Marketing the Church Part 3

kinnon —  December 20, 2006 — 19 Comments

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(Earlier Posts are here: Part 1, Part 2, Part 2-b)

Marketing the Church Part 3

Bob Hyatt put up his best of 2006 yesterday, and I ended up reading this post, Burger King Christianity, that fits perfectly with this topic. (Make a point of reading the whole thing, please.)

If it gets people to church, why should we not do anything possible, short of something immoral or illegal to get people there?

Because the goal is not to pack a room, and it’s not the Pastor’s job to get your friends saved. And shame on any pastor whose model allows people to think it is.

This is the phrase that has been going through my head recently: What you win them with, you win them to. The problem with the attractional model is this: We bring people in on the basis of consumeristic impulses and when they fail to make the transition from church consumer to servant of all, we scratch our heads and wonder what’s wrong with them.

There’s nothing wrong with them (well, there’s something wrong with us all, but that’s a different post). As Peter Senge says, your system is perfectly designed to produce the results you are getting.

Have a church filled with spoiled, selfish people who “want it their way?”
Well… guess why.

John Santic pointed me at this great Will Willimon post that echoes Bob,

…the “user friendly” approach to church won’t work. There is no way to entice people off the streets with hymns that are based on advertising jingles and end up with the cross-bearing, self-sacrificial, burden-bearing Jesus. Evangelism cannot be based upon our basic selfishness (“Come to Jesus and get everything you want fixed.”) and end up with anything resembling historic Christianity.

One of the reasons why Church is difficult is that the modern media culture (a culture which has no other purpose than giving us what we want, since “getting what we want” is the main purpose of life) has been so successful in forming us into such consumers.

The iMonk, Michael Spencer, in response to a great post from Dan Edelen,

I used to want the church in the third world/global south to send missionaries to America. I wanted Chinese and African Christians to tell us what its like and to tell us what’s wrong with us. Honestly….I don’t know if it would do any good. The Gospel of American materialism is infesting other churches in other cultures. It’s a powerful virus, and we don’t know how to kill it.

You see, Jesus doesn’t just want us to have a theology that deals with failure. He wants to overturn the tables of our success and call us to an entirely different way of living in community. A way where worship is more important than food, clothing, houses and cars; a way where character in Christ shines far brighter than a new SUV.

Western Christianity has become a huge market (with our penchant for “Christian-related toys, doodads and décor”) worth $4.5 billion dollars according to USA Today. And we’re a market that’s ripe for the picking.

Out of Ur quotes the Wharton School of Business’s article “outlining why companies are adding churches to their marketing strategies.

Church pastors last year had a chance to win a free trip to London and $1,000 cash—if they mentioned Disney’s film “The Chronicles of Narnia” in their sermons. Chrysler, hoping to target affluent African Americans with its new luxury SUV, is currently sponsoring a Patti LaBelle gospel music tour through African-American megachurches nationwide.

Advertising has begun to seep into churches
, and the phenomenon shows no signs of slowing down, say academic, religious and marketing experts. Among the wave of early adopters: the Republican Party, which successfully sold its platform to church-goers in the 2000 and 2004 elections; Hollywood, which discovered the economic power of faith when Mel Gibson’s church-marketed film “The Passion of the Christ” became a blockbuster; and publishing, with Rick Warren’s best-selling The Purpose-Driven Life, heavily marketed by a Christian publishing house.

Megachurches offer a particularly tantalizing opportunity for those intent on network or “word-of-mouth” marketing, a strategy that capitalizes on social relationships to spread product information and influence purchasing, according to Wharton marketing professor Patti Williams. “Megachurch members are drawn together by a strong common bond. Networks that exist naturally facilitate word-of-mouth marketing, because people tend to share information with those they are close to,” she says.

Pastors make “great connectors,” adds Wharton marketing professor Christophe Van den Bulte, “because they reach a large audience once a week, and their words carry extra weight.”

Advertisers see us for what we’ve become – a waiting target market of consumers who gather together once or twice a week. They are looking for the most effective way to get their message to us. South African marketing webzine, Marketing Web, explains who we are to advertisers:

Today, 70 million Americans (a quarter of the population) call themselves evangelical Christians, more than seven million Americans go to church on Sunday, and nearly 50% of people who attend church go to just 10% of churches . These are the megachurches, famous for their massive congregations, vibrant styles, and high concentration of African-Americans. They are also threatening to some of their long established, traditional counterparts, especially considering their relative decline. Evangelical churches are the new brand of religion.

This new brand is not without its critics, particularly as it uses many of the tools of marketing: marketing surveys, wealth-creation advice, and even priests who call themselves “pastorpreneurs”. The head of the World Council of Churches claimed it was a church being organised on “corporate logic” . Whatever its logic, it appeals to people who have grown up with corporate-speak, and who see the new church as something novel and exciting. Attendance at evangelical churches has gone up by 57% in five years, and their average income in 2005 was US$6-million (US$7.2-billion for all churches) . (Bill: Note that the attendance at “evangelical churches” growth of 57% is debatable. See Barna, Revolution. The actual number of professing Christians is in decline in North America.)

The teachings of the bible do not sit comfortably with materialist or capitalist leanings, (Bill: Good grief, even they recognize this*) so it is perhaps surprising that new churches, like Hillsong, have found a way to bring wealth into the chapel. This church goes so far as to say people can become wealthier with God. Brian Houston, one of the founders, wrote a book called You Need More Money: Discovering God’s Amazing Financial Plan for Your Life .

A new industry has sprung up, of faith-based consultancies, chief financial and chief operating officers, and leaders with MBAs. One church even provides mortgage brokers and real estate agents.

Is it any wonder that church leaders think marketing tools are the best way to get consumers into church. God help us all.

I’ll respond to these quotes in Part 4.

(Earlier Posts are here: Part 1, Part 2, Part 2-b)

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kinnon

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A television editor, writer & director since 1978. A Christian since 1982. More than a little frustrated with the Church in the West since late in the last millennium.

19 responses to Marketing the Church Part 3

  1. Two things:
    1. Check out Neil Postman’s Amusing Ourselves to Death, especially the chapter Slouching Toward Bethlehem.
    2. A few months ago, I did the invitation to give before the offering, joking that we were thinking of getting corporate sponsors for music, prayers, message, Communion, etc., and, as we wear albs, would wear corporate logos on them for those willing to pay. Fortunately, many people saw the humor and several said that they would not be surprised to see churches doing just what I had joked about.

    Reply
  2. Thanks, Pastor M. I point to Postman’s book at the end of this post. And it’s interesting to see it come up in the comments at Out of Ur on the repost of Noble’s interesting perspective on entertaining the “saints.”

    Thanks for the really fast response to this post. I think it was barely up for five minutes.

    Reply
  3. I’m not quite sure I agree with your assertions (made via quotes). I believe the church has 2 primary goals, 1) to reproduce and 2) to grow as Christians (more like Christ). How the church does that, apart from immorality, is fair game. Church marketing, that is nothing more than telling people (in whatever manner) about your church, what your church is about, and what your church can offer (salvation, fellowship, children’s ministry, etc.) can result in new members, and not just new members by way of another church (shuffle). I’m talking about growing the church via baptistm, not theft. You seem to believe that the church cannot do so without resulting in lazy consumer christians. I’m here to say that the only way you get lazy Christians is through lazy service preparation and preaching.

    By the way, to Bill, Perry’s goal is not to entertain, but to introduce the gospel to as many people as possible. He gets people in the doors through the members’ word of mouth, then literally by the hundreds, they receive the message of the gospel (clearly iterated, mind you, by Perry who is a fantastic preacher) and his church grows as a result. He then teaches and admonishes them in a relevant and enriching manner, be it through a service full of media, music, and illustrations, or through the website or podcasts. Perhaps some think that is “entertainment” but I can honestly say that I’ve never remembered and applied the principles of the Bible like I did after attending NewSpring Church. The point is, his church is effective. His message is relevant and truthful, and the church is one of the most exciting places I’ve ever been.

    Nathan
    link to nathanrice.org

    Reply
  4. Are our only choices for church traditional and attractional? One is the old traditional and one the new traditional. Both are predicated on a passive Christian posture. We come to be comforted and told that God loves us. The reality is that a different church is emerging. It is the aspirational church. It aspires to be not just different, but to achieve something beyond comfort.
    Last night I sat with the transition committee of a large church in the midst of a pastor search. We talked about the transition that takes place when adults go from being married with children to being empty nesters to later being retired. The question was raised because they were losing the empty nesters from the church. It appeared to me that what they needed is a reason to be involved in making a difference in someone else’s life. The prime example is Habitat for Humanity. It is built on the idle time that middle age and early retirement adults have. It is built on the idea of aspiring to service rather than settling for comfort. This is the church that I see emerging, and is the real contrast to the old traditional and new traditional that most of us think are the two ends of the church spectrum. Great series, Bill, don’t stop while you are on a role.

    Reply
  5. Ed,

    I totally agree with you. Some may say that looking at the numbers is wrong for the church. I disagree. I like the fact that you saw a slip in numbers among the empty-nesters, and realized what you could do to keep them in church, under the preaching of the Word: inspire them to service, giving them responsibilities. I think this is a brilliant use of Church strategies to identify the need (what the members need from the church, both physically and spiritually), and using our God-given abilities to develop strategies to meet those needs. I think that is a worthy goal for the church.

    Nathan
    link to nathanrice.org
    http://www.nathanrice.org

    Reply
  6. Nathan,

    I don’t doubt that Perry’s intention, heart, desire is a noble one (no pun intended). However, coming in contact with the type of ecclesial practices of many mega churches (and smaller ones for that matter) is leading people to ask questions about church and culture and what it means to be the people of God….

    I can’t help but ask the simplest question in light of all the dialogue…

    What is the gospel?

    Maybe you can help me understand your perspective.

    Reply
  7. Nathan,

    It appears to be a question of perspective. You suggest we (the church) are “offering” goods and services – “salvation, fellowship, children’s ministry, etc” and how we offer those goods and services is up to us – the marketing of it doesn’t matter. I heartily disagree with you. We are not offering anything. We should be desiring to share the relationship we have discovered in Jesus – but not by marketing it as available to those who come into our buildings. Oddly enough, Jesus instructions to his disciples at the end of Mark was simply “Go and make disciples” – not “if you build it they will come.”

    I believe that every Christian is called to “Go.” Not the paid staff, not the house group leaders, not the senior pastor – every dang one of us. We are called to move into our neighbourhoods and love the people as Jesus loves them. St. Francis of Assisi is quoted as saying, “Preach the gospel at all times. If necessary, use words.” We are all called to be missional people sharing the good news as we live our lives amongst the community where we have been placed by God – until he moves us to the next place to “Go.” We have nothing to sell.

    Regarding Perry. I don’t question his motives or his heart. I question what he wrote. I’ve made a point of listening to a couple of his sermons. The man can preach. That isn’t the point in my questioning of his blog post. Go back and read it. It is not an ad hominem attack.

    Perry suggests we need to be as serious as Hollywood to create an experience people will remember. Let me boldly say this. He’s wrong.

    We aren’t in the experience creating business as the church. We are about building relationship – both vertical and horizontal – and in that relationship we both become and make disciples. It’s not about non-believers “recieving the message of the gospel” – it is about us living the truth of the gospel so that to some we are “the fragrance of life”.

    Quite frankly, telling church leaders that  they are lazy when don’t spend a lot of their time during the week worrying about Sunday morning programming is simply nonsense. Take a look at the work of Redeemer Pres & Tim Keller in New York –  a church that has not only grown to over 4,400 people (who meet in three different rented locations) but has also helped plant over 100 other congregations in the Metropolitan area. I love their vision:

    To spread the gospel, first through ourselves and then through the city by word, deed, and community; To bring about personal changes, social healing, and cultural renewal through a movement of churches and ministries that change New York City and through it, the world.

    I would also challenge you to study how our spiritual forebears saw the church grow – from approximately 25,000 Christians in 100AD to 20 million in 310AD. As Alan Hirsch puts it,

    • They were an illegal religion
    • They had no church buildings as we know them
    • They did not have the Bible as we know it
    • There was no institutional leadership
    • No seeker sensitive services, youth groups, worship bands, seminaries or commentaries
    • The body of Christ was actually hard to join with aspiring converts undergoing a significant initiation period to prove they were worth.

    And they were certainly competing with Roman entertainment, which, unfortunately, often involved our brothers and sisters in Christ – as target practice for Gladiators – or prey for wild beasts.

    At the end, Nathan, it’s not about how we market the good news – we are to be the good news.

    UPDATE: Let me further add, as the growth of large congregations are often used as an indication of the correctness of methods – that the growth of an individual church is not necessarily an indication of the Kingdom of God being at hand. In Matthew 11, disciples of John the Baptist ask Jesus whether He is the one. He doesn’t say, “don’t you see the size of the crowds.” He says, “the blind see, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised and the wretched of the earth learn that God is on their side.” (MSG)

    You might also want to examine events like the 1904 Welsh Revival, that had little to do with particular church leaders or particular churches, but swept the nation (and other parts of the world) with the power of the gospel.

    …the crime rate dropped, drunkards were reformed, pubs reported losses in trade. Bad language disappeared and never returned to the lips of many. It was reported that the pit ponies failed to understand their born again colliers who seemed to speak the new language of Zion without curse and blasphemy. Even football and rugby became uninteresting in the light of new joy and direction received by the Converts.

    When it comes to size, I’m tempted to say, “even a train wreck draws a crowd”, but I won’t. 

    Reply
  8. Bill,

    I don’t suggest that we are offering goods and services, but it is an analogy that is fitting. It just so happens that the goods we offer are eternal, and not material. (may I remind you that Jesus made a similar analogy to the woman at the well).

    We most certainly ARE offering something! We offer the truth, we offer the gospel which points directly to Jesus, we offer to help those who have not met Christ have an opportunity to do so, we offer a message that Jesus CAN and DOES save us from our sins! That is a fantastic “product” if you asked me! Just like the small business, who believes that their service or product is innovative and useful, and in light of that fact, want to tell EVERYONE they know, either by word of mouth or commercials or posters or websites, we as the church should also want to be telling the WHOLE WORLD about our “product”, especially since it REALLY IS the greatest “product” on earth. Please stop focusing on the analogy and see that this is evangelism and nothing more. The only difference is that it’s not the run-of-the-mill evangelism that Christians have become “comfortable” with. It’s innovative, it’s fresh, and it’s effective!

    Secondly, at what point did our relationship and worship of God stop being an experience? you seem to indicate that the two are mutually exclusive. If the church is a house of worship, why would those on stage not make it the BEST house of worship they can? Why would they not create an environment in which there is the greatest potential for meaningful, sincere worship? I’m sure that you sing at your church, right? Why not just chant the words to the songs? Because singing is a time-proven, biblical form of effective worship! No one accuses you of “creating and experience”, but that’s exactly what a “song service” is!

    Thirdly, yes it is the command to THE CHURCH to go. But certainly you don’t think that it’s wrong for a pastor to say “be sure to bring your unsaved friends to church this Sunday, because there WILL be a clear presentation of the gospel”, do you? I don’t think Perry has ever said “stop telling people about Jesus and just bring them to church and let us do it for you”. Come on, you can’t seriously think that! Perry, and many other pastors like him, realize that there is a time for 1 on 1 witnessing, and if that hasn’t worked, bring them to church and see if PREACHING can soften their hard hearts. It’s not an either/or thing, it’s a “let’s both try” thing, and there’s NOTHING wrong with that.

    Fourthly, it IS lazy for a pastor not to prepare! It IS lazy for a pastor or church staff to claim that “the Spirit” will do it all for us, while we sit back a coast on our same old “order of service”. I call it the “easy button” service. God didn’t just call us to be mediocre, but to be EFFECTIVE WITNESSES of the GOSPEL! That includes our church services! I agree with Perry, a boring service is a SIN! It IS possible to take the Bible, and present it in such a way that BUTCHERS it. You wouldn’t dare have a service where you chanted hymns and read Scripture monotone for 45 minutes would you? Why not? Because that would be a poor representation of the JOY that the gospel brings!

    Church should be EXCITING and ANTICIPATED! Not because of the “cool music” or “awesome video”, although there’s nothing wrong with looking forward to that, but because you GET to go worship God and have fun in love and freedom with other Christians! Because you LOVE JESUS and can’t wait to come EXPECTING that the leadership has worked their butt off to deliver a relevant message of the Gospel in songs and sermon. Perhaps I’m reading between the lines, but I doubt Perry would be happy if someone left his church and all they were got out of it was how “good the music was” or how “cool the light show and video were”. That would probably make him sick. When Perry says he wants you to leave the church with an experience you’ll remember, he’s clearly talking about the experience of worshiping God and become a better, stronger Christian! That’s the experience he wants you to remember. Creating the environment in which these things can happen more easily is just a means to an end. That doesn’t mean we can’t enjoy the video or the music though too.

    Lastly, I know a church that my girlfriend grew up in, and the pastor probably spends about 5 minutes a week (if that) preparing his messages (he’s very old and usually preaches from “memory”). Other than that, preparation for the service can be summed up in 2 words, “choir practice”. Now, this church still runs 3,000 on sunday morning. But that doesn’t mean they’re successful. There was a time where that church was SERIOUS about its services, and drunks were forgiven, families were restored, relationships were healed, and children were prioritized. People GREW! Since then, the leadership has gotten lazy, and no such success stories can be told of late.

    I’m not saying there aren’t exceptions, and no one is saying that you can’t have success and be lazy at the same time, but the vast majority of churches that are effectively spreading the gospel are the churches that take church SERIOUSLY.

    anyway, I’ve rambled on long enough. I hope I got across what I was trying to say.

    Nathan
    link to nathanrice.org

    Reply
  9. Nathan,

    what is the gospel?

    I think answering this question will be fruitful for the discussion. I think some of the disagreements stem from how people might answer this quesiton.

    Reply
  10. Bill,

    Thanks for the link to Cerulean Sanctum and my post on failure. I pray it blesses your readers.

    Have a wonderful Christmas!

    Reply
  11. John,

    I’m sorry, I planned on answering that question in my last post. Must have forgotten.

    The Gospel:
    The truth that there IS a God, He has a Son that He sent to earth as a sacrifice for our sins, and He offers eternal salvation through that sacrifice.

    I could go on, but this is the essence of the Gospel.

    Nathan
    link to nathanrice.org

    Reply
  12. Nathan,

    Serious question: Is this the Gospel — the “Good News” — that Jesus sent his followers out to share, early in his ministry?

    Brant

    Reply
  13. Nathan,

    thanks, I’d say that your definition is part of the gospel, that there’s a God, he loves us, sacrificed for us, has plans for us…etc…

    Your understanding of salvation is what I’d like clarity on. I’m not sure what you mean by salvation. What is god saving us from? Is he giving us eternal life with him in heaven after we die, or is he up to something far bigger that includes all of creation and a posture of “sending” for the church to embrace?

    What concerns me with the “come and get your needs met approach” (which I think is what many are questioning in these conversations) is that the gospel becomes not about God and participating in the healing of all creation, (i.e…on earth as it is in heaven) but about “ME” and my eternal security with a hint of personal piety in the mean time. The result is often consumers who feel good about their unsustainable consumptive lifestyles of narcissistic individualism. The gospel becomes more about preserving a way of “Western Life” than it does about solving some of the worlds greatest problems. Quite frankly, in western culture, many theologians and church thinkers think the “needs based” Christianity veiled in consumer tendencies needs to be confronted and corrected.

    I hope that makes clear where I feel many are coming from that are uneasy with the methods many churches embrace.

    Reply
  14. Nathan,

    I’m butting in on this conversation, but I felt the need to interject. It amazes me that people believe that “a boring service is a SIN.”

    What is boring? There are people who find “vibrant,” repetitive contemporary music to be quite boring. Heck, for many people in the world, any kind of church is boring, be it beautifully traditional or creatively contemporary, whether the homily is ritually intoned or the sermon is hip and full of relevant topics and multimedia zing. Church is still church for most non-Christians, and for many of them, it’s boring any way you slice it.

    What if I come to your church, but I’d rather be watching my team play on TV? What if I’m bored stiff that day because I’m distracted? Does that mean your pastor and worship leaders are sinning? Or does it count only if most of the people in attendance are bored? What if 49 percent of the people are bored? Is somebody still sinning?

    So, when you say a boring service is a sin, then you might just be calling every single pastor on earth a sinner for the way they conduct their services. You simply can’t please everyone. Boring is relative. Just because you’re enraptured by the services and the dynamic preaching at your church doesn’t mean everyone else is. Just because you fall asleep with another church’s chants and monotones doesn’t mean everyone else does the same.

    The other thing about staving off boredom is that the appetite for stimulation always needs more. Those attempting to satisfy this appetite always have to outdo what they’ve done before. Is this really what pastors and worship leaders are meant to spend their time concentrating on? Ever searching for new ways to stimulate easily bored (dare I say spoiled?) people?

    Substance counts much more than style. This might be the single most problematic thing about the consumeristic megachurch model is the well-meaning but arrogant notion that “we are doing things the way that reaches people, we are ‘happening,’ we are so glad to be better than all those ‘boring’ churches (even though we always make sure to pray a ‘blessing’ on what God’s doing in all the other churches in our city).” It can be so fatuous and patronizing, and yet so unaware of itself. In this respect, it’s so much in line with American culture in general. “We’re the best! We know all those other countries are OK, but we’re No. 1 and everyone wants to be like us!” Instead of the ugly American, you find the ugly evangelical, nice as he or she may be.

    It’s fine when the church is evangelistic and when the church tries to attract people by being somewhat relevant. Even the followers of St. Francis of Assisi, who was quoted above, are reputed to have brought medieval dance music into the church in order to attract people and project joyousness. But there is the danger of going too far or not taking into consideration all the repercussions of the quest for relevance. This is what the megachurch critics are driving at, and they are completely necessary.

    –Jeff

    Reply
  15. Jeff,

    Yes, boring is relative. Yes, people are people and some would be bored no matter what. The point isn’t to stimulate everyone that walks through the doors.

    Think of it like this:
    If you speak in a monotone your whole sermon, and you chant Bible verses as “worship”, chances are just about anyone you ask would call that a boring service. The point is not to try and MAKE people pay attention, it’s to provide an environment in which people have the best changes of paying attention, without sinning or watering down the message. That can be done any number of ways, depending on your congregation, but the point that most are trying to make is that avoiding being boring takes work, and a lot of it, and many pastors/churches are simply unwilling to put in the time and preparation that goes into avoiding boredom.

    John,

    Salvation is acquired though the acceptance of Jesus as savior, accepting his sacrifice to cover your sins, save you from eternal damnation in hell, and bring you to heaven for eternal life with Him.

    The “come and get your needs met” approach to discipleship is not bad. If it was, then Jesus would not have insisted on washing Peter’s feet. The church isn’t exempt from servanthood. It’s true that Jesus also called his flock to service, but that didn’t mean he had an attitude of “I’m not going to serve you until you learn to serve others”. Sure it would be ideal if everyone came to church TO serve, and not BE served, but that’s not going to be the case, EVER. Pastors/Churches need to focus more on leading by example, kind and stern commands to serve, and the desire to see others grow. All things start as heart issues, including serving. The church should be focused on fixing the heart, then start dealing with issues. But the main point is that the church, just like EVERY Christian, is called to SERVE, to meet the needs of others. They have no right to ignore that command.

    Brant,

    What Jesus sent his disciples to share in His early ministry is somewhat irrelevant to the command that he gave us just before he ascended. Proclaiming the Gospel, the good news, as I have defined it is indeed our primary goal as the church.

    Nathan
    http://www.nathanrice.org

    Reply
  16. I think what Jesus said in his early ministry is totally relevant to what he said just before his ascension. In his early ministry, he said, “follow me.” They left what they were doing and followed, which is the essence of discipleship. Before his ascension, he said “make disciples … .” I know that’s not what you were getting at, but how can you say that anything Jesus said or did is “somewhat irrelevant” compared to anything else he said or did?

    You’re right that pastors should strive to engage their congregations by doing more than simply cruise control. However, I still take issue with the statement that “a boring service is a SIN.” As I see it, the only sinful service would be the one that doesn’t exalt Jesus Christ in spirit and in truth. There are services widely thought, in the current evangelical climate, to be “boring” that are rich with proclaimed truth that truly exalts the Lord. The straight faces in the congregation belied the devoted hearts of longtime believers who followed their God with great humility. At the same time, I’ve attended many exuberant services with great contemporary music and lively, topical preaching. I’m not saying they’re outrightly bad, but they are often quite me-centered, going for the “feel-good” mood, and the “meat” of the Word seems to come in little morsels.

    I’m like most people, more attracted to and excited by the exuberant service and more bored in the other. But, if I had to choose one over the other for the rest of my life, I’d probably choose the more boring one. It’s like the difference between a thick book and a glossy magazine on the same topic.

    Of course, I realize that this dichotomy isn’t necessity. There can be churches whose services are both rich and exciting. But experience tells me that such churches are harder to find than to talk about.

    Anyway, the idea of the boring service being necessarily sinful simply seems a judgment made from a kind of self-satisfaction (or corporate self-satisfaction). It just might be possible that the sin lies in criticizing the boring service out of hand.

    Jeff

    Reply
  17. Jeff,

    Jesus also told his disciples to do a lot of things that are irrelevant to our discussion on the great commission. Remember, the question was,
    “Is this the Gospel — the “Good News” — that Jesus sent his followers out to share, early in his ministry?”

    My point was that:
    1) I didn’t see the relevancy of the question
    2) Regardless of where else you want to point in the Bible, we are still commanded to reach the world for Christ, which is where our focus should be when discussing methods of evangelism.

    I suspected that the question was a red herring of sorts meant to distract or trick rather than make a point. Hence my response. If there was a point to the question, I’d love to hear it.

    “As I see it, the only sinful service would be the one that doesn’t exalt Jesus Christ in spirit and in truth.”

    I couldn’t disagree more. It certainly IS possible for us to say truthful words and sing songs that lift up Jesus, yet completely embarrass Jesus by doing it in such a painfully boring way that it turns people off to the Gospel. There are plenty of ways of framing truth in such a way that it may come across as ludicrous or BORING.

    I think your point about it not having to be an either/or situation is quite insightful. I believe that a shallow church is just as bad as a boring church. I believe that a church needs to represent Christ well, and be one who disseminates truth to its congregation.

    Why be shallow?
    Why be boring?
    Why not be neither?
    Salt isn’t bland and light isn’t dim. Both are tremendously effective. I’m afraid that too many churches are anything but effective.

    Nathan
    http://www.nathanrice.org

    Reply
  18. Before I respond, Nathan, I just want to make sure that I let you know I’m not arguing for the sake of argument. I do find your comments to be beneficial to me and to others. It’s just that, in a few nuanced ways, you and I disagree. But praise God and God bless you for your zeal for Christ and for spreading his word and for doing it well.

    I concede that there is one way in which I would see boring services as a sin: when the boredom is a component of hypocrisy, when the hearts of the leaders and congregants do not care about or believe the words that they say. This being said, it is still pretty tricky for an outsider or casual observer to cast judgment on what appears to be a “boring” service. It might, in fact, just not be your style or your generation (and the next generation may prefer what was done two generations ago). And, if the words are true to God’s word, then, by the power of the Holy Spirit, even a hypocritical service can pierce the heart of an unbeliever (especially an unbeliever who is unaware of the hypocrisy in the church).

    There are so-called boring services which are populated by Christians with very earnest hearts. I’ve witnessed many of them. I’m sure a lot of people are turned off by these churches, but I certainly don’t think Jesus is “embarrassed” by these services. In fact, Jesus never appeared to be embarrassed by any of the many foibles of his disciples. I don’t think the God of the universe — who created all things and holds all things together and who will restore all things, who established and preserves his Church — is embarrassed by anything. Christ isnt sheepishly trying to woo converts or get people to like him. The only ones who should ever be embarrassed are ourselves, but God’s strength is manifested in our weakness.

    And, yes, boring services can turn some people off to the Gospel. We shouldn’t wilfully set out to turn people off to the Gospel. However, we also cannot please everybody. Simply taking a stand for Christian values in this culture will turn people off to the Gospel, but that doesn’t (and shouldn’t) stop Christians from doing so. I’m not sure it’s our job to “turn people on” to the Gospel, anyway. Being ambassadors for Christ is different, I think, than being PR people or marketers for Christ.

    Also, there is a segment of non-Christian society that is not attracted at all to the slick packaging and exciting contemporary services that many megachurches offer. Many partisans of hip, culturally relevant churches cannot fathom the idea that the culture is not homogenous. Believe it or not, there are seekers out there looking for something staunch and traditional, looking for just those kinds of services that might often be brushed aside by many Christians as “boring.”

    As an aside, I think many longtime Christians and church dropouts dismiss as boring precisely those services that they grew up in as children. They reject those churches and services because of the deep-rooted connections they have made between those styles of worship and the inevitable hypocrisy and inauthenticity they saw among the members. Every church has some amount of hypocrisy and inauthenticity, and nobody knows this better than the teenagers in a given church. Those impressions stick with people their whole life and color their notions of what a good or bad church is like.

    It’s not “boring” that makes a church or service sinful. It’s inauthenticity and hypocrisy. This idea fits with my previous definition of a sinful service being one that does not glorify Christ in spirit and in truth.

    Rather than looking for any kind of pizzazz, I find it much more useful to look for the presence of the fruit of the Spirit in deciding whether I view a certain church as “effective.” I bristled a bit at your use of the word “effective,” because it suggested to me the notion of numbers reached being the criterion of effectiveness. While I certainly believe that evangelism is the commission of all Christians and, therefore, all churches, I do not necessarily believe the evangelistic mission for all Christians and all churches requires them to shoot for specific or unspecific numerical goals. My reading of the Great Commission puts the emphasis on “make disciples,” which is different and more time consuming than making converts. By this, I do not intend to say that exciting churches aren’t making disciples, but I am saying that many boring churches are also making disciples, and so, who are we to suggest they are not fulfilling their portion of the Great Commission?

    Back to the fruit of the Spirit: this is the very essence of effective ministry. Glitz, sophistication and an exciting presentation of the Gospel is by no means bad, but it is also not necessary to fulfill the Christian mission in an effective way. The fruit of the Spirit, however, is foundational. It is the only thing that reaches into people’s hearts. We are salt and light because of the Spirit within us, not because of our excellent methods of evangelism.

    You and I agree that a church can be both exciting and deep. However, I think that the quest to be exciting certainly sidetracks many churches from being deep. I’ve also seen in a few places the phenomenon of a church that is exciting and deep on the platform, but is dull and shallow in the pews. It could be the consumeristic mentality that wants to be entertained without contributing much, I don’t know.

    On the subject of certain topics being irrelevant to the discussion of the Great Commission, your point is understood. But I would press the matter a bit in saying that nothing Jesus said or did is irrelevant to the Great Commission or to the Gospel itself. In fact, the Great Commission specifically says that the church should be “teaching them to observe all that I commanded you.”

    Questions of “what is the Gospel?” can get awfully reductionist. I think it could be answered with a variety of simple statements, such as “Christ has come, God with us, to set us free from sin and death through his own sinless death and resurrection.” Of course, when we present the Gospel, we know that this statement or similar statements are the heart of the Gospel, but we proclaim more than this alone. There are responses to this good news and implications to it. So, I don’t think anything presented in the gospel accounts (or even in the entire New Testament) are irrelevant to the question of “what is the Gospel?”

    Wow, I’ve blathered far too much. I’m sorry for that. In any case, Nathan, I hope that you know that I’ve been enjoying this brief exchange, but I hope that I’ve at least been somewhat of a blessing to you, not just a contentious interlocutor.

    God be with you.

    –Jeff

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