Final Thoughts On Church Advertising

This will be the final article in which I address advertising and the church. Since posting the first two articles I have received many comments about what I wrote. Today I’d like to add a little bit of clarity, especially to the questions of pastorruss who wrote “As you attempt to advertise your church via web, newspaper, etc. you will obviously be trying not only to attract a specific group of people (non-believers) but by your very choice of styles, colors, wording, etc. you will also be attempting to attract a specific demographic (I’m sure you realize that you will not be able in one site design, layout, etc. be able to attract all demographics). How is this different than the Saddleback Sam approach?”

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To answer this, we need to see the difference between marketing and a marketing orientation. I am borrowing some of this information from my review of the book Selling Out The Church which helped shape and clarify my thinking about this. This is a book I highly recommend.

A marketing orientation within the church begins with the assumption that the church is primarily a service agency that exists to meet the needs of a consumer, which in this case is the unbeliever. This view teaches that a felt need is a legitimate need because in a marketing paradigm the customer is always right. At the heart of marketing is an assumption that theology has long denied – that people know what is best for them. Scripture teaches the exact opposite – that the church has something people need, but something these people do not want and do not know they need! The church has no business asking unbelievers (ie consumers) what they would like in a church, for the church already knows their deepest need.

This is a marketing orientation whereby every aspect of the church is answerable to the marketing plan. Would you like to begin a new ministry? How does it fit with the marketing plan? Will it be attractive to unbelievers or not? How will the pastor preach? Will be preach an expository sermon or an anecdotal sermon which will have greater appeal to unbelievers? The marketing orientation decides the answer to all these questions.

People who believe in the importance of this marketing orientation claim that they draw from Scripture and that Jesus and His followers used marketing to attract people. While Jesus used components of marketing, He did not subscribe to a marketing orientation as do the church marketers. There is no biblical basis to support such a marketing orientation. In fact, the marketing orientation is antithetical to Christianity because it presupposes an exchange mindset in which goods or services pass between parties. Yet the Gospel is a message of grace. There is no equal exchange. Instead, God gives us a gift of grace. A marketing mindset may lead us to feel that God has an obligation towards us (in which we exchange service for blessing) or may lead us to seek reciprocity in relationships, despite the biblical emphasis on self-denial.

In their book Selling Out The Church Kenneson and Street write, “We believe that placing a marketing orientation at the center of the church’s life radically alters the shape and character of the Christian faith by redefining the character and mission of the church in terms of manageable exchanges between producers and consumers. Much that is central to the Christian life will not fit neatly into the management/marketing scheme, and, not surprisingly, these matters are neglected in a marketing paradigm.” (page 62). And I agree with this. We cannot allow our marketing to alter the shape or character of our faith.

When we advertise in such a way that we appeal to unbelievers, at least in our web sites, I do not feel we are altering the shape of our faith. Instead, we are merely directing advertising at a specific group. This is analogous to the apostles appealing to either Jews or Gentiles in their preaching or in their epistles. They chose a specific group to whom they tried to appeal. They did not alter their underlying faith or values in doing this.