by John Muether
Aren’t these wonderful times to be in the temptation business? The hyper-consumerism of modern times virtually does our work for us, as it converts our targets’ social lives into commodities that serve personal happiness, whether jobs or marriages or families.
As stunning as these successes have been, do not underestimate our crowning achievement. “Marketing the church“ ranks as arguably our most brilliant crusade in memory. Among the greatest deceits of our age is the lie that marketers are modern reformers and that pollsters are the church’s new prophets. With their influence, we have bamboozled churches into imagining they are enterprises that deliver goods and services with business acumen and market savvy.
When was the last time you heard a pastor called a shepherd? He is now a CEO, judged not by preaching gifts but by promotional skills. So sermons have more stories and less biblical exegesis. Or consider this example — how many churches practice home visitation anymore? Almost none, it seems, because from a business perspective, that is a woefully inefficient drain of resources!
A commodified church is impotent to promote spiritual formation or discipleship. Marketing accentuates novelty and spontaneity, eroding deliberateness or respect for tradition, and choice rocks the foundation of ecclesiastical stability. Church becomes a mere brand, and we know that there is no such thing as “brand loyalty“ anymore. Remember to feed this appetite by adding more choices, such as multiple services with different “styles.“ Churchgoers will then chose a “worship experience“ on the same basis that they chose Chinese fare the previous night.
In our most sensational cases, your colleagues have established a raw pragmatism in churches obsessed with getting folks in the door. But do not despair if your efforts secure modest results; you will prove more successful if these sentiments remain unobserved. Remember that wherever we inflame the consumer impulse, the Bible recedes to the periphery of churches. These same churches will rail against the secularism of their age without the slightest sense of their own profound worldliness.
Wonderful times indeed!
John R. Muether is associate professor of church history at Reformed Theological Seminary in Orlando, Florida. His most recent book isCornelius Van Til: Reformed Apologist and Churchman.