Monday, November 10, 2008

Marketing The Church Like Starbucks: A Parable

I laughed but also felt uncomfortable as I watched this video from the guys at Uncomfortable? Why? Probably because as a youth pastor/camp director I probably used several of these marketing techniques (or ones similar to them). Personally I don't think all marketing by churches is bad, but it is interesting to see the disconnect between what believers think is effective with seekers (such as the infamous "first timer's welcome") and what most people actually would appreciate. How should churches "market" themselves to unbelievers? There are two extremes that I see often; the first is to not think of seekers at all. These churches believe they are "authentic" and "uncompromising" and often take pride in the fact that they don't adjust anything in their church service/practice to attract and make things easiers for unbelievers. These are the churches that often have culturally irrelevant music, speak in advanced Christianeese at their services, and have very few converts. The second extreme is the totally "seeker sensivitive" or "super relevant" church. Everything about the service is designed to be palatable to the unbeliever. Language, music, speaking, and greeting are all so seeker friendly that veteran believers can almost feel out of place. These churches are marked by high number of conversions, exciting (and almost always positive feeling services), and a revolving door of membership.

My personal opinion is that churches need to be somewhere in the middle. They must always be seeking to balance seeker friendliness with an uncompromising embrace of the radical life and message of the Gospel. Churches should be about evangelism, discipleship, worship, fellowship, and ministry (Rick Warren) and they should seek to fulfill these in the most authentic and relevant way possible. Of course this will mean a constant tension between the two extremes and I think that such tension is healthy even if it is often uncomfortable. Are there any examples of this done well? If there are I'd like to hear about them! In the meantime, I believe the church can get some inspiration from one of the para-church organizations that seems to be the most successful in this balance - Bible camps. Look to the camps oh churches!


Anonymous said...

Hi Mark, I can see your point of trying to find a balance. I think that if a church tries too hard to make their service a positive, "fun" experience, they will attract people that are looking for just that, an experience, or spiritual high. That wears off pretty fast without working on relationships, with God and with others in the church. I think the most effective way to integrate seekers, or first-timers, is to befriend them, open your homes to them, become part of their lives. Live by example. Pretty tough to do as the church grows, there has to be a conscious effort by the church body. Greeting people on Sunday morning, introducing yourself, and saying "How are you?" is a start, but doesn't really MEAN much. I know that I have lots of room for improvement in this area.

Thanks for the post.


Keith said...

Coffee is good... all the time
All the time... coffee is good.

Call me strange, but I heard God is good.. all the time; All the time... God is good. for the first time last Sunday.

And now I find out it is what Mark put it 'Christianeese'. I thought it was just catchy ;)

Mark said...

Rick: I find most people are biased one way or the other, depending on what they have experienced and heard in their church experiences. To be balanced is then that much harder. Also, it is dangerous! It is dangerous to try to engage culture, just as it is dangerous to ignore it. And to be some place in the middle is the most dangerous of all.

Keith: Wow, that was your first time hearing it? I'm shocked!

Keith said...

Ya first time.. I guess that is why you heard me say it the loudest behind you yesterday ;)

I think the Christian path is the narrow path compared to today's society. It was (to me at least) always a hard sell, because you have to accept that fact that you are a sinner and there is nothing you can do about it.

I agree that relationships are the best way to get people engaged. It will spark conversation and help go thru the difficult questions.

The Sunday service should be challenging, but I think the small groups is where we can be all 'Christianeese' on each other (of course various degree's of Christianeese depending on where the group is at...

.. man can get enough of that word.. sorry ;)