Unlike Church’s Chicken and Abraham Lincoln’s Church, the top Google video search for “church” was something I was already familiar with. I had seen the video titled “What if Starbucks Marketed Like a Church? A Parable.” a couple of years ago and at that time my only thought about it was, “That was funny. Kind of true too.” This time, knowing I was going to blog about it, I watched the video by Beyond Relevance with a keener and more critical mindset. While I still think it is funny, watching it this time around brought deeper things to mind . If you haven’t seen the video, I encourage you to watch it before you continue reading.
The founder of the blog that produced this video wrote a book called “Church Marketing 101” that I read many years ago. While many scoff at the notion of “church marketing,” thinking it too closely joins the worldly with the spiritual, I loved the book. In it, the author defines marketing as “the management of perception.” For me, managing the perception of The Church
and the church I pastor, seems like a worthwhile endeavor. Why? Because, church is God’s chosen conduit for the salvation and sanctification of people. Thus, helping people perceive the church in an accurate way is important. It saddens me to think that many people will never reap the eternal gifts that God offers through the church because they wrongly understand the church to be boring, unimportant, complicated,
unloving, perverse, corrupted, political, self-centered, judgmental, and a whole host of other negative adjectives (Admittedly, some churches have been all of these at some point, but the church, at its core, is none of these). And so, for the sake of people, I consider it part of my job as a pastor and a Christian to help people understand the church correctly.
This video, using satire, points out many flaws in how churches manage the perception of themselves. It doesn’t focus on marketing as a whole, but rather one aspect of marketing – the “welcoming” of visitors at the weekly service. This aspect of church “marketing” is important because, for most people outside of the church there are two main ways they will perceive the church and what it is all about. The first way is through examining the lives of those who go to church. Churches spend millions of dollars building nicer buildings, designing new logos, developing better websites, and printing more eye catching fliers. But, this truth will always be, the lives of people that go to church will communicate more about what church is and what church does than any of these things. If a person who isn’t a part of church has a neighbor that goes to church and is consistently rude then the person who doesn’t go to church will connect church and rudeness. If a person who isn’t a part of church has a friend who goes to church and lives no different than them, they will assume the church is unimportant and being a part of one is unproductive. I could give further examples, but I think my point is made. The greatest influence on how people perceive church is the people who go to one.
The second way people outside of the church gain a perception of church is exactly what this video speaks to – the weekly service. While there is much more to church than a weekly gathering (or at least there is at Creekside and should be in all churches), for most unchurched people, the weekly service is their introduction to church. In this video, Beyond Relevance, identifies problems with how churches manage there perception of themselves during a Sunday service – especially in regards to welcoming visitors to the church. If it is possible to agree with satire, than consider me in agreement with this video. I think that churches do some “funny” things that make guests feel awkward. It is interesting to me that as I write, the most recent comment on the video says, “Not all churches are like this. Mocking the church like this. It’s AWFUL!!!!!!!” It seems obvious to me that Beyond Relevance is not trying to describing all churches, but instead attempting to raise awareness in church goers at how they may be poorly managing the perception of their church. Their response to the above comment proves this. They say, “Totally agree that not all churches are like this. I think you might have missed the point of the video. This video was done by church leaders to help church leaders see how we might come across to new people visiting the church. We have received tremendous feedback from churches around the globe thanking us for helping them see how we might be inadvertently missing the opportunity to connect with people coming to learn about Christ. There is no intent to mock. Just trying to change perspective.” Well stated.
This video makes clear some of the things churches, and the people who attend them, do wrong, but it doesn’t show the right way to welcome visitors at a church. It would be easy for churches, their people, and their leaders, to react to this video by ignoring guests that come to church or by treating them with indifference. This, in my mind, would be throwing the proverbial baby out with the bath water. The New Testament makes clear that hospitality is to be a key attribute of Christians and the church. For example, Romans 12:13 says, “Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality.” Even more to the point, Hebrews 13:2 says, “Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it.” Thus, if they are to remain true to the Word of God, churches must never give up on being hospitable to the people who visit. This means that finding application to this video is not as simple as doing the opposite of the things it caricatures – ignoring guests, not caring if they show up in the first place, lacking passion to see guests know the power of Jesus, being ok with watering down the truth of the Gospel, etc. Instead, churches must work to be welcoming in way that is genuine, makes people feel important, and allows for them to feel comfortable.
So, what does this look like? To be honest, I’m not sure. But, I am convinced that true hospitality happens naturally when people sincerely care about the people visiting. When this is the case, it shows, and people naturally feel more welcomed. Giving a coffee mug to a visitor is not a bad thing, but it is far less important than the regular attenders of a church walking up to a visitor and saying in a genuine, kind, and even loving way, “Hi…My name is…What is your name…I’m glad you are here today…”
What do you think true hospitality in the church looks like?