Blue light special Jesus

Several years ago when I was student in seminary the concept of marketing the church became a topic of discussion.  Should we market the church to make it appealing to people in a consumer-driven culture?  And if so, how do we undertake this endeavor without cheapening the message of the gospel and "selling out" as the critics predicted would happen?

While most of those who debated the issue agreed that the church needed to have more of an influence in our world, there was hardly a consensus on how this should happen.  There were fierce criticisms lobbied at churches like Willow Creek Community Church in Chicago because so much of their emphasis was on drawing "seekers" into their church.  Many believed churches with this kind of focus were neglecting the needs of believers, therefore establishing a ministry that was spiritually an inch deep and a mile wide.

The flip side of the "Willow Creek Model" was the church that stood staunch in its stance to maintain traditional and biblical integrity.  "Doing church" the way that they had always done it was tantamount to their survival and there was just no substitute for an old fashioned sermon from the pulpit with an extended altar call.  While no one would argue with strong biblical preaching, most of the concern with this approach centered on the fact that while believers were being fed spiritually, there was no strategy to draw people into the church.  In fact, lost people simply weren't coming to church at all.

In order to combat this problem, denominations and spiritual think-tanks came up with evangelism programs that they believed would help churches engage those in the culture around them while maintaining their sense of spiritual and biblical identity.  The plan was simple in its structure: spend sixteen weeks studying a conversational outline, memorize a few dozen Scriptures, role play scenarios until you were confident that you could convert the devil himself, and then you were ready to go! 

Many of these programs, such as Evangelism Explosion and F.A.I.T.H., were and have continued to be effective.  That is for some churches.  Many congregations found that after the first couple of waves of volunteers that were willing to complete the courses, fewer and fewer were willing or able to commit to such a "simple" program for winning lost people to Christ.  While larger churches were still able to sustain momentum, smaller churches experienced vast amounts of burn out and a lack of interest in such time demanding programs.

Truth be told, one has to ask the motivation for adopting any church model or program in the first place.  Is it because we truly want people to come to Christ or do we implicitly want to put more bodies in the pews?  In response to all of this some new questions have to be asked: Is a detailed and demanding program the best way for the church to proclaim the gospel? Are we confusing what it means to make disciples with how to grow the church?  Just how much are we to appeal to the culture around us before we become guilty of compromise?

I believe that for the past several years the church has found itself on the cusp of a new epiphany when it comes to what it will take to make Jesus even more famous.  This new mindset will not involve more programs or dollars poured into media campaigns.  Instead, what is happening is that God's people are steadily realizing that trying to attract lost or skeptical people into their church buildings is counteractive to the overall mission of the church.  The attractional church is losing traction.  "Come and see" is now being replaced by "let me come to you."

How will this happen?  I don't know that I can diagram what I see in my head but then again that would kind of be besides the point.  What I do know is that church as we're "doing it" today is simply going to have to change.  Our services, our get togethers, our big events - they are so often structured for our own benefit and enjoyment.  If church continues to be defined by what we do for a few hours each Sunday then we are in big trouble.

Our neighbors probably aren't too concerned with where we go to church on Sunday or the fact that we go at all.  But they do care if we love them and invest in their lives.  They may not be willing to accept an invitation to go to a Sunday morning service with you, but chances are they will gladly come to your home for a cookout.  Your neighbor may return your wave as you drive away with your family in the car on your way to church, but they will most certainly prefer to pull up a lawn chair with you as you cross the street to say hello.

What attracts people is Jesus.  His gospel lived out in our lives is very appealing to the lost.  We don't have to plan elaborate outreach campaigns to try to "bring 'em in" if we are first willing to go to where they are and love them.  Yes, we want them to hear the gospel, but how many are hearing it now with the same methodology and mindset that have become like quicksand to us?  Jesus doesn't need to be marketed by the church.  Instead, when the church truly lives for His glory then He'll become more famous to the world than any program could ever accomplish.

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