Marketing to Agnostics and Not Atheists

February 21, 2007 by

I was giving a demo about online church communities at the Community Next Conference recently. I opened with a comparison of churches and schools–namely, that there are more Christian churches in the United States than K-12 schools, colleges, and universities combined. As I finished that thought, someone in the audience yelled out “That’s sad!”

His comment disrupted me. But I realized two important things.

One, it’s unwise to frame a discussion by comparing faith against education, especially when the talk is on a college campus in the Bay Area.

Two, reaching out to the atheist who is vocally anti-Christian should not be our primary target in marketing. I assume my heckler was atheist, and I wasn’t evangelizing to the audience (I was trying to convince them of the opportunities of bringing church communities online). But the lesson is that the agnostic might listen, the atheist probably won’t.

That applies to an idea, a product or a religion. Guy Kawasaki talks about this in regards to sales of the Macintosh. The die-hard PC users were attractive targets, but a waste of his time. However, the people with little exposure to computers were the “rich and fertile market for Apple.”

I’m not saying we shouldn’t share the Gospel with atheists. But let’s face it–those who have made up their minds to reject Christ (and vocally express it) are tough to convince of your idea or your church. It’s a battle of stubborn wills often ending in mud-slinging futility. It’s a “culture war” or a “war on Christmas” that we shouldn’t be baited into engaging. However, the young non-Christian, the un-churched bachelor, the curious teenager–talk to them. They are the majority. They might listen. And they may be convinced.

Post By:

Joe Suh


Joe Suh is the co-founder of MyChurch.org, along with his wife Carol. MyChurch.org is the free church social networking site launching on Sept. 1, 2006.
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15 Responses to “Marketing to Agnostics and Not Atheists”

  • mike
    February 21, 2007

    Great post. Agnostics are usually willing to *entertain* the idea of a god (and further, God). Athiests are basically of another religion with formulated theories in direct opposition to Christianity.
    I guess I find my discussions with agnostics strengthen my faith, while Athiests tend to just sap your energy (although it’s a good excercise to make sure you know what you claim to believe).
    Still, with God all things are possible. You really never know what’s going on in a person’s life. Must be nice to have His marketing technology on tap!
    Sometimes the most vocal religious person is a hollow shell of unbelief, even when that religion is Athiesm.


  • RC of strangeculture
    February 21, 2007

    “The message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to those who are being saved it is the power of God.”
    Ugh…i just wouldn’t worry about the comment…I can even picture a cynical Christian responding “that’s sad” in response to this statistic.
    People like to complain, Christians, Agnostics, atheist, and everything in between.


  • Paul
    February 22, 2007

    True all, but atheists make the best evangelists. They aren’t often “talked” or “debated” into knowing Jesus. Atheists have to be loved into the kingdom. They’re usually a victim of some hurt from a church or “Christian” and that’s what makes them atheists, as opposed to just not knowing, like an agnostic.
    Remember C.S. Lewis was an atheist convinced that God didn’t exist, but was also mad at God for not existing. Now, we read his work and see the passion with which he defends the faith.
    It’s worth it, loving and not judging. My friends (and siblings in the kingdom), Sandra and Nick, so wanted to believe, but had so much “evidence” that they couldn’t until the love they felt couldn’t be denied.
    At my church we call them “longshots”. God’s in the “longshot” business you know. Look at the Apostle Paul, not an atheist, but someone so anti-christian as to help kill and imprison. He became the man who (other than Jesus) most shaped our faith.
    Don’t throw pearls to swine to trample, but keep the perspective that atheists are people that Jesus loved enough to die for.
    Paul


  • eric
    February 22, 2007

    you assume your heckler was atheist?
    why?
    what if it was just someone really pro-education (like a teacher) and you just judged them right into being an atheist?
    yeah, it wasn’t a smart comment to make. but i know i’ve made dumb comments. in church even.
    which brings up another question in my mind… what was an atheist doing there on that day?
    i realize atheists aren’t banned from church, but what are the odds?
    this was a great post (i love the guy kawasaki/apple inc. reference), but the lead up to introduce the topic of atheism is borderline offensive.
    i would hate to be deemed a non-believer just because of a stupid comment i make.


  • Joe Suh
    February 22, 2007

    Eric, the venue was a Stanford auditorium hosting a conference on social networking. Completely secular event, and nothing church-related


  • Joe Suh
    February 22, 2007

    Paul, great counter-examples in CS Lewis and Paul. When longshots turn into believers, they can become dramatic evangelists
    Although anti-Christians and atheists should not be forgotten, I still believe agnostics should be the prioritized target in outreach efforts.


  • matt
    February 22, 2007

    question of when do you shake off your dust and just leave (jesus told disciples), or when do you bear through persecution and return back to places that had just chased you out of that town (Paul).


  • matt
    February 22, 2007

    I’m really glad the Apostles didn’t evaluate their “target market” in such a manner; the gospel may have never reached this gentile!
    I’m all for intentionality and focus, but what of the Spirit’s leading?


  • bryonm
    February 23, 2007

    Great post. I think it’s also great that whether it was intentional or unintentional, you brought your message to a place that atheists gather. Maybe your message was rejected, but at least it was heard.
    So maybe intentionally marketing to atheists is a bad strategy, but intentionally NOT marketing to them maybe a worse strategy.
    I like the idea of “be ready in season and out of season” and allow your message to be heard where ever the Lord opens the door…


  • Joe Suh
    February 23, 2007

    Thanks for the comments – great points all around.
    Matt, definitely agree God’s calling trumps any human ROI analysis. But I sometimes marvel at those who attempt to battle with anti-Christians, and wonder if its really God’s will or their own ego?
    Byron, I wasn’t evangelizing to the audience :) In fact, I was stupid to frame the discussion the way I did… I think your 2nd sentence nailed it on the head: “So maybe intentionally marketing to atheists is a bad strategy, but intentionally NOT marketing to them maybe a worse strategy.”


  • Jim McGee
    February 23, 2007

    I’m surprised no one has taken this opportunity to question the “more is better” assumption. If all the churches had been created because of a saturation church-planting strategy to place communities of believers within easy access of all people, and all those churches demonstrated unity and cooperation, that would be great. But the reality is that so many churches exist because we can’t cooperate and so create our own little spiritual fiefdoms — hence more churches than is needed. So, while I doubt it’s what the heckler meant, I have to agree with him that the lack of unity demonstrated in those numbers truly is sad.


  • Mike
    February 27, 2007

    Regarding the number of churches: How much capacity goes unused? How many under-utilized and unutilized facilities have we constructed? At least the schools seem to be a little better at optimizing resources.


  • toad
    August 29, 2008

    you better hope you get those agnostics before we athiests do im in idaho and after i graduated me and a group of buddies have been recruiting it started out with me and 7 other buddies now every wednessday and sunday night we have meetings discussing general feelings we have toward religion and we specifically teach not to bo so hostile and make rude comments as that fellow did (whether he be atheist or not) i know we dont see eye to eye but that does not mean we should not be able and sit and talk in a nice way


  • toad
    August 29, 2008

    you better hope you get those agnostics before we athiests do im in idaho and after i graduated me and a group of buddies have been recruiting it started out with me and 7 other buddies now every wednessday and sunday night now after a year of getting more members we have 77 members and going strong still we have meetings discussing general feelings we have toward religion and we specifically teach not to bo so hostile and make rude comments as that fellow did (whether he be atheist or not) i know we dont see eye to eye but that does not mean we should not be able and sit and talk in a nice way


  • Korihor
    April 7, 2014

    Agnostics, for the most part are Atheists. Agnosticism is the state of not knowing, not having knowledge. Gnosticism is knowing. Christians claim to know, but they don’t because they can’t. Dishonest or Misinformed Christians say they know. Honest Christians are Agnostic and admit they believe solely based on faith, without evidence.

    Atheism is a statement of belief, not knowledge. Atheists don’t believe in God. Agnostics don’t know if God exists. Atheists are both Atheist AND Agnostic. Christians are both Christian AND Agnostic.



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