Marketing and Discipleship

This post is the sixth post in a nine part Series: On Marketing and Ministry. For more posts in this series, check out the series frontpage.
Start with math:
How many churches are there in South Florida? 1000? 2000?
How many people attend the average church? According to Michael Bell ... 184
How many people are involved in South Florida churches? between 200,000 and 300,000
How many people live in South Florida? Over 5 million

More math:
How many students are involved in campus ministries at Broward College? 70
How many students are enrolled at Broward College? 65,000

Last round:
How many disciples did Jesus have?  12 (but Judas ... well ... )
How many people are on the planet? 7,000,000,000
How many people does God want to hear the gospel of Jesus? ???

How are we going to cross these gaps?  From 300,000 to 5 million.  From 70 to 65,000.  From 12 to 7,000,000,000.  These are huge, huge gaps!

"This is going to require some great marketing," some might say.
"This is going to require some serious disciple-making," others might say.

I actually think these two go hand in hand.

When great marketing and serious disciple-making join up, we see rapid and sustainable expansion.

Disciple-making without great marketing practice ...
  • Lasts only one or two generations
  • Stays centered around "vocational" ministers
  • Drifts away from God's mission
Marketing without serious disciple-making ....
  • Runs only an inch deep
  • Exaggerates and disappoints
  • Flares and fades
How do we connect great marketing with serious disciple-making?

1) Buzz beats hype

We're skeptical of hype.  You can talk and talk about how great your product or service is ... but I doubt your honesty if you stand to benefit.  This culture of skepticism is a light and dark echo of postmodernity.

This is why buzz beats hype.  Hype is when I talk myself up.  Buzz is when others talk me up.

And when it comes to disciple-making, we need buzz.  In other words, we need people ... people who aren't up on stage ... talking about the benefits and blessing of following Jesus. 

And so serious disciple-making links up with great marketing in lay systems of multiplicative discipleship.  Sure, the pastor can mentor a few people.  But so can that lady who sings a little too loudly in the choir.  And that sophomore who wears his jeans a little too tightly.  And that guy that retired from Kodak but still has life and wisdom and energy to share.

When you think about discipleship, think about buzz as well as hype.

2) Clear messaging matters

For years I've engaged in non-replicable discipleship.  I'm an intuitive, responsive discipler.  I struggle with systems and programs, leaning more toward spiritual direction.

But to expand and fill the gaps, we need to find a way to get beyond custom, master-crafted discipleship.  Look at it this way ... Jesus had to find a way for Thaddeus and the other Judas to make disciples.  So he had a set of clear, easy-to-remember teachings and practices.

If we want our disciple-making to be transferable, we need to work on having clear messages.  And this is a challenge marketers often face.  The easier you make it to share about - whatever "it" is - the more ubiquitous it becomes.

There's a lot we can learn from cascading messaging, communication theory, and the gospels themselves.  How were Jesus' disciples able to record his words decades after he preached?  Why do the people I disciple have trouble remembering what we talked about from week to week?

When you think about discipleship, communicate in a way that can be repeated.

3) What you make matters

Great products market themselves.  If you want to expand your market-share, you have to make something remarkable ... remark-able ... worth remarking about.  And serious disciple-making accomplishes this.

Through the book of Acts and the early church, disciples of Jesus caught the attention of and attracted men and women to Jesus.  They loved.  They served.  They lived in ways that were intriguing.  These disciples brought in new disciples.

Discipleship systems collapse when we begin to ignore what sort of people we're producing.  We focus on the product and on content and on attendance, but don't pay attention to whether or not people are becoming more like Christ.  And nothing fuels a system like growth.

When you think about discipleship, pay attention to the people you're forming.

How is your ministry building bridges across these gaps?

Tomorrow, I'll share some thoughts on the intersection of Marketing and Multi-ethnicity.  God is weaving people together who would normally not be together ... and this challenges how we think about marketing in our ministries.  A link will be posted here as soon as the post is published.

Photo courtesy of renjith krishnan and

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