Our church sucks 16% less than the sucky church you go to
June 3, 2009, 9:25 pm
Filed under: denomination, media

<unfair rant warning>

I know I’m not alone in having received tons of church marketing pieces in my mailbox over the years.  Sometimes, they’re simple and elegant invitations to their Easter services, sometimes they’re loud and obnoxious and clearly trying too hard to be cool.  There’s a church in my area that sends out full color, 8×10 pieces about once every two months, with a design that looks like a magazine cover.  Pretty predictable stuff, really.  Unfortunately, these marketing pieces are almost always dishonest in some significant ways.  For example, if the marketing piece has pretty people from a number of ethnic backgrounds pictured, you can almost universally guarantee that the church is full of white people, most of whome are not photogenic.

The marketing piece I’ve seen a number of times is the one I love to hate the most.  It’s the one that says, “You should check out our church, even though you think church sucks.  Because we’re not like those other churches you’ve been to.  We don’t suck.  We rock.  You’ll love our <insert musical style>, your kids will love our <insert program name>, and we promise our preacher won’t bore you.  We’re different than the rest!”  A variation on this theme is the ad that says “We’re a church for people that don’t like church.”

There are some real problems with this approach to marketing.  First, it’s lazy.  I’ve been getting the same “Our church doesn’t suck” postcards in my mailbox for a lot of years by now.  Try some originality, some creativity.  Especially the churches that try so stinking hard to convince you they’re relevant through their timely sermon topics.  If you’re creative enough to have a sermon series riffing on the latest reality TV craze, you’re creative enough to say something other than “those guys suck, and we don’t.”

Second, it shows the church’s hand – they know full well that church isn’t working for people.  In fact, that may be the precise reason they started their new church – so it wouldn’t suck.  But they’re trashing the other churches in their area by doing this – in a cowardly, backhanded way.  If they think other churches suck, they should say it straight up, instead of trying to sneak it in the back door by saying “We don’t suck.”  The subtext is there, that they think the other churches do.

Third, like I said above, it’s almost always false advertising.  O.k., I get it, there are boring, stiff, culturally stuck churches out there, and the people in our communities have had negative experiences there.  But if you’re going to be audacious enough to say that you’re different, you’d better deliver the goods.  I’ve been to a number of churches in which they’ve promised that they wouldn’t be what I’m expecting in a church.  You know where I’m going . . . but wait for it . . . Almost universally, I find exactly what I’m expecting: a church that meets in an elementary school auditorium, a band that plays the worship top 40 with skill, PowerPoint lyrics with snazzy video backgrounds, a white dude on stage preaching, and a lot of awesome programs for the kids and youth.  Hear me out, please – I don’t necessarily have a problem with any of those elements.  (In fact, there’s one near my home that has most of those elements, but they’re the real deal, and have their missional heads screwed on pretty darn well).  Just don’t try to convince me that you’re different than the other new churches in town that meet in elementary school auditoriums and do all the same stuff you do.  You’re really all very similar – again, not necessarily a horrible thing . . . just not a different thing.

Finally, a fairly blunt one.  When a church tries so hard to convince me they don’t suck, my instinctive first reaction is to think, “Wow, I bet they suck.”  It may not be true.  It’s just that when they try so hard to convince me of something, I have to wonder if they’re not really just trying to convince themselves.  I have a very similar reaction when I hear someone try to convince me of how “relevant” their ministry/magazine/podcast/worship service is.  It’s o.k., people.  I’m sure you’re warm, welcoming, caring, genuine, and love God.  Feel free to just leave it at that.  Just be who you are . . . and please, if you’re going to have photos of people in your marketing pieces, make sure they actually go to your church.


8 Comments so far
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[…] 3. SpiritFarmer talks about church marketing. […]

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I agree with your grievances towards the “we don’t suck” church. Good call, they’re usually the same thing. It’s amazing how terribly uncreative we are and how much we try to get ahead on the backs of our “brothers and sisters.”

Comment by petey*crowder

[…] Farmer has the following rant over on his blog.  You can read the entire post there. The marketing piece I’ve seen a number of times is the […]

Pingback by Marketing in the church | JordonCooper.com

So, what could a church do that would be different and innovative?

Comment by Santosh

you should RANT more often! I could have written the same thing…in fact, I put aside a couple of flyers from Easter saying the same thing – “why your church sucks and we don’t”. All aggravating marketing. Good thoughts…I’m bloglining your blog and going to keep up with you!

Dr. Robin Dugall

Comment by robin dugall

Before Easter, I received a post card with a picture of a giant Starbucks cup and the phrase “Living Venti.” I didn’t even know it was for a church. A week after Easter, I flipped the card over expecting to see a Starbucks coupon (I REALLY needed a cup of coffee and was low on cash) and was surprised it was a church ad. I guess they got TOO relevant ’cause I didn’t get it.

The back of the card promised they were going to have an Easter Egg drop, where they dropped eggs from a helicopter. I wonder how that went, because the image in my mind was hysterical.

Comment by stacy

my church does suck.
I hate going.
But I have to, because I’m the pastor.

Comment by Dan

I realize I’m reading this a year too late but I wanted to comment because I’m sitting here thinking how much churches suck after going through yet another bout of church politics at my new church (3 years) before that I was at a church for 31 years (grew up there) that I ended up being the church secretary of and that pretty much ended the relationship because the pastor was the biggest possible hypocrite.

Unfortunately no one wanted acknowledge that fact until my family and I left.

Why is it that after pastors and assistant pastors leave all these stories come out about what they did and who they hurt but while they are still there doing damage no one says anything?

So now I’m looking at being involved in 2 churches my Methodist church and my husband’s Catholic church but I am realizing that you just cant do that because churches have the unwritten goal of sucking the life out of one through volunteer work and if you dont give enough (money or volunteer work) then they really honestly dont want you.

When I left my first church of 31 years I learned that church is a business. Now I’m learning that it’s also a clique with power hungry powerless people trying to decide who gets in the club and who doesnt. Very ugly.

I think people who have very little to do with church seem nicer. I always wanted church to work in my life but now I’m not sure it ever will.

Comment by M.L.

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