The Great Church Marketing Failure
Do you want to know why the iPhone is massively successful? It goes beyond the technology and shiny aluminum coating. It goes beyond society's need to be constantly connected. It goes directly to a basic marketing principle — it undersells and over delivers. Apple sells you shiny and gives you substance. It is this combination of setting proper expectations and providing more than promised that has made Apple one of the most valuable companies in the world.
Too bad the church has forgotten this basic principle.
The Greatest Product Ever Sold
The availability of salvation and redemption to all of mankind is literally the greatest offer in the history of offers. All of your bad can be exchanged for the infinite good that is God. How do you get a better deal than that? Having access to the all-powerful, all-knowing, ever-present God is more than an add-on tacked to the purchase at the register. We are talking about life-changing stuff.
Transactionally speaking, what God is offering is a very valuable commodity and people should be lining up to get in on the action. It is the greatest product ever sold and make no mistake about it, salvation is reduced to a feature product presented to a consumeristic society every Sunday across the globe. Like good marketers and salesman the message is made syrupy sweet. The offers are too good to be true (though they are true) that it can be hard to believe them. The skeptic in us all instantly thinks "What's the catch?" and just like the sellers on the car lot we are told "No catch, let's talk to the finance guys."
It's not until you are sitting at the desk that you realize that this is going to cost you — but it's too late to back out. You've already test-driven the ride, sat in the pew, er, at the dealership for too long, and you might as well finance the next 6 years of your life for transportation that you will be tired of in just a little while.
But a car can be traded in. Your life can't be. Wouldn't it be nice if you knew the costs up front?
I don't want to pop anyone's bubble but I find more effective marketing principles put to use than sound theology in too many churches today. (I have degrees in both, in case you are wondering about my credentials). Someone needs to tell you this: All the pretty light shows and exciting music is less about God and more about attracting you. The donuts and coffee, while a wonderful addition, are designed to make you feel comfortable so you will come back to the church building the next week. Seriously, there are books on how to build churches that will attract you and retain you!
At the center of all of this is a "Gospel" that has been tailored to make you feel awesome and that you are getting the deal of the century (or eternity)! You have access to everything great and wonderful that Jesus has to offer! The prosperity teachers are exceptional at this. (Even their websites are optimized to get you to donate the maximum amount of money). "All you have to do is believe, sow a little seed, and then you will reap rewards!" But it does not stop at giving and getting money. It has gone to the very core of Salvation. The pastor offers "all you need to do is believe, say you are sorry, check this box on the comment card and magically you are the owner of a brand new salvation!" While accurate, in some minimalistic way, it is totally incomplete. Why? Because you were told that all you needed to do was "this" when no one told you all about the "that" that was also necessary. It's the difference between seeing the sticker sale price on the car and seeing the total amount financed on the invoice — rarely are they the same.
If there was one phrase that I would warn against it is this: "All you have to do..." When you hear this phrase listen very closely. Pay attention, because you are about to be sold. In following Jesus there is no "all you have to do" because it encompasses everything you have to do. Theologically speaking it is all about what has already been done for you and your response to what has been done for you. It's a new life that entails learning to see everything differently. It's the transition from being a citizen of one kingdom into being an heir in another. There is so much more to Salvation than a prayer and an apology. And frankly, that is what makes it great!
Shortcuts That Shortchange
Listen, I am not out to ruin your Christian experience for you. It is entirely possible that you feel betrayed right now by a system that is trying to exploit your emotions. I am not out to ruin Christianity for you. Quite the contrary. I want it to be even more valuable and even more amazing.
The Apostles — Jesus' closest confidants — all died because of their faith in Jesus. Their belief in the gospel was so strong they were willing to be tortured and killed before they would renounce their faith in Jesus.
Here is a question, is your faith that valuable to you that you would be willing to die for it?
If so, I envy you.
If not, then why? Why is it different for them than it is for us?
My theory? We have been told a gospel that has been reduced to quaint marketing messages that are designed to put butts in pews and fill advanced metrics (though "advanced" is a bit of an overstatement). Salvation is a free gift and if you call now we even throw in the Holy Spirit and eternal life, but you have to act now. If this was the Salvation you bought in to it is probably sitting in the corner somewhere collecting dust Just like the last thing you purchased from your TV.
Look, it is easy to sell Salvation and Religion as something that anyone can buy in to. But that type of easy rarely produces lasting results. Easy or cheap grace results in a person who claims to be saved but is still addicted to the same habits for 30 years. It is the reason why gossip, rather than encouragement, reigns in the church. It is the reason why so many people that grow up in the church leave at the first chance they get. The Pastors took shortcuts and it shortchanged the people in the pews.
Choosing easy over true leaves us wanting more. It is the ultimate over-promise and under-deliver and it breaks my heart.
The Truth Of The Gospel — abridged
I want to be able to tell you the truth about what it means to follow Jesus. Up front, no tricks or gimmicks.
- We love sin and rebellion more than we love God and more than we love ourselves.
- Jesus died because he loves us more than we deserve and someone needed to be righteousness for us because we can't muster it up for ourselves.
- The gift of Salvation has already been paid for — that doesn't make it "free" it makes it a gift.
- Being saved works hand-in-hand with being prepared to live in heaven for eternity. This means that we must work in conjunction with the Holy Spirit to empty ourselves of sin and continually be filled with the Holy Spirit. This preparation is oft compared to a journey to the land which we will call home.
- This is not easy because we still live surrounded by the world that constantly calls us back once we departed on this new journey to the kingdom of God.
- Despite knowing Jesus, we only know him in part while we still know our sin in full. That is why we have to fight the urge to fall back into the comfortable patterns of sin.
- We are called into the Church — believers both local and global — that helps us along as we work out our salvation with fear and trembling.
- The payoff of Salvation is both now and not yet. Through Jesus we have the power to break the chains of addiction, the ability to serve others and bring justice about on this earth, and the opportunity to point others to Jesus and to the life that is coming. But the fullness of this is still coming.
- Being a Christian is a life that is separate from this world. The Greek word for "Church" literally means "called out ones" and the life is marked by being in this world but not of it. So yes, expect ridicule, expect social exile, expect mocking. But...
- Expect peace because the greatness of Jesus is more fulfilling than the exile from the crowds.
Most importantly, the Christian life will expose you to loneliness, strife, pain, agony, and disillusionment. The things of this world, though, will grow strangely dim in the light of Jesus' fullness and grace. You will mourn the death of your sins because they are part of your self-ascribed identity. But you are given a new name and a new identity and the joy of this realization is greater than the mourning you may feel. You are given a church to combat the loneliness and pain of walking on this earth. You are given the same Spirit that has raised Christ from the dead!
The Christian life is more than you've been told! It is harder than what you may have been led to believe. It is more demanding than a prayer and an apology. But is it ever worth it! Oh the joy that floods my soul — something happened and now I know that Jesus saved me and is making me whole!
Come on now. Walk with me. Join the Church with me. Let's journey together. You cry. I cry. You rejoice and so will I. Don't quit and neither will I. Christianity is more than you know but let's get to know Jesus together.
Critiquing the church-going experience. Why? Because we love the Church and we are trying to figure it our for ourselves.