Companies and corporations spend billions yearly on commercials, advertisements, promotional materials, branding, and marketing. Marketing is getting suitable commodities, services, or concepts to the right people at the right time, place, and price. It is accomplished by using promotional techniques such as advertising and social media and utilizing the right people to provide the services associated with those goods, services, or ideas. A perfect example is found in advertising during the Super Bowl. In this year's Super Bowl, advertisers will spend a record $7 million for a 30-second commercial. Last year the average commercial cost $5.6 million for the Super Bowl and generated almost $580 million in sales.
This marketing process has also trickled down to the western church philosophy and Christianity. According to the Center for Church Communication Marketing Report (Yes, this is an actual report), "More and more churches are beginning to learn from a business that marketing can be an effective tool to fulfill their mission." Churches do spend a significantly less amount of money for marketing in America, spend multiple thousands (millions in rare cases) of dollars on branding (church logo, website, etc.), advertising (internet, television, radio, and paper), and promotion (mailings, door hangars, posters, and social media promotion, etc.). The CFCC report says, "80% of churches spend less than $10,000 on marketing and promotions yearly (including bulletins, newsletters, websites, mailings, etc.)". However, a February 2023 Christianity Today article reports that a new ad campaign titled "He Gets Us" has been launched. For the past ten months, the "He Gets Us" ads have shown up on billboards, YouTube channels, and television screens—most recently during NFL playoff games—across the country, spreading the message that Jesus understands the human condition. The Super Bowl ads alone will cost about $20 million, according to organizers, who originally described "He Gets Us" as a $100 million effort. "The goal is to invest about a billion dollars over the next three years," he said. "And that is just the first phase."
Does Church marketing work? Well, it is no secret that church attendance in the US is declining. The financial crunch has impacted our economy, and a worldwide pandemic has seriously and negatively impacted church attendance. Many churches knee jerk reaction is to pour more money into marketing, promotion, and advertising to attract more people to their church. Many leaders believe if they pour more resources into looking cool, attractive, and welcoming, people will want to attend their churches.
I have received mailers from churches that spend thousands of dollars printing, mailing, and advertising that they are different from other churches. Their gimmick is usually based on easing people's fears and anxiety about attending church, i.e., no dress code, messages that are "relevant for today," modern worship music, and a relaxed and welcoming atmosphere. So many churches believe that if they spend their money marketing themselves to the masses, the payoff will be bodies in seats or pews.
Next, look at how many churches choose pastors to lead their charge. Congregations looking for pastors to fill pulpits often seek young, idealistic, motivated, and visionary pastors to lead them into the future. Some of the top questions I was asked when I interviewed at various churches in the past were, "Tell me some of your strengths and weaknesses as a person?" "What is your five-, ten- or fifteen-year plan for ministry?" "What qualities do you possess that might attract people to our church?" Or "What seminary did you attend?" In my experiences, rarely was I asked about my love for God, my prayer life, or my calling as a Pastor. In some interviews, I felt like I had to market and promote myself as a product of the Kingdom of God and the calling God placed on my life.
Now, I know I may come across as critical of churches and church marketing. I admit it is hard not to come across as bitter or disgusted, but truth be told, I see some value in marketing in the church. As with everything we have discussed in the past weeks, our problem is sometimes placing the emPHAsis in the wrong area. We need to get the word out about ministries where God is actively involved, invite unbelieving individuals to church to hear the Gospel, and people in pews for fellowship and encouragement for one another. So, I do value church marketing to some extent. It does, however, need to be reformed or revised. We need to look at our emphasis. Are we emphasizing the church or the head of the Church, Jesus?
In today's passage, we will learn a lesson or two about church marketing and promotion. Now, this is not Church Marketing 101 because, in so many ways, everything I point out goes against almost every "rule" in the church marketing rule book. After all, it takes the focus off of human accomplishment and points people to a greater cause.
He Must Increase…
John 3:22 - 36
Verse 22 - 24: Jesus and his disciples went to the countryside in Judea, and they were baptizing people. We see that it wasn't Jesus but his disciples who were baptizing (John 4:2), and this caused concern among the disciples of John the Baptist (vs. 26).
Verse 25, 26: There was some discussion between John the Baptist's disciples and some Jews over the rite of purification. We are not precisely told the details of this discussion, but I would bet it was over the significance of baptism and how it was administered. Most likely, there was talk about the distinction between John's baptism and the Jewish ceremonial cleansing. The essential factor in John's baptism was the prior requirement of repentance. We are not told the Jew's motivation in talking to John's disciples. It could have easily been to stir up jealousy among John's disciples concerning Jesus' baptizing ministry. The Jews could have said to John the Baptist's disciples, "What are you going to do about this Jesus guy and his disciples infringing on your ministry? Isn't baptizing your business? Isn't this what you are all called to do? These guys have no right to baptize people. There isn't enough business for you in this area."
This concerned John's disciples because they went to John and voiced their concerns. They said, "Teacher, everyone is going to Jesus to be baptized, and fewer are coming to us! They were concerned because they thought they were supposed to be the authoritarians of baptism, and here comes this other band of disciples doing our job."
Verse 27, 28: I am sure John's response was not what his disciples expected. He says, "You guys know I am not the Messiah. You have heard me say my job is to prepare the way for the Messiah, and that is what I have done." He was not upset because he knew his place in this part of history. John's role in the ministry of Jesus and His Kingdom was small but VERY significant. His job was to be a promoter of Jesus (He was the voice crying out in the wilderness) and not himself and his ministry. It wasn't up to John to convince people to get his baptism; he was on the scene to point people to the Messiah. Don't invest in me; invest in Jesus the Messiah. This is not a good marketing strategy if you try to market yourself. This is John's church growth marketing plan: "Don't look to me because I am just a voice crying out in the wilderness. Go to Jesus. He is the Way, the Truth, and the Life." John was not all about "LOOK AT ME!" John was all about "DON'T look at me; look to Jesus!"
Verses 29, 30: In these verses, John shows that he is NOT upset or threatened by not being "top dog." He is ecstatic about what is going on. He compares himself to the best man at a wedding. I am unsure how many men here have ever had the privilege of being a best man, but if you have, then you know what John the Baptist is talking about. As a best man, I know the wedding has nothing to do with me. The best man assists, rejoices, and celebrates with the groom and his upcoming marriage. Many men may have been the best man from hell when they tried to make it about them, but this is not the case with John.
In this verse, Jesus is the bridegroom, and the bride (in the O.T. was Israel) is the Church. So, the "friend of the bridegroom" is John the Baptist. His job is to stand with Jesus and rejoice with him because the time has come for the marriage ceremony. So, John not only says he is joyful but that his joy is COMPLETE (A.K.A., he can die a happy man).
These are words we should all heed and live according to… "He must become greater and greater, and I must become less and less." John was not merely making an offhanded statement but saying something he believed MUST take place. According to R.C. Sproul, "He (John) was called to go before Christ, and once he had announced Christ, then John was to go into the background that Christ might emerge in the fullness of His leadership as the appointed Messiah. 'It is necessary,' John said. 'It's not optional. This must happen. It must take place. I must decrease. He must increase.'" The Church at large would be better served if it heeded these words of John.
If we (the Church) make it a point to promote Jesus and not us (our building, music, pastor, friendliness, acceptance, comfort level, etc.), we would see the increase. Our job is Jesus' promotion, not self/church promotion.
Verse 31-32: These verses appear to be the reflective words of John "the Evangelist" and explain why Jesus must increase (since he is from above) and ultimately above all. John the Baptist speaks of the earthly things and thus does not have the same authority as Jesus, so it is imperative that Jesus must increase and John must decrease. When Jesus talks about the things of heaven, he speaks with authority, and yet humanity (in general) has not accepted his message.
Verse 33 - 36: However, those who receive Jesus' testimony do so by accepting that his Word is indeed the Word of God and that God is true. He has given us unlimited amounts of the Spirit. He re-iterates the theme of this chapter… Jesus is the Son of God; all things are given to Him by the Father. Anyone who believes (Commits unto, trusts, places confidence in, have saving faith) in Jesus has eternal life. Whoever does not accept or obey will not have eternal life and will face the wrath of God.
This has been my prayer for the last week… "You must increase in my life, ministry, family, relationships, work, recreation, etc., and I must decrease because all I do I want to do for you." Let us as a congregation begin praying similar prayers. Let us pray for Jesus' promotion and not self-promotion. Let us pray for Jesus to shine and for his salvation to come to the unbelievers of this community and church. Let us never stop pointing people to Jesus because all who put their absolute trust and faith in Him will have everlasting life.
Jeff has been in ministry for well over two decades. He currently serves as Campus Pastor at West Bradenton Baptist Southside Campus in Bradenton, Florida.
Jeff Has authored an Advent Devotional (The Advent of Jesus) and a devotional on the book of James (James: Where Faith and Life Meet). Both are available on Amazon.
He is married to Carrie and they have four children, Micaiah, Gabe, Simon, and Berea.
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