Reverse-Marketing the Church

Recently a guy asked me what business I was in. I explained that I’m not really in business; I work for the church up the road. He commented that the church is a business too; I smiled and went on my way.  The church is not a business, but I wonder how often we give those we encounter that impression?

Marketing gurus teach you that benefits draw people more often than the feature that they represent. For example:

Feature Benefit

  • Vibram Sole                     Long-lasting tread= happy feet
  • Rear A/C Control           Passengers adjust their own temp= happy kids
  • Giant Print Text             Easy to read= happy grandparents
  • Advanced  harness        Safety for your child= happy mommy

You get the idea.

In the Christian sub-culture, we have listened to the marketing gurus so much that we are now marketing the church.

I’m all for crisp design, excellent materials, and getting the word out, but I think we have to be careful. Church leaders should be intentional concerning their commitment to keep the church focused on the main thing!

When every sermon series is reduced to “seven steps to this” and “five baby steps to that,” we may be missing the point!

In this felt-needs approach to church, we often promote the benefit (practice) over the feature (doctrine). The problem is that a church can quickly become focused on perceived results rather than the source solution.

Doctrine has become an ugly word among some churches because it is seen as impractical. Doctrine, however, is very practical! We shouldn’t be scared of it.  Part of the problem is in the pulpit. Doctrine doesn’t have to be and never should have been boring!

If we lose our focus on doctrinal truth, we will develop moralists rather than Christians. We will convert folks to a religion, causing them to forfeit real relationship with Jesus!

This approach is dangerous for the Christian but it is deadly for the non-Christian who may attend your church.

Let’s use Jesus’ “I Am” statements to illustrate the point.


Feature Benefit

  • Christ the sustainer!                             You can be fulfilled & sustained!“

I Am the bread of life”

  • Christ the illuminator!                         You can see through darkness and sin!

“I Am the light of the world”

  • Christ the provider!                               You can find security & provision!

“I Am the door”

  • Christ our shepherd!                             You can experience unconditional love!

“I Am the good shepherd”

  • Christ our life!                                         You can have heaven!

“I Am the resurrection & the life”

  • Christ our entrance!                               You can have free access to God!

“ I Am the way, the truth, and the life”

  • Christ the source of all good!               You can be fruitful!

“I Am the true vine”

You are much more likely to see the right-hand column advertised as a sermon series than the left. Can’t you hear the titles? You can be fulfilled today! How to find security! All that is fine, but, if we aren’t careful, we will become so preoccupied with the “benefits” that we will forget the “feature.”

The benefit’s focus is on you, but the feature’s focus is on Jesus!  Who are we trying to promote—us or Him?

Yes, what we get is great, but let’s not forget that who we get is greater! If we get elements of the process but miss the person, then we’ve missed it all together!

If church leaders direct peoples’ attention onto the practical benefit rather than the personal feature (or, should I say, the featured person), then they distract rather than focus the church.

How ‘bout this series?

Seven reasons why Jesus is all you need!


We are in danger of being seen as self-help businesses rather than faith-based churches!


At some point, we pastors have to leave the marketing to the gurus and preach the pure, satisfying, undiluted stream of God’s Word!



  1. True…a clear and present danger for the church. However, I am afraid that if we get in the habit of only judging based on the titles of sermons, series, or attention getting messages on church signs and not listening for the message being preached, the attitude portrayed, or the real princples on which the individual church/pastor builds their ministries/messages on, then we are just a short distance away from judging other things on the outward/superficial appearances they exhibit. For example, there may be a rhyming, catchy message on the church sign, website, or bulletin to get people’s attention and a biblically based, theologically correct, and easily applicable sermon, powerfully preached through the power of the Holy Spirit, to the congregations daily lives. Or another dangerous consequence is that we get in the danger of saying whether or not someone looks (clothes, hair, shoes, makeup, piercings…) saved…

    The church is in danger today of the business mentality, but I dare say that it doesn’t lie in the sermon/series titles, but the attitude and mentality in the pew or worse behind the pulpit. Perhaps a better example to have used would be for us to listen at the monthly church conferences/business meetings, examine how they make financial decisions, how does the church decide on new ministries to start or old ministries that have outlived their effectiveness… Have we locked Jesus Christ out of his own house? (I don’t mean the building of the church, but His church (each individual Christian))

    Great thought provoking post. Thanks for your dedication and ministry!

    • PBJN

      Thanks for taking the time to comment.

      I was attempting to use a sermon series to illustrate the broader issue that you touch on. The titles themselves are not my real concern. My concern is that we do remain focused on Christ.

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