What you win them with is what you win them to.
Mark Galli has a good post up at CT on marketing the church. In it he writes:
When we "market," we try to make a larger audience aware of the value of exchanging a good or service. We assume both parties will benefit from the transaction. Marketing is a wonderful thing. I like to hear pitches about products I might use. I like the fact that my publishers pitch my books to a larger public. Thank God for marketing!
Related articles and links
But there's a reason Jesus said "You shall be my witnesses," and not "You shall be my marketers" . . .
Should it surprise us that in this church-marketing era, members demand more and more from their churches, and if churches don't deliver, they take their spiritual business elsewhere? Have we ever seen an age in which church transience was such an epidemic?
Should it surprise us that in this era, pastors increasingly think of themselves as "managers," "leaders," and "CEOs" of "dynamic and growing congregations," rather than as shepherds, teachers, and servants of people who need to know God? And that preaching has become less an exposition of the gospel of Jesus' death and resurrection and more often practical lessons that offer a lot of "take-away value," presented in an efficient, friendly manner, as if we were selling cheeseburgers, fries, and a shake?
. . . Today churches large and small (the small imitating the large) have unthinkingly adopted a marketing mentality that, it turns out, subverts rather than promotes the gospel. We inadvertently imply that the church benefits as much from the spiritual transaction as does the recipient. Marketing, by its very nature, contradicts the essence of the gospel lifestyle of Jesus, who came not to be served, but to expend his life for others—no exchange implied or expected.
How can we possibly communicate the radical, self-giving love of God to our culture if we continue to use a method that by its very nature replaces the notions of sacrificial service for an exchange of goods and services?
Good stuff there.
But let's be as clear as possible: The problem is not so much the co-opting of cultural means to disseminate the spiritual truth; the problem is entirely the subsuming of spiritual truth by cultural means. What was once idealized as "church can be the place where one experiences spiritual truth" has become "church is the place where a spiritual product can be consumed."
And if you're following the research, the surveys, the data -- it's not working. It's just not.
What I find interesting is that the very thing most of the seeker movement purported to be against (turning evangelism into a sales pitch and amassing "fire insurance" coverts) it has instead embraced as the measure of its success. So the emphasis on numbers as the sign of effectiveness naturally carries over from "How many are attending?" to "How many are signing on the dotted line?", but for far too many the question still not being asked is "How many are growing?"
Are we cultivating disciples as much as we are gathering converts? That is what Jesus said to go do, after all -- "make disciples."
I discovered musician Shaun Groves's blog this past week. He's got an incisive post called Dismantling Event Church. An excerpt:
Let’s say you’re not a Christian. You come to an event church service one day and you leave buying it. You pray for the first time in your life, you believe in Jesus for the first time too, and even join the church. Then what?
The event church doesn’t answer this question all that well - if it even asks it. The pastors know the bible is clear on what God wants from them: make disciples. But they either think 1) they’re doing that with their excellent worship service OR 2) they’re doing that with “Sunday School” classes or small group bible study classes OR 3 )they think making believers is the same thing as making disciples.
So the event church laments the horrible puny percentage of personal incomes given to it (tithe) and wrings it’s hands over how on earth they’ll ever get 98 people to volunteer to work in the childrens ministry. And they don’t even dare dream of creating programs to end poverty and hunger and illiteracy and unemployment in their city or around the world. Hell, who would give and volunteer for such ambitious programs? It would never work.
So, I’m a critic of the event church because it attracts bored Christians and a small percentage of non-Christian adults but spends little on making disciples - which, ironically could grow a church and would definitely eliminate the beg for money and volunteers portions of the Sunday service.
It's good to not feel alone in my conviction that the bulk of the churches that promote themselves on "reaching the unchurched" are mainly growing by transfer growth (ie. Christians bored with their previous church). The emerging data supports this theory.
Have you looked at any of the research on church drop outs? I've mainly studied up on this as it relates to the demographic I'm attempting to minister to -- college students and young adults -- but the trend holds sway across the demographic spectrum. Event church is great at bringing people in. It is terrible -- terrible -- at keeping them, growing them, maturing them.
And this is why: What you win them with is what you win them to. So if you win somebody to your event, they're going to be expecting the event each time, all the time. And eventually, the event gets old. Churches strive to go bigger, better, flashier, fancier. It's burnout waiting. And in 3-4 years, the convert won to the event moves on to the next event church because it's different.
We are finding this out with student ministry, where the ministries geared toward entertaining, wowing, preoccupying kids then pours those kids out into the "regular" church community where they are then expected to go without games and skits and the bombardment of cultural detritus.
The result? 70% of high school graduates disappear from church.
They weren't won to Christian community; they were won to the show. And when there's no show, they're no-shows.
But the tide may be turning. I wonder if event churches will catch on.
When you look at the research, when you look at the reasons college students and young adults, for examples, return to church, they are not saying "great music" or "exciting media." In fact, programming issues aren't even mentioned. The reasons many of them return -- and the reason the ones who stay stay -- are generally two-fold:
a) spiritual growth
To sum that up: discipleship. They felt connected to community and they were growing in that community.
If you want to attract people to a gathering, music and media works. The show works. Event church works if you want to fill seats and get "big."
But if you want to attract people to a community, the hard work of investing in community and spiritual growth is necessary. To repeat: It is hard work. But it is the work Scripture calls us to.
Does it even strike anyone as odd that the prevailing church model these days is only loosely based on an interpretation of the attractional aspect of Jesus' ministry?
I mean, attractional ministry and missional ministry don't have to be mutually exclusive, but the way the pendulum swings so far toward the attractional worship paradigm, you'd think Jesus and the disciples were playing clips from Sophocles, punctuated by some powerful ballad with Peter on the lute, and then a tidy little message on how to succeed as a fisherman.
But the attractional aspects of Jesus' ministry weren't just meant to attract. When he fed the five thousand, it wasn't just about getting a crowd, performing a neat trick, and hoping it impressed enough people to stick around. It was about demonstrating God's power to provide, about testifying to the provision of life inside the kingdom.
And those are big, whole values and signs our attractional approaches don't even come close to approximating.
"Jesus likes the stuff you like" is not the message of the gospel.
What you win them with is what you win them to.
If you're focused on numbers, that may not matter to you. But if you're focused on the call to discipleship, it will matter. It matters not in most of the ways the modern church measures success, effectiveness, productivity, and quality. But it matters greatly in the the ways the Scriptures measure church success, effectiveness, productivity, and quality.
We may have to nail some very cherished things to the cross.
Jared, great post.
I heard something very similar (mp3) yesterday at church. There was a similar quote, too. Instead of "what you win them with is what you win them to," I heard "The reason they come is the reason they leave." If they are attracted by the music style, they will eventually leave because the music no longer fits their style. On the other hand, if they are attracted to a relationship with God and godly people, they will leave because God sends them elsewhere.
This post helped me categorize a lot of my feelings on church today. I especially appreciated your opening disclaimer differentiating between cultural engagement and spiritual consumerism.
Being in music ministry myself, I see the tendency even in my own heart to functionally believe that the right group of musicians or the right song will somehow increase true DISCIPLES. For true disciples, while music in the corporate gathering may be important, it is never primary. The challenge as a music leader is to communicate that well to your community of believers, and not do anything ministry to undermine the primacy of making disciples by elevating event over true relationships.
Look forward to many trackbacks and hat tips on this post.
"...the way the pendulum swings so far toward the attractional worship paradigm, you'd think Jesus and the disciples were playing clips from Sophocles, punctuated by some powerful ballad with Peter on the lute, and then a tidy little message on how to succeed as a fisherman."
That is a great line!
i heard phil quote it a year ago. he quotes from randy harris at a lipscomb event.
wow lengthy blog with lots to chew on. Thanks for your passion about discipleship!
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