Thursday, April 27, 2006

Bad Advertising

Yesterday afternoon I received in the mail this glossy card from a local church advertising their upcoming services. It was professionally done and very slick- but very sad.

The picture above shows the front cover of the card with its obvious allusion to the “Desperate Housewives” show. The reverse side advertised the church’s upcoming sermon series entitled “Desperate Households,” which will run the next four weeks. The first sermon is titled, “Wife Swap”! Of course the sermon will not encourage the practice of wife-swapping. The point is to use this language for its shock value. The sermon on Mothers’ Day is entitled, “Desperate Housewives”!

This is really sad. I can see an unbelieving detractor of the church saying, “What a pitiful lot Christians are since their message is so weak that they must pimp and prostitute it so in order to gain a hearing.”

The draw for the church is not slick advertising and shameless accommodation to culture, but the power of the preached word and the credibility of the lives of her members.


Tim Ellsworth said...

I got the same piece of mail, Ray, and I agree. Thanks for pointing out the problems with such methods.

Anonymous said...

That ad is very sad.

Chris Petersen said...

I attend this church but was not happy myself with this marketing. It seems as if the growth of our church has led to a move to become more relevant so as to grow bigger! Needless to say I've been disatisifed with some of the things my church has been doing. This is one of them.

Anonymous said...

Very sad to see this is happening but not at all shocked. Ray, If you look up Desperate Households you will find that this is a common sermon series many are using and much of it can be traced back to those who follow the Saddleback model. I have a feeling this is a trend that may be some of that sermon sharing you discussed earlier. One site I looked at had different weekly titles such as "Desperate in the Bedroom" - do we have to say more.....


Brad said...

I don't think their's a television show on right now that hasn't been turned into a sermon series.

Adam said...

Dr. Van Neste, I also think it is disheartening that many of our brothers and sisters in evangelical churches feel that shock value or cultural accomodation are the means we should use to get the culture's attention.

Yet, I also fear that we might be hasty to deny the relevance of the a particular ministry or question its motive on the basis of cheesy advertising alone. You were always exceptional at helping me look for the gospel in spite of everything else. I truely hope that this "Desperate Households" session will confront families in our churches with the gospel and with clear biblical teaching.

Despite the unfortunate accomdation evident in such advertisements, the slogan is nevertheless an accurate description of our generation. The traditional family structure is now the exception rather than the norm (even among so-called "Christian" homes). Our fathers are largely passive in the spiritual leadership role. Our mothers are far too influenced by the Feminist ideals of the world. And our children believe that they are right to rebel against traditional ideals simply because they are traditional.

Let us not lose sight of the goal of such out-reaches in spite of our careful sensibilities: the gospel of the glory of Christ made manifest in our marriages and families. If this ministry is able to generate a community interest in such an important topic even through flawed means, then we must not sneer at God's working in the foolishness of our brothers.

Thanks for reminding me how ridiculous we Christians can get in the name of evangelism. And I really wish LifeWay would do away with those Coca-Cola-ish "Jesus Christ: The Real Thing" t-shirts and those Precious Moments angels that could never strike fear and trembling in Mary or the saints of the Old Testament. God bless, Dr. Van Neste.

Mark and Hannah said...

Adam, you said,
"If this ministry is able to generate a community interest in such an important topic even through flawed means, then we must not sneer at God's working in the foolishness of our brothers."

I suppose that means all "questionable methods" are on the table as long as God is working?

Or, being foolish is fine because God will redeem it?

Why think critically then? If our goal is to create community interest, then let's blow the top and have a circus.

Ray Van Neste said...

Thanks, Adam. However, I am still not pleased.
If this church does confront the people with the biblical teaching on families and the gospel, then it will show that this proclamation of truth was already a part of that church before the use of this advertising campaign. This ad campaign will do nothing to encourage the proclamation of truth. I do hope the gospel is evident in these messages, in spite of the compromised language of the advert. If so, then they could have done better without it. My beef is with the advertising.
One might say, then, that the advertising may bring new people to hear this proclamation, which surely is the goal. However, will this really have that result? In the name of cultural relevancy I would argue against such advertising. I think it comes across to unbelievers as a bit silly- sort of like a senior adult man trying to sound hip to youngsters. If the older man wants a hearing with the youngsters, let him be authentic as himself and he will have far more success. In this kind of advertisements the church seems like an awkward teenager trying desperately to fit in and be appreciated by others. That is not the role of the church. We can speak to important issues of the day without placarding ourselves with promos from seductive television shows. I am glad I will not have to explain to teenage children why our church is using a promotion from a TV show that we do not allow in our house. The mixed messages are many.

Adam said...

Point well taken, Brother Van Neste.

Ray Van Neste said...

Thanks for raising the point Adam. We do need to be careful not to let criticism go into overdive so that we do not see the gospel in operation even in less than ideal settings. At the same time we must point out the errors that overshadow the speaking of the gospel.

Anonymous said...

"The draw for the church is not slick advertising and shameless accommodation to culture, but the power of the preached word and the credibility of the lives of her members."

Unfortunately, that is becoming less and less true in today's 'modern' culture. A very sad testimony of our times.

Thanks for bringing this to light.


Bob said...

One of the comments referenced the Saddleback model. Is it possible that the Willow Creek association uses this type of marketing as well, and perhaps has used it even longer? I seem to recall, here in my area of Illinois, a local "baptist"* church using the show Survivor as a basis for a sermon series, and this was before the Saddleback model was well known to me. I am dismayed that churches feel the need to "market" themselves as though they were just another place to get product.

*I put the word baptist in quotes because three years ago, this congregation voted to drop it from the official name of their church.

Anonymous said...

Would this shameful display in the Church be considered sin? Seems to me to be a false witness towards the person and work of Christ.

Pastor Brett said...

Ray, although I would not want to preach a series on a TV show, and although the vast majority of the time I wholeheartedly agree with you, I disagree that advertising is completely wrong for the church.

I believe the key is using advertising in a way that accurately represents (a) who you are and (b) what the Scriptures teach. Once a person arrives at church, the power of the preached Word and the credibility of the member's lives will be the difference.

Do you believe it is appropriate to put a sign in front of your church building? Do you believe it's ok to put your church's phone number in the phone book? Does you church have a presence on the internet? Does it have a gospel presentation on the website? Do you think a person could come to Christ through your website, and therefore, apart from knowing anyone at your church? Where do we draw the line in getting the word/Word out? If you believe there is a clear line, I'd like to see the chapter and verse.

The apostle went to the marketplace to engage people with the gospel. Our marketplace today includes the media.

BTW, I'll be baptizing a lady Sunday who came to our church for the first time through *gasp* marketing. Scandalous, I know. :-)

Ray Van Neste said...

Pastor Brett,

I think it is pretty clear that I am responding in this post to a certain type of advertising. Nowhere do I say any sort of media is bad. You are simply over reacting. The problem here is the sort of marketting which aligns the church with such a television show.

Anonymous said...

Since when has the gospel ever needed a package with a bow? Is not the gospel the very thing by which men are saved? Is not the gospel what God has given us to preach and proclaim to all? Is not the gospel the foolishness of men and the glory of God?
The gospel is central to salvation and apparently (from scripture) central to God's glory. Why do we think that we need to pretty it up (or dirty it up for that matter)? Do we doubt that it is effective and that the Holy Spirit uses this to bring about hearts of flesh? Why do we think it is in need of something? Why do we feel that it is imperfect or lacking by itself?
Oh, that is not what you are saying? Oh, you are saying that this creative marketing ploy is a method to bring people to hear the gospel? Hmm. Isn't that we we are commanded to do? Are not the members of the church responsible for sharing the gospel? Are not they responsible for being "culturally relevant" in their workplaces, in the supermarkets and wherever else they may be? Culturally relevant meaning that they look for relevant opportunities to share the gospel in their culture.
Why does the church not preach on this instead of marketing ploys? Why are the church members not being held accountable (or credited with being responsible enough) to share the gospel- the only mode by which man can be saved? Is it not healthy for church members, ie christians, to share the gospel? Is it not commanded? If it is commanded and healthy so that we may be sure of every good thing we have in Christ, why isn't this the cry from the pulpit? Why isn't this type of cultural relevance proclaimed from the pulpit?
To clarify, the gospel is of the utmost importance as without it, no amount of praying or presentation or tears can save. The mode by which people hear the gospel should not be marketing ploys revolving around questionable media. The mode should be the people who proclaim from their church pews that they are Christians and they want to follow Christ. The church is intended for believers and for them to grow and learn and become more like Christ as a body of believers- encouraging one another daily as the day draws near. The church was not intended for non-believers or "seekers". I think that the responsibility of the church is to teach and proclaim to its members the truth of the bible in its fullness so they may be educated in the full counsel of God.
The members are to share the gospel with those around them every day and the church is to share the gospel with those who make up the church lest they forget who it is that saved them.

j razz

Pastor Brett said...


I stand corrected. I took your words "slick advertising" the wrong way. Had you meant by that all advertising and use of media is wrong, I would argue that I did not over-react at all. But, since I obviously read more into your words than was there, I apologize.

Anonymous said...

First, the excange of comments on this bolg is refreshing. It is a display of Christain maturity that is willing to listen thoughtfully, apologize when necessary and lovingly disagree at times. This is often not seen on other blogs.

Second, when does advertising become "slick advertising"? This case is obvious. I believe the best way for a church to be evangelizing the community is for the members to be salt and light in the circles of influence where God has placed them. However, we know that most of our members are not doing this. So we preach and teach to that end. Many times as our churches become elderly, our members can be completely disconnected to people outside of the church. How do we, then, as the leaders of the church try and reach the community. Is there a place for active promotion of the church through the media or any other form? If so, then back to my original question, where do we draw the line between "slick advertising" and God glorifying advertising?

Pastor Brett said...


At our church, we try to design advertising that is (a) excellent, (b) authentic to who we are, and (c) consistent with biblical values.

Second, we only pay for advertising during certain seasons. Usually we go into a season of advertising when we sense that our people have maxed out their inviting influence. What I mean by that is that most of us only have significant influence with a certain number of people. Once we have reached out to and invited as many of them as possible, we find it is much more difficult to impact acquaintances and strangers.

Advertising usually brings us a new wave of people who have new circles of influence to impact. So it is a cycle.

We want our people to be the primary reason other people come visit, so we can use advertising, but trust in the Lord to build His church.

Ray Van Neste said...

First, thanks Pastor Brett.
Then, Scott, this is a fine question. I appreciate the approach outlined by Brett. I might not do things exactly the same but I appreciate the way he has outlined their approach, specifically these items:
- limited- only during certain seasons
- authentic
- consistent with biblical values

I appreciate that. Now, myself, I have never really used advertisement as such in teh churches I have pastored. I am all for things that simply let people know you are there- phone listing, website, etc. I don't want to try to 'sell' the church, and Brett's guidelines will help keep a church from that.

I do think we say yeah yeha and mopve on to quickly from the place of the poeple in outreach. Do people tend to be slack in this? Certainly, but real growth tends to come gradually. And being diligent with our own people will insure that they are ready for the poeple who come.

I would prefer to do service in the community to let people know we're here than advertising. Note, I am not saying advertising is sinful. I think there is alot of really bad stuff being done, but there are plenty of toehr things which are not themselves objectionable. We may need to reconsider some of our assumptions about advertising though.
Check out the article by Kathy Keller (wife of Tim Keller) CONDUCTING YOUR MINISTRY BEFORE THE WATCHING WORLD
especially the section on "Unwise use of publicity"

Adam said...

"real growth tends to come gradually. And being diligent with our own people will insure that they are ready for the poeple who come."

Indeed, at the Together for the Gospel conference, Mark Dever told the story of a lady in his church who came up to him and said that most other pastors before him had tried to do a lot of "programs" and had seen a quick, temporary spike in attendance and excitement only to see it dwindle down long term. In contrast, nothing extraordinary happend when Dever became pastor. He simply taught and preached the Bible expositionally and ensured the church remained faithful and took membership seriously.

Over time, the growth manifested itself gradual, and the fruits were beyond anything the church could have imagined. Certainly a good example for all of us to learn from as we seek to make our churches deliberate in being faithful to Scripture, not just gimmicks or flashly advertising.

P.S. Wow, this is a lot of comments. Looks like Dr. Van Neste has hit another nerve with us all!

Anonymous said...

you guys are just a bunch of legalistic christians that will be in heaven turning your nose up at the ones that weren't saved as long as you

thank god someone is doing something different - bet none of you have a tatoo or body piercing because your body is the temple of the holy spirit

this crap makes me sick as a preacher and i know it makes Jesus sick because instead of helping out our brothers, we criticize...if you don't like it then shut up and go to first church on main street in whatever town you like, that doesn't do anything but keep people happy