two spins on consumer evangelism

September 21, 2004 | 6 Comments

Ran across this quote while reviewing some of my underlined portions of Coercion by Douglas Rushkoff:

Retailers no longer pretended they were simply selling their products in the best possible light. They were doing more than just associating their wares with a desirable lifestyle. They were creating atmospheres that triggered an emotional need: to be a part of a world that was different from everyday reality. This distinction is key. Salespeople were no longer focusing on the attributes of the product but of the customers.

I was thinking of how this relates to how the change in advertising has effected how the church ‘does evangelism.’ I present the positive spin and negative spin:

Positive: The change in advertising has caused the church to rethink how it reaches people as well. We have begun to understand that we need to be more intentional about connecting with people where they are at, and showing how the gospel can sweep in and meet their needs. (This concept of evangelism is well presented by Brian McLaren in More Ready Than You Realize.) Simply communicating the highlights of the gospel by preaching the message to a large audience is no longer seen to be as effective. Instead, we have, like advertisers, begun to meet people where they are at, and show them how the gospel can ‘improve’ their situation.

Negative: The change in advertising has caused us to begin to think of ourselves first. Therefore, unless someone can show us specifically how the gospel relates to us, we are not interested. Where this actually gets negative is when it is pushed further. It also creates a whole movement of people who are much more interested in simply having church their way. They feel if they don’t have an opportunity to participate in a discussion with someone, then why should they bother to listen to what they have to say. Thus, the old paradigm of ‘preaching’ is to be tossed out (On a side note, there is a good conversation about preaching developing here.) because we all want it customized our own way.

Now, I obviously lean toward the former, which is probably kind of evident since More Ready Than You Realize is listed in the side column as one of my ‘noteworthy reads.’ However, there is likely more truth in the negative spin than many of us would probably care to accept.

  • Tim

    I definatly agree with your thoughts on the Positive impact on the church. But not too sure if I agree with the negetive ones. I dont know if people really want church “their way”, i think they want to see something unique and different but (and this is key!) presented with passion and confidence. Now of course I might be one of the ones that doesnt want to accept the negetive spin….but then again maybe you didnt present it with enough passion!! j/k (love ya john) Im not good on these blog things…so I hope that all came out right.

  • Couple different thoughts here:

    On your Positive Comments, I don’t think that advertisers have, as you put it, “met people where they are at.” I think they’ve created a false environment, like was said in the quote. People aren’t at the place where they need to be in the middle of a highly themed Hollister store and surrounded by the sights and sounds of the supposed lifestyle of Hollister to make them by their product. No, they are placed in a highly themed (Disney-esque?) environment that encourages the response of buying these products. That said, I do not think the Church has met people where they are at. The Church, too, has created a fantasy world promoting a particular lifestyle (the clean, superior, almost Straight Edge [but with less passion] mentallity), that we look at, and then are supposed to desire, and then we are to buy into their product (in some cases…Jesus is the product).

    Basically, both sides (in this case Hollister and the Church) has created an environment that we supposed to find attractive. The reason why I do not think this is as effective for the Church as it is say, Disney or Hollister, is because while neither side meets prople where they are at to begin with, the Church side is usually presented with a good deal less passion, as Tim hinted at.

    I agree with Tim on saying that passion is key. But authenticity is also key. At least among the younger generation, there is a steadily growing (but slowly, in some areas), trend to reject the creation or illusion of such fantasy world: i.e., reject commercialism. This is why there is a growing movement against Abercrombie, against Starbucks, against many things corporate. It’s not because people want to be independent, it’s because people are tired of hype full of empty promises and lack of passion and just general fakeness.

    I’ve said it time and again to different people, and I think I’ll continue to do so. The Church has one thing that no retail market or other commerical venue will ever have, and that’s authenticity. I think we need to focus on that and offer that to people.

  • In response to both of you young scoundrels… 🙂

    The difficulty of critiquing passion is that different people express passsion in different ways. I know both of you well enough to know that you probably wouldn’t really enjoy the usual worship service at Willow Creek. However, I have no question that the people who are leading that service have a lot of passion, which comes through with a lot of polish and excellence.

    Nashster might be a little bit closer with his comments on authenticity, but even authenticity is communicated in different ways to different people. Again, I think many have a lot of success connecting with the way authenticity comes across at a service at Willow Creek. However, I know that I personally don’t as much, and don’t think you guys would either.

  • Oh, c’mon John! Willow Creek and I are practically cousins! 🙂 Very true comment John; I think sometimes us in the younger crowd overlook ‘passion’ that is expressed outside of how we define ‘passion.’ We tend to see authenticity and passion as something so intense at times (through live music or deep relationships w/people) that I don’t think it’s recognized by us if it’s presented way more casually and less dynamic.

  • Glad, we agree, but I disagee…at least with one small point. Willow is not percevied as casual or undynamic (is that a word?) by most younger people. They see it as too polished and too slick.

  • some dude

    I don’t quite know where this fits, so I’ll put it here. Its more of a question than an answer.

    I work at church right now that is pushes us all alot on evangelism. Which is probably a good thing in some ways. I often have to report to someone about it or in weekly prayer times I feel pressured to have some breakthrough to share about someone I’ve talked to.

    The problem is I haven’t had any real deep spiritual converstations lately. I take a secular acting/drama class in Chicago and everyone knows I’m a Christian. We hang out after class and I am getting to know quite a few of them. But I don’t push the evangelism card…it doesn’t feel right. Plus my church is 1 1/2 hrs from the city, so its odd to invite any of them to anything.

    But they are always saying that I need to invite more people to events and stuff…and evangelize more. Even though some events feel like they are for people twice my age.

    In addition I have a trusted friend that says just being a Christian and everyone knowing it and watching me is a form of evangelism – and sometimes a good one. If I push it on people (like my church seems to want)…it just seems like it will push people away…I don’t know.

    As it is this is my only real contact with anyone who is not a Christian…and I already am working way too many hours…so there’s not a lot of opportunity for new avenues of contact.

    The church I work for is very similar to Willow Creek and are evangelism is kinda “consumery.”

    Any comments?