Wednesday, August 24, 2005

churches and marketing

You don't have to be poor to get a handout from New Life Christian Church in Centreville, Va. You just need to watch for the church's new ice cream truck, a $10,000 investment in public relations.

We ran a nice article on monday 22 august about how some churches are turning to marketing as a way of reaching out to their communities.

I appreciated that the piece wasn't triumphal about such efforts but included some counterpoint such as

But in catering to popular demand, churches might set visitors up for disillusionment, says Philip Kenneson, co-author of Selling Out the Church: The Dangers of Church Marketing.

"Part of becoming a Christian is coming to see that what you thought you wanted deeply is not what you most wanted," says Kenneson, a theology professor at Milligan College in Tennessee. "It's having your wants retrained. So it's pretty hard to appeal to this old set of desires to get people in the door and then all of a sudden say, 'You know, we didn't quite tell you the whole thing.' Then people feel betrayed."

As someone who has served both on a pastoral staff and worked in a secular marketing department, while not feeling at all triumphal about churches using such techniques, I think I'm less concerned than Kenneson; I see the use of secularly culled marketing strategies as amoral. I do not believe that the use of best business practices in this or other areas is intrinsically problematic; it's the heart-reliance on or overconfidence in such approaches that's problematic).

Such efforts are severely limited. The best fruit of such strategies is to influence people to enter a context where they then can be drawn into community and worship through the folks they meet and the God they see. After responding to such a marketing effort, if someone doesn't meet at least one person soon with whom they - consciously or unconsciously - believe that they can eventually develop a confiding or close relationship, then the successful marketing effort will not ultimately result in someone being knit into community.

In every church, everyone who really becomes a part of the community develops an intimate subchurch of, generally, somewhere between one and twelve folks. That group is the critical hub of their communal network. Secular marketing techniques are impotent, in my opinion, to influence inclusion here. But, they can - I believe - influence someone to come to a place where such more intimate connections might occur.

And - all that being said - word of mouth from a trusted source almost always trumps the most expensive and artful marketing campaign.

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