Our area Christian radio station recently finished its pledge drive. Over the course of the pledge drive, I heard several variations of the following two statements:
“Christian radio is an important ministry and worth supporting.”
“If you pledge now, then you'll be entered in a drawing to win a new iPad.”
These two statements seem a bit contradictory. If a ministry is intrinsically worth supporting, then why does it need to offer an extrensic reward?
I once saw a church web site that offers all first-time guests a free Starbucks gift card to “say thanks for coming and taking time out of your busy schedule to be with us.” I think that giving some sort of welcome gift to first-time visitors is a nice touch—for example, the church that I used to attend offered loaves of homemade bread—but if a church feels that they should give cash value gifts for people spending the time to attend their services, then what does that communicate about how valuable they believe their services are?
Contrast that radio station and that church with Rob Bell's approach in starting Mars Hill Bible Church:
I remember being told that a sign had been rented with the church name on it to go in front of the building where we were meeting. I was mortified and had them get rid of it. You can't put a sign out front, I argued: people have to want to find us. And so there were no advertisements, no flyers, no promotions, and no signs.
The thought of the word church and the word marketing in the same sentence makes me sick. (Velvet Elvis, p. 99)
Much of what churches and parachurch organizations do falls under the category of marketing or advertising:
marketing, noun: the process or technique of promoting, selling, and distributing a product or service (Merriam-Webster)
Advertising is a form of communication used to encourage or persuade an audience (viewers, readers, or listeners; sometimes a specific group of people) to continue or take some new action. (Wikipedia)
By these definitions (which I confess to having cherry-picked a bit; for example, the American Marketing Association has their own, much harder to parse definition), asking for donations as part of a fundraising drive, trying to get people to come to church, and raising awareness of social and moral ills (as my church did recently with a presentation on human trafficking) are all advertising and marketing.
Advertising and marketing don't have to be bad things. There are plenty of problems with how it's often practiced in the business world—the annoying pervasiveness of ads, the attempts to manipulate people, the shading of the truth that sometimes happens—but there's nothing wrong with the basic concept of promoting something worthwhile. In fact, promoting the Gospel—promoting God's glory—is at the core of the Christian life.
So, on the one hand, we should do all that we can to promote God's glory and the Gospel. On the other hand:
- The more we believe that God is in control, the less we'll be tempted to resort to alarmism in an attempt to motivate human action. (“The family is under assault! America is in crisis! Democrats might win elections!”)
- The more we feel secure in our love for Christ, and the more we believe that the gospel is truly Good News, the less we'll feel embarrassed about or feel the need to apologize for stating our beliefs.
- The more we trust the Holy Spirit to lead people to repentance, the less we'll try to guilt trip people.
- The more we believe that our causes are worthwhile and that God provides, the less we'll feel the need to use fundraising gimmicks. (George Mueller, who never directly asked for money and instead prayed for all of his orphanage's needs, took this to an extreme.)
The more we experience the greatness of Christ, the less we'll try to attract people with anything that's not Christ.
Jesus said, “I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” (John 12:32)