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Your Church, sponsored by Crest White Strips

December 11, 2006 by

Wharton’s online business journal, Knowledge@Wharton did an article last month about the increasing amount of products and services being marketed in partnership with churches. From test driving SUVs during a Gospel concert to the church’s involvement with so many big screen movies (Passion, Narnia and Nativity to name a few), mainstream marketers are realizing the potential that exists with bringing products to the pews, as opposed to waiting for the pews to come to their products.

The concept of taking a message to the people is nothing new. I don’t remember Jesus ever inviting people to church/Temple, yet it appears churches are still learning this lesson. I digress.

The realization to mainstream marketers that congregations are a worthy market is long overdue. I also think churches are long overdue to harness this powerful partnership potential and consider the synergies. I am not suggesting we start re-naming our churches to include a sponsor’s name, but there is certainly room for strategic and meaningful partnerships.


Cone, a Boston-based cause branding agency has published research that supports these partnerships. Although their research is about non-profits in general, I do believe churches would find similar conclusions.

  • 76% of Americans believe that [business and non-profit partnerships] result in a more positive image of the non-profit
  • 79% are more likely to buy a product that supports the non-profit
  • 76% are more likely to tell a friend about the non-profit
  • 70% are more likely to donate money to the non-profit

This is not about increasing revenue for the sake of money, it’s about pursuing ways to expand the Kingdom of God here on earth. If Jiffy Lube wants to sponsor a sermon series about the road less traveled, imagine the exposure and curiosity that is piqued from the very people you want to be inviting to church in the first place.

My hunch would be that the people who take issue with these deals are the people who are already Christ-followers. Surprise, surprise.

How unfortunate it would be to miss out on opportunities for advancing the Gospel for the sake of making sure we don’t sell our souls to the advertising devils. I’m not suggesting we proceed carelessly, but lets not forget that up until now, churches were the cultural centers. Cities were built around them!

Imagine for a moment what would happen if products and services had to be filtered through church partnerships. Maybe Madison Avenue would clean up her act a bit?

(link via Jeff Hamilton.)

Post By:

Brad Abare


Brad Abare is the founder of the Center for Church Communication. He consults with companies and organizations, helping them figure out why in the world they exist, why anyone should care and what to do about it. He and his wife Jamaica live in Los Angeles with their daughter, Miró.
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17 Responses to “Your Church, sponsored by Crest White Strips”

  • Joe Suh
    December 11, 2006

    I foresee slippery slope arguments coming your way :) It seems to me this is already being done in politics and humanitarian causes – ideas packaged to the church to get amplified in a grassroots fashion. Some call it manipulation (esp for politics). I think its empowerment.
    What if (as you said) churches acted as the cultural centers? Where products and services, ideas and causes, issue awareness and social justice charities, all had to pass through the lens of a church’s board of elders.


  • Dan Wall
    December 11, 2006

    Bringing advertising into the church gives control to the advertiser. If there is money involved with a corporate entity, then some may choose to alter the message of the church rather than lose the sponsorship. This could get dangerous, deceptive and devisive. I think this would parallel the money-changers to which Christ took so much offense.


  • Richard
    December 11, 2006

    No freaking way. (And I would use real profanity if my church’s leadership brought the idea to me.)
    When materialism is the (in my opinion) greatest idolatry in the church today, why would we want to align the Gospel with products and services? The church isn’t merely a non-profit, it is an organic institution established by God for his glory and the good of his creation.
    Perhaps we could do a series on a biblical view of marriage (sponsored by the Republican party)? Or the dangers of allowing greed to impact our decisions (sponsored by the Democratic party)? Could Huggies sponsor a pro-life sermon? Could Trojan sponsor a sermon series on biblical sex ethics and the responsibility of both partners to their spouse? Maybe a series on running the race with endurance can be sponsored by Nike or New Balance. Or walking in the light sponsored by Sylvania. *Gag*
    Doing such things cheapens the Gospel to just another consumer product or service and is not fit for Christ’s church.


  • Bill Kinnon
    December 11, 2006

    Man, this post had me laughing out loud. You guys are too funny. Some people will probably think your serious.


  • shmatt
    December 11, 2006

    I seem to recall an episode of the Simpsons that explored this idea.


  • brandon
    December 12, 2006

    This is a difficult topic, but in a simplified approach to address it- I think we need to quit putting God in a box and selling Him. That’s not to say that all churches do, but here in Dallas/Ft. Worth I’ve seen enough of churches that market extremely well, yet they’ve lost touch with the true power of God by focusing more on how they portray themselves media-wise than they communicate it in person.


  • Kevin Hendricks
    December 12, 2006

    I love it. Despite all Brad’s hesitation and back-pedaling and ‘don’t take it this way’ statements, you still took it that way.
    If I recall, that episode of the Simpsons was about the church either running out of money or being bought by a corporation (Burns, I believe). Not exactly the hypothetical situation Brad is talking about.
    It seems like one of the biggest marketing partnerships the church ever took part in was Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ. Was that a bad move? Was that selling our soul because Gibson proved to be less than a perfect Christian? Obviously the products are different, but if the messages matched up (Chik-fil-a?) why wouldn’t another marketing partnership be possible?
    Notice I didn’t say we must do it and it’s a great idea, I just said it’s possible.
    And since when does advertising mean selling control? It can mean that if the one selling the advertising purely exists for the advertising. In that way you’d change anything to keep the advertiser happy. But that’s not the hypothetical Brad’s talking about either. In Brad’s hypothetical if the advertiser wasn’t happy with the church’s message, that’d be too bad for the advertiser. Smart advertising involves knowing where you’re advertising. Companies advertise on South Park because of the audience it can bring them–they don’t try to tame down South Park. The same would have to be true for marketing parnterships in the church.


  • Dustin
    December 12, 2006

    Just because it works doesn’t mean it’s right. I could have strippers come dance at my church and it would draw people in, some might even accept Jesus but I would still never do it. This is once again how the church is giving itself away to corporate America and cheapening the gospel. This is why I appreciate Mike Erre’s book Jesus of Suburbia so much. The Jesus the church is selling with all this corporate marketing crap is far removed from the Jesus of Nazareth. I have a feeling if Jesus were here in body he would be flipping much more than tables.


  • Brian
    December 12, 2006

    I must say that I have some concerns when it comes to partnering the church with profit driven companies. If it were truly for the exposure and drawing unbelievers to Christ, we should offer this idea to corporations for no cost. Think about it. Companies would be knocking down our churches doors in order to communicate their message to a very loyal and captivated marketplace. I’m willing to bet that this idea has monetary undercurrents and therefore should be considered with great amounts of prayer.
    The other thing that worries me is the word partnered (and that’s what it is). Jesus warns us about being unevenly yoked for good reason. Purity in the church (His bride) is of the utmost importance and shouldn’t be taken lightly.
    As you can tell by this stream, communications is a delicate art and needs to be carefully considered. Not only are we reflecting our community of believers, we are also reflecting our Lord and Saviour.
    Just some thoughts from a veteran marketer (old) who is also worried about the commercialization of the church.


  • Rick Kelly
    December 12, 2006

    Christian moneygrubbing at it’s worst. Fairey Tales for Money.


  • D. Goodmanson
    December 12, 2006

    Provocative article Mr. Abare! You inspired me to post my own reflections on the subject: http://www.goodmanson.com/2006-12/12/selling-sponsors-some-pulpit-time/
    Let the discussion continue.


  • George
    December 13, 2006

    I think that the this idea would have at least one difficult ramification for the church. My problem is that, whether we like it or not, even if we engage in such partnerships for the cause of Christ and not the money itself; money talks. I took a class in resolving church conflict for my seminary degree. One of the case studies that we dealt with was a small church where one member of the congregation provided money for about half of the church’s expenses. When this member engaged in an activity which other members of the church had been disciplined over he was confronted, but made it clear that if he were disciplined he would leave the church. This put the church in the lamentable situation of having to decide to either hold to its principles and therefore face a serious financial crisis, or back down and retain the financial status quo. I believe that the church has to take this sort of risk with people, both rich and poor. A small church should not turn a rich person away. Does this mean that we should take a similar risk when it comes to corporations? I think not for two reasons. The first is that the Gospel costs us our entire lives, finances and all, while corporations exist to make money. Is it safe to assume that a corporation will stick around if the Gospel costs them money? The second reason is that the only thing corporations stand to gain from the Church is exposure which, they hope, would make more people use their product. If there is not a corresponding increase in sales, why would the corporation pay for the exposure? The results of this could be catastrophic for the Church. I would hate to see a church undermined by its relationship with a company like Enron (remember, before the scandal nobody had picked them out as particularly bad). I also think it would be sad to see a church put in a situation where their missions budget has to be scrapped because Jiffy Lube didn’t get more oil changes out of the sermon series.


  • Jeremy.Scheller
    December 13, 2006

    My take is this:
    There’s no more powerful message to the unchurched, than people of God’s living God’s love.
    If the church would quit acting so freaking desperate to grow big churches that we candy-coat the Gospel of Jesus sponsored by M&M’s, maybe we could focus on considering our neighbor as greater than ourselves and treating them that way…
    Tirade over.
    I think research shows that Christians give about 2.5% of their income….Perhaps if we could muster a mindset of deeper sacrificial giving, we could tell Mountain Dew they don’t need to sponsor the ski trip this year and we could do ministry out of the abundant gifts we’ve been given and not out of lack and need.
    I think the real creative work of the church is to figure out how to be cultural architects, not cultural hijackers. Using culture to reach people for Christ is one thing, but the church at large isn’t growing. Big churches with big bang for their buck are getting bigger. Small churches with no bang and no bucks are dying. So there seems to be a shift in taste within current church culture where Christians from one place are just going to the next big worship show. So we dump a lot of money into making things glitzy for ourselves.
    I read somewhere recently that a rather significant percentage of people are turned away and avoid products that advertise towards them….hmmm….why would I want to partner (advertise) with something that has the potential to:
    a) create a negative stimulus to the viewer
    b) transfer focus from Jesus to some object
    c) embed a mantra that says Jesus needs corporate america to accomplish it’s mission
    d) Turns Jesus into an advertising ploy for someone else’s pocketbook.
    I think the church has gotten wienie and desperate.
    There’s a lot of ways to share the gospel…I think money is plays a very minor role, dispite the way we may represent it…


  • Sara
    December 13, 2006

    Richard and Dustin, love the imaginations! Took the visuals right out of my head.
    I read a similar article on Christianity Today’s “Out of Ur” blog that mentioned a scheme — I mean marketing tactic — that involved a sermon contest for pastors; grand prize was a faaaaabulous vacation to London, England, if they incorporated Disney’s movie “The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe” into their sermons. Not that pastors don’t deserve a vacation now and again, but this is going over the top with commercialism, IMHO. Such blatant product placement has been coined preaching a “sermo-mercial”.
    Sources: http://blog.christianitytoday.com/outofur/archives/2005/12/marketing_narni.html
    http://www.sermoncentral.com/narnia/sweepstakes.asp
    Yep, companies are discovering that the Western Church has money,(a heavy) emphasis on morality, and will pump their money (almost exclusively) into Christian cows when given the chance. We’ve created this world for ourselves, in a way, emphasizing separatism and that “christian” companies are somehow more ethical than “non-christian” companies and therefore deserve more of our bucks. But I tangent.
    Don’t get me wrong; I’m not branding corporations as evil. There is plenty of positive pop culture out there that shows the love of Christ. But we must tread lightly as with politics. Let’s not get too excited over exploiting ourselves now that we’re the new poster child of spirituality. We are called to follow Christ and be servant of all, not merely moral consumptive spectators.


  • Keith
    December 23, 2006

    Since when is selling ad space partnership?
    In selling ad space, one is merely acquiring funds for the sale of real estate. Is a church not allowed to sell part of its property.
    Was Jesus not upset with the money changers for a completely different reason?


  • Melanie
    April 16, 2007

    One answer: remember the moneychangers in the Temple and Jesus’ words concerning.
    Commercialism doesn’t have to be physically present in churches to have a presence and to color God’s message. I’m against it.


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