In the religious and non-profit worlds, we often struggle with the concept of “marketing.” Certainly our message is worth sharing, but unlike most products, Christianity is often a message people simply don’t want to hear. Worse yet, because of situations from their past, they hate the concept itself. In that context, it’s a lot easier selling Coke or BMW’s than it is sharing the message of the gospel. Recently, pastor Tim Keller from Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City was asked a similar question in Christianity Today magazine. His response was worth considering:
Question: You reject marketing apologetics like, “Christianity is better than the alternatives, so choose Christianity.” Why?
Marketing is about felt needs. You find the need and then you say Christianity will meet that need. You have to adapt to people’s questions. And if people are asking a question, you want to show how Jesus is the answer. But at a certain point, you have to go past their question to the other things that Christianity says. Otherwise you’re just scratching where they itch. So marketing is showing how Christianity meets the need, and I think the gospel is showing how Christianity is the truth.
C. S. Lewis says somewhere not to believe in Christianity because it’s relevant or exciting or personally satisfying. Believe it because it’s true. And if it’s true, it eventually will be relevant, exciting, and personally satisfying. But there will be many times when it’s not relevant, exciting, and personally satisfying. To be a Christian is going to be very, very hard. So unless you come to it simply because it’s really the truth, you really won’t live the Christian life, and you won’t get to the excitement and to the relevance and all that other stuff.
Brilliant statement. Had this advice been followed a few decades ago, Christian TV’s perception in the culture wouldn’t be in the sad shape it’s in today. Tim is right on, however he doesn’t mean to cancel the need for marketing and branding altogether. In a media-driven culture where there’s incredible competition, we still have to get their attention first. Without that, they’ll never be in a position to make a decision about anything.
But the important issue is that the decision they make has really serious implications. We can’t “sell” them a shallow version of the faith, hoping they’ll bite only to discard it later. We have to tell the truth, so they make an informed and eternal decision.
Otherwise, it won’t be a real decision at all.