For months after I first moved to Nashville, a billboard by the westbound I-40 advertised an alcohol addiction recovery program. But what caught my eye was the billboard's photograph: the coldest, frothiest, most delicious-looking pint of beer that has ever been poured. I never wanted a beer more than I did when I drove past that billboard. And I am not an alcoholic. I wonder how many of the hundreds of people suffering from addiction passed that spot every day and were perversely tempted—not to enter rehab, but to pull off at the next exit for a tall, cold one.
Marketing has problems if it makes the consumer pant for the dead opposite of what you are trying to sell.
An Unavoidable Dilemma
This is the issue we confront when weighing the merits of the church's public outreach, its evangelistic task, in a Western culture saturated by marketing. By marketing, I refer to all the activities that help organizations identify and shape the wants of target consumers and then try to satisfy those consumers better than competitors do. This usually involves doing market research, analyzing consumer needs, and then making strategic decisions about product design, branding, pricing, promotion, advertising, and distribution.
While researching Brand Jesus, I realized that the church faced unavoidable questions as it sought to maintain a public witness and evangelistic task in a consumerist culture. One is this: Should we market the church and the church's message? (In this article, I assume that our evangelistic message is about knowing Christ and being incorporated into his body. Thus, whether we are specifically encouraging people to consider Jesus or some aspect of the gospel message or to attend a particular church, we are practicing ...1