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The "Ministry Marketing" Conflict

Are we losing our moral authority in the culture, by trying to reach a larger audience?  In my book “Unique” I talk about what I call the “Marketing Conflict.”.  We can plead a life of poverty, until we realize that reaching a mass audience through the media costs millions of dollars.  We can make a hard stand for an issue, until we
realize that without some negotiation, we’ll never have much influence in government.  We can be strident about public morality, until we come up against other belief systems who want equal voices in the conversation.  As Walter Brueggemann points out, the Jewish nation wrestled with the divisive issue of cultural accommodation thousands of years ago, so this is nothing new.

That doesn’t cause us to stop, but it does make us aware of the tension involved in presenting our message to a 21st century audience.

Financial challenges are a great example.  Pastor Gary Keesee in Columbus, Ohio was a financial planner before he was called into ministry.  From that unique perspective he likes to say, “You’ll never achieve your destiny until you get the money thing fixed.”  For instance, just try to walk away from your job and be a missionary with a huge financial debt hanging over your head, or attempt to go into fulltime ministry with a poor record balancing a budget.  Without a miracle, you’re in for a real challenge.

Life happens.  As fallen creatures we live in conflict everyday.

But many refuse to accept the conflict, and on the one hand, some Christian marketing “experts” relentlessly extol the virtues of marketing churches and ministries with little regard for the damage it can cause.  But on the other hand, academics and ministry leaders have written carloads of books decrying marketing as the end of the church as we know it.

Meanwhile, somewhere in the middle, I wrestle with the task of getting the Christian message to as many people as possible, and at the same time, keeping the church distinctive and unique, without making us look weird and crazy.

The conflict will always be there, and our goal is to seek balance.  Getting people into the seats without harming the integrity or perception of the church as a life changing entity, and yet extending grace to those who walk away in spite of our best efforts.

Academics or critics can sit at a distance and make their pronouncements, but for those of us in the trenches, wrestling with that conflict is a way of life.


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  1. I've never understood the problem that people wrestle with…. it's the nature of all Christian ministry – keeping the balance of what some deem the spirit and flesh, and of course utilizing every avenue and vehicle given to minister the Gospel to the world.

    Your writings and peoples perspective reminds me of the great debates of televisions, radio, movies, the internet, etc. Some argued about electricity too, and now their way of life is completely out of touch with society, and they are left literally in the dark and considered a tourist attraction in the Northeast United States. Which is the way if people don't understand the times, and utilize the tools they have.

    Great post Phil!

    Chris Vaughn –

  2. The whole idea of marketing is to cater to what the customer wants.

    It seems the conversation goes back and forth on how to get the message of the gospel out to the masses. Balance is a key issue. For a long time the emphasis was on doctrine (get the message right) to the detriment of producing works of quality and excellence. (Although there are exceptions to this phenomenon – just read the book, Roaring Lambs.) Then the pendulum swung to the other side and much of the emphasis is on method (tools to use – tv, internet, radio etc…) to the detriment of doctrine. Which yields a “happy-feel good” religion in favor of high attendance and high profile publicity. But balance is critical.

    Jesus says, “If I be lifted up, I will draw all men to me.” Acts talks about how the Holy Spirit draws people. This is a third emphasis that doesn’t get as much play as it should in the balance equation: the Holy Spirit. We need solid beliefs. We need appropriate tools. And we most certainly need the power and presence of the Holy Spirit to empower the works that we do in order to make an impact beyond the temporary. Jesus says, “Without me you can do nothing.”

    Allen Paul Weaver III
    author, Transition: Breaking Through the Barriers

  3. I struggle Phil because I am the lead pastor of a church that is soon to be 4 years old located in the 2nd poorest county of Indiana.  We rent a local sports complex (gym with one other room) that was recently flooded so we are now meeting in the middle school until the complex is available.  We tried the school last summer and after 2 months they said we had to vacate.  We went quietly and it paid off for us in that we were able to use it without hesitation because of the flood.  But we do need to find something for ourselves in a town that is low on places available.  And even if we find land, where in the world would we have the money to build?  My struggle is debt.  I am following Dave Ramsey's plan personally and find it hard to say, "I am trying to get out of debt but it is okay for the church."  See where my dichotomy is?  I know a balance is needed but how do you find it?  

  4. Marketing is

    the total of activities involved in the transfer of goods from the producer or seller to the consumer or buyer, including advertising, shipping, storing, and selling.

    Its not about catering to what a customer wants – its identity, and presenting that identity to others so that they can make a decision about the product.


    Just a thought…

    Chris Vaughn –

  5. Several years ago I was asked by a client to write a monthy appeal letter. In preparation, the client and I would talk on the phone about what God had done recently – lives changed, marriages restored, people saved. As I began incorporating these stories in to the copy, the tone of the letters took a different turn. No longer were we trying to manipulate readers, but motivate readers [partners] to take action, based on the tangible results. The days of "our research says": circle this word…underline this phrase…use red ink here…blue ink there…need to end. Time for some integrity and honesty in marketing.

  6. Chris,

    One shouldn't judge a community with the values of an outsider.  There are advantages and disadvantages to the use and adoption of technologies.

    I use a horse as my primary means of transportation, I do not have, nor desire, to have a cellphone.  I use the internet, but not to a point of addiction.

    Those whom you label " tourist attraction in the Northeast United States" are the Old Order Amish.   Take a look at Howard Riengold's Jan 1999 article in WIRED

    The Amish are not perfect, as a community they have their own unique issues and problems, but they also are the strongest church in the Americas.  I know of no other denomination that has the retention rate of youth that the Amish do.


    For a view of a low tech life, I recommend  The Gift of Good Land and the Unsettling of America by Wendell Berry, or the Plain Reader edited by Scott Savage


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