Church Copycats

May 13, 2009 by

Recently, I came across via the xpirimental blog. My palms became sweaty, my heart sped up, my stomach twisted and my mind went back to the service formerly known as GodTube.

Then I thought of the 68 threads with “copyright” in their title in the Church Marketing Lab. Next was the 44% of churches who don’t give a rip about copyright. After that, the proliferation of iGod series, Survivor retreats and logo ripoffs. Lastly was Joshua Blankenship’s post from a few years ago with a hefty focus on creativity.

We do this under the guise of “redeeming our culture” or “being relevant.” And I have nothing wrong with either of those things. But seriously, a Christian version of Twitter? 28.3 million search results for Christian social network?

We are the jealous friend. We see something that seems cool, and we have to have it. But rather than take the unthinkable risk of corruption or dirtying ourselves with those less holy than ourselves, we created a walled garden. In this walled garden, we can have all the “good stuff” of the world, but we can pretend the rest of the world doesn’t exist.

And the cost is high. This isn’t just about not being creative or about not reaching our full potential. Our copycat actions are both a failure to realize our full potential and an affront to those we are trying to reach.

People who live outside of the Christian bubble roll their eyes. You lose them forever. They see you as demeaning something they value, and they think less of you for it. You trade the entire mission of God for the comfort of a walled garden, and you chose your Christian social network over actually networking with non-Christians. It doesn’t go unnoticed.

Your marketing is screaming, “I don’t care about you or your things. I mock them.”

So let’s rename our GodPod series, turn off our GodTubes, shut down our Godwitters, log out of GodSpace, delete our Gracebook accounts and show the entire world that we care about them more than us.

Post By:

Joshua Cody

Josh Cody served as our associate editor for several years before moving on to bigger things. Like Texas. These days he lives in Austin, Texas, with his wife, and you can find him online or on Twitter when he's not wrestling code.
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27 Responses to “Church Copycats”

  • Nick
    May 13, 2009

    I won’t say who, but a church in my city directly ripped the code and CSS from Mars Hill’s (Michigan) site. When I looked at the code, they were even loading Java FROM MHBC’s host… shameless, IMO.

  • Josh Jenkins
    May 13, 2009

    I’m totally with you on the main point of your post here. Namely, that these “copycat” services like Godtube, etc. are of no benefit and possible detrimental to the cause of Christ.
    On a more minor and nuanced point, however, I must take issue. First, churches MUST always respect copyright. No choice about it…always.
    However, some things you guys mention on this blog simply are not subject to copyright. For example, one cannot legally claim copyright to calling a retreat “Survivor Retreat”. That phrase is too common to copyright. Now a particular church’s logo or artwork for that retreat could be copyrighted, but not simply the name “Survivor Retreat”.
    Finally, let me say this. Every church has the RIGHT to copyright and protect their unique work. And all other churches have the OBLIGATION to respect the copyright.
    However, I’d ask the Christian Community to consider carefully before reserving all rights to their work. Especially if their work is for a “one-time” only event. Why not, after your event is over, open that work up on creative commons or other license that would allow other church’s to modify and use your work at-will?
    Not every church has the ability or resources to create from scratch. So if there is work you no longer need, why not contribute it to the Body of Christ?
    Like the New Testament Believers, we should hold all things in common.

  • Jared Hardwck
    May 13, 2009

    How do you decyfer the use of Pop Culture in the church and copyright? I’m not condoning illegal use of other people’s stuff, but where’s the line? Who draws the line? Is there a line? And if there is, give us some ideas on how to get close, but not cross it. Granger Community Church comes to my mind as they used many different popular TV shows, movies, songs, etc, to help convey their point. Is this not being “creative” or is this just copying the secular industries to get the attention of non-believers?

  • brent
    May 13, 2009

    I actually understand Godtube (or tangle or whatever it’s called now). I get wanting a place just for clean christian videos. I understand it. But not this godwitter mess. It’s just another barrier.

  • the one at church
    May 13, 2009

    Carol Howard Merritt recently blogged on this, discussing how Christian replicas are usually made to cleanse cultural aspects but end up a poor substitute.
    Although, for the record, I love Prodigal Jon’s Stuff Christians Like for the self-effacing parody that it is.

  • DantheHomeman
    May 13, 2009

    Ar you serious? Copyright schmopyright. I think you are forgetting that God is in control, and that after 200 years of peace in the US we need some fresh martyrs so we can raise more money. You just don’t get it. We are the only community that goes to court over who owns the phrase “What would Jesus Do?” whil most of the pew potatoes are clueless.

  • Chris Hinojosa
    May 13, 2009

    Love it, well said, more people need to read this and wake up!

  • David Jones
    May 13, 2009

    I heard this saying moments before loggin on and reading this blog.
    “You can’t polish a turd, but you can roll it in glitter, and yet its still a turd”
    Creativity comes within and is God given I get that, yet it is still craft and part of our muscle memory that needs to be exercised, and if you don’t exercise it, then the muscle becomes weak. Asking God everyday what he is “Giving us” what he is “Telling us” and what he is “Showing us”. Has been my latest recipe for creativity. Try it, instead of copying other peoples work. Remember when you copy its still a turd! Or maybe your a turd for copying. LOL

  • Joshua
    May 13, 2009

    Don’t mean to be a putz, but What is “Chrisitian” Social Networking? I think you ‘misspeled'(tm) (ref: apache mod_spel)

  • Sam
    May 13, 2009

    Frankly, it’s a very bad witness and I worry that it will succeed…
    If christians keep aping secular work and stop producing anything artistic, God is not honored.
    Be original, don’t support the Christian ghetto.

  • Darren Chapman
    May 13, 2009

    Godwitter? What a flippin ridiculous idea. When did Christians get the idea that ripping off ANYTHING was going to further the cause?!
    Completely agree with what you’ve said there Joshua. I think that when the Christian world has just become a poxy, poor reflection of the world we’ve lost our way BIG TIME.
    Sam is right… let’s contribute to the world with REAL creativity, adding life and value to the world rather than stealing code, ‘borrowing’ ideas and ripping off other people’s excellent ones!
    God gave us a brain, not a fractured mirror. Thanks CMS for bringing these things to light… we love you :)

  • mans09
    May 13, 2009

    Thanks Joshua.
    Why oh why do people think actual contact with a secular thing is going to “contaminate”. I wonder when the realisation will dawn on them that they could be of much greater impact in the community (locally & globally) if they just came out from under their little box.

  • Josh
    May 13, 2009

    Godwitter… are you kidding me? If I even thought about bringing that up to the students in my ministry I’d get laughed off stage, literally!

  • Laure
    May 14, 2009

    I don’t mind if people want to take the idea of microblogging and make a “Christian” site for themselves. It’s probably unnecessary, but that just gets an eye roll from me. Ideas are not protected by copyright or trademark law.
    On the other hand… Not only has “Godwitter” basically ripped off the name of Twitter, they’re also ripping off the logo and jargon. It’s a textbook case of infringement. They’re using the brand equity of Twitter to make their own site more popular. Whether or not Twitter has actually registered their logo with the USPTO, they’ve use it in a fixed medium, which makes it a protected work. Twitter may not be able to take Godwitter to court and win, but the use is nonetheless unethical.
    Check out “The Permission Seeker’s Guide through the Legal Jungle: Clearing Copyrights, Trademarks, and Other Rights for Entertainment and Media Productions” (Joy R. Butler), or “Professional Practices in Graphic Design” (AIGA) for more information and details.

  • Jeremy Scheller
    May 14, 2009

    I have nothing nice to say.

  • Paul Moore
    May 14, 2009

    Excellent blog. You prompted some thoughts of my own about engaging the culture that I shared at:

  • Shawn
    May 14, 2009

    Honestly, I think it’s about money. The Godwitter people or any of those other social networking sites rip-off other people’s ideas because they want to make money on it. If they can sell advertising, what they did just paid off. Christians accept it because they just created a “clean” version.
    It goes back to the old saying that we should be in the world, but not of the world. We should be using Twitter, Facebook and Myspace to connect with people and to share the message of Jesus. This is what Christ meant when he said be a light on a hill, the salt of the earth. Don’t take the salt out of the earth by creating seperate social websites.

  • Michael Buckingham
    May 14, 2009

    There’s a portion of the bible that we seem to love to skip.
    “Be in the world.”
    This does not translate to live in a bubble, stay away from everyone else, or keep your eyes closed at all times.
    “Don’t be of the world.”
    That would mean don’t adapt their beliefs and instead be an example.
    So close down Godtwitter, open up a twitter account and be a light in a dark world. Forget posting your video to GodTube about Jesus and post it to YouTube (but please make it good).

  • Stan
    May 15, 2009

    My wife’s cousin posted something the other day that I think applies here. I’m not sure if this is his original quote or someone else’s. He said, “We do not become culturally relevant when we become like the culture, but rather when we model what the culture hungers to become.”
    I think based on this blog and this quote, we have to realize that the church needs to become what the culture longs for, not repeating what we think is cool. This copycat stuff has got to stop. We have something much better than twitter in Jesus Christ. Why aren’t we focusing on that? Instead, we focus on copying and trying to be cool.

  • Stan
    May 15, 2009

    I went to the Godwitter page just to check it out and to be honest, it isn’t even done very well. IMHO! The “Godweets” (is that what they’re calling them?) on the front page were people logging on to mock it. They created accounts and slammed Christians and praised Allah. It’s a mockery. To quote Michael and Scripture, “Be in the world, but not of it.”

  • Mark
    May 21, 2009

    I think sometimes creating so called “Christian services” is self defeating. If we are called to minister and share the Gospel to those that haven’t heard how is making a little corner just for Christians gonna help. We should be engaging the world not making our own little ones.

  • Jerry Heinold
    June 9, 2009

    Is it possible that the founders of these ‘Christian’ sites are not even Christians? Maybe they are just people who see a market and try to make a buck. I don’t know. Just wondering..hmmm…

  • sweaza
    June 18, 2009

    Just as an aside, the Bible actually never says that we should be “In the world, not of it.” That claim has been made several times in these comments, and while I think the Scriptures teach the principle, the phrase is not in the Bible.
    More on topic, I’m waiting for someone to open Godonald’s so I can get a Jesus-burger and gospel shake.

  • Dr. Chris Bryant
    January 10, 2010

    John 17:11, 17 (KJV) — And now I am no more in the world, but these are in the world, and I come to thee. Holy Father, keep through thine own name those whom thou hast given me, that they may be one, as we are. They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world.
    I agree that the phrase “in the world not of the world” is not precicely put in the consise manner that it is so frequently stated in. I do however believe that the above passage teaches the direct concept with the same words as have been stated in times past.

  • Adam
    January 15, 2010

    “Godwitter? What a flippin ridiculous idea. When did Christians get the idea that ripping off ANYTHING was going to further the cause?!”
    Darren: I think it’s possible that the people who started the site (amongst all of the Christian clones out there) weren’t thinking about how the site might further the Kingdom. I think it’s more likely that they saw the negative and worldly aspects of sites such as Twitter and Facebook and have had the gut reaction, “We need to protect ourselves.”
    I would even compare it (possibly to a lesser extent) to Christian television. I can’t comment on American Christian TV but here in Australia I get the same “cheap rip-off” impression. But it seems to be from the heart that we want to protect our children / ourselves from the influences of the world, yet still have the “benefits” of those mediums. (A caveat: I have never payed for nor watched Christian TV in Australia, only seen seem ads for the various channels.)
    It seems that we are trying to sanitise the world for our own purposes.
    So maybe it’s time to start thinking about what we’re communicating (the kingdom of God, and the good news of Jesus Christ), and who we’re communicating to? After all, Jesus did say, “Go into all the world.”
    Great article, and I love the Creative Commons idea! If we give back to the community, the community can only grow and be strengthened.

  • Stuart
    February 20, 2011

    Os Guiness – back in the 1980s wrote ‘The Gravedigger file’ – a book written in ‘back-to-front’, Screwtape letters style (i.e. from the perspective of the enemy, not that of the church). On the back cover of the book is written “What can explain the virtual collapse of the European Church? Or the vital change in American Christianity so that it can be dismissed as ‘privately engaging but socially irrelevant? How is it that Protestantism has come full circle, itself in need of Reformation? Why are the worst current caricatures of Christianity by Christians themselves?”
    Guiness identifies (through the persona of one his characters) 3 forces that tend to subvert the modern church: Secularisation – “the process through which, starting from the centre and moving outwards, successive sectors of society and culture have been freed from decisive influence of religious ideas and institutions”. Privatisation – “the process by which modernisation produces a cleavage between the public and the private spheres of life and focuses the private sphere as the special arena for the expression of individual freedom and fulfilment”. and Pluralisation – “the process by which the number of options in the private sphere of modern society rapidly multiplies at all levels, especially at the level of world views, faiths and ideologies”.

    What is disturbing is that now in the 2nd decade of the 3rd millennium – some 20 years at least since Guinness wrote the book, certain sectors of the church still haven’t learned the lessons. Why are we still retreating back into a Christian-only world, instead of engaging with secular culture? Don’t we realise that by so doing, we are actually subverting ourselves – or to use Guinness’s term – digging our own grave?

    Finally, another well known Christian author from the 20th century – Francis Schaeffer – in a book written in 1968 – ‘Death in the City’, mentions revival and reformation: “Reformation refers to a restoration to pure doctrine; revival refers to a restoration in the Christian’s life. Reformation speaks of a return to the teachings of Scripture; revival speaks of a life brought into its proper relationship to the Holy Spirit…… We need to those who know the reality of both reformation and revival, so that this poor dark world may have an exhibition of a portion of the church returned to both pure doctrine and Spirit-filled life.” The problem with revival on its own is that it does not change social structures, we need to have a reformation alongside the revival in order for that to happen. So to conclude, if we truly were to “return to the teachings of Scripture” then we wouldn’t be inventing a GodTube, because the teachings of Scripture tell us to be ‘in the world, but not of the world’. Sorry to be rather wordy, but I hope that this helps…

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