Should the Church Use Marketing Techniques?

Today’s Church is very
susceptible to the market orientation warned against by Philip Kenneson and James Street.  In their insightful book, Selling Out the Church: The Dangers of Church
they claim the marketing orientation preached by George
Barna, Norman Shawchuck, and others changes not just a church’s style, but
changes its substance as well.  While the
Gospel may remain intact in a marketing-oriented church, the God-given mission
of the church has been exchanged for a focus on “effectiveness” and “customer
satisfaction,” rather than what the vision for what the church ought to be: “a
sign, a foretaste, and a herald of God’s present but still emerging kingdom.”

            Whole-heartedly adopting what church
marketers refer to as a “marketing orientation” does in fact change “the
character of the Gospel” and “the self understanding of the community of
believers.”  Adopting a marketing orientation produces
more than superficial veneers on deeper identities, when in fact such
practices become substitute identities – forms of acquired character that has
the potential to go all the way down to the core.  Because church marketing defines the purpose
of the church solely in terms of attracting the surrounding community, it
struggles to reflect God’s character and glory to a watching world.  Instead, church marketing creates a church
that reflects the culture rather than shaping it. 

           To be true to its nature and
purpose, perhaps the Church needs to stop thinking attractional  – ‘Come and check us out’ – and to start thinking
incarnational.  By incarnational mission, I mean the understanding
and practice of Christian witness that is rooted in and shaped by the life, ministry,
death, and resurrection of Jesus. 
must be sensitive to the considerable effort it takes for someone outside the
Christian community to take the initiative to discover an alternative way of
life.  As shown by Jesus and his
interactions – not just with temple authorities, but with the poor and the
rejected – the Kingdom typically lies outside existing religious
structures.  In a post-Christian culture
where so many have no understanding of the basic Christian message and do not
identify with the traditional Christian subculture, we must step out of our
building, and take the Gospel into our diverse community.

About Corey Sharpe

Where do we get our beliefs? Three theological perspectives have significantly shaped my Christian identity: Evangelicalism, the early Methodist tradition and liberation theology. From my coming to faith in a Baptist church and throughout my education in a Baptist school and college, I was nurtured by convictions that emphasized a spiritual rebirth, a personal relationship with Jesus Christ and the centrality of the Bible. Even when I disagree with certain aspects of evangelicalism, it has deeply influenced my sense of what it means to be a follower of Jesus Christ. My seminary studies spawned my interest in early Methodism, particularly its approach to spiritual formation. Its leaders were convinced that only a foundation of doctrine and discipline would lead to a meaningful transformation of the heart and mind. In other words, having the mind of Christ enables me to be more like Christ. Life in a suburban culture obscures the increasing gap between the poor and rich, as well as the Bible’s close identification with the poor. My doctoral work in socio-cultural context exposed me to liberation theology, which helps me see redemptive history as a history of oppressed groups, written from the perspective of the powerless, about a God who is actively involved with the poor in their struggles. I am now the pastor at Huntingtown United Methodist Church in Calvert County, Maryland. Together my wife and I are raising 4 young theologians.
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