advertising breeds alienation

November 8, 2004 | 25 Comments

While reviewing some of my underlines in The Great Good Place, by Ray Oldenburg, this quote stuck out to me:

Advertising, in its ideology and effects, is the enemy of an informal public life. It breeds alienation. It convinces people that the good life can be individually purchased.

Do you agree or disagree?
If you agree, how might churches be guilty of breeding alienation through how they advertise and promote both inside and outside of the congregation?

  • Dean

    I mostly disagree with this quote. I believe that there is a type of advertising that can do that, but not all. There is an advertising that asks questions, that creates thirst, that asks, “What if…” rather than makes you believe that you can have it all.

    We are swinging the pendulum off the charts if we are going to say that advertising has no place in the church. Every bulletin cover is advertising. Every calendar is advertising. Every announcement made is advertising. Where do we stop?

  • I don’t think that advertising has “no place in the church,” as I agree Dean, that would be swinging the pendulem too far off to one side. But I think this quote deals more with how one feels when they are the target of this advertisement…if I’m tracking with this.

    I agree with the quote…in terms of the commercials I’ve seen that tell you that you can have more friends and better times if you buy this beer, this brand of clothing; advertising that tries to sell you a “lifestyle” that goes along with the product–hate to use them as an example, but Abercrombie & Fitch does this very well…

    The Church does this too, to varying degrees. There is no problem with “advertising” in itself–people need to hear of what is being offerred, they need to have messages communicated to them. They can’t get plugged in with all the Church has to offer otherwise.

    The “alientation” can come when the Church tries to sell its members on the possibility of a certain Christian lifestyle–here, we this as American suburban Christianity. Rather its “testimonies” from the pulpit about the power of volunteering or small groups; or it’s merely pictures of happy, laughing people together to communicate “fellowship,” there is no denying that there is a certain way that the Church would like its members to be, and a certain way they would like them to feel (this is not as evil as it sounds).

    So advertising that is created for programs is designed in a way to reflect this. You will find friends, fullfillment, a feeling of belonging, and your purpose (locally) within the Kingdom of God after attending this small group/this class/this study/this 40-day campaign.

    Alienation happens when some people, either due to their personality or the setting they find themsleves in–don’t experience the “belonging” and “fulfillment” that was advertised; or to a far less self-centered degree, they just don’t click in the niche that was “designed” for them. In short–they fall short of the pre-determined “lifestyle,” like a fat kid in an Abercrombie store.

    Advertising is all well and good in the Church–beneficial even–until we get to the point where we begin marketing an idealized Christian life.

  • zach

    i am using old spice deodorant and i’m still not hooking up with chicks, advertising is a lie.

  • You have to pair it with Mentos to get the best results.

  • I’ve never been a fan of advertising or (if you don’t like that word) marketing (that’s a much safer word isn’t it?) in the Church. It is one more pathetic plea for relevance. We fear that if we don’t put just the right pictures on our flyers, or design just the right icon or logo to communicate who we are as a church people will not come to our church. We fear that we have to target a specific type of person (i.e. males 20-45 in a certain North Phoenix mega-church) and then we develop all of our ad campaigns around reaching this demographic as if we were McDonald’s.

    Does this exclude people? Well, it certainly includes the demographic trying to be reached, but then why have they come to church? For the good family values, right? That’s what the pictures show anyway. But then we feel we must apologize when we take offering or when we actually preach the Gospel and not just debt management or life purpose. They didn’t come for the Gospel, they came for the kids programs so we have to walk on eggshells when we preach.

    I’m starting to ramble (and I don’t want that label) so I’ll wrap it up. Let’s “advertise” not by our fancy promotions but rather simply by our “love for one another.” Then I’m pretty sure that the “Lord will add to our number daily” (emphasis added of course) not our ad campaigns.

  • Dean

    Willey, Your pendulum is swinging out of control. Bring it back to the middle. :o)

    When Jesus encountered people on the road, they did not come to him because they were lost and needed salvation. They came because they were sick and wanted to be well, blind and wanted to see. They had ulterior motives for getting to Jesus. If we can use “family values” or “kids programs” to lead people to an understanding of their need for Jesus, then I’m all for it.

    I totally agree that “word of life” advertising is the greatest advertising in the world. However, there is nothing wrong with saying, this is who we are and who we reach best and trying to discover ways to attract that group to your community. I don’t hear any of these PoMo churches feeling guilty for not reaching the 60+ crowd and they shouldn’t (even though they are excluding).

  • Zach

    i love dean and all, but i might have to disagree with him a little bit on this one. i think there is a difference between “information” and “advertising”. as people who need to make choices on how we are going to spend our time, we need information from outside sources to make our decisons. the dynamic of the advertisement is that it almost always is coming directly from an entity that’s hoping to capitalize on your choice. whether it’s earnhardts telling me that i will experience “no bull” when giving them my money for a car, or it’s a dentist on tv saying that our love lives will be made better if our teeth are whiter.

    a church bulletin on the other hand is mostly just information to those who, for the most part, have already “purchased the product”.

    the “informal public life” seems to be a fancy term for the “word of mouth” effort for us to share what has benefited us with out a financial return. if i go see “the motor cycle diaries” and i tell you it was fantastic, that’s me passing on a story about something that made my life better and the movie studio isn’t gonna give me a cut of the door. so in other words, i am being “honest” with you about how i felt the movie was good or bad.

    i think the application for churches here is that churches are in the business of changing lives with the power of christs’ message. that being apart of a community of loving people who follow christ would be the attraction. this, and this alone, should be what drives people into the church door. not events or church marquees. the church seems to rest on the normal everday marketing that any other kind of business rests on. i think that could end up being a dangerous approach for a church.

  • the proud holder of THE epithet

    a firm belief of mine is that the more diverse a church is the better it DISPLAYS the unification principles of the Christ’s power. When our humanity and our Lord is all we have in common with the next guy, and we worship together, and sacrifice together it is a thing more beautiful, maybe more heavenly.

    Maybe if, as each local body, our target were all humans, then our teaching would be tougher, but profoundly simple and dependant on the timeless acultural truths of scripture more, and the market efforts of the church would be forced into either a hole of heinous hyperactivity trying to be everything to everyone OR onto a plane purely informing the world of the different aspects of a worshiping community of free and powerful compassionate sacrificers.

  • This is fun…I just kind of threw this out out to see what would happen and it got you all riled up! I think it’s sidetracked a bit from the quote, because everyone has gotten all hyped up about the word advertising, but it’s been interesting nonetheless.

    Lest Dean feel ganged up on, I have to side with him a bit here. Certainly relationship and word of mouth and the primary means for the church to spread it’s message. I think Dean not only agrees with that, but models it in his life as well as just about anyone I know. That absolutely should be the primary focus.

    However, that doesn’t mean relational ministry can’t be enhanced by a church using whatever means will benefit it creating the image of the kind of community it wants to be. Some might argue that churches have relied too much on these tactics, and perhaps that is true. However, that doesn’t mean they should just be tossed out the window. In preaching on a hillside, Jesus was using the mass media of his day. In cleansing the temple, he was making a public statement of the kind of community he wanted to create.

    To toss something out just because it has also been used by our ‘secular’ society is a line of thinking that finds its roots in dualism.

  • Man, that pendulum of Dean’s is getting a workout!

    I’m retaining my stance of being in the middle of this thought, but I wanted to clarify one point that I think was missed? Dean (and I love you man!), in responding to Brandon’s post, you pointed out something very true: people did have “ulterior motives” in the Gospels for seeking out Christ; and while I don’t neccessarily agree with your stance that we should use “family values” or the such to attract people so they can understand who Christ is, I do see your point. (It’s kind of sneaky…”let’s lure them in here with this, but really let’s do this to them!”).

    But Brandon had a point–people come to the church for the programs or for the kids, and most pastors/churches do walk on eggshells when it comes to preaching the Gospel. Yes, the people in your statement did come with ulterior motives…but Jesus didn’t walk on eggshells. He was blunt with them; whereas most churches/pastors today are not.

    In short, the people and their motives haven’t changed—the response has, and the response is walking on eggshells, unfortunately. We can use straightforward or sneaky tactics to get people in the doors–but if the Gospel is not heard when they walk in, then all efforts across the board are lost. This almost echoes the “bags of sugar” thread…where we can’t keep packaging or marketing or advertising to make those unwilling to hear the Gospel receptive to it.

  • Dean

    Zach, Thank you for loving me. It helps me get through the day when I get ganged up on. 🙂 In fact, I agree with everything in your post. “Word of Life” (as I like to call it) should be the primary means we communicate and it should draw people to the church. There is nothing more powerful.

    Has the church relied too much on other means? Perhaps. Am I going to shoot at Willow Creek or Saddleback or Central because they use mass market media to communicate a message to draw people in the doors? Nope. I would only do that if they decieved in their advertising and perhaps some churches are guilty, but I’ll take that on a case by case basis. If we were to imply that life is a bed of roses once you accept Christ – that would be evil marketing because it is a lie.

    I am simply reacting to the “marketing is wrong” leanings that are being expressed. False marketing is wrong.

    To our friend the epithet holder (although I’m not sure I know you). I love the idealism in your statement to “target all humans” and I want that soooo badly for my church; however, the truth is you HAVE to target an audience. The second a musical note comes from your stage, you have divided (not in a bad way, but in a way that says this is for a certain group). If your worship is guitar driven, you have alienated. If it is organ driven, you have alienated. If it is accapella, you have alienated. It’s a fact and we need not feel guilty about it. They key is to be an accepting and open community to all who desire to share in being a part of it.

  • Dean,
    The proud holder of THE ephithet is the rambler. You should know that just from what he had to say — like all his posts, you have to read it 2-3 times to figure out what he is saying…

  • Gary

    A few thoughts, and I make no promises on coherence, because I am just entering the discussion after reading the original statements and all the comments together and my mind is fluttering with everything that’s been said.

    There is nothing apparently wrong with advertising. But I wonder is it necessary? Can word of mouth be enough? I think so, and also feel that those attracted by word of mouth will be more committed to something and more likely to make it their own.

    The problem with advertising is that it does try to “convince people that the good life can be individualy purchased.” By this deoderant, drink this beer, wear these clothes and you’ll be just like these people. The consumer is invited into a life of conformity, not individuality.

    Whether it’s a movie, a church, or a revolution if I go because I saw a billboard or a newspaper/tv ad, I may enjoy myself, but it takes a lot more time for me to have a sense of ownership. However, if I go because my friend told me that I absolutely have to see/experience it, I’ll enjoy myself and it will become “our movie/church/revolution/…”

    On the question of having a “target audience.” I don’t think that’s necessarily essential either. Dean, you made a good point in saying that the things we do will naturally attract different people. But I’m not sure if that’s the same as having a target audience. The question is, do we do the things we do so that these certain people will come? Or do these people come because of the things we do? I think the latter question is the right one. Worship services of any sort ought to be authentic. Whether our music is organ or guitar based should be a result of who we are and how we know how to worship best. If I have a church whose songs are guitar driven, yes I might alieanate someone who finds that type of worship distracting, but hopefully I haven’t done so intentionally. I’ve been true to myself and my church and who we are. The body of Christ is extremely diverse. It should be our goal to reach the whole body, not just the arms, or the legs.

  • david…

    so i came home from work tonight, jumped on the comp, read your words, then headed down to see J.E.W. on TV… after letterman, in a knee-jerk momentary channel surf… i came across an interesting and pertinent show which compelled me until now… “the persuaders”

  • david

    in response to the deviated topic of ‘target audience:’ it may be idealistic to lust after finding and focusing a church only on the things that are common to all men… but i think it’s there in scripture, it’s the simply profound things that Jesus was all about, and possible for us in moments… just as THE kingdom and our sanctification are both already and not yet, so to may we taste and seek omni-relevance…

    i would love to see a churhc one day that has a guitar strum one week in worship, and a mime celebrate the next, and a black gospel choir the next, and hymns the next, and a light orchestra the next (hollands opus), and a dance team the next, and a rock band the next, and a drumline the next, and a CCM group the next…

    i think this is honoring all humans in their differences, but also calling them to allow others to be honorable, and most importantly it would be drawing stark contrast to the only unifying elements being our diversity under the blood of Christ… not the fact that we have the same car or addiction or age of kids…
    it seems to me that this kind of ‘collage’ church theory could be applied to all aspects… and as utopian as it may seem, can you imagine what a community of souls open and excited about this would look like if ever it could only be a goal even seldom reached, yet always desired?

    don’t know if that made sense, it’s late and apparently to john i am fairly incoherent most times anyway.

    favorite paraphrased thought from persuaders: the most effective persuation is that which compels the target to persuade himmself…

  • Brewster

    Its kinda funny that this topic is being discussed, because just a week or so ago I was doing a demographic study thing and found that in the schools where most of my high school kids attend there are 27,000 students. In the last year 600 of those have actually been to our weekly program…and only 180 or so come every week.

    200 out of 27,000. It kinda blew me away. Its less than 1%. And even with other churches in the area…its not much. And how many of the 200 in my group are sincere or even really truly understand being a Christ follower?

    I then thought…wouldn’t it be awesome to advertise our weekly program on the radio…or TV…some way to mass market that we even exist. But how? Without being cheesy or strange?

    I’ve grown up in a generation that kinda hates advertising. The “Man” has been selling stuff to us our entire life. I don’t like it. It bugs me… But then again…it seems more effective than nothing.

    Advertising (and I’m talking about mass ads or getting out thousands of little postcards–which we do)is kinda enticing. I mean…out of those 27,000 students…only 600-800 of them would even know my students. Part of me wants to say we ought to use any means we can find to get people in. About 30% of the kids that visit what we do keep coming back for a while…and ultimately hear (and hopefully see) the gospel.

    TRULY I agree that the draw for the church should be the love of Christ…and word of mouth…more of an organic approach…a true movement. But is it really that anymore in our country? I know it should be…but does anyone see that happening? Maybe in China…but in the USA?

    The problem isn’t advertising or not advertising, but maybe something more at the core of the church in the USA. I don’t quite know what the answers are…

    Advertising is fairly easy. Prayer is not…and almost seems ineffective in our instant results society. Telling my kids to invite friends is also fairly easy. Me being broken about the other 80-90% of the student population that doesn’t know God…it feels like I’m too busy to even think about it.

    You know how Jesus tells the parable about the man with 100 sheep. 99 are found. 1 is lost. Its worth it for the 1 sheep to drop everything. In my case 1 is found and 99 are lost…

    That all didn’t totally make sense. And I didn’t really completely finish my thought.

    Alright thats it.

  • Dean

    Brewster, You made plenty of sense! Thanks for weighing in. If our hearts are to be about lost people, lets not lose ourselves in an anti-advertising campaign to end all campaigning. Lets use the minds God has given us and pour our hearts into reaching lost people. Let’s also not become a church that thinks that the impersonal avenue of advertising will change lives. Advertising changes nothing. It simply puts you into contact with people whom you may have never been able to meet before. We then pray that the Holy Spirit does His work and moves in their life through your relationship or the experience of your worship.

    I’m simply asking for a balanced pendulum. (I may need “pendulum” to become my new monicker.

  • this right guard is still not getting me more chicks.

  • make up your mind — is it old spice or right guard?

  • Dean

    Zach’s truth is not the same as your truth. It’s relational truth – he relates to his deoderant and it doesn’t matter what he calls it because he is true to it and it is true to him.

  • Gary

    I’m not sure if this quote entirely applies for this specific discussion, and maybe it belongs in a completely different topic, but when I heard it the other day, it reminded me of the conversation.

    “You preaching Jesus is no different than Larry or anybody else preaching lubricants. It doesn’t matter whether you’re selling Jesus or Buddha or civil rights or how to make money in real estate with no money down. That doesn’t make you a human being, it makes you a marketing rep. If you want to talk to somebody honestly, as a human being, ask him about his kids, find out what his dreams are, just to find out, for no other reason. Because as soon as you lay your hands on a conversation to steer it, it’s not a conversation. It’s a pitch. And you’re not a human being, you’re a marketing rep.”
    – Danny Devito, from “The Big Kahuna”

  • I would say there’s alot of truth in that statement overall. Plus it comes from The Penguin himself! 🙂

    I know some people will be hesitant to apply this quote to Christianity, because it simply isn’t what they want to hear…but coming from the standpoint of the under thirty crowd (whose pendulum is grounded, not swingin’), I would say that this is deffinitly how most non-Christians view everything from church advertising to evangelism.

    That said, and if that is recognized, then how do we go about changing that perspective and putting things into a more positive light? By being relational, I would say.

  • david

    i now hate the word pendulum.

    marketing reps are people too.

    if the under thirty crowd is to be generalized about then we would all want to have a vote about it.

  • Well everyone seems to vote on what the under thrity crowd says, except for those actually under thirty. They don’t get vote!

    And no, marketing reps are not people, if they do not get to vote on the fact that they are people.

  • Gary

    Marketing reps only count for 3/5 of a person, and so does their vote.