Marketing the church

One of the distinctives of the best of the Reformed tradition is to be counter cultural when it comes to the life and ministry of the church.  This means that the church does not adopt the strategies of the world in order to be “successful” and its does not gauge success by the standards of this present evil age.  One of the biggest temptations for the church today, especially a church plant, is to mimic popular culture in order to get a leg up on the competition.

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According to Pastor and theologian Michael Horton:

It has often been observed that Sunday morning between 11 a.m. and noon is the most segregated hour in America. While there are some hopeful signs that race may not play as great a role in defining the body of Christ in the future, covenant families are increasingly broken up according to the demographic niches that have been created and enforced by a culture of marketing.

Jesus and Paul spoke of the kingdom of God as “the age to come” breaking in on us even now, in these last days of “the present age.” Christ had accomplished our redemption, and the Spirit was poured out. This is the big news! The world trains us, however, to think in terms of its own headlines, regardless of how the passing fashions come and go. Daily exposed to the relentless bombardment of advertising that would define us and our children, we enter the Lord’s Day as the “today” of salvation into which God creates His own cast for the real drama of the ages. On this day, the Lord of the covenant publicly placards Christ before us. It’s a campaign that is not manipulative, nor is it one that leaves us with one more “make-over”; it’s nothing less than the crucifixion of the self and its resurrection in Christ unto new life.

That’s why the current fascination with church-planting and home missions based on niche demographics (that is, dividing the market up into age, race, gender, socio-economic strata, politics, etc.) is such a problem. The church becomes a collection of consumers or tourists rather than a communion of saints and pilgrims. However, it’s not our choices, but God’s, that create this new society.

The older denominational divisions are tragic enough, but at least many of these were due to different interpretations of biblical teaching. Today, in the same denomination, even in the same local church, there are new divisions that are not only tolerated but encouraged by the leadership. Where the only division that we find in Scripture is “in Adam” or “in Christ,” our churches are increasingly divided by consumer loyalties — which means that they can no longer be united by the public ministry of Word and sacrament. This means that where the whole church learned God’s Word together, it is possible for the different segments to meet only in passing on their way to their specially-formatted events. Where the older men and women used to teach the younger (as Paul enjoined Timothy), now the likelihood of the youth learning the catechism of their parents and grandparents is diminished.

Indeed, the confessional Reformed tradition and RCSS is not averse to “marketing” the church per se.  (The Bible calls it witnessing.)  This website and this post is intended to raise awareness about who we are.  But the key is what paradigm is governing the medium and the message of the church, remembering that the medium is not neutral?  We trust that you will find something free from the unnecessary trappings of popular culture when you come and worship with us, something that is more Biblical – a better way – as set forth in these closing words:

Here and there even now the triune God is creating a place of grace out of the abstract space that is defined by sin, futility, and death. In the public confession of sin and absolution, in the prayers, singing, and hearing of the Word, at the font and table, we not only recall that the most decisive niche is “in Christ,” we actually become located there, together with everyone else who may not share our life experiences, cultural preferences, or political views. In a covenantal perspective, where “the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself” (Acts 2:39), there can be no niche markets. “Lord, you have been our dwelling place in all generations” (Ps. 90:1; see also Pss. 100:5; 102:12). Under the sun — that is, from the perspective of this fading age, “A generation goes, and a generation comes,” and “all is vanity” (Ecc. 1:4), but in the Son, each generation of the covenant community belongs to the Lord, transcending itself by participation in the catholic body of Christ, whose “kingdom endures from generation to generation” (Dan. 4:34).

For the rest of Horton’s article, see here.

One thought on “Marketing the church

  1. Very insightful thanks Simon. I think it was Marshall McLuhan who first coined the phrase ‘The medium is the message’. So important to remember!

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