Happy Easter Everyone!!
As many of you know, I pastor a local church in our community...I love it, and it is such a gift to be a part of people's lives from birth to death...to help a community of faith pursue life that is really life.
I absolutely love what Eugene Petersen says about the church;
"The biblical fact is that there are no successful churches. There are, instead, communities of sinners, gathered before God week after week in towns and villages all over the world. The Holy Spirit gathers them and does his work in them. In these communities of sinners, one of the sinners is called pastor and given a designated responsibility in the community. The pastor’s responsibility is to keep the community attentive to God."
I love this! Biblically, there are no "successful churches"...rather a community of sinners trying to stay attentive to God and that's the primary question that shapes my pastoral identity; "How do I help these people in this place (city, county, state, the world) stay attentive to God?"
What I find through out the year though is that I have to constantly squash the possibility that American Consumerism is creeping into the life of our community. So, before I address that as I prepare to critique the American Church...let me say this; There are a ton of great churches out there who are doing amazing things for the kingdom of God, I'm just not sure that the ridiculous amount of money churches spend on marketing is what Jesus had in mind when he said, "Go and make disciples."
I'll have to look up the Greek text, but I'm pretty sure "Go" has more of a relational sense to it then, "Go" having anything to do with spending thousands of dollars branding your church and creating a bunch of high powered programs and events that will attract people to a show rather than to Jesus.
So here are 4 reasons I've stopped trying to market our church or promote our "big" holiday services (ex...Christmas Eve, Easter, etc...)
1. It teaches consumerism, not Christianity
As Americans, we are good at this. I wrote more about this in an earlier blog where I addressed the issue of entitlement:
The deal is, when we aren't happy with what we have or don't have, we work to be happy...and in many aspects, this is good, but it has crept into the church as well. I just can't wrap my head around the notion that the Creator of the Universe, who became flesh for our sake who took the punishment we deserved, who was abandoned, forsaken, beaten, humiliated, crucified, was buried and then conquered all of that through the resurrection, did it so we could send a mailer out or build a social media marketing presence. When we live the Gospel out through our marketing...we are teaching people to be consumers. We are teaching them to come to our churches to "get something" out of it (What is best for me or my kids instead of what is best for God) not to see what they can give to it. When we live the Gospel out through marketing, one of the dangers is that we are saying, "Come to our church, we are bigger and better, and can meet all of your needs..." People are saturated with marketing...they don't need more stuff, they need Gospel centered lives. Each week at church, I meet new peeps who come to "check out" our church, you know the kind of "pick up your cross" kind of life that Jesus is calling us to (read that last line with my most gracious sarcastic tone). Our marketing attempts only feed this consumer mentality, and I want to work harder at helping people pursue deep roots in community for the sake of the Gospel and it's impact in a hurting world, not just celebrate that we had more attendance than last years Easter service.
2. We are stealing an opportunity for people to live missionally. When we market our churches, we are basically saying, "Don't worry about it...we sent a mailer, we have a huge social media presence, our website is off-the-hook (Yes, I grew up in the 80's and 90's...I know "Off-the-hook" was retired at least a decade ago, but you get the point) so don't worry about it, don't invite your friends, we already have...we've spent thousands of dollars to reach them."
This is crazy thinking...we should be constantly challenging the church to build relationships, not steal their opportunities to do so with our budgets. I get it...I hear you saying through your computer screen, "... I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some. I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings." I don't think Paul meant, "brand and promote" when he was writing to Corinth...he was talking about real, authentic COMMUNITY that live the Gospel out through their WITNESS, not their advertising. The American marketing tail is waving the biblical dog on this one.
3. We are exhausting our people and staff.
Each year when large church staff get together, they begin to dream and think, "How can we make this bigger and better than last year?" The intention is good..."We want to reach more people", but this kind of thinking is exhausting your people and staff. Your new Worship Pastor now has to think about how to impress the people with how great the Holy Week services were, how big the choir was, how incredible the song selection was, what people will think compared to last year...and your choir is thinking, "Between rehearsal and actual services (or "shows")...I won't see my family this week." Well done church...we've just replaced discipleship with performance, it's no wonder people are leaving the church in droves. The pastoral staff is thinking, "Okay, last year we lowered Jeff down as Jesus using fog machines and carabiners...this year, should we think about having him zip line in on a donkey with lasers and palm branches?" For the life of me, when I think about what the Gospel calls us too...I just don't think this is it.
4. It's actually bait and switch at best...
...and hinders the biblical view of community at worst. We aren't showing guests what we are really like or how to live the Gospel out in our every day lives. We work so hard to promote, and promise what an incredible experience you'll have on Easter Sunday and then the following week we all get to go back to normal. I wonder if we did a poll, what the percentage of pastors is that take the Sunday after Easter or Christmas Eve off? Why? Because they are too tired from the hoopla from the week before, but even more so, too tired from the weeks of build up before that. What if we just trusted that the Holy Spirit was actually at work in our everyday lives and as God gather's His people each week, trust that the work God has begun will be a work that God will continue even without (or perhaps in spite of) our mass marketing appeal.
So, I'm done...I'm done promoting and advertising and working so hard to convince you that if you come to our church, we will wow you...cause you know what, WE WON'T! I can't change your life, I can't meet all of your needs, sometimes my sermons will suck, and sometimes your kids will be bored in worship or Sunday School as they long to get back to their tablets. I can't change your life through programs, or stage sets, or marketing madness...but I know the One who can, and I pray you will know Him too. The Gospel is not boring, it's AMAZING...and if you really know the Gospel, your life will never be the same and no amount of marketing will convince you of this. So here is my marketing attempt to you...
Come and see friends, come and see...