Hitting the Mark(et)


Today’s readings (click below to open in new tab/window):
Psalms 122; 149, 2 Samuel 5:22-6:11, Acts 17:16-34, Mark 8:1-10

Some churches approach evangelism like a marketing campaign, while others consider this tactic crass. Demographic analysis and ad campaigns may not seem spiritual, but they can get butts in the seats. Prayer groups and one-on-one meetings may seem more spiritual, but risk becoming insular activities which impact only existing members. Trite as it sounds, a healthy approach lies somewhere in the middle.

Paul knew a thing or two about marketing. When he spoke to the Athenians, he used familiar phrases from Greek poets and philosophers to support his position. When modern churches try to appear relevant by co-opting current trends, they aren’t as far from Paul as we might think. In Paul’s Greece, a person’s choice of philosophy was a social statement as much as a system of thought, so Paul knew to keep his references culturally savvy. He chose to “speak their language.”

When churches speak a lot of “Christianese” their insider language is meaningful to members, but leaves outsiders feeling excluded. Think what “slain in the spirit” sounds like to a non-Christian.  A church should not resemble a club with a secret password.

Critics of Christian culture – including many Christians – often point to “relevant” marketing efforts as a sign of desperation or insincerity. If Paul is our example of effective evangelism – and if he isn’t, who could be? – such critics might want to temper their judgments. On the other hand, a packed house does not necessarily indicate spiritual success. A large congregation means nothing if its members are not challenged to fully live the Gospel because its leaership fears doing so might negatively impact the collection plate or the head count. Conversely, a small congregation is not by default virtuous or successful, especially if it isn’t reaching out to the greater community.

A successful congregation is one that shares the Good News in ways people can understand and are attracted to, without compromising its message. The primary goal is never numbers-driven. If we follow Paul’s example, we will see that presenting the unexpurgated Gospel message in a sincere but relatable way is the only marketing plan we need.

Additional Reading:
For more thoughts on today’s passage from Acts, see The Unknown God.

Comfort: Some of the best evangelism is simple truth, plainly spoken.

Challenge: Check your church’s promotional material for “Christianese.”.

Prayer: Compassionate God, teach me to share Christ’s message. Amen.

Discussion: What kind of evangelism do you best respond to?

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