A Weblog Dedicated to the Discussion of the Christian Faith and 21st Century Life

A Weblog Dedicated to the Discussion of the Christian Faith and 21st Century Life
I do not seek to understand that I may believe, but I believe in order to understand. For this also I believe, –that unless I believed, I should not understand.-- St. Anselm of Canterbury (1033-1109)

Monday, November 20, 2006

The Gospel According to Panera Bread

As I write this post, I am sitting in a Panera Bread in High Point, North Carolina with my daughter, Alyssa. She is checking e-mail and chatting with friends in Ohio, while I am hoping to blog something worth reading.

We ordered coffee and had a choice of four: "Bold and Vibrant," "Bright and Balanced," "Richly Flavored," and "Expertly Decaffeinated." As I looked over the choices, the skeptic in me was saying, "C'mon, it's just coffee!" Yet, at the same time, the choice of words in the advertising is quite obvious. Each word is a descriptive term that people find attractive. Who doesn't want to be "bold and vibrant" or "bright and balanced;" and we sure like the words "rich" and "expert."

Is it possible to imagine a Panera Bread or a Starbucks offering other choices for coffee such as "Bad and Vulgar," "Boring and Forgettable," "Slightly Flavored," and "Possibly Decaffeinated." I don't think too many people would rush to be first in line to taste such options.

Businesses market their products to attract people, to get the attention of people in a society who have too many choices, who have much more than they need. They target people's wants and desires. The ones who advertise well, do well, and the ones who don't, don't stay in business.

I know there are many in the church who think that there is something heretical in advertising, in marketing the Gospel in the hope of attracting people. I am not one of those people. I don't want to be misunderstood; I am opposed to turning the Gospel into another commodity, neither am I suggesting that the message of the Gospel be cheapened or the scandal of the cross minimized in order to appeal to "modern sensibilities." What I am in favor of is the church appealing to the needs, and yes, the wants of human beings by using the same advertising vehicles that businesses use in order to attract people to the one thing that will fill all their deepest longings. While driving from Washington D.C. to High Point this afternoon, I passed a billboard which is being rented by a church. It had the church's name, and then below it the message read, "A Place for Those Who Don't 'Do' Church." It seems to me that this congregation has figured out the importance of placing the message where it can't be missed.

Of course there are all sorts of ways for a church to advertise; not only through the various media, but also in its ministries to the community and world, but we must not understate the value in getting the Gospel message out in the same way as every other group who has something to offer. When I hear Christians denounce churches who use advertising media, I think of the church leaders in the sixteenth century who denounced the invention of the printing press because the devil was going to use it to lead people astray. Martin Luther in response suggested that the church use the new invention to lead people to Christ.

In a society with seemingly endless choices, seemingly endless commodities offering happiness, hope, and fulfillment, the voices clamoring for our allegiance are many and loud and persuasive; and we must make no mistake, they are clamoring for the allegiance, for the loyalty of our children as well. The church must not only advertise what it offers as effectively as the society, it must be more effective; and an indispensable part of that effectiveness is utilizing all the advertising media available. The experts in-the-know say that at least 5% of a church's budget should be devoted to advertising. Most church's do not even have a line item for it, let alone a dollar amount.

In its proclamation (which includes advertising) and in its action (which is ministry), the church needs to get the attention of the society in such a way that, when people hear "Bold and Vibrant," they think, not of coffee, but of Christianity.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Thanks Allan, for the helpful and persuasive words. I fully agree. And Paul does too, surely. As he said, He became all things to all people so that BY ALL POSSIBLE MEANS, he might save some.

We should do everything we can to attract people to the teaching of God, and to Christ. Thanks.