Products and Consumers, Attraction and Mission

I’m not Mr. Business theory guy, not by a long shot. But I do read a pretty famous blog of a friend of mine called Slacker Manager. Brendon has a post today that reminded me how the same cultural shifts seem to be appearing in different ways in almost every field.

If you didn’t click the link yourself, I’ll try to explain. (“No, is too much. Let me sum up.” Bonus points awarded if you name the movie the quote is from in the comments.) Brendon’s post quotes Don Schultz as saying the 4 P’s of marketing (product, price, promotion, and place) are dead. Why?

“… because they are product-centric, not customer-centric. Meaning, basically, that the 4Ps are focused on how to sell more stuff and aren’t focused on how to make customers happy.”

Now, some people would see this language and use it to decry how the church is failing to be what it ought to be. These folks would say, “This is exactly what’s going wrong with the church! It’s all these people trying to make consumers of religion happy! It’s wrong! We need to focus on what we’re really about. Our center is GOD, and we need to do what GOD wants, not try and make people happy.”

It sounds right, and there is one sense where I completely agree: the purpose of church is not to make people happy, but to focus on being who Jesus is calling us to be, and finding ways to invite others into that calling as well.

But I think it would be good for us to take a deeper look at how we function in the church. It would be good for us to face into the ways that even those of us who protest loudly the “marketing of Christianity” still can learn from what marketers like this dude are saying.

The church has been marketing itself pretty relentlessly over the last few decades (if not centuries). Even those who complain about it. We want people to understand that our product is a relationship with God (done in our style of worship, of course), and that the price is free (but with expectations that you give your service to our “machine” and keep it functioning). We definitely promote (“bring a friend” day, or advertising, or telling people to invite their friends, or press releases), and we emphasize the place (come here to our building, “make sure your location is convenient to the freeways”, etc.)

There is this huge inertia built up in our minds that our “church-product” is really the center. Some call this the “attractional” model…we try to “do church” in such a way that people will come to us. And, there are many examples of how it works really well. There are some really gigantic churches that have attracted a lot of people.

Some in the emerging church have challenged this model on at least two main fronts: One, it doesn’t produced people who are really known, loved, and changed by God, it just produces big churches. Two, our culture is changing so rapidly that “one size fits all” just won’t work anymore. People are way too diverse, way too cynical about being forced into a mold. People want something authentic to who they are that is relevant to the world they live in.

Again, there of course is a danger in just having the goal of being “relevant” to people’s wants and desires. But what would it look like for the church to be “customer centric” in the best sense? What would it look like to take Jesus’ words at face value and “go into all the world, making disciples” rather than expecting the world to come to us?

I think “going into all the world” means many things: bridge building, relationship building, honestly respecting the value of each person, believing that God is already at work in each one’s life, expecting that God’s infinite creativity will look different in different people and different settings.

I think “expecting the world to come to us” means many things: staying in our comfortable relationship circles, having most resources directed toward what we do in the building, assuming our way must be God’s way, believing that God really only is at work here with us and not “out there”, expecting that if people really were obedient to God, they would come out (in the end) looking and talking and acting and living just like us.

I’m all for (proper) “customer centric” churches rather than selfish “product centric” churches.

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5 thoughts on “Products and Consumers, Attraction and Mission

  1. Glad someone else won the quote, my Princess Bride references are a little, ummm…, rusty, well, non-existant. Now if you throw out a Thomas the Tank Engine reference I’ll be first to the comments.

    I think I see where you’re going with this post. It’s the relationships we need to build, not the institutions. The church is the bonds in our hearts–to God and to our brethren here on earth–and when we think of church as product, as buildings and institutions, we threaten to compromise our ability to preach the gospel message to people. But I worry about consumer metaphor. Consumerism is one of the snares that keep us tied to the world. It gives us the luxuries that tie up time that would be better spent serving God in the world. And once we drop into massive credit card debt obtaining these luxuries we have pressures to follow the money more. What would it look like to take the step beyond consumer-centric? I’m really not sure, but it seems that there might be some other paradigm we could reach for.

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  2. Yeah, this was a pretty quick, top of the head post. I’m not at all interested in pursuing a consumer metaphor as the best or even a good one for our faith communities. I was mainly just fascinated by the marketing move from product to consumer, and how I think that mirrors the shift from attractional to missional.

    Your comment on the original Slacker Manager post is dead on: relational is the key, with a good mix of authenticity thrown in. Thanks for responding, and may God lead to the right new place of employment. I hope the anxiety that comes with transition is kept to a minimum.

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