As a new decade emerges, churches are struggling to stay relevant - not only to their membership base, but in attracting new members as well. In a world where customization is now the rule rather than the exception, people are looking for churches that conform to their wants and needs.
This consumer focus has created dissension among many Christians who feel that churches using marketing to attract and keep members are in essence, creating churches that exist for their members. As Tulsa, Oklahoma Pastor Mark Riddle puts it: "The desire to please the congregation supersedes the desire to please God."
To many churches, marketing makes sense, as it serves to attract people to come to church who otherwise would rather sleep in. Promoting casual attire, Christian Contemporary Music, coffee shops and inspirational sermons makes church a cool place to go.“The church should be a place of magnificence and excitement–not something that is moving towards being a remnant," exclaims Brian Houston, Pastor of Hillsong Church in Australia.
To others, churches have become a place of how can I serve to how can I be served? They believe that churches have become arenas for spectators to watch their favorite preacher deliver another award winning sermon or a fashion palace for those to show off their newest outfit. The focus often becomes centered upon a products and services based model that fits the demographical needs of its members. Messages are carefully constructed, weaving selected passages of the Bible to accommodate what members want to hear and bypassing or downplaying themes that carry a negative tone.
In a March 2009 poll on churchmarketingsucks.com, visitors were asked what their number one church marketing fear was. 25% mentioned depending on marketing rather than God. 22% feared amazing marketing, awful ministry. The question arises about the intent of church marketing and how those intentions are being used to spread the Gospel of Jesus Christ. "Sometimes Christians fear that using learned skills will somehow lessen the work of God," mentions Kurt from Church Marketing Online. "I would argue that God gave us the ability to learn and that we shouldn’t be afraid to learn useful skills and use them in our service of Him."
Perhaps the biggest concern of consumerism in the church is downplaying the Gospel and focusing on prosperity based preaching. Prosperity Gospel antagonists argue that such teaching creates a jaded view of Christ, as the focus becomes about financial and material reward for those whom God favors. Thus the premise that Godliness causes prosperity. The major topics of salvation, discipleship, and sin are often minimized.
Can marketing and church co-exist to create a relevant and fun environment conducive to learning about Christ and having a servant attitude towards helping others, while meeting the needs (and wants) of its members?
What are your views?