We’ve covered plenty of churches who are trying to be edgy, stay relevant and communicate in a way that’s never been done before.
- Satan hates [insert church here]
- The 30-day sex challenge
- Che Guevara Baby Jesus
- Church sucks
- Church advertising sucks
Adam Metzger tried to go that route, and he ended up with a big headache.
He wrote to us to tell us about his campaign and see if we had any insight into what went wrong:
I used the phrase “church sucks” in an advertising campaign two weeks ago, and I sort of regret it. It was to advertise the launch of our church. Totally underestimated the continued stigma of that word. Massive feedback (Bad feedback. People called and yelled, threatened to “investigate” and turn me in to Fox News, etc.) from the Christian community (which I expected). However, zero feedback at all from the unchurched (which was the whole point). Church launched with fewer than anticipated–probably from a bad campaign message planned by me…
Yikes. The whole idea was to create buzz, get a big crowd on the first launch, then develop that crowd into their core group. To create the buzz, they sent out 120,000 mailers. One featured a church in the rear-view mirror of a car, another featured simple text about their church, a third read, “God Doesn’t Care,” and a fourth had the text, “Church Sucks. Or at least we thought so.”
To say they weren’t well-received would be an understatement. Here are some quotes from the feedback they received:
- “If you love God, then church is never boring.”
- “I am shocked and outraged that a church would send this out. Please let me confirm the spelling of your last name when I turn this in to the Fox News and the media.”
- “My six year old daughter read your postcard out loud and asked ‘why do they say church sucks?’”
- “Dear pretend church, please visit my church. It is a real church.”
- “I don’t need this smut in my mail box.”
And the big kicker? They underperformed on expected launch attendance by 75%.
Adam’s intentions were great. He had experiences at churches that were less-than-stellar, and he assumed (probably rightly so) that others had a similar experience. So he decided to play off of that shared experience, try and align himself with the unchurched and invite them from a perspective of, “We’re not like them. We’re like you. Come check us out.”
But where did things go wrong?
It’s an easy trap to fall into. You want to differentiate yourself from “church as usual,” so the easiest way to do it is to attack church as usual. We’ve probably all been guilty of it on the Internet at one point or another. And we see it from time to time in the Church Marketing Lab. Our own Michael Buckingham, one of the moderators in the Church Marketing Lab, had this to say:
I’ve seen a lot of this direction this year and while I absolutely get what they were trying to say, they end up just hurting the church as a whole. Messages like this simply perpetuate people’s negative view of church, cast a negative message and come across as self serving.
It’s the equivalent of putting up a sign that says “we’re better than other churches.” It’s an example of marketing without stepping out of our own walls and looking at it from other perspectives. While you’re trying to say that you’re trying something new you’re main message just points out how other churches aren’t. Remember, we’re in this together. This isn’t about being the best church, this is about finding the best way to share Christ.
So true. We might think it’s just a little fun at someone else’s expense to reach our audience. Adam likely wouldn’t have walked straight up to a pastor at a local church and told him, “Man, I’ve been to your place. It sucks.” And he was more likely referring to the state of churches in general, not particular churches in his town.
But there’s one problem. Jesus said “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:34-35, ESV)
And the world knows this. It’s written on their hearts, even if they’ve never stepped foot inside a church.
Touting yourself as incredible while mitigating others is rarely a model for success–especially in the church. You’ve heard that you should “under-promise and over-deliver?” This is a great example. It generally works much better to take a humble, even self-deprecating approach to gain trust and make an impact.
You might be saying, “Whoa there! Wait one minute. Your name is Church Marketing Sucks, and you’re giving this advice? What gives?” The issue isn’t with the word “sucks,” although you should consider your audience on that one. The issue is that a church introduced and defined themselves with a sweeping indictment of “church.” And it crossed a line.
Avoiding crossing that line isn’t a magical formula of marketing, advertising, demographics and luck. It’s a matter of promoting ourselves in a manner that respects the guidance and charge of Scripture. Being careful to respect God’s church and handling ourselves with love are two integral parts of this.
There are plenty of ways you can differentiate your church without slamming other churches. The next time your church looks to push the envelope without crossing a line, have some free ideas:
- Instead of beginning services immediately, begin with concerts or events. Hold these monthly with great music, great production, etc. to let people know this won’t be like the church of their childhood.
- Say you won’t launch your church until $100,000 has been raised for your community. And don’t back down from your goal.
- Go door-to-door. Leave no house unvisited. Ask them their biggest needs right now, and never mention your church. Then get back together and figure out how, as a church, you can start meeting those needs.
If you think churches in your area suck, the go ahead, begin one that doesn’t. But never stop praying and loving the other churches in your area.