty steeples, stained-glass windows, and hard-backed pews, they began to build shopping-center churches, introduce coffee shops, and feature theater-style seating. The idea was to make church a bit more palatable to unchurched suburbanites who would never darken the door of a steeple-topped piece of architecture. Along with the external emendations to the church’s physical plant came an insipid watering-down of the tougher truths of Christianity. Among some, the whole cross thing–a symbol of torture, blood, and death–was casually minimized to favor the triumph, success, and prosperity ideals of Christianity. Rather than emphasize self-sacrifice and spiritual disciplines, preachers postulated a life free from illness, full of material success, and top ten tips for diffusing an argument in your marriage. Slowly, but surely, the progressive church growthers brought in more and more of humanistic self-help, and less and less of the culturally dissonant biblical stuff that the older generation clung to. Okay, where am I going with this tale of woe? Well, the concept that drove these people was the idea of “church marketing.” And, yes, it was abused. So-called relevance is no excuse for jettisoning or minimizing any biblical theme, doctrine, lifestyle mandate. And so, because of the abuses of “church marketing” in the past, many today shun the term, along with anything legitimate that it might contain. Bathwater and baby are both sloshed into the ditch. After all, you wouldn’t name your kid “Hitler.” Why would your church, then, engage in “church marketing?” So goes the thinking.
- Church marketing borrows business terminology to describe a spiritual entity. As mentioned above, “church marketing” mixes the whole marketing mentality into the term, making it unsavory to some. Now, however, let’s think about the positives of this conflation of terms. Everything about business and corporate strategy is not evil. In fact, there are blazingly intelligent men and women who think, plan, and write on themes of business. I’ve read some of their books. Their thinking on issues like corporate improvement, management strategies, organizational principles, time management, team playing, and leadership are absolutely stellar. Are these born-again people? Maybe not all of them. But does that mean that their books are to be rejected en toto, deserving of a church bonfire? No. Their intellects, gifts of God’s common grace and evidence of the Imago Dei, can be gifts to the church! Yes, even the corporate kahuna can come up with topics that help the church. Believers must run everything through the grid of Scripture. Although “marketing” is a business term, it does not follow that it is a bad term. Churches can use marketing principles, although they must not allow these marketing principles to sully, dissuade, or meddle with the Scriptural principles which guide the church. Obviously, the church does not adopt every marketing stratagem, but some are legitimate. Billboards, mailings, e-newsletters, websites, Facebook fan pages, and phonebook ads are all marketing tools, and the church is free to use them.
- Church marketing can aid the church in its true endeavor. What’s the purpose of the church? That’s a can-of-worm question. Some church thinkers declare that the local church’s goal is to bring unbelievers in so they can hear the gospel and have a relationship with Jesus. Others say that the church is for believers-only to gather and corporately worship Jesus. Believers have the responsibility to go to the unbelievers and tell them about Jesus, not expect the unbelievers to come to the church. Others say that it’s a mixture of the two. Whatever pole you gravitate toward, there is one biblical principle that is unarguable: the church is to go and make disciples (Matthew 28:18-20). Can “marketing” be a part of this sovereign mandate? Absolutely. Christian’s aren’t used-car salesman. Christians have a relationship with Christ, a relationship and reality that they want to share with others. Marketing, [cringe] may be part of the church’s mission.
- Church marketing should be redeemed and biblically utilized. Let’s wrap all this up. Although “marketing” is marred by abuses and fraught with dangers, it ought not to be something from which a Christian should run, shrieking in holy terror. In the context of the church, marketing should be redeemed–washed of any ungodliness and purified for gospel use. It should be practiced in a biblical way, guided by the teaching and tenor of Scripture. Of course, all this is easier said than done. So far, I haven’t given you any practical tips. For right now, though, don’t feel bad if your church has a Facebook fan page.