One thing that often gets to me is church signs and church marketing. Well, not so much the sign, but how irreverent the message put on them usually is. You know what I’m talking about, the corny puns and bad theology present on most of them.
A few days ago someone in my Twitter feed pointed out a blog called “Church Marketing Sucks.” In particular, they linked to this post by Jeremy Harrison, and then a follower pointed out his followup post.
The author of the posts came across a church sign that said, “The church for people who don’t like church.” I have touched on Seeker-Driven Pelagianism in a recent post, so I won’t address that here so much, but rather I’ll address Harrison’s comments about it and then I will address his tips for better marketing.
1. It doesn’t resonate with as many people as you might think.
When churches run ads like this one, I think they assume it appeals to most of the people in their community. After all, the majority of the local community is not in church. Therefore, the majority of the community doesn’t like church. But this logic is flawed. It takes energy and effort to experience something and then decide you dislike it. Most people don’t dislike church. It’s worse than that. They couldn’t care less about church. Most people are completely indifferent, and as a result, this advertising doesn’t speak to them at all. – Jeremy Harrison
I agree with Harrison on this, at least as much as we can observe, this would be the state of man. It is easy to see that most non-church attending folks don’t care about church, if they did they would probably be in one.
However, I will raise the argument with Romans 1 – 3. From Romans 1:18 to midway through chapter three we are given an explanation of the contents of the human heart, our nature, and our relationship with God.
None is righteous, no, not one;
no one understands;
no one seeks for God.
All have turned aside; together they have become worthless;
no one does good,
not even one.”
“Their throat is an open grave;
they use their tongues to deceive.”
“The venom of asps is under their lips.”
“Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness.”
“Their feet are swift to shed blood;
in their paths are ruin and misery,
and the way of peace they have not known.”
“There is no fear of God before their eyes.”
(Romans 3:10-18 ESV)
If none is righteous, no one understands or seeks for God, all have turned aside, etc., why should we expect that people would have an interest in having a relationship with the One True God of the Bible, attending a church where they will hear Him preached, and observe Him being worshiped Mankind, by nature, is at enmity with God, we hate Him from the start. So why would we expect a clever pun on a church sign to change that?
2. It beats up on an already-damaged brand—the church.
If you think of the Church (with a capital C) as a brand, we can all agree that the brand is in bad shape. But the answer is not to run an ad campaign that distances your church from other churches. In fact, I believe this approach probably hurts your local church more than it helps. Remember, the majority of your community is indifferent. As a result, they don’t care enough to take time to understand the nuances between your church and the church down the street. So any time we speak of the church—with or without a capital C—we should seek to build it up. Yes, that includes your billboard campaigns.
There isn’t a megachurch on the planet with an advertising budget large enough to completely separate themselves from the larger brand of the Church in the eyes of a public that doesn’t care.
I also agree here. Beating up other churches, or the Church as a whole, is of little to no benefit. Also, we have to consider the Church’s relationship to Christ here. I don’t want to attack my Lord’s bride.
3. It doesn’t speak to many people at an emotional level.
All effective advertising speaks to people at an emotional level. As a marketing professional, this can sometimes be difficult to do, especially when my client is selling something boring, like a technical mechanical thing-a-ma-jig to a purchasing manager. But we always try to find a way to make an emotional connection.
When I think about the church… the great commission… the power of the gospel… the stories of changed lives… that is a story that is just teeming with energy. It has the power to connect with people at an emotional level. So why on earth do we throw away advertising dollars with ads that compare our church to most other churches, when most people don’t care about church?
Don’t feel bad. It’s understandable why this approach is so often used. When pastors and church leaders see billboard concepts like my example above, it speaks to them at an emotional level. You love your church. You are passionate about what you want to accomplish in your community, and are understandably excited to share how different you are. But remember, the majority of the people who drive past your billboard aren’t looking for a better church. They don’t think they need church.
And here is where my issue with the post starts to come in. First off, I don’t see emotion as part of what the Church is called to do. We don’t need to appeal to a sinner’s emotions, and I certainly shouldn’t manipulate people’s emotions.
“When I think about the church… the great commission… the power of the gospel… the stories of changed lives… that is a story that is just teeming with energy. It has the power to connect with people at an emotional level.”
Yes, the great commission, the power of the Gospel! “The stories of changed lives!”
The stories of changed lives?! Where does that come from? Christians don’t preach changed lives, and our preaching isn’t about life change. Unfortunately, changed lives have taken the place of God’s glory and souls saved in evangelism. We aren’t called to change people’s lives. In fact, from a worldly perspective people’s lives are often changed for the negative when they become a Christian. Muslim women get acid thrown in their face, millions are killed for proclaiming the name of Christ, members of the early Church lost their careers and their lives for believing in Jesus. And some want to talk about “life change?” A lot of things can change your life, and the Christian faith certainly does change lives, but this isn’t the reason for our Gospel.
I wouldn’t spend so much time on the life change aspect of the post, but I think how this plays into the next post makes time spent here worthwhile.
If you’re selling something that everybody buys (like toothpaste, cell phones or automobiles) then do marketing that focuses on differences between you and your competition. But if you’re selling something that most people don’t think they need (like church), then focus your marketing on why they need it!
Agreed! Unfortunately, what Harrison missed is also what the person who put up that sign missed, the Gospel itself. If a church is going to advertise and have these church signs, they must have the Gospel as their first priority in it and have their theology determine how they market.
I’ll go into that more in the next post though, as I’ve already ran far longer than I normally do.
Thanks for reading. What do you think about church marketising? And, what are the best, and worst, church signs you have seen?