A crowd in San Miguel Alto Uno - Peten, Guatemala

Marketing Jesus

What attracts people? I work in marketing, so it’s part of my job to know what will attract a customer to my company’s message. I think it’s ironic that I work in marketing because marketing has no effect on me whatsoever, but it’s fascinating to study. And it’s been interesting over the past two years to see what works and what doesn’t.

I didn’t originally go into marketing. My degree is in journalism, and that’s really the style I prefer. Direct. To the point. Honest (supposedly). Just the facts, ma’am. That’s my kind of writing. You get what you need, and you can trust it because it’s true. Marketing isn’t really like that. I mean, you have to be truthful, but you’re supposed to leave out facts that could be construed negatively. You’re supposed to spin writing so that it presents the most positive image of your product possible.

I never really understood marketing until I started working at my current job, and I won’t say I understand it now. But I grasp it a little better than I did. And the more I grasp it, the more I have begun to notice it in other aspects of life. Specifically in the Church.

Christians are all about marketing.

I’m not talking the old school Christians, though. The old school Christians I know really have no interest in growing the numbers of their congregations. They don’t really don’t care whether the message is spread to its full extent (or if they do care, they put prerequisites on new believers so that they will dress/act/look/speak the same way the rest of the church does when they walk in the doors).

But more new-fangled Christians? Well, marketing is something they do well. They start playing the numbers game, and the more people who start coming, the more new people they need to keep coming. It’s all about appearances. It’s all about getting as many butts in those pews (or stadium seats) as possible. And there’s nothing really wrong with that, but there is a perception among believers that the Bible and Jesus isn’t enough to draw people. So they have market Him. They have to make the Bible relevant to our modern lives.

They think getting the Bible to mean something to our culture is like jamming a square peg in a round hole. It can’t be done. So they change it. They spin it. They leave out facts that could be construed negatively. They only focus on the things that don’t challenge people. And the result is churches with tens of thousands of people, yes. But it’s tens of thousands of people who don’t know anything about Jesus other than that He was a good man and a great teacher. Or they think the Bible can be picked apart and that parts of it aren’t true.

And the irony is that it’s unnecessary. Because the Bible and Jesus are relevant to our world and our culture already. They don’t need our help.

A crowd in San Miguel Alto Uno - Peten, Guatemala

People who gathered to watch puppets - San Miguel Alto Uno, Peten, Guatemala

Today’s verse is John 12:32.

And when I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw everyone to myself.

This is from a passage where Jesus is predicting His death, but it’s a concept that’s applicable in other situations too. This statement is in regard to Christ being lifted up on the cross. That’s what it means literally. But one of the awesome things about Jesus is that just about everything He said has both a literal meaning and a figurative meaning. And figuratively, this statement is just as true.

If Jesus is the focus of your church, He will attract people.

In our modern churches with our weak-willed faith, we think we have to draw people with extravagant buildings and fancy coffee and hip music, and we forget that Jesus should be the focus. Christ doesn’t say that if you lift up your church’s mission’s ministry, people will come. He doesn’t say if you exalt your worship ministry, people will come. This says if you exalt Christ, He will do the rest.

Please don’t misunderstand me. Obviously, I don’t speak Greek or Hebrew or Aramaic so I’m thankful for those who do who can translate Scripture. And it’s good to note that I like nice buildings and fancy coffee and hip music just as much as the next person. And I think there is extreme value in creating an environment where people are welcome and where people feel comfortable. But it’s so easy — so terribly easy — to get caught up in that comfort and that style and to focus on those environments. And it’s easy to use those things to draw people to church. But those things shouldn’t be our focus. Those things don’t attract people.

Jesus does.

And if you try to spin Him, if you try to present an image of Him that you think is more palatable, that’s not exalting Him. That’s exalting your opinion.

I’m talking to myself more than anyone else because I’m pretty timid when it comes to sharing my faith face to face. And it’s so much easier to invite someone to church when I tell them that we build awesome sets or that we have great, cheap coffee or that our music rocks hardcore. And, again, there’s nothing wrong with that. If that is something of interest to the person I’m inviting, then yes, I’m going to use it. But I need to be upfront about what my church is about. I’m fortunate, because my rockin’ awesome church is about Jesus. But I’m just as guilty of focusing on the tools we use to attract people rather than the reason we’re trying to attract people.

We don’t have to market Jesus. We just need to worship Him. Jesus will sell Himself.