The Gospel - a branded article?
In one of his early films, John Wayne said to another cowboy: "I don't like working with branding iron - it hurts to be in the wrong place!" I found his remark quite funny, but it also made me think about how churches can harm the gospel by improperly using marketing techniques such as intensive promotion of branded products. In the past, our founder looked for a strong sales argument and made us the "only true church". This approach compromised biblical truth as the gospel was redefined to promote the brand name.
Involved in Jesus' work of spreading his gospel
Our calling as Christians is not to market a branded product, but to participate in Jesus' work with the help of the Holy Spirit and to spread his gospel through the Church through the world. Jesus 'gospel addresses several things: How forgiveness and reconciliation were accomplished through Jesus' reconciliation sacrifice; how the Holy Spirit renews us (and what it means to live a new life); the nature of our calling as followers of Jesus who join His worldwide mission; and the sure hope that we will forever belong to the community that Jesus has with the Father and the Holy Spirit.
There are areas of application, albeit limited, in which marketing (including brand cultivation) is useful for carrying out the service of the gospel to which Jesus called us. For example, we can use logos, websites, social media, bulletins, newsletters, symbols, newsletters and other means of communication that help us spread Jesus' message and awaken faith in people. In any case, such means should be useful and should not prevent us from being light and salt in our citizens' communities. Seen in this way, I am not against correctly applied marketing, but I would also like to make an appeal for caution and link this with an outlook.
Appeal for caution
According to George Barna's definition, marketing is “a collective term that encompasses all activities that lead to two parties agreeing on the exchange of goods of adequate value” (in A Step by Step Guide to Church Marketing; German: Step by step introduction to church marketing). Barna extends the term marketing by adding activities such as advertising, public relations, strategic planning, customer surveys, distribution channels, fundraising, pricing, vision and customer service as elements of marketing. Then Barna concludes: "If these elements come together in a transaction that causes the parties involved to exchange goods of adequate values, the marketing circle closes". Let us remember for a while the idea of an exchange with goods of adequate value.
It was only a few years ago when some of our pastors studied a well-known book by a leader of a Southern California mega-church. The essential message of the book was that you could offer people and their communities something that they would enthusiastically accept if you market your church in a specific way. Some of our pastors have tried the recommended marketing techniques and were disappointed as their membership did not grow.
But we should the gospel Market (and our communities) the way Walmart and Sears market their products - or even use marketing methods that certain communities use to generate numerical growth? I think we agree that we don't have to praise the gospel like a supposedly great value consumer item. That was certainly not what Jesus had in mind when he gave us the task of preaching the gospel to the world and making people from all walks of life disciples.
As the apostle Paul wrote, the gospel is often portrayed by reactionary or stupid people as decidedly secular (1 Corinthians 1,18: 23) and certainly not regarded as an attractive, highly sought-after consumer item. As followers of Jesus, we are not carnal, but spiritual (Romans 8,4-5). We are certainly not perfect in this, but by the Holy Spirit we are aligned with God's will (and consequently also on his work). So understood, it is not surprising that Paul has certain "human" Rejected (secular) techniques for spreading the gospel:
Since God entrusted us with this task in His grace, we do not lose heart. We reject all unscrupulous methods of preaching. We are not trying to outwit someone and we are not falsifying God's Word, we are speaking the truth before God. Everyone who has righteous hearts knows that (2 Corinthians 4,1: 2; new life). Paul refused to use methods that lead to short-term success but are at the expense of the gospel. The only kind of success he wanted in life and ministry was said to be connected with Christ and the Gospel.
Some promises made by churches that praise the gospel as a recipe for success sound like this: «Come to our church and your problems will be solved. You will gain health and prosperity. You will be blessed richly ». The promised blessings typically have to do with power, success, and wish fulfillment. The sugar-and-whip effect sets in when interested parties are introduced to the necessary conditions - when it comes to things like a high level of faith, participation in a small group, paying tithing, active participation in a service to the Church , or adhering to certain times for prayer and Bible study. Although these are helpful for growth in following Jesus, none of the things God can do to benevolently fulfill our desires in the exchange of things that he supposedly expects from us.
Unfair advertising and fraudulent marketing
Baiting people with statements that they can come to God to fulfill their wishes is unfair advertising and fraudulent marketing. It is nothing more than paganism in a modern guise. Christ did not die to fulfill our selfish consumer desires. He didn't come to guarantee us health and prosperity. Instead, he came to engage us in the benevolent relationship with the Father, Son and Holy Spirit and to give us peace, joy and hope, which are the fruits of this relationship. This strengthens us with God's expensive and changing love to love and help other people. This kind of love can be used by some (and perhaps many) may be perceived as intrusive or offensive, but it also always points out the source of this saving, reconciling and changing love.
Should we market the gospel as an object of exchange of adequate value between two mutually agreed parties? Definitely not! The gospel is a gift for all by the grace of God. And all we can do is accept the gift with empty, broken hands - full of grateful acceptance of the blessings as belonging to God. The communion of grace and love expresses itself through a life of grateful worship - a response empowered by the Holy Spirit, who has opened our eyes and taken our proud and rebellious drive for independence to live for the glory of God.
A wonderful exchange
With these thoughts in mind, I would like to point out that in our lives in and with Christ and through the Holy Spirit, an exchange of a special kind, a truly wonderful exchange has taken place. Please read what Paul wrote:
I have been crucified with Christ. I live, but now not me, but Christ lives in me. Because what I now live in the flesh, I live in faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself up for me (Galatians 2,19b-20).
We give our sinful life to Jesus and He gives us His life of righteousness. When we give up our lives, we find his life working in us. When we place our lives under the dominion of Christ, we find the true purpose of our lives, no longer to live our aspirations, but to increase the glory of God, our Creator and Redeemer. This exchange is not a marketing method - it happens by grace. We receive full communion with God, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, and God receives us wholeheartedly. We receive the just character of Christ and he removes all our sins and gives us complete forgiveness. This is certainly not an exchange of goods of adequate value!
Every believer in Christ, man or woman, is a new creature - a child of God. The Holy Spirit gives us new life - the life of God in us. As a new creature, the Holy Spirit changes us to become more and more involved in Christ's perfect love for God and man. When our life is in Christ, then we have a part in his life, both in joy and in compassionate love. We are partners in his sufferings, his death, his righteousness, as well as his resurrection, his ascension, and finally his glorification. As God's children, we are co-heirs with Christ, absorbed into his perfect relationship with his Father. In this regard, we are blessed by all that Christ has done for us to become God's beloved children, united with him - in glory forever!
Full of joy over the wonderful exchange,
GRACE COMMUNION INTERNATIONAL