Marketing the Message

by Don Matzat

Let's suppose that a group of Protestant Church leaders hired a noted secular marketing expert to assess the message of the Church and provide suggestions for how that message might be made more acceptable to the people of this age.  After a few months, they gather together to hear his report.  Here is what he might say.  Let's eavesdrop...

You want your churches to be popular and successful.  I don't blame you.  With my wide range of experience in secular marketing, I believe I can help.  You must understand that postmodern people today attend a church they like.  Polls have indicated that there are basic Christian teachings that people don't like.  If you want people to attend your church and like your church, you must adjust your message.  For one thing, to suggest that man is by nature a sinner, an enemy of God, and that there is nothing he can do to please God is insulting.  To say that man's highest, loftiest efforts fall short of God's glory might prompt people to no longer strive after excellence.  All of the wonderful obituaries you read in the paper about wonderful people who accomplished wonderful things must mean something.  To say that man's good works may look good in the eyes of men, but in the eyes of God mean nothing in terms of going to heaven is counter­productive.  You must offer to people a God who is not critical of their efforts but affirms them.

Psychology tells us that everyone needs and wants to be affirmed.  In the past the truth of human sinful nature has been attacked.  Those who attacked the "sin-­talk" knew what they were doing.  The ancient Pelagius was on track when he gave man the ability to draw near to God... I read about the evangelist Charles Finney who led a very popular revival in the 19'b century.  I believe you should learn from Finney!  He rejected the notion that man was by nature a sinner... Today the issue of self-esteem is a very important and popular subject.  If you are to be sensitive to the felt needs of people, this doctrine of the sinful nature must be jettisoned.  Why promote a product no ones wants?  It's bad business.  If you want to engender self-esteem and not wound the sensitive inner child of those who visit your churches, all this "sin-talk" must stop.  In addition, we are living in a kinder and gentler society.  To teach the notion that God requires a blood sacrifice to forgive sins is to promote violence.  If a visitor happens to be an animal rights activist, how will he or she respond if you bring up all the animal sacrifices in the Old Testament?  Think of the poor little lambs ... You must, (nevertheless), of course, emphasize forgiveness.  Forgiveness is popular and therapeutic.  To forgive is an important plank in good psychology.  Rather than saying that forgiveness is based upon blood and gore, I suggest you should emphasize the "niceness" of God.  God forgives us because He is nice and we should be nice, as God is nice and forgive other people.  As a result of this adjustment in your proclamation, people will like God.  Consequently, they will also like you and come to your churches.  And you will be successful ... Rather than eliminating sin and blood sacrifice, marginalize the subjects.  You can still promote the notion that God is nice if you don't focus on sins and blood sacrifice.  Insist that you still believe it, but in practice, don't talk about it that much.

One very popular church west of Chicago is very successful because they are highly sensitive to their customers.  They only occasionally focus on the subjects of sin and blood sacrifice.  In fact, they are very vase in not even displaying one of those horrible crosses in their huge facility.  Learn from them... If you insist on still preaching sin blood sacrifice, and imputed righteousness, get it over with quickly.  Do it in the beginning.  Make the meat of your sermon moral admonitions that begin with the "Let us" or "May we...... "Let us be men of integrity unlike our philandering president" is a winner... When people leave your church it will be your moral admonitions and positive affirmations that will be ringing in their ears.

The issue of living the Christian life is a vital message today.  Make sure that the people always hear that message as self-improvement.  Never speak of diminishing of self.  This idea can be highly inflammatory.  Realize that the most dynamic power within the human psyche is power of the self.  Some of the phrases in the bible written by Paul are not all that helpful.  Never preach on the theme of "boasting of weaknesses" or considering all of your good positive moral traits to be "dung." The Christian life is self-improvement.  Put that motto on your wall right next to your mission statement.  It will help you attain your lofty goals... If you follow these suggestions you will build a loving community of faith that is highly respected by people of all religious convictions.  You will be loved as an open-minded, kind, and gentle man of God.  You will be successful... If some of your fellow church leaders voice concern that you are borrowing my secular ideas to build your church, respond with a look of disbelief and ask, "Doesn't the Bible that the Jews fleeced the Egyptians?"

That's my report.  Now, get out there and sell that product! (Issues, Etc.  Journal, Fall, 1998, pp. 11-15).