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Marketing the Church

April 19, 2016 by Eric Stillman 0 comments

Posted in: Love

“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (John 13:34-35)

When I was a youth pastor, I went to a training once that was led by a high profile youth ministry organization. With great enthusiasm, they challenged us to do a “Great Commission Competition” in our youth group. Basically, this competition would include dividing the youth group into 3-4 groups, and then giving them a challenge: whichever group could invite the most friends to youth group over the next three months would get a free trip to Six Flags (sponsored by the adults in the church, naturally). The person pitching this event to us raved about how our youth group could grow significantly through this challenge, and bring many people to Christ.

I almost did it. After all, who doesn’t want to grow their group and give more people the chance to come to Christ? But something just didn’t seem right about it… like using Six Flags as a motivator for evangelism. So in the end I passed.

I have an uneasy relationship with marketing as a pastor. In some ways, it’s unavoidable: having an attractive and informative website is just better than having an ugly and outdated one, or having none at all. Putting a big sign on your building that people can read from the street is going to draw more people than putting a sign by the road on Sunday mornings. Outreach events like Vacation Bible School or a guest speaker give people outside the church an opportunity to check out your church.

But marketing can also go too far, from my perspective. I know of churches that have given away cars on Easter to draw people to their church. I know other churches that have sent out mailers promoting their latest sermon series on sex. And with new social media sites and apps popping up every other month, a church can drive itself crazy trying to leverage every opportunity to connect with people through technology.

The more I reflect on all the ways churches can market themselves, the more I am convinced that I want our church to be known by the way we love people, not by our marketing savvy. We will never be able to compete with MTV or Apple or other big companies and famous people who build their brand and attract new customers through viral videos, memorable tweets, and catchy commercials. But what we should do better than anyone else is love people, and to create a community where all are welcome, cared for, and challenged to become all that God intended them to be.

We will continue to keep the sign up on our building, improve our website, and reach out to our community with big events. But my hope is that we would major in loving people, that our church would be famous for the way we love each other and love our neighbor, in a way that reflects the perfect, transformative love of God as displayed in Jesus Christ. Let’s grow the church and God’s kingdom the way it was meant to be grown, by proclaiming and displaying the love of God to our neighbor through our lives.

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