To: James, President of the Jerusalem Council
Re: Initial Impressions

Shalom Marketing Ltd. was recently contacted by a member of your council, asking us to tell you about our services. He said to make it clear that he was footing the bill for this initial evaluation, with the hopes that our sound advice will encourage the council to hire us to guide your marketing efforts for the next strategic stage in your movement's life.

We have heard reports of your movement for some time now—who hasn't?—and our initial impressions are very positive! You seem to have dynamic leadership, organizational flexibility, and a natural touch with the people. Add some sophisticated marketing—well, who knows how successful you can become! Naturally, this brief memo will, by its nature, point out areas in need of attention, but make no mistake: We have great optimism about what we call your "effectiveness potential."

Let's begin with one of your leading PR men, Peter, who is clearly a gifted communicator. We believe he would find that our seminar "Winning Techniques for Effective Communication" would help him be more effective still! Unfortunately, he has the regular habit of berating his audience, just at the moment when he has them eating out of his hand.

For example, after that day when everyone thought you all were having one giant party in the middle of the day (by the way, that was a stroke of marketing genius, to show everyone that you all know how to have a good time), Peter gave what frankly was a long-winded speech (we'd recommend no more than five minutes in the future), rehearsing a great deal of history (we'd recommend sticking with the present; nobody cares about the past anymore), and then ended on a couple of awkward notes.

First, he made a point of emphasizing the death of your movement's founder, reminding one and all of recent bloody events. This, of course, casts a rather negative spell on the moment, as people were reminded of something unpleasant. Instead he should be spending a lot more time on your founder's so-called resurrection. We do not, as a matter of policy, judge the veracity of any group's religious claims, but we certainly recognize the resurrection's marketing appeal. It appears to be core to your business, so we would certainly encourage you to exploit its potential.

The other uncomfortable note was when Peter added insult to injury, blaming the crowd for killing your founder: "This Jesus … you crucified." And then he implies that the crowd is full of "lawless men." And if they didn't get the point, he drove home this indelicate point at the end of the sermon: "Let all the house of Israel [now equated with lawlessness] therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified."

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We understand that Peter would have likely still been grieving over the death of the founder, but insulting your audience is not the way to win friends to the movement. :-)

Granted, a reported 3,000 people were added to your movement that day, which only speaks of Peter's incredible PR gifts. For if he could convince so many to sign up after this presentation, how many more could he have gotten had he been using the tools of "Winning Techniques for Effective Communication"?

Unfortunately, Peter did the same thing after that extraordinary incident with the lame man. More history, more death, and more insults, ending with, "But you denied the Holy and Righteous One, and asked for a murderer to be granted to you, and you killed the Author of life … ."

He tried to soften the blow by telling them, "Brothers, I know that you acted in ignorance," but of course this likely came across as patronizing. It's no wonder that the religious leaders were "greatly annoyed," as one report had it, and then threw Peter and John into jail.

Yes, another 2,000 joined the movement right after that, but again, what could have been accomplished if more effective communication techniques had been employed?

Speaking of jail, we would encourage your leaders to avoid jail time as much as possible. We know that the movement is controversial and that the Jerusalem authorities have a short fuse, so a run-in with the authorities is inevitable from time to time. It does give your movement the sexy rebel image, which can be a plus. But try to work with the authorities when you can.

We'd also encourage you to make better use of your talent pool. Take the deacon Philip, who apparently is another gifted communicator. Reports of his successful work in Samaria have come to us. But then we heard that, on a whim, he up and left what was a very effective outreach to start a work in the middle of nowhere—a desert road in Gaza. We recognize that living by faith is a core value to your movement, but you are not going to get anywhere if you don't stay in the population centers. Yes, we heard he had a very successful networking moment with a government official from Ethiopia, and this is no small thing. But it would nonetheless be wise to marshal maximum talent at points of maximum potential return.

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We understand there is lots of talk about "repentance" in these marketing presentations, and we understand that personal moral change is required in the movement. But it's not wise to put that up front in your initial presentations. Along with the death of your founder, we advise you to downplay talk of repentance until people are well into the movement. You don't want to push people away needlessly before you show them all that you have to offer.

There also seems to be a fair amount of mission confusion. Some are saying you are a Jewish religion, others a religion for all takers. We advise against the latter until you are well established in Judea first. So we encourage you to curtail the activities of that fellow Paul and his friend Barnabas. If they are successful in their outreach, it will prematurely muddy the movement and confuse people. If you insist on reaching out to Gentiles (frankly, we'd advise against it, since it will only work against your outreach to your target audience), you can do so once your reputation is firmly established.

(By the way, we've heard that many in the movement attribute the marketing inefficiencies I've noted to the leading of "the Holy Spirit." But do you really want to blame the Almighty for hampering your ability to be efficient and successful? We would think not.)

Finally, there is the issue of brand confusion. Some say you are called "The Way," others "Christians." Some people probably think these are two different movements!

First, you need to decide on a logo quickly. Some in your movement are suggesting the cross, no doubt the same group who can't keep quiet about the crucifixion of your founder. This would be a disastrous move in our view. We'd want to do some focus groups to determine the best logo, and no, that does not come cheap. But it is well worth the investment, believe us.

As for your name, that too will take some concerted research. We recommend in the interim that you stay away from "Christians," as that will only remind people of your founder and his gruesome death. We think "Followers of Jesus" would work, as it would focus on the life of your founder and emphasize his ethical genius. It would also downplay redemptive religion, with all its talk of sin and repentance, as well as that business about his coming again (such speculative theology will do your movement no good, in our opinion). "Followers of Jesus" is also vague enough to leave room for the imagination, allowing you to shape the movement according to the felt needs of your target audience.

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Naturally, we have many more suggestions—and we have yet to do any formal marketing studies! Given your initial success, we have no doubt that if you take these suggestions, you will become not only a successful faith in the region, but likely a popular and respected religion of the empire.

Respectfully yours,

Levi, son of Joachim of Bethel
Director of New Ventures
Shalom Marketing, Ltd.

Mark Galli is senior managing editor of Christianity Today. He is author of Jesus Mean and Wild: The Unexpected Love of an Untamable God (Baker).

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Previous SoulWork columns include:

God Talk Is Dangerous | Apparently the Almighty has given us permission to talk about that which we know relatively little about. (July 29, 2010)
Divine Drama Queen |But I'd secretly rather have a God who is a non-anxious presence. (July 15, 2010)
The God Who Became Blood | What my dysfunctional prostate taught me about Jesus. (June 24, 2010)

In "SoulWork," Mark Galli brings news, Christian theology, and spiritual direction together to explore what it means to be formed spiritually in the image of Jesus Christ.
Mark Galli
Mark Galli is former editor in chief of Christianity Today and author, most recently, of Karl Barth: An Introductory Biography for Evangelicals.
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