Marketing the Church into Oblivion

Earlier this morning, as I perused the usual websites I tend to haunt over my morning cup of coffee, I encountered a news item entitled: “Pastor Ed Young, Wife to Stream Time in Bed on the Internet.”  Needless to say, I did a double take.

Apparently, Ed Young, who is the Founding and Senior Pastor of the multi-site Fellowship Church in Grapevine, Texas, has a new book to sell.  This book, which he co-authored with his wife, is called Sexperiment; and it encourages married couples to commit to having sexual relations every day for seven straight days.  Now please understand, I am not questioning a pastor’s decision to teach on the subject of human sexuality.  Far from it.  What I am questioning here today is the seemingly boundless lengths to which we are willing to go to market Christianity to a Modern, presumably disinterested, culture. 

Back in 2008, Paul and Susie Wirth released a book entitled, 30-Day Sex Challenge.  It was marketed with the tagline:

“Every man’s fantasy: 30 days of sex! Every woman’s dream: 30 days of intimacy!”

Now I want you to stop and look at that for a moment; and I want you to ask yourself: what is being “sold” and who’s “selling” it?  While I don’t know the sales figures for the book,  its basic premise caught fire, as it was used as the inspiration for many “challenges” delivered in numerous churches across the nation.

But as we all know, news cycles move on, and Modernity is always anxious to discard the “old” in favor of the “new.”  And so now, just three years later, capitalism once again rears its ugly head within the church, and two new books are released.  The first book, Young’s Sexperiment, promises to do in seven days, what the “old” book could only do in 30.  And as for Mark Driscoll’s book, Real Marriage: The Truth About Sex, Friendship and Life Together, it promises to tell you all sorts of explicit things, the likes and details of which I will leave for you to investigate.

Here’s the problem.  Not only are we, as Christians, caught in the lie that the “new” must be better than the “old,” we’re also caught up in constantly struggling to find new and “innovative” ways to market our materials.  If N.T. Wright goes on Comedy Central’s  Colbert Report, than Driscoll has to show up on Dr. Drew’s Loveline.  And if Rob Bell previews his book, Love Wins, with a catchy video, than Ed Young has to one-up him and stage a “Sexperiment Bed In.”  You read that right.  In an effort to generate some serious sales volume, Ed Young and his wife, are camped out for 24 hours on a bed on the roof of their church.  And you are invited to witness this live event through this link.

The question are numerous.  Where will this all end?  Is it even possible for this to end?  Or are we all caught up upon a wave – a wave that leaves us flailing about as we wait to be dashed upon the rocky shoreline?  I guess only time will tell.

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4 Responses to Marketing the Church into Oblivion

  1. Ryan M. Mahoney says:

    There is a notion in evangelicalism that thinks I must increase so that Christ can too. I cannot find the video, but there was a megachurch pastor said something to the effect that he wanted to build up his reputation to leverage it for the gospel. If I find the video I’ll post it.

    • The older I get, the more concerned I become about the corporate state of the modern church. Yes, I realize we all have personal failures that hinder our witness. But there are some collective decisions that we are making as a corporate body – decisions that leave the bride of Christ wide open for any and all who wish to attack her. I read a book by Oz Guiness a few years ago. I think it was called “Dining with the Devil.” If I recall, it was a rather scathing critique of the megachurch. And as I sit here thinking through these issues, I wonder how many of his insights could not be applied to the broader evangelical movement.

  2. Nick Doherty says:

    This somewhat relates to my previous post on your article about Tim Tebow, but my thought is this:
    Many so called “Christians” nowadays are beginning to rely more and more on the support of the outside world to determine if they will in fact stick with Christianity. When these types of people see that they are being shunned for their “religion”, they quickly abandon it to find something else that will make them popular or at least accepted.
    Maybe this is actually a pastor’s poor attempt at evangelizing Christianity, but what if he is struggling with the fact that most people don’t like him because he is a “Christian”? I personally think it is the latter, and that he is simply trying to boost his self image as much as that of Christianity itself (in the eyes of the world). That is, if Christianity even has anything to do with it in his mind.
    And to address the new better than old concept; this is probably one of the most important thing in our culture today. Take the most obvious example, technology. Always, companies are coming out with new products that are more high tech than the previous one. They also market their own products as better than everyone else’s. Everything is “new”. I personally think that this will actually start to increase as time goes on. Products will come out faster and better than they used to, and because so much of our culture is based on this concept, it overflows into even the religious world, as is case with the examples you mentioned. This shouldn’t be a problem. It only becomes a problem when people begin to market Christianity as “new” and “culturally acceptable”, as this pastor is doing.

    • Hey Nick,

      So I have a follow-up question on your comment. You said that “products will come out faster and better” and that “this shouldn’t be a problem.” You then went on to say that it’s only a problem when people begin to market Christianity as “new” and “culturally acceptable.” My question is: what if it’s not just marketing Christianity as something “new” or “culturally acceptable?” What if the bigger problem is that we are trying to “sell” Christianity as a product? Do you see what I’m asking? The Christian faith is supposed to be a counter-cultural testimony that God Himself has entered this world for the sake of redeeming it. And in His wisdom, He has entrusted and empowered His body – His church – to bear witness to His awesome sacrifice. What happens when that incarnation and that sacrifice start getting marketed like a car or a restaurant?

      What do you think?

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