by Ralph M. Petersen, 2008
Many Christian ministries, I’m sure, are started with good intentions for the right reasons. God’s love compels us to good works. But the problem with organized ministries is that they grow into businesses that become dependent on “customers.” With bigger facilities, special interest programs, large organizational structures, the multiplicity of professional staff, and large budgets, the financial concerns often become a matter of survival. After all, if the people stop coming, we lose our jobs and our facilities and we close our doors. That’s why it is so easy for all ministries, including churches, to lose sight of their God-centered purposes and succumb to the seduction of pragmatic marketing techniques.
That is the essence of the seeker sensitive movement in churches today and it affects para-church ministries as well, including Christian schools and residential facilities for the elderly. The movement is driven by a philosophy that focuses more attention to secular marketing strategies, business techniques, and surveys and polls than to New Testament instruction.
Now, regardless how much you may disagree with this premise or how angry you might become at the suggestion, if you are involved in a Christian ministry and want to be really honest about it, you must face the reality that there are at least four areas of concern that have a great impact your ministry.
First, you are probably more concerned about people’s felt needs than about their real, spiritual needs.
Second, you must be savvy about and engaged in modern methodologies of marketing. The consumers, students, members, or residents must be pleased, kept happy, or given what they want, or they will go elsewhere.
Third, the Gospel message will be diminished or distorted. The real, biblical Gospel is offensive, and people are not really interested in hearing the Truth about their sin, God’s holiness or the future implications of His wrath. They are more interested in their present comfort, their own selfish desires, and feeling good about themselves.
And finally, your doctrine will be downgraded. You might fool yourself by obscuring your precious doctrines in innocuous, non-threatening statements of faith for the purpose of being more inclusive and tolerant. But if you hold fast to sound, biblical doctrine, you will severely limit your customer base.
It is absolutely imperative for godly, pastoral leadership to guide, guard, and protect Christian ministries from the dangers of worldly philosophies. Your ministry's growth and success will be determined by your clever designs or by God's sovereign determination but not both.
“The fact is that while we may be able to market the church (or any other Christian ministry), we cannot market Christ, the Gospel, Christian character or meaning of life…Neither Christ nor His Truth can be marketed by appealing to consumer interest because the premise of all marketing is that the consumer’s need is sovereign, that the customer is always right, and this is precisely what the Gospel insists cannot be the case” (Dr. David Wells).