In recent months, both Time Magazine and the Los Angeles Times have reported the Christian faith is taking a beating. I grew up as a pastor’s kid in the South, so I’ve seen every gimmick churches use to reach the public. As a Christian community we’ve tried entertainment, political power, criticism and boycotts, and yet we find that today, the perception of Christianity is at an all time low. The problem is we live in a media-driven culture, and most pastors and ministry leaders have no idea how to share their message in that sea of competition.
In my new book, “Branding Faith: Why Some Churches and Non-Profits Impact Culture and Others Don’t” I explain that “Branding” is essentially a compelling story that surrounds a product or company, and corporate giants like Apple, Nike, and Starbucks have built powerful brands that tell persuasive stories about their products. But the truth is, it was Christianity that invented the principles we now call branding. But today, Christians are rapidly losing our ability to share their story in a compelling way. As a result, the church continues to slide into cultural irrelevance.
Lately I’m reading Dorothy Sayers (1893-1957). She was one of the famous “Inklings” – the group of writers at Oxford that included C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien. In her book, Letters to the Diminished Church, she writes:
“First, I believe it to be a grave mistake to present Christianity as something charming with no offense to it. Seeing that Christ went about the world giving the most violent offense to all kinds of people, it would seem absurd to expect that the doctrine of his person can be so presented as to offend nobody. We cannot blink at the fact that gentle Jesus, meek and mild, was so stiff in his opinions and so inflammatory in his language that he was thrown out of church, stoned, hunted from place to place, and finally gibbeted as a firebrand and a public danger.”
In our present day efforts not to offend, I wonder if that’s taken some of the distinctiveness out of our faith. Granted, most of the people Jesus offended were the religious folks. When Jesus was confronted by sinners or the suffering, he was far more tender and gracious. He saved his most fiery volleys for the hypocritical types within the church.
Also, understand that when I talk about offending, I don’t mean for stupid reasons. Wildly colored hair, focusing on money, Jesus junk product offers, cheesy, out of date approaches and styles – no one has the right to be stupid in their presentation of the Christian faith. I’ll fight against bad hair and gold furniture on Christian TV until the day I die.
What I’m talking about here is presenting the reality of the Christian faith. One of the great memories I have of Billy Graham’s messages is his constantly preaching, “The Bible says…” as if to say, “These aren’t my rules, they come from a higher source than me.”
But today, we hear pastors try everything in their arsenal to defend a point of doctrine without even actually using the scriptures. We think the audience will “relate” to it better, when it may actually be positioning the Christian faith as just another “lifestyle choice,” and not the raging fire that transformed the Western world.
I wonder in our well intentioned desire to embrace the culture, if we’re losing the very heart of the greatest story ever told? Are we trying so hard to be hip and contemporary, we’ve lost sight of the fact that the Christian faith is compelling, not because it’s nice, cool, or positive, but simply because it’s true.
I think if we really believed that, it would dramatically change the way we present the Christian message.