Reimaging the Southern Baptist Convention

January 9, 2006 by

Southern Baptist commercialLast week during bowl games the Southern Baptist Convention aired commercials attempting to polish their image. The ads focused on the relief work of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Cooperative Program, highlighting programs fighting AIDS, helping rehabilitate prisoners and feeding Katrina victims. While Southern Baptists are often better known for what they’re against, these ads try to portray what the Southern Baptists are for.


Critics are quick to point out that it’s a classic bait and switch:

Dr. Ammerman, the Boston College sociologist, said a visit to the Web site could undo some of the image-shifting that the ad is trying to accomplish.

“You don’t have to go very far into the links to find the SBC most people think of,” she said. A couple of clicks, for example, take a visitor to a page of testimonials, including one from a “former homosexual” and one from a “former Muslim.” Other linked pages focus on abortion and “Christmas under siege.”

I think it’s interesting that the Southern Baptists are being accused of a bait and switch for not telling everything about their denomination in a 30 second TV spot. They focus on one thing and send people to their web site for more. You may disagree with the rest of what their denomination believes, but they’re not hiding anything. They two messages are not mutually exclusive.

A more important question may be what happens when we film our good deeds and use them to promote ourselves? This is the bigger question, and one most opponents of church marketing raise. Is it prideful to show people the work we’re doing? Is it OK for the Red Cross to use results-oriented marketing but wrong for the church? Would Jesus have put together a 30-second spot touting his miracles? They’re not all fair questions, and I won’t pretend to have any answers to them, but this is where a lot of the church marketing issues bring us.

And so the debate continues.

Post By:

Kevin D. Hendricks


When Kevin isn't busy as the editor of Church Marketing Sucks, he runs his own writing and editing company, Monkey Outta Nowhere. Kevin has been blogging since 1998 and has published several books, including 137 Books in One Year: How to Fall in Love With Reading, The Stephanies and all of our church communication books.
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12 Responses to “Reimaging the Southern Baptist Convention”

  • Steve McCoy
    January 9, 2006

    Your last questions are the right ones, the ones that matter most. I’m an SBC pastor and this is shameless self-promotion, and IMHO, it’s unacceptable. We are to let the world see our good works, not the promotion of good works that we did elsewhere.


  • Brandon Meek
    January 9, 2006

    This is definitely the quandary that we face, and this is the main reason I believe that so many have a problem with the idea of marketing and the Church.
    I don’t know if there is a good medium here, but this is my perspective; In our society today, most of the time when a church makes the news, its for a bad reason. I guess I don’t object to a church trying to take control of the public perception of who they are and share some information about it.
    I didn’t get the feeling that the SBC were looking for a pat on the back. To me it was simply telling what they had done.


  • Michael
    January 9, 2006

    Hmmm…interesting question…
    Of note is that many of Christ’s works were in public. He choose to feed 10,000 and not 10.
    Why is it wrong for the church to show their outreach efforts, but commendable when a corporation sends aid to New Orleans?
    Double standard? The church is accused of it all the time, but certainly not the only one guilty of it.


  • Frank Santoro
    January 9, 2006

    I’m not so sure I agree with Steve. I don’t think there’s anything wrong per se with informing the world of the good that we are doing – not looking for a pat on the back, just providing information that your average unchurched person (or even your average churched person) is probably not aware of. It’s quite possible these ads have a dual purpose: to raise awareness (by creating it where none exists) among the unchurched to draw in visitors, and to heighten awareness among existing members of the denomination who frequently are unaware of the work done by what is usually thought of as a leviathan bureaucracy.
    For example, my own denomination (United Methodist) was spreading the word to local churches this fall about the work done by our relief agency UMCOR. Apparently they are often among the first to arrive at a disaster and they are among the last to leave, even if it’s 5 or 10 years after the fact. I didn’t know that, and I’m married to a UM minister.
    Perhaps these ads might be akin to the modern words of the impatient psalmist, asking for vindication from the attacks of the wicked: “Why do you allow the mass media to portray us in such a negative fashion? For they minimize and refuse to publicize our successess, but they never let slip an opportunity to poke fun at us for taking a principled stand. Oh Lord, how long?”


  • Gene Smith
    January 10, 2006

    It would be different if the ads said “look, we’re doing so much more than so and so”, or “see what we’ve done compared to others”. But the ads seem to me to be simply a statement of belief. If I tell you that feeding the hungry is important to me, which are you going to be more convinced by, my telling you, or you seeing me working every night at the soup kitchen?
    The SBC has simply stated the things that are important to them, and rather than expecting you to take them at their word, they have provided examples as proof that these things are important.
    Jesus gave us the example of how to live, “love your neighbor as you love your self”. He showed us what this looked like through his helping those who needed it. He didn’t say, “okay, if you come to the temple, and if you repent your ways, then I will help you”. No, he helped (or loved) first. And, He didn’t wait for people to come where He was, He went to where the people were. Today, one of the ways we go to where the people are is through television ads (or various other forms of media that fall under the term “marketing” – I think evangelism is an equally suitable term).


  • Steve McCoy
    January 10, 2006

    “Jesus gave us the example of how to live, “love your neighbor as you love your self”. He showed us what this looked like through his helping those who needed it. He didn’t say, “okay, if you come to the temple, and if you repent your ways, then I will help you”. No, he helped (or loved) first. And, He didn’t wait for people to come where He was, He went to where the people were. Today, one of the ways we go to where the people are is through television ads (or various other forms of media that fall under the term “marketing” – I think evangelism is an equally suitable term).”
    Gene, if you can’t see the difference between Jesus loving people (present with them, touching them, relating to them, serving them, helping them) and a TV commercial (no presence, listing our goodness to others) then we are in deep weeds. This is precisely the problem with the commercial.
    This is SBC spin because we can’t actually get a good reputation with outsiders through good works because of our own bad works, our hypocrisy, our arguments, etc. We have a bad rep and it’s our fault, not the media.


  • Gene Mason
    January 10, 2006

    Being involved in media full-time, and so having some idea of what a 30-second televison spot costs, wouldn’t it be more effective to use that time and money to actually share the Gospel, or extend some kind of invitation to the church or some “open heart” message from Baptists, versus create some kind of unquantifyable “goodwill” for the Convention? I’m a Southern Baptist, so I feel I can speak to this, as it is my money that in part paid for that campaign.
    I’ve been in church media for 18 years and can think about about 500 ways to better spend those resources. Heck, one ad probably costs more than the annual promotion budget for most local churches. I’m not sure how this campaign comes off to seekers, but to me this comes off as somewhat self-promoting.
    I’m not against television ads at all–some are quite effective. In the particular case, though, I don’t believe it was good stewardship to “promote” our Convention’s efforts in disaster relief and humanitarian aid. Having had contact with many on the Gulf Coast after the hurricanes, and working on Tsunami relief and other causes, I can tell you that those who were helped in Mississippi, Louisiana and across the world in Malaysia KNOW who Baptists are–and our ability to connect with those hurt by these disasters, minister to them, and share the Gospel has increased immeasurably as a result of our humanitarian efforts. I am just not sure what “advertising” this gains us as The Church.


  • Aaron
    January 11, 2006

    If I told you all that I wanted to be called the President of the United States would it make me the leader of the free world? No. Does the southern baptist church running commercials showing how loving they are make it so? I don’t think so. My experience with southern baptist people (and most other flavors of baptists) is one of harsh judgementalism. “He drinks alcohol so he’s obviously not in touch with God. She is obviously not in Gods will because she said a curse word the other day. He can’t be on the worship team because he smokes and Godly people don’t do that” Baptist Churches are always bad at trying to save the world yet neglecting their neighborhood.


  • Frank
    January 19, 2006

    Aaron’s comment, “My experience with southern baptist people (and most other flavors of baptists) is one of harsh judgementalism.”
    Woah. Talk about judgmentalism. And a broad spectrum generalization …
    Most of the pastors that go to the SBC and make all these decisions are old-school pastors and church leaders. The SBC convention — and much of what comes out of that convention — does not speak for all southern baptists.
    Such generalizations about baptists is along the same lines of “all muslims are terrorists” (only that’s even worse generalization … we are a very judgemental people)


  • YWAM Information Technology
    January 21, 2006

    Church marketing sucks

    I just found a site which expresses my frustration about the church/Ywam communication, but also try to help. Please visit churchmarketingsucks.com. It has some good remarks and can help to let us all communicate in a better way.


  • PARoss
    January 24, 2006

    Polish their image… hmm.
    I think Jesus was working on His image in Matthew 24-25. He wanted to make sure the right people had the right impression about what He was doing, without being judgmental, of course.
    Phil


  • Jennifer
    February 7, 2006

    I’d be interested in comments about a different campaign that launched in Milwaukee, WI. On Superbowl Sunday, a series of four commercials began running in Southeastern Wisconsin – all revolving around the question ‘What if it’s true?’. The commercials present commonly asked and valid questions about faith, etc. and encourage viewers to visit http://www.tickettohope.com to look into it further. There are also a number of billboards and radio ads being run. A group of churches of various denominations partnered up to do this. (We just happen to be affiliated with the local SBC association here.)
    This is a new approach (for us anyway :) and I’d be interested in input if you’ve done something similar. If you’d like to take a look at the commercials, go to http://www.ad-mission.org for Media Examples.



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