And Now a Word From Our Sponsor

January 12, 2011

No, I haven’t sold out the blog yet.

Sometimes last year, I lamented the fact that the church used to make art. 

The church was the center of culture.  Now we just make advertisements, and we’re usually pretty lousy at it.  Most of it amounts to questionable church marquees. 

Before I went to seminary, I studied design.  And the more I think about it, the more I’ve changed my mind.  The fact is, I like advertisements…when they’re awesome and clever.  Advertisements really can be modern art.  It’s just that most of them aren’t.  Most of them are irritating cartoons of bears talking about how amazing Charmin toilet paper feels.  Great.  I’ll remember that next time my talking pet bear needs to poop. 

I’m still sad that the church doesn’t make art anymore, but even moreso that the same apathy seems to go for our advertising efforts.

 Check out some of these amazingly compelling advertisements, crafted by master artists.

 We Advertise, Whether We Want To or Not

Shopping bag ads for product to stop nail biting

Church people are funny.  While thousands of advertisements are created every day, we can’t even decide that we should be advertising.  We keep going around in philosophical circles about how Jesus isn’t a “product” to be marketed and monetized.  The church stands for something so grand, that advertising is “beneath” it.  Whenever some church tries to be creative, we inevitably get into some grand debate about whether it “belongs” in church.

 Great, except that’s a totally moot point.

Whether we try to or not, we advertise.  We brush it up with a holier sounding word, like “outreach.”  Even if we’re not trying to do outreach, we are advertising with our buildings, our signs, and whatever half-hearted message we communicate. 

We Let Others Advertise For Us

Space reserved for drunk driver. Some things are so important, they need to be advertised.

Politicians know that once they let their opponent define them, and they get on the defensive, they’re toast.  Why can’t the church figure this out?  While we’re minding our own business, hoping people will like us, we allow the world to define us, to constantly put us on the defensive.  The most ridiculous cults always make the news.  The only Christian pastors many people know of are the phonies on TV.  Christians are always talking about how we need to break the negative perceptions that the world has of us. 

People want to change the world. They just need to be told how.

We’re always on the defensive, because we let those negative  perceptions fester.  Our true message is not getting to people.  All we do is put out fires and say, “Not all of us are like those stupid Christians!”  Rather than just trying to break down negative perceptions when they pop up, we ought to be actively creating new perceptions.

And They’ll Know We Are Christians…How?

I know that advertising is an impersonal way to communicate.  There is no substitute for one on one sharing and fellowship (referred to as ‘word of mouth’ in the ad biz.)  But, consider this:

I hate McDonald's. But a giant napkin dispenser to promote their new, giant burger? Sign me up.

More people than ever have no clue about what Jesus is all about.

More people than ever do not have a Christian friend.

More people than ever will not go to church or listen to a Christian if confronted by one.

More people than ever consume more advertisements a day than ever.

This ad is making an offer you can't refuse.

And while millions of people get millions of ads a day, nudging them this way and that, what do they get from the church?

Radio silence.

They are not hearing from us.  They don’t even have the chance to ignore our message, because they aren’t hearing it.  We expect them to come to us, check our tweets, listen to our podcastsI’m a Christian and and can tell by looking at most church buildings that they probably aren’t a place I’d want to go.  If we try to go to them, it usually means trying to insert ourselves where we don’t belong and looking foolish.  A few of us can pull it off.  Guys like Jay Bakker are the exception.

Why does a Christian group like Charity: Water have such good advertising? Because Scott Harrison isn't a pastor, he was a club promoter.

We don’t have thirty minutes with people to communicate the four spiritual laws.  We don’t have ten minutes to tell people how much we love them.  We have two seconds to nudge people toward Jesus while they’re riding the bus to work. 

What we’re doing isn’t cutting it.  If we’re going to do advertising, we can’t do it ourselves.  We need to spend some of that money that we spend on buildings and shows for ourselves, and hire real artists to help us communicate with people we don’t know how to communicate with.

What do you think?  Is the church above advertising?  Is advertising a waste of time?  Can advertisements truly be modern art, communicating the church’s message, the way sculptures and paintings used to?

26 responses to And Now a Word From Our Sponsor

  1. Matt, this is simply a superb entry. Your points are direct, sharpened, and true. God bless you, young man.

  2. We (the people) are the church and thus by default its sales and marketing department. Apart from shining Jesus every day, getting people to a point where they meet the Lord is imperative. Maybe the logical step is to have a conversation starter. Personally I like quirky t-shirts and will always comment on one to start a conversation. Why can’t the church print a yearly t-shirt with a conversation starter on it (like most companys/clubs/schools/etc.) ?

    seen during a fun run “On the 7th day God ran an easy 5km”

    loved the post
    kleinfrans recently posted..thought b- trading your adventure

      Saudi Arabia

  3. I never thought of church and advertising like this, but you bring up some really good points. Paul talking with Felix and King Agrippa were advertisements weren’t it?

    I guess for me, the advertisement of Jesus is only the start. Following through and making disciples of all nations is another task. Jesus advertised the love of God by the miracles.

    Part of me hates all the cheesy church signs and the other part likes them. I think the average joe does understand what they mean and maybe is in agreement with what they say, whether they verbalize it or not.
    Charlie Chang recently posted..251 Doing the grocery shopping

  4. Love it! If only the church could produce this kind of stuff. I’ve always wished I would have gotten a real degree before I went to Seminary. Unfortunately, I never learned how to make awesome stuff, but I still appreciate it when I see it. The church has tremendous opportunities to do some awesome stuff with advertising and art, but for some reason we don’t.
    SethC recently posted..Leaving

  5. Thanks Matt, great job! I worked in marketing and advertising for quite some time. It’s always been part of my role at work.

    Part of the problem – from a marketing point of view – come from missing the basics.

    – What is our target market? The knee-jerk answer will be “everyone.” If that’s the case, then why do we have nursery, children’s ministry, teen-church and ministries to the poor, the homeless, nursing homes and the like? Each one of those is a potential market requiring a different approach.

    -What are the needs (or needs that we can artificially create) of these markets? Every culture, and every segment has basic needs, or we can cause them to perceive a need.

    – What’s the message? Who are we really? This needs some distilling. Always liked the VCF bumper sticker “Come As You Are – You’ll Be Loved.” They added a worship tune to it. “Come, Now is the Time To Worship.” The message was “come!” They were trying to engage folks, not preach to them in the marketing.

    – Benefits and Features: What are we offering? This is tough because it is easy to sound superior and/or arrogant. I like the tag line, “…figuring out daily life with a loving God.” And I also like “Natural folks walking with a supernatural God.” It is a good time to shut up about why we might have something better to offer than another denomination or religion. It’s about Jesus. Jesus is a living God that can do stuff. That should be enough!

    – Quality, Price, Service and Now: These are the elements of helping consumers to make a choice (advertising). We should start with service. McDonalds is popular because they get cheap stuff to the drive up very fast. Cleaning companies are popular because, let’s -face it, folks don’t really enjoy cleaning. Service! One church I was at specifically said there was no offering. There was a box in the back that regular attendees could use, and there was never an expectation for visitors.

    In the end, we need to present Jesus, not a church, not a ministry: Jesus. We need to stay away from jumping on the social issue band wagon. There are non-Christian organizations that feed the poor and stuff like that. We need to be the loving arms of Heaven, and if that includes intervening in human trafficking, or homeless shelters, awesome. But I think we have it backwards. We decide what Jesus would do, and then do it like the world. We need to act like Jesus, and seize the opportunities before us. Wiping snot from aids babies is not very sexy, but it can easily be God.

    And lastly, we cannot compromise the message/task that God has given each one of us. Gideon is a great example. Inexperienced marketing and advertising folks are well known for “sky rockets” (great ideas that eventually fizzle). The best brands offer consistency, and service based on a strategy.

    And from the book the 22 Immutable Laws of Marketing – be the first! Everyone remembers who was first, and few remember who was second or third. Be the first to love like Jesus did, to listen like Jesus did, to sacrifice like Jesus did. You only need 12 willing and available folks to turn the world upside down.
    David recently posted..Is It Really God

    • Great points, David. The problem in a nutshell, if I understand what you’re saying, is that the church has attempted to act like it’s own ad agency, and it really doesn’t know how to advertise.

      • Amen! We don’t understand market segments, we don’t know what our message is, we don’t know what action we want folks to take when we do engage them (we usually go for the salvation thing, and there is nothing else on the menu), we don’t target real needs as much as promoting our brand, we aren’t even consistent about our message, and quality of it all is lame-o. And the worst is bait-and-switch.

        Jesus met people where they were at. He told them the truth based on their circumstances, and backed it up with power, free fire insurance, and a full grantee.
        David recently posted..God is Sooo Very Cool- Especially When He Talks to You

  6. I like reading your posts a lot Matt. I had to chime in on this one; I agree with you 100%. Although, I think a lot of people, when they hear “church advertising,” think of all the pastors asking for some amount of money, etc…

    I saw some advertisement a while back for a church, I forget what it was, and it was absolutely beautiful. Jesus calls us to go out into the world, seeing that everybody watches TV what a better way to go out into the world? You’re right, we want people to come to us first but that doesn’t work. We need surprise them with something while watching MTV, not asking them to come to channel such and such and was Pastor so and so. I don’t think “good” art is the point, being effective is the point. It doesn’t take money to make something good, smart, and overall effective. Effective (and artistic) ≠ High Quality (Lots of $$$$).

    Thanks Matt!

  7. If we build it, they will come does not work. Getting the message out by any means necessary (short of sin) does and will. The gumption to do it is what seems to be lacking.
    seekingpastor recently posted..Who I’m Comfortable With

    • Thought exactly the same thing! The “Field of Dreams” mentality just doesn’t cut it. If we spent a fraction of the money currently spent on buildings and salaries, we could have one heckuva advertising campaign out there.

  8. Not long ago Danny Bixby wrote a post about the difference between advertising and branding. When I read it, I thought that he made a pretty compelling argument against advertising, but after reading your post here, I can see the value of both. I wonder if our lack of positive advertising has led to our sub-par branding.

    Good food for thought here Matt!

  9. Maybe you’re too young (cough cough) to remember CCC’s “I found it!” campaign. You have a really good point, and I totally agree with you, but advertising has a lot of potential for harm as well as good. Who will make sure all the ads are good ones?

    Of course, God advertises all the time. Maybe it’s easier to see here in Colorado, with a gorgeous view of the mountains out my office window. The sunrise this morning was spectacular, too.

  10. I definitely agree with the statement that we are letting the world define us. I am not sure how to change that other than to send out the message “Not Perfect, but Forgiven by God’s grace”. And I agree that God has not limited us in how to get His word out.

    However, as someone who rarely listens to radio or has time to watch TV shows when they are actually on, I rarely watch or hear advertisements. How many of you young whippersnappers actually watch advertisements anymore, except for things like The Superbowl, when advertisements are almost like the star of the show rather than the actual game? How many kids tune out the advertisements or even analyze them to see what message they are trying to send so they can cynically reject it?

    Also, there is a bigger and bigger push in our culture to eliminate Christian messages from the public consciousness. One of my churches bought land and spent two years with the village trying to get them to approve our design, with constantly changing requirements. It was more a money issue with the village wanting all that wonderful tax revenue from developed houses that they wouldn’t get from a non-profit organization rather than outright persecution, but the end result was the same. People are protesting nativity scenes, the government has been trying to push “The Fairness Doctrine” for a while that would possibly require stations that broadcast purely Christian messages to broadcast competing views. Look at the outcry when Focus on the Family bought ad time on the Superbowl. So even if a church wanted to pay for a message on secular radio, would it be allowed to air? I doubt it. No, they are too busy taking money from lawyers promising a “quicky divorce”.

    And then there is stuff like the Chinese church, which has no advertising,no fancy slogans, no beautiful works of art or even billboards and yet they are growing because people see a difference and a hope in them.

    There is some scripture that points out that no matter how beautiful, how clever or how great our message, we still will only get a few people to listen:
    “For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it.” Matthew 7:13

    “For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths” 2 Timothy 4:3

    Having said all that, why not try to be crazy clever and beautiful in our messages to woo people to God in every way possible?
    Tandeming Troll recently posted..Whats in a Name

  11. Dude. You have some of the longest comments I’ve ever seen. That’s awesome. You make us think. I don’t know what the answer is. It’s difficult to come off as sincere, trying to reach people who are broken without looking like we’re being manipulative or judgmental. I’ve yet to see an Christian ad campaign that wasn’t attacked by someone–often fellow Christians. Maybe the answer is to stop caring so much what everyone thinks and just be honest.
    katdish recently posted..Shattered

  12. Great points, Matt. I think our message is too important not to get out by whatever means necessary. We would do well to have some grace with one another as we try to communicate effectively. We’ll probably try and fail a lot, but we still have to go for it and follow the voice and word of God. Thanks.
    jasonS recently posted..What Demands Response for You

  13. We’re in such a jaded world so it’s going to be hard to push church via the advertising route. Sure, we might be able to make some great ads but at the end a large part of folks will say “I don’t want to go to church.” But we can definitely do better with our advertisements. If I had a dime for the number of bad church commercials I played in my ten-ish years in Christian radio, I’d be able to take a few years off from working. :)
    Jason recently posted..Day 11- Stop Prayer time

  14. I think the root issue is a misunderstanding of the purpose of the “church” (and by that I mean the institutional church or whatever “type” of church you go to – e.g., house, mega, etc.).

    Is the church for believers (“Christians,” “the saved,” whatever), or is it for non-believers (“non-Christians,” “the un-saved,” “Seekers,” etc.)?

    If the church is for believers, then advertising is pointless and a waste of money.

    If the church is for non-believers, then advertising is absolutely necessary and needs to be done to the glory of God (which means to the BEST of our abilities).

    I personally think that church is for believers, although I’m still “percolating” as to a coherent reason why.

    But I think that question is the root issue here, not whether advertising should/shouldn’t be done.
    Princess Leia recently posted..Shoeboxes!

  15. Being an Advertising major at the University of Florida wanting to hit up seminary upon graduation, Jesus and advertising are on my mind quite a bit.

    A lot of people sign off advertising as complete deception (and that is obviously true for a large majority of stuff we see for products), but if Jesus can enter into something as wretched as the human heart and redeem it there is no reason he can’t redeem a mere industry through us.

    Advertising is a great tool, not just for selling products but also for getting the word out about stuff. We as Christians can use it to spread the truth, and I don’t think there is anything wrong with churches using advertising. It does matter to me, however, how they use it. Are they merely marketing their own church and just pushing their services? I have a problem with that. Are they spending advertising for spreading the Gospel and/or raising awareness about church events and community service projects? That is cool to me then.

    Let us not forget that nothing is impossible with our God.
    Brooklyn Cravens recently posted..Beaten Down by Grace

  16. Oh my lord – that church in the first picture is in my backyard (Houston/Galveston). I’m so embarrassed…

  17. For Easter, our church had artists voluntarily paint some magnificent pictures. Now one of our worship interns is doing something called Open Studio where artists (including writers like us) are invited to share their craft, talk about Jesus, and eat! I can’t wait. It’s going to be advertised through freebie papers possibly.
    Nikole Hahn recently posted..Freedom in Silence

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    […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Glynn Young, Dave Ness. Dave Ness said: Spot ON! RT @MattTCoNP: why isn't the church creating ths stuff? Is Jesus above advertising? […]