The church has figured out what the folks at Starbucks, Diesel, Apple and countless other companies have known for a long time. Marketing works! By using the same techniques as other successful companies, the church can draw thousands into its doors each Sunday by doing one basic thing: marketing.
So, like any good business trying to grow, the church turns to the tried-and-true Godin-esque techinques. The church creates tribes and purple cows and has billboards and postcards and websites. Once someone shows up at church, a "brand experience" is created through new buildings with coffee shops and IMAG screens and catchy sermon series and house bands. Consumption. Branding. Marketing. This is the language of the culture and the church has adopted this language so it can attract people to their services.
But for Christians, the language of culture, if not stewarded well, can subvert selfless living. Inherent in the popculture that is infiltrating church methodology are characteristics antithetical to a life that seeks to emulate Christ. Pop culture (music, movies, television, fashion, etc.) celebrates fame, power, money, greed, and excess. When these begin to seep into our gatherings it is difficult to keep the gospel in its pure form. As church reformer Philip Jacob Spener says, “Where the Word of God is neglected, real and true religion collapses."
When we as individuals are swayed too much by the culture, the greater church culture can suffer. The corporate church expression, then, is a reflection of its leadership and what they value.
So what are we saying when our gatherings mirror popular culture? We, in essence, are promoting a way of living that is counter to what the Christian’s life, and the church's methods, should look like.
The Tension Is Killing Me
Of course most of us understand this language and are fine with it (on a personal level). We embrace it in our daily routines; we have to buy clothes and transportation and coffee. But this language projects the notion that we engage in faith, in the building of the Body, to appeal to ourselves. We cloak our message in a garment that feels good to us, no matter whether it stands the test of truth.
Christians, therefore, operate in this odd tension: we preach sacrificial love above all else but communicate it in a language that is completely self-absorbed. This odd tension produces a sad result: the self is celebrated above God.
“We begin as if life were empty,” observes Cultural theologian David Wells, “and without center and as if we were empowered by our choices to make life what we will. And so we create our own center, we create our own rules, and we make our own meaning. All of this springs from an alternative center in the universe. It is ourselves."
So this tension poses some tough questions:
If the Christian faith is based in sacrifice
how does that translate into our lives and gatherings?
How does the Christian leader communicate in (and to) a culture that speaks a language that is antithetical to the gospel?
How do we keep an attractive faith in a world that places value and infers status from artificial things?
If our faith is so amazing and filled with love, why do we have to use cheap marketing gimmicks so that people will see it?
What does that say about the God I represent?
These questions must be asked before we begin to develop church programs and marketing campaigns that are cloaked in the language of culture. When it comes right to it, when the church uses the language of culture, it's like listening to a Tchaikovsky symphony played by a Jr. High concert band—it just doesn't sound right.
Philip Jacob Spener, Pia Desideria (Minneapolis: Fortress
Press, 1964), 45.
[ii] David C. Wells, The Courage To Be Protestant (Grand
Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2008),