Marketing Jesus

11 Feb

I overheard a conversation this morning at a local coffee shop between two small business owners about marketing strategies. Very matter-of-factly, they spoke about ways to garner more customer engagement and, in turn, dollars in their bank account. It was a very typical conversation and hardly worth writing a blog about if taken in isolation. The thing that really made the hair on the back of my neck stand up was the striking similarity in this run-of-the mill marketing conversation and the conversations I hear pastors having. Both are using similar language. Both are reading Jim Collins and Malcom Gladwell. Both are after growth. Both want excellence and success. Both have to compete to be relevant in the market. Both are employing the same tactics–excellent print design, a slick website, clever social media campaigns, quick follow up with new customers, and existing customers spreading the word about the product.

All of this scares me and leads me to think we’ve got a gospel problem in the Church. I think we have commodified Jesus into a product and made the gospel into a sales pitch. Churches have become cleverly disguised businesses that sell their product. The measureables of Disney World and many churches are interchangeable. Each wants butts in seats, dollars in the bank account, an incredible customer experience, and a customer desire to come back for more. If you look at the consumer culture around us this is not shocking. Everything is screaming at us to buy a product. And like every insidious evil thing, it looks wonderful from the outside.

We have bought into the lie that if we want to reach this consumer culture we’ve got to bow to it. In order to reach people that are rabid consumers, we have to give them an excellent product in order to compete.

The gospel was never meant to be a sales pitch. The Gospel is an announcement. The Gospel announces that the Kingdom of Heaven is here and that Jesus is King over the whole earth and that because of His life, death, resurrection, and ascension we are invited to experience salvation and join Him in His work here and now. We are not called to be a sales rep for Jesus. We are called to bear witness with our lives to the power of the gospel. You bear witness with the sum total of who you are. You proclaim the truth of Jesus as King with your story and with radical love.

I’m not saying that churches shouldn’t have promotional material. I’m not saying that the church shouldn’t have an accountant. What I’m saying is that we have commodified the gospel and made it into something it never was. We’re not trying to trick people into signing up for Amway. We are bidding the broken sinner the same invitation Jesus gave us–to drop our nets and follow him. It will cost everything and it will be worth it.

We’re reading through the book of Acts right now as a church and I want that. I want there to be healing in our midst. I want the broken to be set free. I want thousands to be baptized and added to our number. I want people being transformed progressively into the image of Jesus. I want the power of God to be evident. I want to see people full of the Holy Spirit. You can’t have any of that without the direct involvement of God. Our production teams for Sunday services can’t make that happen. Lights, smoke, and a really great band won’t make it happen. Only God can.

Jesus is the hope of the world…not our marketing efforts for him.

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