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Get Thee Behind Us

The Devil's latest marketing guise.
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"Church Check, a division of parent company Guest Check Inc., announced today the immediate availability of a new service offering, widely differing in scope from its current client base within the hospitality industry."

Thus begins a news release we received at the Christianity Today offices this week. The name "Church Check" naturally caught our attention, as did the offer of the new service. So we read on:

After years of success focusing only in Hospitality, Guest Check was approached by a single church congregation over two years ago, and was asked to consider providing inspection services. Their primary goal was to assess the Sunday morning experience of a non-biased third party visitor … . The church leadership wanted to get an unbiased and anonymous review of the "guest" experience.

For more information, the reader was invited to go to http://www.thechurchcheck.com, which we did. There we found the idea further explained:

Our team of savvy professionals can secretly worship at your church, analyze it in detail, and present you with a report detailing items that are lacking. With this report, you can make changes that boost your retention rate and make your church grow. Make the adjustments our team suggests and you'll not only retain more of your first-time visitors, you'll get them talking to their friends about you.

And this:

Guest Check helps you create an environment in which your guests enjoy themselves so much they don't want to leave. More importantly, we help you create a church whose guests can't stop talking about, and we all know the power of word-of-mouth marketing.

So what do these "church inspectors," as they are called, bring with them as they assess these churches?

Regardless of the church's religious affiliation, inspectors must willing to make the visit with an open mind, and be comfortable assessing your experience on a very objective, and non-emotional level. Successful Church Check Inspectors are professional, attentive, organized and able to express their observations objectively and without emotion.

And why, right now, might churches need this service?

Americans are getting less and less dogmatic about their religion and it's becoming more difficult for churches to keep their guests. Recent studies show that 66% of Americans with church affiliations believe that many religions can lead to eternal life. 68% believe that there is more than one way to interpret the teachings of their religion … .

Statistics like this show that more than ever, Americans have no problem with church-shopping, or leaving their current congregation and moving on to another.

/--------/

It's hard to know where to begin. This is a near-perfect example of what happens when we let marketing experts into the church building.

Even if I attempt to speak a charitable word (as I always try to do in such moments), it only points to a deep and abiding flaw in the contemporary church. The modern American church is often so large and so businesslike in its approach to ministry that it easily loses track of new people who might walk in the door. Most churches long ago abandoned the idea that a church can be a genuine community—where people really know each another, where they notice every single visitor and strike up conversations with them during and after Sunday morning. In a genuine community, there would be absolutely no need of mystery "church inspectors," because the community would know precisely how they practice the gift of hospitality. But the contemporary church is so lost and desperate for "tools" and "resources" that can help them "study" their "guests," even this might help.

And yet.

Why would a church—a place that is supposed to be characterized by genuineness and humility—ask a group of "savvy professionals" to help it? Isn't there something in the New Testament about the gospel subverting the wisdom of the wise? Is it possible for "savvy professionals" to understand what a church is really about?

Is worship that is practiced "secretly," with the goal of "assessing" the "experience on a very objective and non-emotional level" really worship of God Almighty, creator of heaven and earth? Can one truly enter into a worshipping community objectively, secretly, and without emotion? Worship is not about judging the "worship experience," but about putting oneself humbly before God to be judged and forgiven by him.

Furthermore, to enter into the community of God—that is, to grasp the essence of that unique experience—one must come as an identified individual, who is willing to lay his secrets before God and to some degree before others (confessing sins to one another, as James says), who gives himself, body and soul, to the love of God, and who does so with emotional freedom. To try to worship while suppressing these vital and warm human elements is surely to fail to grasp what you are doing.

Should churches really make it a goal to "boost your retention rate and make your church grow"? Is that not a product of other things, like faithful worship, meaningful biblical teaching, and sacrificial love for one another and the neighbor? What has happened to a church that makes "boosting your retention rate" a focus, instead of these other things?

Do churches really want to create an institution "whose guests can't stop talking about" it? Isn't the point of the church to get people thinking and talking about Jesus Christ?

And what would make us think that "Americans are getting less and less dogmatic about their religion, and it's becoming more difficult for churches to keep their guests," when study after study shows that "dogmatic" churches are the only ones who can "keep their guests"?

All in all, marketing resources like Church Check only exacerbate the fundamental and tragic lie that infects the hearts and minds of so many churches and "guests" today—that church is about us and our experience.

In most instances, I try to be open and charitable about any service that can help a church be the church. But more and more, I'm thinking that a tool whose veins run with the blood of marketing is the exception that proves the rule. No, flee from the devil, and run fastest when he comes disguised as an angel of light.

Mark Galli is senior managing editor of Christianity Today. He will reply to comments here and on his blog, where this column has been cross-posted.



Related Elsewhere:

Previous SoulWork columns are available on our site.

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