"SELLING OUT THE SELL-OUTS” – PART 2 – Everything is Marketed but …

Post 1 finished off with the “over-marketing” of some churches. By that I do not only mean that they market a lot but that they rely heavily on marketing. Perhaps you have seen a place that has relied more on its “techniques and schemes” than on God Himself. Terrible people. I know because I have been guilty of that as well.

But what does it mean to market something? Is George Barna right when he says, everything is “marketed”? Is he wrong when he argues that churches need to do a better job in marketing or “taking on a marketing orientation” (p. 23)? To be fair, everything is “marketed” to some extent, including K&S’ book! The book has a cover that conveys “modest but serious” with an excellent picture of a broken down billboard announcing the book’s title. The text is clean, efficient with sub-headings to help guide the reader and the chapter pages are styled suggesting the smart people at Cascade Books did not merely say, “We’re going to be as simple as possible.”
Further, the book is only 164 pages which attracts readers who do not want to be bogged down in an endless abyss of rhetoric like other books for sale next to it in the “Theology” section. The publishing industry refers to these types of books as an “airplane book” because they are just short enough to read and finish on a plane. Ironically, most of the books by church marketing guru, George Barna are about this length. And finally, the foreword was written by the highly esteemed theologian Stanely Hauerwas and advertises his name on the bottom of the cover. That recommendation alone is a fantastic piece of marketing and as a consumer, I readily confess that I would be most interested in reading a book like this.

While the authors offer that they “are not trying to paint marketing as an evil enterprise …” or (accuse those that do) “are somehow sub-Christian” (p. 34), they do believe it is a serious mistake to place at the center of the church’s self-understanding what the church marketers so innocuously call a marketing orientation (ibid).”

For the sake of clarification, Barna defines further that marketing is “the process by which you seek to apply your product to the desires of the target population” (Barna. p. 23). An initial thought is that at some basic level, everything is “marketed”. If we practiced the same form of deconstruction as a collegiate lunch table after a Philosophy 101 class, George Barna and his marketing friends would have a case. Church signage, service bulletins, the worship experience, the pastor’s attire, websites, the Powerpoint background of the worship songs all apply a value (or desire) targeting a particular audience at some basic level.

Further, I concede that it can be interpreted that Jesus, Paul, and the writers of Scripture exercised some basic form of “marketing”. Evidence would be the decision to write in Greek as opposed to Aramaic or Hebrew. However, the value of K&S’ argument is in how much of a factor should marketing play in the role of the Church? This changes everything. In this light, certain questions are begged like, “What language would you have preferred the New Testament be written in?” The issue is that any language creates a targeted audience. At this basic, almost trivial level, there is no such thing as a language that is not “marketable”.

On a practical level, a naïve application of Barna’s definition would drive one mad. How does one dress? Can one imagine the sheer existential magnitude of determining which outfit to wear in the morning in order to avoid the accusation that “one is marketing him/herself”? How does one decorate their home? The logical answer is that at some point we are not continually marketing ourselves but are wearing clothes and outfitting our living spaces based on our preferences and expressions that the thought of pleasing a target audience is dismissed as “It’s no one’s business but we hope you accept our dinner invitation.”

Thus marketing becomes then an issue of motive. How much will the idea of marketing influence the church? Returning to the examples of Jesus, Paul and the N.T. writers, it would serve us well to question their motivation. When Jesus proclaimed the words that He knew would create enough enemies that would lead to his execution, it’s hard to take seriously He did so because this was the “soteriological product” he needed to promote and sell. It seems more likely that He proclaimed these words out of mission, calling, and a genuine love for people. The vehicles He employs (sermons, miracles, rhetoric, disciple-making) are not rooted in marketing but rather human interaction.

So I conclude this part by dismissing that while everything can be accused of marketed to a targeted audience on some basic level, I am more concerned with the our motivations for why we do what we do, especially as it pertains to the church.

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