If you regularly read the blogs of the likes of Perry Noble, Steven Furtick or Tony Morgan, you’ll find that they’re more likely to cite the works of leading marketers than they are theologians. One of their distinctive as leaders is their intentional integration of marketing techniques with an evangelistic message.
- Tony Morgan asks, “If Apple was a church, how would Apple do church?”
- Perry Noble affirms, “I am all about marketing!”
- Tony Morgan wonders how to apply Starbucks’ proven (until recently) marketing techniques to the church.
- Perry Noble dreams of some face time with Starbucks’ CEO.
- Brad Cooper thinks we should design our worship to impress atheists.
- Steven Furtick reduces his whole church to a marketing department. “There is no marketing department at Elevation Church. We are all the marketing department. We are all marketing. All the time. We are marketing the greatest message in the history of mankind. Everywhere. To everyone.”
- Perry Noble, via Ed Young, expresses the church’s mission as a business plan. “The church has a product (the good news), a mission statement (Matthew 28:18-20), a marketing strategy (Acts 1:8) and profit (changed lives!)”
There’s nothing really new here, but this new fashion was predicted more than a decade ago by Alistair Begg, one of the preachers that several commentators recommended on these pages last week. A helpful reader sent me a link to this prescient message from 1998.
Here’s a partial transcript of what Begg said:
People … have assumed that preaching is analogous to a marketing exercise, and what you have in the peaching event, we’re told, is a product, namely the Gospel; consumers, namely the congregation; salesmen, the preacher. And the job of the preacher is to overcome consumer resistance and persuade people to buy his product. And many, many, many younger men have begun to labor in pastoral ministry with that as a model.
It is a recipe for the worst kind of disappointment, eventually. Because what do we discover when we turn to the Bible? We discover that according to Paul there is one overwhelming reason why the analogy is no good. And that is because the preacher doesn’t overcome consumer resistance. The preacher cannot overcome consumer resistance. 2 Corinthians 4 says that the Gospel is veiled to those who do not believe.
When Jesus told the parable of the sower, there was one sower and four soils. If it was told today in marketing terms it would be completely the reverse, wouldn’t it? Namely, you would have one soil and four sowers.
Sower number one goes up and does quite a good job, but not a very good job and nothing happens.
Sower number two, he goes up and he’s a little more skillful in the way he does it, and he has a bit of a better response.
Sower number three goes up, and he’s been doing some church growth reading and some marketing analysis and his thing is really beginning to take off.
But number four, he has got all of the technology and all the marketing strategy down, and he knows how to overcome consumer resistance and, hey, presto, look at his field!
Do we really believe that Christian conversion is the result of human persuasion? Absolutely not. God said let light shine out of darkness. See, much of the trouble with our contemporary preaching is that it is built on the fallacious assumption that anybody can and will respond to the Gospel if it’s only presented to them in a proper fashion….
Preaching will be effective…because it is God’s chosen method by which he opens people’s eyes and brings them to an awareness of his grace. And that is why it will demand from us 110 percent committed devotion.
…Young men are coming and people are telling them that people won’t listen to preaching these days. My answer to that is, no, I’ve heard you preach and I’m not surprised that they don’t listen to it. They haven’t even given it a try under the Spirit of God. If they’d used five percent of the imagination involved in creating this roadshow that they’ve got going in their church to seriously understand the Bible and convey it, they’d be amazed at what God would do by his Spirit….
[People say that] people won’t listen to preaching, so what we’ve got to do is look at advertising, look at the way they package it, look at the world of entertainment, look and see how they do it. But the question when our worship services are over is not, how much did the pagan enjoy that; the question is, how much did he learn from that? Not how electric was the atmosphere, but how clear was the Gospel?
It’s simply not true to say that people won’t listen to preaching. If people are being awakened spiritually to their need of God, they will listen. And if they’re not, then no amount of gospel entertainment or evangelistic gimmickry will make them listen.
So if God’s not going to do it God’s way, it’s not going to be done.