Why The Church Doesn't Need A Marketing Strategy

Text: Romans 1:8-17

In the name of Jesus: Amen.

When a business is struggling, an owner or manager will often reach out to marketers. Marketers will then come into the business and many times do what is called a demographic study. A demographic study helps the owner or manager to understand the make-up and characteristics of potential customers in the area. With this statistical data, marketers will then help businesses make adjustments in their branding, products, and mission to appeal to a particular group of people. The idea is quite simple if the business can adjust to the wants, interests, and needs of a particular group, that particular group of people will then begin to shop at the business. And with these new customers, the business will grow and profit. 

Now, keep in mind that this kind of demographic work is very important for the success of businesses. Businesses that do not adapt to changing demographics will often find themselves out of business. The mantra is, ‘adapt or die.’

Unfortunately, though, these kinds of business marketing techniques are often implemented in the church. For example, many churches will hire church growth gurus to come into a local church to do a spiritualized demographic study. As a result, churches will gather information about people who live around the church, their ethnicity, age, education, habits, likes, and interests. Once compiled, church leadership in these churches will narrow in on a particular group of people that they want to attract to the sanctuary on Sundays. (More often than not, it is the ‘young people.’)  And so,  to attract whatever group they have zoned in on, the church will adjust its architecture, music, language, attire, and branding to woo these people into the doors.

Now, there is a catch-22 to all of this.  By making these adjustments on behalf of a particular group of people, the church begins to alienate segments of members already in the church and potential future members outside its doors. Furthermore, if the existing members in the church are not like the people being targeted, then they better change to be like them or keep their mouths shut otherwise they will be called out as sowing disunity in the church. And probably the worst part of this whole strategy is that the architecture, music, language, attire, and branding are no longer centered on the Gospel but upon a particular segment of people.

But what does this have to do with us today? Well, in our epistle reading from Romans, the Apostle Paul says that he is obligated both to Greeks and barbarians. The Apostle Paul says that he is obligated to the wise and the foolish. In other words, Paul saw these demographic differences during his time as insignificant. He saw these human judgments and classifications of people as irrelevant when it came to the Gospel.

You see, during the time of the Apostle Paul, there were people called Hellenists.  These Hellenists saw distinctions in people as very important. According to the Hellenists, there were the Greeks. The term ‘The Greeks’ came to be synonymous with people who were polished, refined, wise, civilized, and cultured. On the other hand, all those people who were not included under the name of ‘The Greeks,’ well… they were called ‘barbarians.’ Barbarians were those who were not Greek-speaking and were considered foolish and unrefined. These barbarians were regarded as the ignorant and unpolished people of society. And as previously mentioned, the Hellenists saw these demographic differences as very important.

But the Apostle Paul did not consider these differences to be of importance. Indeed, these classes of people and demographic differences meant nothing to him. The reason why? The Gospel is for all! It is for the Greeks and the barbarians. The Gospel is for the wise and the unwise. It is for the old and the young. The Gospel is for the hip and the nerdy. It is for males and females. The Gospel is for the civilized and the unrefined. It is for the city slicker and the farmboy. 

But how on earth can a church appeal to such a vast spectrum of people?

It can’t.

It is humanly impossible for Christians to gather such a vast spectrum of people into one place. That is why so many churches have resorted to focusing their efforts towards a particular segment of people.  In other words, if a pastor and church leadership are gifted enough, it is rather easy to gather a large crowd of people that have similar wants, interest, and needs.  We humans like to be with people who are like ourselves.  

However, this is not how the church works.  This is not what Paul has in mind in our epistle reading from Romans.

You see, the Apostle Paul knew that the Gospel is the power of God unto salvation. He knew that no human doctrine, no worldly philosophy, and no marketing strategy could speak to the Greeks and the barbarians alike. But rather, it is the simple message of Jesus Christ that is the power of God for the Greeks and barbarians alike.  That is to say; the Gospel is not merely accompanied by the power of God under certain circumstances to certain people, but it is in itself, at all times, the power of God. So, we do not have to find segments of people to proclaim the Gospel to, as if the Gospel only works on certain types of people.  Instead, the church proclaims the Gospel to the Greeks, the barbarians, the wise, the unwise, the old, the young, the hip, the nerdy, males, females, and so forth.  The church does not worry itself about who it is proclaiming the Gospel to, for the Gospel is to be proclaimed to everyone and has the power to bring salvation to all.

The Gospel delivers Greek sinners and barbarian sinners from sin and death and damnation. The Gospel brings and delivers to the Greeks and barbarians life and salvation.

Dear friends, the church does not need different messages for different groups of people for there is only one Gospel for all nations. The church does not need a marketing strategy to appeal to a particular segment of people, for the church does not ‘appeal’ to segments of people, but ‘proclaims’ the Gospel to all people.  The church knows that the Gospel is suited to overcome obstacles in its way.  The Gospel is mighty. It has gone against the sins of the world; it has been proclaimed into every tongue, tribe, group, generation, and continent to save sinners of all grades, which includes you and me.

Show me a church that is adjusting its architecture, music, language, attire, and branding to the cultural fads of the day and age, and you will see a church that either does not know the Gospel or underestimates the power of the Gospel or perhaps is ashamed of the Gospel.

And what about those churches that are so-called stuck in tradition?  Well, tradition is only helpful and good if it promotes the Gospel. And if a tradition does not confess the Gospel, and is used as a way to attract people who are traditionally minded? Will… that church is no different than the church that is marketing itself. To the point; “All ceremonies in the church should serve the purpose of teaching the people what they need to know about Christ.”[1] And the reason why?  Because upon the good news of Jesus’s forgiveness of sins – the Gospel - the church stands. The Gospel is the power of God for salvation; salvation for you, for me, and our neighbors. Ceremonies, architecture, music, language, attire, and branding - no matter how appealing it is to the masses – if it is not about the Gospel, it is nothing more than a clanging gong.  Empty, useless noise. 

And so, we Christians rejoice when we hear the Gospel in our readings, see it in the architecture, hear it in the sermons, sing it in the music, and speak it in the liturgy, for we know it is the power of God unto salvation. 

And we also know that this Gospel is not to be kept to ourselves or limited to people who are like us. We know that we do not exclusively appeal to particular segments of culture, “for Jesus did not limit his work. He redeemed the whole world – even barbarians and fools like”[2] you and me. 

In the name of Jesus: Amen. 

[1] AC XXIV.
[2] Lutheran Study Bible, (St. Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House, 2009), 1909. 

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