January 27, 2009 by

Over-marketing the Watered-Down Version


Categories: changing mindsets, evangelism, food for thought

In times of “economic downturn”, there’s an annoying little trick that manufacturers like to do. Maybe you’ve noticed it when you go the grocery store. The prices of certain items go up, but the size or quantity of the same items go down.

That’s right–you are paying more money for less stuff.

I even heard that some olive oil manufacturers are planning to dilute the oil they sell you.

Now, I know the purpose behind this is usually to try and keep costs down so they don’t have to drive the prices way up. But when it happens, it’s still hard not to feel like you are being ripped off.

Over the past few days, I’ve been chewing on a recent post by Barb where she was questioning our typical methods of evangelism. I’ve written on this topic before, but the more I think about it, the more I feel a similar feeling to how I feel when I see I am paying more for less.

Ripped off.

What I mean is, not that I feel ripped off, but that it feels like we are the ones doing the ripping off. We are ripping off the public with regard to our faith. And I think we are doing is in two ways…

We are marketing our faith.
We are marketing a watered-down version of our faith.

I’d like to unpack both of these statements, one at a time.

I’ve been a believer for nearly all my life, and I must confess I have never been comfortable with any of the evangelism methods I’ve been taught in church. It’s not because I’m especially shy about sharing my faith, because I’m not. I think it’s more because I’ve never observed a method of evangelism that doesn’t contain some form of marketing. When I say “marketing”, I’m not suggesting we’re selling Jesus for money; but we are selling Him. We are all about convincing people to buy into Christianity, to pray the prayer, to say the magic words, so we can be convinced that they’re “in.” And every time I’ve heard someone teach on how to win people to Christ, it’s basically tactics–what to say, how to act, how to overcome the objections, what to do to “close the deal.” And to make matters worse…if you don’t morph into this kind of Jesus salesperson that is always preaching, always trying to win your friends and neighbors, there’s this latent guilt that sits on your shoulders, like you are failing as a disciple.

Now, I know the Great Commission, and I don’t discount that sharing our faith with others is (or should be) an integral part of following Christ. But the reason I am uncomfortable with our “methods” is that my faith is very precious to me, and I feel like these marketing methods cheapen it somehow–like it’s impossible to express its value in this manner. Experience has taught me that when a salesperson has to work so hard to convince you a product is worth buying–it probably isn’t. By the same token, when we have to resort to sales tactics to get people to commit…what does it really say about what we’re selling? And when every time we have contact with non-Christians, we make them feel like they are a target or a prospect–what message does that send about Christians in general? No wonder so many non-believers think every Christian has a hidden agenda.

Not only have we fallen into the snare of “marketing” our faith to people–we really are giving them watered-down versions of the gospel as well. If you think about it, we’ve been marketing this thing for a long time…and when you market something, you focus on the parts that are the most appealing. Over time, this begins to water down not only the message, but the depth of our own theology as believers. This takes a variety of forms, depending on the particular camp of belief. Sometimes the gospel is presented merely as a “ticket to heaven”, or a fire-escape from hell and damnation…a simplistic one-time conversion that guarantees you for eternity. For intellectuals, we appeal to reason and logic, arguing that the Biblical worldview is the one that makes most sense in our world–as if the Bible was part of the Enlightenment. And more recently, we’ve even appealed to people’s baser instincts, painting God as a sugar-daddy, extracting the Bible passages about prosperity and promising people wealth and an easy, successful life if they follow Jesus. (Never mind the turbulent journey of the apostle Paul–that must have just been a fluke. And of course, when someone’s faith in Christ is founded upon selfish motives, what happens the first time disappointment hits?)

My point is that this life of following Jesus has so much more depth and value to it than we are giving it credit for. We have cheapened it terribly, not just for ourselves, but for others. And we have cheapened it both by reducing it to a product that people consume, and then over-marketing that product. I realize that we live in a consumerist culture, and perhaps this is the language we understand; but this is one of those times when I think we need to stand apart from our culture. We need to recapture the value of our faith.

The truth is, the journey of discipleship is not an easy one. Jesus Himself warned people to count the cost before choosing to follow Him. While the promises of Scripture are real, and while salvation cannot be earned…the commitment to truly follow Him requires sacrifice, hardship, even suffering. But you see, it isn’t what God gives us that makes this walk of faith so priceless; it’s what we give to God. What I mean is that it is our commitment, the yielding of our life to Christ and His kingdom, that gives our faith its worth and meaning. The thing that makes our faith worth living for…is that it is a faith worth dying for.

This is the part of our faith that can’t be conveyed by marketing and methods; it can only be conveyed by living it out. And I think that truth needs to inform how we see evangelism. Yes, the gospel needs to be spread to all the world, but the truth is, most of us live in a culture that has already heard the basic message. I think more and more, what’s going to convince people of the value of the gospel is not how we pitch it–but how we live it.

Musician. Composer. Recovering perfectionist. Minister-in-transition. Lover of puns. Hijacker of rock song references. Questioner of the status quo. I'm not really a rebel. Just a sincere Christ-follower with a thirst for significance that gets me into trouble. My quest has taken me over the fence of institutional Christianity. Here are some of my random thoughts along the way. Read along, join in the conversation. Just be nice.

6 Responses to Over-marketing the Watered-Down Version

  1. Kansas Bob

    It is interesting that Jesus just said “follow me” at times and at other times said something like unless you … you cannot be my disciple.

    Maybe the message is a very personal one and when we generalize via an ‘invitation’ lose that personal communication that is appropriate to the moment?

  2. Amy

    It’s funny that you mentioned this because just last night, on the NBC Evening News, the reporters did a segment talking about how manufacturers have reduced the amount of product bit little bits. I’ve actually noticed. For example, decreasing Peanut Butter in the jars by 2 ounces, reducing cereal by a cup, etc.

    Ah….great analogy of what is happening in the market to how so many within the Christiandom (as a Religion) has presented the public (and even Believers) by “Marketing” Christ. The whole merchandising of Him comes into play. America has so become about “Business” and money, that this is what it has done to Christianity. Just like you said, the Institution is using the same tactics as the Free Market Business enterprise. Like you said, methods such as persuasion, manipulation and convincing are used. Jesus never used any of those. He invited and offered. He knew Truth, Grace and Love would speak for itself.

    “Now, I know the Great Commission, and I don’t discount that sharing our faith with others is (or should be) an integral part of following Christ. But the reason I am uncomfortable with our “methods” is that my faith is very precious to me, and I feel like these marketing methods cheapen it somehow–like it’s impossible to express its value in this manner.”

    Beautifully stated, Jeff.. And that’s exactly how I feel. I value Jesus Christ, and our faith. That’s why I blog passionately (although I know and try to be careful not to “bash” or be too harsh, and clarify that it’s the System I am speaking about, not the PEOPLE in it).

    As well, what you mentioned about the “Watering Down” of the Gospel. Sigh…I know. I have heard that may preachers are using the “Prosperity Gospel” like never before in this ailing economy. Not only that, it’s only been since I stepped out Institutional Christianity, that I finally got a revelation of the True Gospel!! People are not hearing it in many organized religious settings! In essence, they are being ripped off! This makes my heart so sad…but angry as well.

    Fortunately, along with books (such as The Shack, So You Don’t Want to Go To Church Anymore) and discussions of people leaving the Institutional System, Believers are beginning to see these contradictions and the eyes of their hearts are waking up, and they are able to listen to Father.

    Great post Jeff.

    ~Amy : )

  3. Sarah

    Very well articulated, Jeff. Amen! I agree that this cheapens the incredible, amazing reality of the invitation into the Kingdom of God.

    And K-Bob makes a really good point too. How can we mass market something that is relational in nature (restoring people to relationship with their Creator and Father?) Impossible.

    Good thoughts, and I look forward to additional comments on this post too!

  4. Jeff McQ

    I think often that is the case…not that invitations are inherently bad (“Follow Me” is an invitation), but I think it’s true that people can get lost in the shuffle of mass altar calls, for example…repeating after the speaker rather than responding from their own heart to the drawing of God.

    The more I think about it, the more amazed (and devastated) I am at how similar our outreach methods are to plain old commercial marketing.

    The word “impossible” fits here. The fact is our marketing-style evangelism methods are akin to trying to shove a square peg through a round hole. If you’re strong enough you can do it, but you’re going to shave off the corners. 🙂 Point: something inevitably gets lost in the translation.

  5. Kansas Bob

    “repeating after the speaker rather than responding from their own heart”

    Great thought Jeff! I sometimes wonder how anybody really gets “saved” these days 🙂

    On a positive note I have heard some folks give an altar call by instructing folks to simply respond in their heart to God.. I guess it is really not about words that we repeat but those words of surrender that transcend language.

    Happy Wednesday!

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