« This Ad for the Comfortably Stupid Only | Main | By the way, I apparently live in hell. »

May 07, 2006



To address Bob's original question--"How would you get the attention of church outsiders whose primary language is consumerism..."--I'd want to point out two things.

First, not all church outsiders' primary language is the language of consumption and commerce. We'll almost certainly be fluent with it in order to survive, but that doesn't mean we like it--in fact, I want to say that barring preexisting institutional commitments, a lot of us, especially in my generation, tend to actively distrust marketing language. It's a really good way to turn off people quickly--which in my view isn't necessarily a bad thing, in the sense that people who are better off on the outside don't have to spend a lot of time finding that out.

Second--and this is the more important point in my view--advertising appeals to exactly the wrong parts of people. Marketing preys on people's insecurities and desires and fears and subtly coerces them into doing things that are usually not in their best interests. Churches that catch my attention are the ones like the Pilgrim Lutheran that I took the bus past on my way to school last year, which would put up signs like "Get in the last word--apologize" and "Happy Holidays--Share your Wealth and Company with the Hungry and the Lonely", which appeal to people's better natures and remind us that there are other, accessible ways to live than as wage-slaves to our fears and appetites. That's the way I wish people would go about doing things. The thing is, when you're marketing yourself, and what you really have in mind is not just a periodic consumption of a message but rather a complete remapping of someone's mental landscape, even if you convince someone to buy, and even if it's in his best interests to do so (which I might dispute), he's done it because you've tricked him. This doesn't shape him into a responsible, caring and self-disciplined person--it reinforces his already substantial vulnerability to being manipulated by just the right words and just the right imagery and just the right tones of voice. Those aren't the kind of people you want to be shaping (I hope), because who knows, four years down the line, someone else might come along who can do words and imagery and tone of voice better than you can and oops! he's lost again. (Or do they call that transfer growth? Hm.)


Actually, that didn't really address Bob's question, did it? Well, I can only say what would get my attention:

First, stop caring about what will get my attention. If the message is weak enough that you need to manipulate me into accepting it, it isn't worth hearing.

Second, and this may not apply to anyone here at all, but it does to (e.g.) the church I grew up in--"getting my attention" shouldn't be used as a euphamism for "getting me to reorder my insitutional commitments and subcultural alignments and turn me into a model WASP fundamentalist who can cite chapter and verse about how Presbyterians and Baptists are going to hell". Be honest about what you're expecting, and don't sell things as being less of a change than they actually are. Also, if at all possible, be happy with small blessings and don't count anything less than full lockstep assimilation as a failure. Try to make it a mutual endeavor--a meeting of equals, as opposed to a one-way transmission. Treat people like people, in other words. All very obvious stuff, but I can count on my fingers the number of Christians I grew up with who actually understood it.



You're funny and...smart. smrt!



You bring up some excellent points, some of which I plan on discussing in the next post I'd planned. You beat me to the punch, alas...

Todd Ramsey

I could be way off here, but I think marketing and selling are providing information and services that you believe will benefit the people you're trying attract.

I agree that advertising may be inneffective for evangelism, but it can be effective to introduce or attract people to the service you're trying to provide for them.

Not to promote my own blog (but I will anyway), I posted on a similar subject not long ago. You can check it out here.


I agree with you that most church advertising is aimed at Christians... and that most church advertising pretty much stinks at addressing the lost.

But let's not throw out the baby with the bathwater here.

First... like anything else... it has to be done well, directed at the appropriate target... and addressing the need of that target. That's where church's suck, badly.

Also, it should be noted that advertising is only ONE of the end products of the MARKETING process. Marketing is defined as making things accessable to people who need them. By that definition, I'd say church’s and the Kingdom do need quality marketing. Something about a great commission, if I recall.

We market... whether we're trying to or not. We are perceived in certain ways by our community. Managing that perception is the key. And no... that's not "spin." It's stewardship.

Marketing may or may not include an advertising component. You see, there are two kinds of advertising. Call to Action and Positioning/Image. Call to Action can be pretty ineffective for churches seeking the lost. It requires doing something radical, and the problem is that for most churches, radical is brand discontinuity. They’re not radical… and the BS meters go off immediately.

The second kind of advertising is positioning/image advertising. It can be a key part of establishing a brand or identity in the minds of the community, and that is critical for a church. A church must have brand integrity… not trying to be what they’re not… and they have to pick appropriate ways to communicate.

Jesus didn’t operate incognito. He stood on a hill, said outrageous things, and did miracles. In an age before mass communication, he was know throughout the middle east, and his ministry only lasted three years.

You’re right… advertising is a language game. Just like crafting a good sermon is a language game… or writing a blog post. You pick words and images carefully, to make a point, to persuade, to motivate.

Just like an advertisement.


Tim Sean

The Saturday night church ad is pointed toward people who know some of church's value but have drifted away because it doesn't have value to them anymore (to the degree one can necessarily equate valuing church enough to get up and go to church). So much of being in church community is connected to what moves us, makes us feel loved, wanted, a part of something bigger, allow me to say "a part of God." What we often discuss at this website is the legitmacy of that claim--what does it mean to particpate with God in God's stuff? I have some ideas about that, as do many who chime in here.

I attend a church that I think, as a whole, is more thoughtful and sensitive to the complexities of life than most churches. There is a church down the street that I think is even better about this same issue. But out of courtesy neither of us gear our advertising in a way that says, "Come to Emmanuel Episcopal, we're the most thougtful church in town." We could be even more transparent: "Come to first Baptist if you don't want to be dumb like those other Baptist churches." I suppose it could be done. If it inspires someone who has stopped being a part of faith community to get up and go then it accomplishes something. And maybe it is something good, maybe its not. My hunch, however, is that the spirit of the appeal is a little bit off.


Todd and kdl,

Thanks for your responses. Without wading too deeply into the question of the merits of advertising in general, let me just say that I don't buy for a second that the advertisers at Sunshine honestly believe that I benefit in any substantial way from their new Cheez-It with 10% more powdered white cheddar. The argument from sincerity is a bit strained, particularly when it seems either disingenuous or to reflect very poorly on the priorities of people who spend their lives trying to figure out ways to manufacture false, perceived needs for luxury items. I have yet to see a "church advertising is a necessary evil" argument, and I might find it somewhat persuasive, but I'm not persuaded that it's virtuous or innocuous just because all it is is getting people's attention. It isn't. It buys into the consumptive, acquisitive context behind advertising for trivialities while governments in other parts of the world burn. I don't respect institutions that don't challenge this exploitative part of our culture. The church does its job as PR for the elite too well already.

And kdl--all the image management and spin in the world (and that's what it is, sorry; you can call it stewardship if that's what you think is important to steward) won't change the fundamental problem of thinking of unchurched people as "The lost". The substance is the problem, not the image. That's what I wish more people in general (not just Christians) would be willing to address. I think persuasion ought to be a two-way road, rather than the product of closed-door strategy sessions where people sit down and try to figure out how to "convince" people who never had any say in their message to buy into their agenda. That isn't fellowship or community. People aren't products, and I don't think they should be treated as such even if it lands them in a place that's superficially for their own good.

Bob Smietana

Those are good points. My guess is that most church ads are aimed at people who have some experience of church--they went as kids and then drifted off, they moved and fell out of the habit of going to church, or they had some negative experience and left the church. So they're unchurch people as opposed to non-believers.

You make a very good point--is advertising an effective/appropriate way to communicate with those outside the faith?

BTW, if you want to read something really inane, check out the gospel of Judas. Here's a stellar quote, from the first encounter between Judas and Jesus:

Judas [said] to him, “I know who you are and where you have come from. You are from the immortal realm of Barbelo. And I am not worthy to utter the name of the one who has sent you.”


I knew Zorak sent Jesus! I knew it!


I understand the ideal of what is being advocated, Greg and Leighton, but common. The way you style your hair is an ad. The way you speak is an ad. You can rarely get a new church of the ground with out canvasing the neighborhood, and word of mouth. (I work in retail and word of mouth is definitly advertising.) What about VBS? Not going to advertise it to your local community. I have never talked to the person, but I have heard this story from different people at different times about... A Wiccan priestess driving by my church saw the garden out front, and was compelled to stop and come in. She ran into a minister in the building and started asking about the garden. Supposedly the beauty of the flowers lead her to some kind of God experience. My understanding is she still attends my church. Should we pull the garden up? We use it to advertise the look of our grounds. Is that any different than the clothes we wear. Realistically, how far do you advocate no advertising yourself? Are you willing to lose your pastor, because everybody went to another church and took their money with them. Advertising lets your current members know what is going on, and how their money is being spent, too. Don't get me wrong. I think there are some stupid waste of money church ads going on. Is there not also acceptable, and wise advertising too? We are expected to "be prepared to give an answer" (Kalel Translation, KTV, oh already have my TV station call sign.) for the way you walk and talk. Why, because you are a walking talking billboard. So if we are part of a community, should not the community be prepared. Advertising says who we are, and what we are about. We can't collectively set down and tell everyone driving or walking by this message individually. Last Q, what about advertising through church web sites? Mine has two. (That I know of.)


I don't advocate not advertising. I would hope that whatever advertising takes place is done with an awareness of the pernicious effect consumerism has on people in general and churchgoers in particular, and certainly does not happen from within the business paradigm of "image management" (image control more accurately). If you advertise at all, it would be to draw people's attention to something capable of holding their attention on its own, something that you never worry about selling or spinning. It's this thing that ought to be the primary focus of attention in the organization; marketing it will be at most a peripheral thing, and hopefully will not be thought of in terms of marketing at all. There are deeper and more appropriate ways of talking about these sorts of things.

Long story short--give more airtime (both within the group and without) to substantiating the message, rather than handwringing about how the message can be sold.


...Though I would also add that I think the idea of encouraging the spread of a message without a corresponding solid understanding of how other people will respond to the message (preferably an understanding derived from interactions with the people themselves) is profoundly misguided, despite any good intentions.


I'll have to respond to everyone's comments later. I'm subbing all week (and preaching four days this week) so I have very little time for comments. However, Jeff, this comment:

"We can't collectively set down and tell everyone driving or walking by this message individually."

That's the only way it works. Think about it like this; there are allegedly one billion Christians in the world. That means each Christian only has to tell 5.5 other people. Not a huge task. Even if the number of "real" Christians is half that, we only need to tell 11 people, or you can keep halving it, but still the numbers aren't daunting. Advertising in media, which is not the kind you're talking about with gardening and whatnot (Leighton is right that we need to refer to this sort of communication in other ways than marketing/business vocabulary.), is simply a waste of time if Christians actually befriend other folk. That's thinking through things from an evangelistic, Campus Crusade sort of rubric. However, that sort of thinking rubs me wrong. Leighton makes other good points along this line that I will come back to when I have my life back.


Now that I've slept on it, I do want to be careful to make a distinction between the basic normative social conforming behaviors like hairstyle, dress, habit of speech or expression, and general desire for visibility that are common in one way or another in every social primate species on the one hand, and on the other the specific, business-linked paradigm of viewing people as objects for the sake of exploiting quirks in our culture and their neuroanatomy toward the end of getting them to do something we want them to do. Advertising rhetoric conflates the two, and that isn't appropriate at all. Some marketing profs will tell you that crows who steal shiny things to adorn their nests are advertising. They're not, not in the sense business people use the term.

Marketing as a profession is the systematic study of specifically human psychology and sociology done toward the end of coercing people to buy (or do) things. It gets peddled (in Christian universities even) as a value-neutral thing, a collection of if-then statements--often statements about percentages and revenues, without even bothering to mention the working people who are the sources of those revenues. When your biggest focus on human beings is in the context of focus groups who are giving you "better" information about how to convince other, unconsulted people how to do things you want them to do, I'm pretty sure there's something wrong.

Todd Ramsey

I think that we need to differentiate our topics here:
Advertising - creating a piece for public consumption in order to inform or influence attitudes or behavior. Advertising is a part of the marketing pie.
Marketing - clearly communicating who and what you stand for with the public. This includes aesthetics, advertising, public relations, etc. Marketing is not always synonymous with evil, manipulation or coercion.

I believe that churches owe it to the public to make themselves known. They have a product (story, solution, insert preferred word here) that they believe will benefit the general public (hopefully).

That’s what marketing is attempting to accomplish - making a story known clearly and in a language that the public is conditioned to accept. Marketing is not a repackaging of Jesus or the truth. It isn’t branding Jesus or the Bible in a catchy or clever way.

Right or wrong (it’s wrong) we live in a consumer-driven society. To neglect this culture is to neglect an incredible number of individuals who are seeking truth.

Todd Ramsey

I must also say that I take a small (miniscule) bit of offense to your appraisal of marketing and those who carry it out. We are not all evil, disingenous, manipulative soothsayers tempting people to make purchases they shouldn't.

May I ask what field you're in that would cause such ire toward marketing?


I teach math, though I'm not sure that plays any significant role. Plenty of mathematicians are happy to lend their time to coming up with models of consumer behavior and doing market analysis, it's in the journals all the time. Lots of applied math folks do economics and finance, too.

My beef is more philosophical than vocational. I don't like spending time talking about influencing, or even doing things for the benefit of, "the public". I don't think I have any obligation to "the public". It's an abstraction that's useful for some of the social sciences in their ongoing efforts to predict and to an extent understand human behavior, but when it comes to making ethical choices (which include considerations of what impact my work has on others), I have to drop down to something more specific and focus on individual people. They are the ones I am obligated to. I don't try to eschew violence or exploitation because of any concern about abstractions like the public good or human rights; I avoid them because my specific actions would hurt specific people that I can see and touch and listen to.

Bear in mind, I don't dislike abstractions at all; I work with them for a living. My concern is what happens when abstractions of people (society, the public, etc.) become the objects of concern, focus and inquiry to the exclusion of the individual people who supposedly compose these conceptual phantoms. When you shoot a laser through a diffraction filter, you only care about the distribution on the other side; nobody cares about individual electrons, which is perfectly fine. Individual people are different. We ignore individual electrons in favor of lots of electrons because we can predict their behavior better. Individual people matter even though we can't always predict what they'll do.

Besides a few lay-audience media study books, I'm mostly familiar with marketing from articles in math journals, which probably means I'm reading people who never bothered to get their terminology right. But what struck me most is the lack of concern for how their investigations were used. Maybe practicing marketing is different, if you're in a responsible group who's doing responsible things. I don't know. I do know (old CS major with a few contacts) that techs in some places have a habit of lying to their marketing department about the capabilities of their technologies so they can sell them more convincingly and with a clear conscience. I don't know how widespread that is, and it's certainly out of line for me to suggest to anyone how to do their job, but I would hope that people (me included) would take every effort to examine their surroundings and career in context and figure out how we might be being used as tools to use other people for the benefit of someone, or some ones, else--not out of malice, out of habit if anything; but still used. It's certainly not like I have a clear conscience in this area.

Todd Ramsey

I'm not sure I know what we're talking about anymore...

How does marketing limit the or intrude upon the importance of an individual?



I'll let you and Leighton work out your own differences. However, I will agree with him that marketers, advertisers, PR people, etc., pretend as if marketing, advertising, PR, etc., is a value-neutral endeavor. It is not. It first makes a commodity of the product for sale, then sells it. The Gospel is not a commodity; it is not a context-free item available for easy distribution and consumption. It is based on a covenantal relationship that is antithetical to consumptive practice.

Marketers like to use phrases to describe practices that point back to marketing as if marketing is a reality we must embrace. When I preach a sermon, I am not marketing. When my wife feeds a homeless person, she is not marketing. When my uncle paints his church, he is not marketing. We are bearing witness. It's not just a semantics issue. To say that they are marketing allows the introduction of assumptions and vocabulary specific to marketing. The assumptions that go with bearing witness are altogether different. This accomplishes two quite negative things:
1. changes the identity of the church from a body that bears witness to one that "manages perceptions";
2. introduces a business/marketing ethos into the church by means of a change in language game/grammar.

Once the identity and ethos are changed, then the task and/or mission change. I don't love my enemies to manage people's perceptions; I do that because I'm a Christian and because Christ commanded it. The impetus behind bearing witness is obedience and faithfulness, not effectiveness or perception management. The introduction of business language into church vocabulary has had an extremely pernicious effect, including such silly notions as target groups, church growth strategies, and homogeneous small groups.

My original point is that advertising is a terrible way to get the message out about the Gospel. I'll go into detail about why I feel that way in a separate post.


Well, we're not using "marketing" in the same way, that much is certain. I'm not sure I entirely understand the totality of what your view of marketing (which is almost certainly closer to the view of marketing as held by actual marketers) entails, so I'll try to respond without using the word "marketing" in key ways.

I think the way we think and talk about people is important. If we spend a lot of time considering people as part of this or that demographic, or as statistics on a chart, rather than as a collection of individuals basically like us with thoughts and feelings and families and histories and hopes and fears, it's easier to ignore their needs and concerns when it's convenient. This isn't universal, just a tendency; and it isn't a problem specific to advertisers (or marketers or sellers or whomever) by any means; businesspeople in general, social scientists, psychologists, sociologists and mathematicians are in danger of falling into this trap just as often. I'm picking on "sellers" in particular because the thread happens to have mentioned advertising.

While I don't think my experience (or my understanding of your view of marketing) is sufficent to declare all advertising as perpetuating this problem, I do want to point out that under your definition of marketing--

...making a story known clearly and in a language that the public is conditioned to accept...

--is problematic for me precisely because it participates in the language of commerce and consumption. For me it's akin to talking to (e.g.) Minutemen and saying something like, "Hey, you ever think that maybe some niggers aren't so bad after all?" Even with good intentions, I think the only proper response is to avoid the language game altogether, or at least (with advertising) use it with the explicit intention of undermining its influence by making people conscious of their conditioning, rather than merely using it to your benefit. Playing the game means, tacitly, that you support the game enough to use its language.

But who knows, after I look at it more I might come to a different conclusion about what's reasonable to expect. And maybe there is room for ethical advertising that I just haven't seen yet. I'm just pretty sure that "Everyone does it" and/or "We can't get by without doing it" don't make convincing arguments that something is really, actually okay. Not that I'm particularly good at bucking my own institutional commitments; I'd give more details if I weren't concerned about violating my contract.


This goes back to kdl's earlier comment that I missed: kdl, you misunderstand the term language game. It's cultural-linguistic participation in an activity or group in which the vocabulary has set meanings and nuances as determined by the group's usage.

Todd Ramsey

In Acts 15 Paul uses pagan poetry communicate the truth of God. He spoke the language of the people he was trying to reach. That is what I'm suggesting we should do with marketing. We're telling our story in the context of the culture in which we live. The message doesn't change, the medium does.

We're not selling the gospel. We're not making faith a commodity. We're attempting to communicate in a language our culture understands.



Leighton and I have made some pretty substantive philosophical and methodological arguments. I'm hoping you'll do better than that with a response. Marketing and advertising are not the language of the culture. Paul is not advertising or marketing; he's preaching, bearing witness, engaging in cross-cultural communication. The story we tell has to be translated, but using the language of commerce makes no sense; it's a different language game.


Also Chapter 15 is not the chapter Todd is refering to.

Todd Ramsey

Acts 17, excuse me.

I'm confused by the presupposition that we should play a different language game than those we are trying to reach. However, I'm not a frequent reader of this blog, I was pointed to it because of the topic, so I understand that I've missed the entire backstory to the language game - it's possible that I'm not even participating in this blog's language game.

Is your contention with a local congregation advertising its Saturday night service or a local congregation advertising with the goal of communicating some deep, spiritual truth?


Could we dissect some everyday example to point out the differences between advertising, marketing, and cross cultural communication?

The awful t-shirt idea that uses coca-cola slogans and graphics and say "Jesus Christ, it's the real thing"

Some might want to take advantage of this t-shirt because they beleive it to be cross cultural communication. Is the very use of a pop culture marketing phrase move it to a no-longer-"value-neutral" position?

Maybe only when I use the t-shirt as a giveaway promotional tool I have joined myself up with marketing vocabulary that has assumed to much in my attempt to merely be cross cultural?

So, aside from it being lame, can the use of the t-shirt/slogan be exclusively usable to only one of these three choices. Or is an example like this almost always a combination of advertising, marketing, and cross cultural communication - the acceptable use of it to be determined by something else? motive? pop perception?


"Language game" is Wittgenstein's heuristic description of how specific subcultures use particular words and phrases in ways that presuppose the entire subcultural context. When you start talking about living, breathing people using abstractions like "The lost" or as a "target audience" it presupposes a whole range of habits of thought and methodologies that treat people as reducible to either yes-no salvation-states or their spending habit trendlines.

Personally, I don't care what churches do in the sense that I'm invested in it; but I do care insofar as their actions have consequences on people. Advertising itself (and I don't mean things like putting up signs to announce services, but rather putting a lot of time and energy into analyzing what the best strategy for advertising would be) is frankly not my primary concern. It's a symptom rather than the disease.

I agree with Greg in that I'm pretty sure the language of people you're trying to reach won't be advertising. Advertising communicates to them but not with them; it's a distinction that I think is important to make. Most of the people I interact with make a pretty firm implicit distinction between "important" people like politicians and celebrities and corporate officers, and everyday people who you actually interact with; and advertising is something that important people do, not things we do. It's the one-way broadcast from the elite to the non-elite. Advertising that you look at and say, "Hey, that's a good [or well-crafted] advertisement" isn't coming from a group of people that you go to for community unless you're already pretty well-connected in the corporate world. If those are the people you want to reach, then by all means advertise; it makes sense. It's not who I would want to reach, though. They probably don't need reaching.



Here's the problem with the T-shirt (besides the obvious equating of faith with brand loyalty)--it's not even in the category of attempted cross-cultural communication. Christians in America (other than isolationists who have very bizarre ideas of what motivates people "in the world", and who probably aren't advertising anyway just because it's something "the world" does) aren't standing outside consumerist culture trying to communicate with people inside it. They have full citizenship in it just like we do. They are also members of (one of the) Christian subculture(s), since in general community loyalties are not mutually exclusive; but it strikes me as extremely disingenuous to advertise as being "something different" when all you're selling is, hey, be who exactly who you are already, do what you do already, just come to church on Sunday and feel good about the way things are.

I don't have any stake in what happens to Christianity as a result of its marriage to habits of rampant consumption, but it bothers me a hell of a lot to see people going from places where they're vaguely dissatisfied, when they think about it, about how they go through life asleep and basically manipulated by the sum of the imagery around them, to being enthusiastic endorsers and defenders of this life-ennervating process. Be Christian, by all means, but for the love of everything, wake up.

Here's my thing--nothing we do is value-neutral. Some things are value-neutral, like the inverse-square law of gravitation; but we talk about even these value-neutral things for a specific reasons, toward specific ends that are either appropriate or not, or more likely somewhere in between. Marketing is never value-neutral. Neither is advertising. You're advertising specific things to specific people for specific reasons, and your actions will have specific consequences that you may or may not be able to predict. (It's important to at least try.) The value of your advertising is derived from these concerns. You're not processing if-then statements like logicians do.



I don't care if church x advertises its Saturday night service. You don't attract people who aren't inclined to come to church with those sorts of ads anyway. If you don't mind stealing members from other churches, then you'll probably be wildly successful with a good ad campaign.

You cannot communicate deep, spiritual truth in advertising. You can't communicate deep anything. No one takes it seriously. Advertising and marketing have cheapened language to the point that everyone views all ads with a cynical eye, especially the ones you're trying to reach.

We don't have to participate in a different language game than your target market; we just do because of sub-cultural differences. When advertising professionals go home, they also participate in a language game (white, suburban cracker or young, black professional) and that language game isn't marketing language. "Honey, the dinner you prepared on our new Whirlpool stove with built-in microwave and grill is sumptuous, much like the food that is available at Hanratty's, your favorite family diner." Nope. They don't talk that way. No one does.

So, back to our original ad. If you're trying to sell the coffee drinks and the music and non-perplexing sermons to a group of people, they are going to be people for whom the idea of non-perplexing sermons is a good idea, which is to say, they are going to be participants in some Christian-ish form of life, not people who have no use for sermons. Those folks can get fancy shmancy coffee drinks at Starbucks and freakishly good music on iTunes. Why would they sign up for sermons?


It feels like I am popping through different levels of self awareness.

If I am aware of my immediate surroundings, Plato's cave, closet boy, et all...I am doing better than those who are not aware. This level of awareness can analyize the group that they "transcended over" and can manipulate them with marketing language.

But if I am aware of the attempt to be manipulated, and am put off with the idea of sales tactics, am I now more aware than the ad execs who think they are transcended over me?

It seems like the level that we are being pushed toward, past self awareness, past manipulation awareness, past whatever is next, is a level of being fully present with individuals. At this level (maybe a level model of height isn't the best - maybe we should jump off the model all together) marketing language isn't a priority, and as you say, Greg, "modeling" things becomes what matters.

I have recently become aware of the constructs that I have lived within. I have wanted to grow in my self awareness because it has been freeing. I feel now that this conversation has shown me that I'm being too analytical, too self aware, - preventing me from being fully present with other individuals.


I have a few thoughts...

I'd suggest that this whole advertising nonsense is the byproduct of a fundamentally flawed view of evangelism that has been adopted by the Church. I'd suggest that true Christlikeness is necessarily contagious. My understanding of evangelism is that it is less of an action than it is a state of being. If you're living in a Christlike manner, you can't not evangelize.

Most churches I've been exposed to seem to have this the other way around. ... you're not a good Christian unless you're telling anyone and everyone about the Gospel. This creates a problem because conversations about salvation aren't particularly common and are out of place when they do occur.

Leighton brought up the weakness of a message that has to be dressed up. Yeah, that hits it right on the head. How much do you believe it if you think it's not strong enough to hold its own? What kind of hubris does it take to think that I can improve the gospel with my crappy ad campaign?

Someone above suggested people market things because they believe they'll be beneficial to the consumer. I'm gonna be skeptical on that one. People who are marketing things tend to have something to gain for it. There may be a few who are genuinely interested in the consumer, but it's impossible for the consumer to distinguish this. Marketing is the science of taking advantage of people.

Then I said some stuff in the previous post about competing with other Christians. This seems odd, why would we want to get into a capitalist territory war with people who we're supposed to be treating as better than ourselves?

I think on some level people understand that the language of consumerism is not positive. So getting back to Bob's question, which was a good one, I'm going to be socratic. If we believe that our message transcends the language of consumerism, why would we disrespect it by using that language? If we don't believe that it transcends that language, why is it worth the effort we spend trying to get others to believe it?

2:30 AM ramblings. There you go.

Todd Ramsey

I agree that deep, spiritual truths cannot be communicated through advertising. I doubt many churches are actually trying to do this.

Advertising doesn't operate in a vacuum. It doesn't always speak a different language than the culture that it is trying to communicate with (or to, as the case may be).

It seems that you are opposed to lumping groups of people into a defined subgroup, yet you wholly reject the efforts of all marketers because you deem their langugage to be inadequate.

Not all marketers use the language of consumerism. Not all marketers want to manipulate people. Not all marketers are sitting in ivory towers, scheming new and creative ways to trick people into spending money.

I'm trying to get the message out about the efforts of my local congregation. Is that as effective as personal, one-on-one communication? No, of course not. Is a sermon the most effective tool for encouraging change in an individual? No, of course not. However, just because they're not the best doesn't mean that they are useless.

Not all marketers use the language of consumerism.

Okay, now I know we're not talking about the same thing. Can you give a specific example of what you mean?



Not different language, different language game. That's part of the problem. Marketing utilizes the same vocabulary as the client it serves, but it does something different with the vocabulary.

Todd Ramsey

Here's an example of copy for an ad for an Easter service:

“For we are God's masterpiece, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” Eph. 2:10

Life is like an unfinished tapestry on the loom.

From the back, it is a confusing jumble of threads, knots and color. Chaotic, without form, rhyme or reason.

But from the other side – from the right side – the chaos fades to reveal a masterpiece of color, design and purpose.

In the resurrection we are able to see God at work. Amidst the chaos, confusion and pain of the cross, God was crafting His masterpiece.

Join us Easter Sunday as we celebrate God’s good work.
Sunrise service, 6:30 a.m., A. Price Woodard Park
First United Methodist Church, 8:30 a.m. or 10:55 a.m.
Live on KAKE TV and KS Now 22 at 11:00am.

How is that consumer language?


Oh my God, my brain is fried!
One of my earlier Q's/comment has not really been addressed. Let me expand it. As church members we pay tithes. Don't you think we have a right to know what is being done with that money. So in one since church staff are only advertising their good or bad stewardship. They say we have Starbuckes coffee. You say I am or I am not giving you money to run that program.

Greg, Maybe I was not clear earlier, about collectively witnessing. I meant the whole congregation could not hangout all day in front of the church, and tell people about the church. So we opt to use advertising to let the community know who we are. I do agree it is a bad way to try to save souls, the lost, or pagans (Since we are defined as different, Leighton, until we are neither this nor that in Christ.)

Some of the points different people are making seem to be the same. It seems like you just will not give up on your grammar. Some people want to use "in house" marketing/advertising grammar, and some "in house" theological/philosophical grammar. Otherwise you seem to be argueing two totally different points. Tom, the church advertising/marketing what it is doing to the community. G&L, that advertising/marketing is a bad way to reach pagan, uncircumsed gentiles. Just a thought.

Last, I only got a B in intro to U.S. History. Weren't the Minutemen in the Revolutionary War though? So why would they have been talking about NGH's.
Hola' back yo.

How is that consumer language?

Besides the fact that the services are televised? I'd have to say (and bear in mind I don't know what the medium is supposed to be, whether it's a television or radio spot or a graphical insert of some kind) that the second line is the biggest thing that jumps out at me. How many poor and undereducated (say, no more than a diploma from an urban public high school, or less) people do you suppose are going to know what tapestries or looms are? One of the subtexts that jumps out at me is, "Come, enjoy this fellowship with people who share this preexisting cultural background." My third cousin who dropped out of middle school might well see it as one more ad saying church is for people smarter than him.

Now, I'm not an advocate of simple churches, or simple much of anything. I'm all for having churches use imagery like that in their actual services, providing they explain it. I like the imagery. But advertising by its very nature is simple, and when you come at an advertisement with very low expectations of what will be demanded of you (which is typically the case from habit if nothing else), and you see unfamiliar words, you look away and pay attention to something else. If you're not careful, and most people reading ads aren't, you might reinforce your stereotype of prominent churches being nothing more than cliques for middle class (or better), basically educated people.

Are people going to respond to the ad? Sure. Its imagery is well-done and will be appreciated by people who have the education and training to process it. (I'm not sure I count watching the services on TV as responding, though.) The people who don't have the background to appreciate the imagery are probably going to stay away. Can this sort of thing be avoided? Probably not; every ad has people who will respond to it, people who won't respond, and people who will be turned off by it. I think it's important to realize that by advertising, you are excluding people at exactly the same moment that you're trying to include other, different people. There may be some exception somewhere, but I haven't seen it yet.



I was referencing Dave Neiwert's series on modern-day self-proclaimed Minutemen who are closet white supremacists trying to crack down on immigration. He gives more details. Check it out if you're interested, it's important stuff.



Ditto Leighton's comments, but do you really think the un-churched know much about the back-story of the resurrection? The ad appeals to Christians. And this: "But from the other side – from the right side – the chaos fades to reveal a masterpiece of color, design and purpose."

Did you mean that was true in an ad hoc sense (i.e., only for the resurrection story)? I hope so. Because I don't see design and purpose in most of life, just life I'm afraid, even with an understanding of the resurrection. Consumer language? Not sure. Language for Christians? Certainly. Honest ad copy? In intent, but not in message.

The comments to this entry are closed.