General Motors launched its Saturn brand in 1990 with the tag line, "A different kind of company, a different kind of car." GM believed they could carve out a market niche by addressing the collective American psyche's negative view of car dealers. They were right. Saturn's "no-haggle" sales policy earned it awards for customer satisfaction. In the car business, it pays to be different.
Dave Terpstra, pastor of The Next Level Church in Denver and a regular contributor to Out of Ur, has observed that many churches are adopting the "different is good" marketing strategy used by secular companies. (Who can forget, "Little. Yellow. Different."?) But by championing our differences, are we treating other churches like fellow communities of Christ, or like competitors?
Because my church's primary service is on Tuesday nights, I have the opportunity to visit other area churches at least once a month. I call it my church-of-the-month club. This past Sunday I read this in the bulletin of the church I visited: "[Church Name] is a different kind of church." They went on to explain how their church is for those who don't like organized religion or for people who have not had their needs met by a traditional church.
Another church I have visited was "different" because it was a place where there's "no pressure or guilt." Still another church I know claims to be different because it is for a new generation. I searched Google for "a different kind of church." Here are a few examples of what I found:
"Your first impression of [church name] may be, "This doesn't seem like a typical church." And we think that's good."
"[Church name] is a different kind of church, making a difference."
"Even if you didn't think you would ever feel comfortable in church, this is a different kind of church. We want to be your church."
Google returned 924 results. It seems "different" churches may not be so different after all. But that got me wondering - why do church leaders feel the need to advertise how different their church is from others? Admittedly, I have used this terminology when talking about my church. And it was in the not-too-distant past that our church used similar terminology very regularly.
The simplest answer is that we are marketing to Christians. If we are targeting the "already convinced," and if our growth is from transfers and people new in town, then we need to distinguish our product from the neighboring churches' product. That's not a new idea. In the past Protestant churches in America used to make distinctions based on theology. Now we do it with our ethos - captured in a snappy catch phrase.
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