Christianity: Just Another Product for Sale?
April 27, 2011
I’m annoyed and irritated and it’s usually this feeling that gets me off my proverbial butt and begin to blog again. So, what has gotten me so irritated? What has me up in arms? Why am I just flat out angry?
Marketing. Now you may ask why marketing has me in such an uproar considering I enjoy reading about marketing and have utilized it in various jobs over the years. But it is the marketing of social media by the church that has me frustrated and angry. You see, I’m constantly getting emails from my denomination as well as numerous “church growth strategy” types about how the church can use social media to grow a congregation. Social media is the “new, hip” marketing tool.
Really? Are you serious? Are you kidding me? You’re just now getting around to thinking social media might need to be embraced by the church? One email I read had this line in it, “I believe the time has come for the church to wholeheartedly embrace this new media technology.” The time has come? Aren’t you behind the curve? How far must the church fall behind the curve of what is going on around them? How blind are people within the United Methodist Church and other mainline denominations to something that has been going on for a few years now?
One thing that the “old school” doesn’t realize is that 3 years in an age of digital communication is equivalent to 15 years in the previous analog age. The church has historically been known for being 10-20 years behind the current culture but at this rate we’re becoming 50, 60 and 70 years behind. Or at least those who are giving us these “great new ideas” are behind the curve.
Why do I say this? Because I have parishioners who are in their 70s and 80s who have been using Facebook long before I came to serve these churches. They adapted this media because of the social aspect of it. This is where all the marketing bigwigs are misunderstanding the medium of Facebook, Twitter and even the older internet forums. The marketing people that the denomination consults look at this as a campaign to drive business to your organization. They see it as a way of getting people in the door so you can drive up revenue. And it seems many Christian leaders are eating this advice up because that’s all they’re trained to be…..marketers. Someone selling a product.
However, for many Christians as well as other people who use social media it has become a way of building new communities in the 21st century. The “party lines” that many of us living in rural areas in the 70s and 80s had were really cool because we could sit around and chat with our neighbors over the phone without having to leave the house. Facebook and Twitter allow people to make new neighbors and build communities with people who might leave hundreds if not thousands of miles away. For someone who may think they’re theologically out of step with their local congregation, they can search Twitter and Facebook until they find others they can discuss these issues with….sometimes with an anonymity that gives them the freedom to explore matters they don’t believe they can explore openly in their current local context.
So, all you marketers, trying to use Facebook and Twitter as a way to get your product out to the public I would say you’re doing a good job. However, to the church, I would say that trying to market your organization like any other business is, ultimately, going to fail because someone else is going to come along and sell their product a little bit better and your congregation will dwindle in weeks and months if not days.
However, if you are using this media to actually be social with other people then you will find that you are able to actually build Christian community. Some of these people are the ones you will worship with on a weekly basis and some may be ones you only see once or twice a year at a “meetup.”
Is that no different than those Christians you only see on Christmas and Easter? Well, yes it is! It’s different because you’ve stayed in touch with them throughout the year learning about them as individuals. You may have supported them with your prayers and discussed deep theological issues with them via online media.
So, Christians, if you want to utilize social media use it in the way Christians have built real communities down through the centuries…..by getting to know people. Become a part of their lives.
God’s Best Always and in All Ways,
No public Twitter messages.