Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Marketing the Messiah

I haven't been writing for the blog much lately.  I'll get back to it soon.  But I have been writing.  This piece was accepted by Standard Publishing for their Adult Sunday School Quarterly, "Seek," and will appear in December this year.  

We live in a marketing saturated culture.  According to Consumer Reports, the average American is exposed to 247 commercial messages a day.  From the sixty second spots that interrupt our favorite television shows to the receipts that print out at the grocery store with coupons on the back.  From vehicle wraps that turn buses into billboards to sponsored phone lines radio call in shows.  Products are placed, logos are designed, jingles are sung, taglines are repeated - all with the intent of prodding us to purchase, or donate, or register. 

I’m not being cynical.  I’m part of the system.  I work as a retail manager, constantly thinking about how to generate revenue, increase loyalty, and improve profit margins.  I place products to maximize sales.  I train my employees to suggestively offer products and services.  I study sales figures to keep adequate stock levels and minimize spoilage. 

So when I hear, in John 3, that John the Baptist is losing market share in his signature service, I think marketing.  His disciples come to him with concern over a competitor siphoning off the stream of baptismal customers.  “Rabbi, he that was with thee beyond Jordan, to whom thou barest witness, behold, the same baptizeth, and all men come to him” (John 3:26).  This is a problem easily addressed.  Fresh strategies will breathe new life into John’s start-up and propel him back on top.  With some simple changes, he can set the standard in the baptismal marketplace.  As an innovator, his name will be forever linked to baptizing.

So here is my proposal.  Build a new viewing area with comfortable seating for family and friends.  If possible, include a pavilion to provide shade from the midday sun or shelter from passing rain showers. Comfortable locker rooms would be an attractive addition, as would regulated water temperatures.  As candidates exit the water they should be met by one of John’s disciples with a warmed terry cloth towel to wrap around them.  Photography service with a free 8x10 and numerous package options available would be an easy addition, as many photographers would jump at the chance to capitalize on such a memorable moment. 

New lighting would allow for evening baptisms and a cafĂ© could offer refreshments.  Over time they might consider offering special “dinner and a baptism” deals, though I might recommend they outsource the catering, since food service is a whole mess of regulations.  These special events would be a perfect opportunity for an advertising blitz whether through direct mailing or media spots.

Some of this may demand a bit too much overhead, so they might want to put some feelers out for investors.  I’m sure they could convince people this is a worthwhile investment with a well-developed presentation for venture capitalists.

And this is just for starters, ideas that flow off the top of my head.  There is much more they can do to turn this around.  But just as I’m getting excited by the possibility, John douses my enthusiasm with his response. 

“John answered and said, ‘A man can receive nothing, except it be given him from heaven. Ye yourselves bear me witness, that I said, I am not the Christ, but that I am sent before him. He that hath the bride is the bridegroom: but the friend of the bridegroom, which standeth and heareth him, rejoiceth greatly because of the bridegroom's voice: this my joy therefore is fulfilled. He must increase, but I must decrease’” (John 3:27-30).

The disciples come with a concern.  Smaller crowds.  I’m thinking of a solution.  Drum up more interest.  This seems justifiable.  You can make a case for large crowds in ministry as much as the marketplace. If the ministry is worthwhile, then why wouldn’t we want more people exposed to it. More people means more influence.  Larger services, more visitors, better production, higher offerings become measuring sticks of ministry success, like profit and loss spreadsheets in the retail world.  Churches are measured by how effectively they fill the seats. But this is short-sighted.

John says this shrinkage is according to plan.  His decrease means Jesus’ increase.  As he fades, Christ is exalted.  He is not the groom in this wedding, the focal point of the festivity.  He is the groomsman, who is making sure that attention goes to the bridal couple. Before the wedding starts, he may be the most noticeable one, scurrying around making last minute preparations.  But when the bridal march begins and the groom enters from the side door, the groomsman is happy to stand off to the side, largely unnoticed.  His whole intent is to focus attention on the groom.

And so we see that John is more concerned about attention than attendance.  He will do all he can to direct people’s attention to Christ.  This is the measure of ministry.  How effectively does the church draw people’s attention to Christ?  John would prefer and handful of Christ-absorbed people over an auditorium full of John-absorbed people.  He recognizes that his time has come to fade into the background and turn the spotlight on Jesus.

And the corporate application wiggles its way down to the individual.  How effectively do you turn the attention of people you interact with to Christ?  Does your life point them to The Life?  Are you willing to say, with John, “He must increase, but I must decrease.”  He doesn’t need better marketing.  He needs you pointing those in your family, in your neighborhood, and in your workplace to Christ.