Marketing and Evangelism



This post is the fifth post in a nine part Series: On Marketing and Ministry. For more posts in this series, check out the series frontpage.

A short while ago I ran across a comic book on evangelism from the 1970's called The Gospel Blimp (you can read it here).  The story is about a group of Christians who wanted to share the gospel with their next-door neighbors, so they bought a blimp (like the Goodyear blimp) and posted Bible verses on it.  The whole project backfired, as you can imagine.

These two lines are the highlights of the book:
The world needs to see a living witness ... not a gas bag.
Jesus Christ didn't commit the gospel to an advertising agency ... he commissioned disciples!!!

When we think about the intersection of marketing and evangelism, a lot of us think of blimps ... or billboards, commercials, tracts, or full-page ads.  But there's more to marketing than advertising. 

Here are three ways marketing can help our evangelism ...

1) View conversion as a journey

One of the core concepts of permission marketing is that you need to take people ... step-by-step ... through a journey of deeper engagement.  Whether it's an iPod to iPhone to iEverything or Large Group to Small Group to Discipleship, this concept proves not only helpful but practical.  It helps with both planting and building ministry.  Can this idea help with evangelism?

A few years ago, I ran into this idea - that conversion is a journey - in a book by Doug Schaupp and Don Everts: I Once Was Lost.  In the book, they talk about what they call "The Five Thresholds of Postmodern Conversion."

The long and short of it is that if you view conversion as a journey, evangelism takes on a whole new shape.  Instead of arguing and convincing and selling, we guide and model and invite.  And good marketing practice, in this scenario, puts manipulative techniques on the shelf and focuses on service.

2) Think about targets

One size very rarely fits all.  The marketing world challenges us to think about targets and audience and segmentation.  To whom am I communicating?  Who is this good or service right for?

When we think about evangelism, however, marketing language about segmentation sounds out of place.  The gospel of Jesus is for everybody, right?  But before we put this marketing concept back on the shelf ...

We can tweak our communication to our audience and still be faithful
We can focus our outreach to certain groups of people and still be bold
We can adapt to seasons of life and still be evangelistic

Jesus is the Way, the Truth and the Life ... for everybody.  I really believe that.  But God uses diverse means to communicate the gospel of Jesus.  Language, cultural forms, personal focus, timing and rhythm ... all these are up for grabs, none of these necessarily compromise the gospel of Jesus. 

Our evangelism will be deeply helped if we sensitively consider who we're targeting.

3) Identity, not just ideas

I remember the day I became open to being a Mac user, an iPerson.  I discovered iTunes and their free podcasts and was hooked.  Shortly afterward, I bought an iPod, lost an iPod, bought another, and had it stolen.  When I bought my last computer, I seriously considered buying a Mac instead of a PC.

This shift - from being closed to Mac to being open - happened slowly, over time.  I started to see myself as the sort of person who would use a Mac.  This was an identity shift.

So often, we present the gospel of Jesus as if it's just about ideas.  Believe this and believe that and you'll be a Christian.  But for many people, the things holding them back from Jesus have nothing to do with ideas. 

They aren't opposed to Jesus being God, they just don't see themselves as the sort of person who likes standing in rows singing high-pitched Chris Tomlin songs.  They don't doubt that they're sinners in need of a Savior, they just don't see themselves carrying signs that read "God hates _____."  They don't doubt that Jesus can change the world, they just don't see themselves pretending to be happy all of the time.

Our evangelistic efforts, informed by this insight, need to engage the realm of identity, as well as the realm of ideas.  Just as the iMagicians helped me begin to see myself as an iPerson, we can help people begin to see themselves as the sort of people who could fit with Jesus and this Christianity-thing.

[For more on this idea, check out this post from a while back: Belonging and believing.]

These three marketing ideas have greatly helped my evangelism over the past several years.  Journey, target and identity are powerful and easily applied ideas.  They've really helped me step out.

What's helped you be more evangelistic recently?

Tomorrow's post will focus on the intersection of Marketing and Discipleship.  When we disciple people, we invest our lives in them.  But for discipling to be powerful, we need to help them disciple others.  Marketing can help with this.  A link will be published here as soon as the post is published.

Photo courtesy of renjith krishnan and http://www.freedigitalphotos.net

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