“Jesus Is Not A Brand”

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I had some “interesting discussions” (yeah, we’ll just call them that) last year with those who believe in savvy church marketing. I am not a fan of the emergent church or the seeker-sensitive movement, primarily because I believe that the tactics used do more harm in watering down the potency of scripture and the Gospel message in favor of attracting more people to the assembly. I don’t intend to be a strict traditionalist who is unwilling to acknowledge the diverse way in which people learn and grow, but I also don’t intend to present the Gospel in a neat package for the sake of expediency.

Tyler Wigg-Stevenson, the author of “Brand Jesus” wrote an excellent article in the January edition of “Christianity Today” Magazine that digs into the concept of “marketing Jesus”:

Jesus Is Not A Brand

The champions of better church marketing say that withdrawal and resistance are not options for a local church that seeks a public presence. We live in a commercialized culture that accepts that virtually everything is for sale. There is simply no way to be in the public arena without engaging in marketing. Even if you do not intend to market your church, that’s how consumers are going to perceive your outreach. They will take it in through market-conditioned filters. If we ignore this fact, we will probably wind up doing bad marketing, and that doesn’t do anyone any good.

So, unless we completely withdraw from any kind of evangelism, marketing is inevitable. And if marketing is the language of our culture, we might as well be fluent in it, right? After all, if you were a missionary in a foreign country, you would learn the language. Marketing is just the latest incarnation of classic evangelistic models such as persuasion and example.

Thus goes the argument. At the popular blog ChurchMarketingSucks.com, Joshua Cody wrote, “It’s a privilege that in a world full of broken marketing and blatant lies, we get to sell the truth.” From this perspective, the mistake would be to market the church poorly, which would make the church seem less than it is—like an undesirable brand—to an unbelieving audience.

Stevenson goes on to explain the pitfalls of using worldy marketing philosophy and how that is in direct conflict with Jesus Christ and His Gospel message:

  1. “I am what I buy” vs. the lordship of Christ.

  2. Discontent vs. the sufficiency of Christ.

  3. Brand relativism vs. the supremacy of Christ.

  4. Fragmentation vs. unity in Christ.

In light of people like Eddie Long (and others) masterfully marketing themselves under the guise of the Gospel, Stevenson’s closing paragraph is even more profound (my emphasis in bold):

But problems begin when we define the church as a whole using a comparison that just describes one of its attributes: i.e., treating the church as a business with a brand to promote. And then, even though there are all sorts of ways the church isn’t like a business, we begin to employ all the tools of commercial enterprise as though we were paying the body of Christ some compliment by treating it like a Fortune 500 company, with a bottom line, investor returns, supply chain, CEOS, market share, and so on. If we treat the gospel like a commodity, can we fault nonbelievers for thinking that the cross is just another logo?

But we also need to recognize that no matter what we do, consumerism will unavoidably define the context for how people view the church in our consumerist age. All communication will be perceived as marketing. All self-presentation, even church advertising, will be perceived as branding. And all outreach will be viewed as sales. There is nothing we can do to change this context.

I don’t believe that all church marketing is evil and misguided, but this article is proof that we must be careful what we seek when marketing the Gospel message. Overall, this article is a good read.

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10 Responses to ““Jesus Is Not A Brand””


  1. 1 Pastor Jim January 5, 2009 at 9:23 am

    Holy Spirit dependent prayer and friendship/sacrificial love of the lost and the least are the best modern and ancient form of marketing the church.

    But that doesn’t sell books and conference speakers fees…

  2. 2 jjbrock January 5, 2009 at 9:59 am

    Great post! The day the church took on the business world concept of the bottom line being money it would only be a matter of time before the church would try something else from the business world. When you have businessmen who are not saved running and holding position’s in the churches what do we expect.

    If we are going to sell Jesus as a brand why can’t it be by our lifestyles? Are we to embarrassed to knock on doors and take to the street for souls? Is that the reason for the marketing idea? I am just asking!

    • 3 speaking truth January 5, 2009 at 9:56 pm

      If we are going to sell Jesus as a brand why can’t it be by our lifestyles? Are we to embarrassed to knock on doors and take to the street for souls? Is that the reason for the marketing idea?

      Ann – your simple yet profound statement could provide a topic that would take a year to preach! Unfortunately, holiness just isn’t sexy enough…

  3. 4 escapeetoo January 5, 2009 at 1:31 pm

    ST,

    It appears that The Hampton Pimp is “rebranding” his edifice. He’s changed the Name from New Birth South Metropolitan Church to “Higher Living Christian Church”. He is obviously trying to A) shed its negative image B) Dis-Associate himself from Long. C) Create momentum to his new found radio and TV Fame and D) Put Lip Stick on a Pig.

    New name same pimping.

    http://www.newbirthsouth.org/

  4. 5 Sugacoles January 5, 2009 at 9:34 pm

    I wonder if Long ceased providing support for the ministries that no longer bear the name “New Birth?”

    • 6 speaking truth January 5, 2009 at 9:54 pm

      I wonder if Long ceased providing support for the ministries that no longer bear the name “New Birth?”

      That’s a very fair question, Sugacoles. The reality is, however, that although Long provided the 1st year salary to the “sons” he launched from “the mothership” (the churches he took over weren’t so fortunate), Long got back huge financial returns by charging his annual licensing fee AND the “sons” paid their tithes directly to Eddie Long (a term commonly known as “kicking back to the boss” in mafia-speak)

      So, it’s more like the “sons” who changed their marketing plans (Andre Landers, Jesse Curney and a few others) simply stopped extorting their sheep on Longs behalf – only to enhance the extortion of the sheep for their own benefit.

  5. 7 Rick Dawson January 7, 2009 at 11:24 pm

    The corporate model that has pervaded the American church (quite possibly the rest of the western world as well) was growing for a long time before the alarm went up, and the cross has been cheapened in the minds of many by its continuing portrayal – I can picture the Christ tossing tables and bookshelves full of jewelry made of nails, ornamental gilded crosses, etc. – it isn’t Biblical, it isn’t holy, it definitely isn’t sexy… but talk to my neighbor? Live in community – real community? Bear my brother’s or sister’s burdens as if they were my own? Waiter! Quick – I need a double Jerusalem latte with a heavy nitrous chaser.

  6. 8 theophilogue January 11, 2009 at 2:59 pm

    If you think this article was good, you should expose yourself to a more optimistic take on branding and marketing for the sake of the gospel. I have written a response to Stevensons article on my blog (theophilogue.wordpress.com) with links to urbanglory.org, offering a more optimistic view of branding and marketing for the cause of the gospel.

    Blessings.

    Bradley

  7. 9 speaking truth January 11, 2009 at 8:23 pm

    Thanks for the link Bradley.

    As I mentioned, I’m a skeptic when it comes to marketing the church today (and I say that as a man who has an udergradute degree in Business with a concentration in Marketing and an MBA). I admitted in my article that I am a bit jaded whem it comes to the dangers of watering down the Gospel.

    I guess I’m skeptical of bad marketing as opposed to the concept of general marketing alone.

  8. 10 hiscrivener January 15, 2009 at 6:48 am

    …this article is a good read…

    And at the dire risk of sounding like a vociferous suck-up, so was your post. Nicely done, ST. Always picking up what you are throwing down.

    Peace,
    HiScrivener


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