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Honest Church Marketing

We enhance our 'image' by offering the world a realistic picture of faith
2001This article is part of CT's digital archives. Subscribers have access to all current and past issues, dating back to 1956.

I have never seen a dirty car on a used-car lot. We all know, of course, that shiny cars eventually collect streaks of rain, globs of mud, and bird droppings. Yet American marketing wisdom insists that every car for sale, no matter how old and battered, be presented at its shiny best. Lift the hood and you'll probably find that even the engine has been scrubbed clean of grease and dirt.

Realism only kicks in after you buy the car and begin to drive it. A few weeks later, the door to the glove compartment sticks, the valves rattle during acceleration, and a cloud of blue smoke puffs out the tailpipe. Somehow the car dealer found a way to mask those symptoms until you signed the contract.

It occurs to me that the church reverses this tried and true marketing wisdom. In certain ways, unwittingly or otherwise, we present our very worst image to the outside world, and then ask insiders to swallow a heavy dose of unreality. For some time now, I have been asking people I meet in airports or waiting rooms (those on the outside) what comes to mind when I say the word Christian. Often the response includes the prefix anti: anti-homosexual, anti-abortion, anti-pornography. The watching world sees Christians as strident people who try to impose their morality on others. In addition, we live with the church's historical reputation, for good and ill. Unbelievers cannot make sense of all the denominations, and they know about the shameful moments in church history, such as the Crusades, the Inquisition, the burning of witches. At least in the modern West, the least attractive side of the church gets most of the publicity.

Inside the church, the scene shifts. I have interviewed dozens of Christians, and heard from hundreds more, who tell me ...

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Philip Yancey
Philip Yancey is editor at large of Christianity Today and cochair of the editorial board for Books and Culture. Yancey's most recent book is What Good Is God?: In Search of a Faith That Matters. His other books include Prayer (2006), Rumors of Another World (2003), Reaching for the Invisible God (2000), The Bible Jesus Read (1999), What's So Amazing About Grace? (1998), The Jesus I Never Knew (1995), Where is God When It Hurts (1990), and many others. His Christianity Today column ran from 1985 to 2009.
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