straight talk

faith from the hip

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by Mark Priddy


“If you don’t like the way you were born — try being born again!” This announcement, prominently displayed recently on a church marquee in my neighborhood, reflects perfectly the spirit of religious life in North America today. It advertises to all who pass by the church what sounds like very good news: “If you don’t like who you are now, God has a ‘new you’ ready to try on! Details available inside!”

This is exactly the kind of message that modern men and women like to hear. What could be better news than to hear that the God who called the universe into existence wants nothing more than to make us over into what we most want to be? How could this message not be compelling? As a result of years of cultural conditioning, recent generations in North America have come to see themselves almost exclusively as consumers whose sole purpose in life is to satisfy their individual needs…Not only does this message by itself leave much to be desired, it is also symptomatic of a widespread problem within the church today, which is to confuse the gospel with an infomercial, and the community of God’s people with vendors of spiritual goods and services.”

I love this quote from the book StormFront. It reminds me of a similar situation I went through in the mid-90’s.

I was invited to sit on a panel to explore a new program called; “New Strategies For City-Wide Evangelism.” I still remember the question that was posed to me as if it were yesterday. “Mark, if you could figure out how to put the gospel into a vitamin bottle, package it, market it, and get it into the hands of men and women in the city, our churches would be filled to capacity.” In other words, I was asked to help implement a marketing strategy that would successfully saturate the entire region with the gospel and turn “customers into consumers” and the church into a “vendor of goods and services.”

My years of business and my experience in marketing and producing products seemed to be precisely what was needed to launch a new and innovative marketing program. Had I found my call?

Let’s face it. Though the fundamental idea of marketing has been around for over fifty years, the message itself is ageless. Surely, if Fortune 500 companies see fit to spend money on marketing campaigns in order to achieve brand recognition and successfully turn customers into consumers, couldn’t the religious sector do the same? Customers are the focal point of all businesses, religious or secular, aren’t they? It doesn’t take a savvy executive to know that in order for organization to exist, one must do marketing and do it extraordinarily well to flourish.


If we could present the gospel in a reduced message, a catch phrase, several bullet points, something less than two to three words, and market it on billboards, benches, bumper stickers, radio and TV ads, then we could reach thousands of religious customers. If each campaign carried a simple message, or perhaps better stated, a “catchy slogan,” if we worked together and invested enough money to cover the largest market and deliver the maximum amount of “impressions,” then we could implement a successful marketing strategy to reach our targeted customer.

That’s right impressions! In marketing, one of the most important laws is to capture the mind of the customer— the prospect. Get the message out there as much as you can. It needs to be in front of them at all times—when they’re eating, driving, or taking a siesta on the local bench—make it quick, easy to read, short, sweet, and catchy. This approach is vital to the success of any marketing program. If all goes well, then theoretically it will bring people into the store and successfully convert them from “customer to consumer.”

So, following that line of thinking, it only makes sense to market the gospel, right? And what other product is free? Have you checked out the price of Prozac lately? What other product can forgive sins, take care of our needs and secure a place in heaven?


Any well-versed executive who has lived in the trenches and the world of marketing products knows all too well that once we have successfully embedded the idea into the customers’ minds, then we must continue to satisfy their needs. Without satisfied customers, you lose business to your competitors. We wouldn’t want that, WOULD WE? Without the ability to satisfy customers, you fail to attract new customers. The logic is simple, yet powerful. There are only two possible sources of business revenue: selling to new customers, or selling to repeat customers. And since repeat customers are generally easier and more profitable to work with, you generally want to maximize customer satisfaction and insure a high rate of retention. Thus, to succeed, a business needs to attract new customers, then make sure they are sufficiently satisfied to come back again and again.

It is no wonder why businesses devote so much time, attention, and money to activities designed to attract and retain customers. To attract them, they design their products, develop new sales programs, and seek faster and more convenient ways to distribute the products to customers. We have to keep everyone happy, DON’T WE?

So what was the slogan? What powerful catch phrase was presented to a group of “so-called prominent” men and women that would convert “customers to consumers?” It was simply this:

“Got Jesus”

Original right? But, hey, why reinvent the wheel? “Got Milk” had become a household slogan, sales had sky-rocketed, and the campaign was publicized as one of the most successful marketing programs in years.

The whole point of the campaign revolved around a marketing plan that promised to meet people’s needs, improve their private lives, enhance their self esteem, give them a sense of purpose, improve their emotional state as individuals and assure eternal life at a minimal cost to the customer.

I remember walking out of that room thinking; how can we reduce the gospel of the kingdom to a slogan? That was the beginning of my journey.

Here are some thoughts for you to reflect upon.

  • The problem arises when the church, the people of God, proclaim something less than the full gospel. Such reductionisms stand in obvious tension with an incarnational approach to mission, which is committed to biblical integrity and faithfulness.

  • As long as we continue to view the church as a place, then we will continue to compete for members. ("God's Love is Visible. Come Inside and See!”) We will get sucked into the marketing trap of trying to invite the world to church. Religious economies are no different then commercial economies, meaning that they consist of a market made up of a set of current and potential customers and a set of firms seeking to serve that market.

  • Unless we are careful, a privatized religion built upon "meeting needs” simply becomes another way of saying, “satisfy the customer." God does care about our needs, but we must ask ourselves: is this the full Gospel Jesus came proclaiming? (More on this in the coming weeks)

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