Seth Godin addresses a topic particularly pertinent for the church–the marketing of fear. He tells a little story where he got an offer for insurance against invasion, carjacking and other scary things humans do:
I got a note from Rob McGinley at Chubb Insurance today. Not a note, actually, but an official envelope, with the extra touch of bold red writing on the top of the official looking letter. Chubb, it turns out, is happy to sell me insurance against home invasion, carjacking, etc. The $110 a year includes coverage for psychiatric care and “reward money leading to the apprehension of the perpetrator.”
He was less than happy. He took it as fear mongering and overstepping an ethical line. But how does his aversion to fear marketing translate to the church, which has commonly marketed fear? To many people, you could substitute terms to say something like this “The free gift of God includes coverage for life’s troubles and worries, as well as eternal protection from the fiery furnaces of hell.” But is this fear marketing a good way to go?
Let’s point out a couple differences first.
- Carjackings, invasions, etc. are relatively uncommon, while most Christians believe hell is a fairly common fate.
- The $110 is generally translated as free salvation, or at the least, an immaterial investment in good behavior.
It’s obviously different from Seth’s example because the stakes are much higher. And the return on investment is at best massive, or at worst, a little below break-even. But the consequences of branding God as a giant, scary dude eager to roast humans in the eternal campfires of hell are also pretty bad. So how do we market something that’s honestly a little scary without triggering an aversion to fear?
Prayer and caution. Unfortunately, there’s no perfect cost-benefit analysis. There are some people peeking around every corner for what might go wrong who are eager for protection against it. There are others whose heads are in the sand and never know trouble until it hits them. In reality, only a full gospel that explains both fear and love is one we can market successfully. And whether “Turn or Burn, Happy New Year,” is the case or not, we should probably be a little more tactful in saying it.