The premise of all marketing is that the consumer must be pleased; he must be kept happy; he must be given what he needs, or has been programmed to think he needs, if we are to succeed. This premise works very well for say, McDonalds, but can it be adopted by the church? Certainly it can, but is not the church – and more importantly the gospel message – in danger of being distorted in the process? Listen to these words by Wells:
“The fact is that while we may be able to market the church, we cannot market Christ, the gospel, Christian character, or meaning in life. The church can offer handy childcare to weary parents, intellectual stimulation to the restless video generation, a feeling of family to the lonely and dispossessed – and, indeed, lots of people come to churches for these reasons. But neither Christ nor his truth can be marketed by appealing to consumer interest, because the premise of all marketing is that the consumer’s need is sovereign, that the customer is always right and this is precisely what the gospel insists cannot be the case” (emphasis mine).
Michael Horton summarizes things well: “By the time we are finished, we have entirely transformed the communion of saints. We did not even have to officially jettison the Bible, as the modernists did earlier this century. We did not have to say that Scripture failed to provide answers for the modern world or speak to the real needs of contemporary men and women, as the liberals said. All we had to do was to allow the world to define the church instead of allowing the Word to define it” (emphasis mine).
When we speak of marketing the church we are not referencing such things as advertising church events, excellence in programming, being kind to visitors, or providing ample parking. No one is arguing the importance and value of such things. Marketing, as practiced by the new-paradigm churches, goes much further because its focus is on what the consumer (unchurched Harry) wants and thinks he needs, rather than on what God wants and what he says Harry needs. In other words, market-driven churches are built upon the foundation of polls, surveys and the latest techniques instead of upon the Word of God.
In order to market a church to the unsaved consumer, he must be given what he wants. Since unsaved consumers do not desire God, or the things of God, they have to be enticed by something else. Thus the temptation arises for a church to change, or at least hide, who they are so that they appeal to unchurched Harry. Additionally, the church is tempted to alter its message to correspond with what Harry wants to hear and thinks he needs. The end result is a felt-need gospel that appeals to Harry’s fallen nature in an effort to entice him to come to Christ, the ultimate felt-need supplier, so that he is fulfilled and feels better about himself.
But, “Can churches really hide their identity without losing their religious character? Can the church view people as consumers without inevitably forgetting that they are sinners? Can the church promote the gospel as a product and not forget that those who buy it must repent? Can the church market itself and not forget that it does not belong to itself but to Christ? Can the church pursue success in the market place and not lose its biblical faithfulness?” I believe the answers to these questions are self-evident.*