Thursday, November 09, 2006
Trusting in... what?
A piece on Reuters "Oddly Enough" talks about the United Church in Canada and their most recent foray into marketing. The image to the left is part of their campaign. The words in the upper right say, "How much fun can sex be before it's a sin?"
Only the church can screw this up this badly. A recurrent theme on my posts are about forming people to proclaim the gospel so that others might hear it and come to know the true and living God. But here the United Church in Canada turns evangelism into gimmick. Too often people in the church reduce our evangelism to issues of advertising and marketing. To be faithful to the missio Dei, we cannot rely on Madison Ave. techniques to create disciples. These ads might get people in the doors, but they won't last long if they feel they have suffered a bait and switch. Bring them in with tantalizing and scandalous images, and then start talking about what God has done, is doing and will do, and how we who follow should respond, most likely these newcomers will turn off their reception.
But actually,the problem is worse. It lets the normal pew-sitter abandon their role as amabassador of the Kingdom. The work of evangelism and mission is primarily a relational one. There is risk involved when we open to others and confess our faith, telling the story of a God who is active in our lives. We face derision and scorn, but we also might begin a conversation where someone who does not know God feels the call of the gospel and allows him or herself to be pulled into a deeper connection with the God who created and loves him or her. Ads just cannot do that.
The story quotes the executive director of the ad campaign, Keith Howard, who says, "We've had a long tradition of engaging the issues and concerns of the society that we are a part of." The issues that the article mentions are about breaking the stereotypes of religion in a "we're not your grandma's church anymore! We're new and improved."-sense that simply exchanges one set of stereotypes (religion as stuffy and overbearing) for another ( Christians as idiots who cannot even agree amongst themselves). All in all, not only do churches exchange trust in God with trust in marketing, AND form people poorly, they continue to promote the division that exists within the Body of Christ and exalt it. At the heart of this campaign is a not-so subtle dig at the other churches who might interpret things differently. Trying to take advantage of the fissures in the body of Christ is nothing other than sin, plain and simple.
It's about Jesus. Start there.