The last time that I played organized team sports (1991), “riding the bench” was not a coveted position. This designation, reserved for people who were on the team, but out of the game, was known to bring more ridicule than respect. The point of going out for the team and participating in subsequent play review, practice, and pre-game ritual was to see “PT,” playing time. Though it has been nearly 20 years since I last “suited up,” I suspect that this particular aspect of the game has not changed. Similarly, I do not believe that Jesus ever called, nor intended a call, for His followers to sit on the sideline. Unfortunately, this is exactly what is accomplished by many of our church communications and marketing material, benched believers.
Nike’s “Write the Future”
My sports suspicion was confirmed this summer, as I watched Nike’s “Write the Future” commercial, produced by advertising agency Wieden+Kennedy and directed by the illustrious, Academy Award-nominated, Mexican filmmaker Alejandro G. Iñárritu (Babel, 21 Grams, Amores Perros) that debuted during the 2010 FIFA World Cup event in South Africa and has been viewed on YouTube more than 20 million times.
Wieden+Kennedy’s website describes the three-minute film as showing, “how one moment on the pitch can be the catalyst for ripple effects felt around the world.”
Davide Grasso, Nike’s vice president of global football marketing, described the campaign as capturing the “scale, emotion and impact that one single moment in a football game can have on a player, fan or nation.”
This made me wonder whether or not church communications and marketing material appropriately alerts our audiences to the impact they can have in and on the kingdom: Are we encouraging the people in the pew to believe that God has plans to prosper them, to give them hope and a future? Or, are we presenting the church as a safe, holy huddle from which we rarely break?
Nike’s “Write the Future” campaign invites its athlete subjects and, indirectly, its viewers, to ambitiously consider the exaggerated consequences of their actions, and then, having played out the extreme best and worst case scenarios, to passionately pursue the ultimate “goal.”
Come, Sit and Stay
Alternately, I have experienced church communications and marketing material that simply invite the audience to:
- Watch the future, not write it
- To accept Christ, not follow Him.
What is frequently missing from church communications and marketing material is the action orientation of Jesus’ invitation: “Follow Me” and “Go,” the biblical predecessors to Nike’s contemporary and secular slogan, “Just Do It.” Our work sometimes suggests that people “come, sit and stay” as opposed to “go, tell and do.”
Church bulletins, flyers, postcards, videos and websites are sometimes guilty of inadvertently making church the finish line as opposed to the starting block.
We Need To Do Our Part
Now, please allow me to be very clear here: I, like you, believe that salvation comes through God’s grace, by faith, as it is written in Ephesians 2:8; but, let us keep reading through verse 10, which reminds us that we were “created in Christ Jesus to do good work…” James 2:26 goes on to tell us that, “faith without deeds is dead.”
The principal point here is that our work product must invite audiences to actively participate in the work process of kingdom building. The audience must be encouraged to “write the future” of the Christian faith. Sure, we know the final score—we have been given the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 15:57)—but God has given us the imagination, inspiration and motivation to write the day-to-day details of our divinely appointed lives.
Is Church Marketing Smart, Creative & Fun?
According to Trevor Edwards, Nike’s vice president of global brand and category management, “Consumers expect brands to be smart and creative and fun.”
Unfortunately, when these same consumers come through the doors of the church, as congregants, they significantly lower their expectations. They don’t expect church communications and marketing material to be smart or creative or fun. They expect them to, well, suck! And, far too often, we deliver on their diminished expectations. Though popular, this practice is not consistent with Christ’s communication style. He was smart (Luke 2:46-47), creative (see any of the parables) and fun (Mark 3:17).
In the book, Nike Culture, sociologists Robert Goldman and Stephen Papson reveal three ingredients that make Nike’s mass-media public philosophy successful:
- They rarely, if ever, get preachy.
- They aren’t into guilt.
- Their ads respect the viewer.
We, the church communications professionals of the world, would do well to take note.
Examples of Writing the Future
What does it look like when communities of faith “write the future?” Scripturally speaking, it looks like…
- Lydia’s conversion and baptism, followed by the baptism of everyone in her household (Acts 16:14-15).
- The woman in Sychar, the Samaritan village, whose witness led to the conversion of many of her neighbors (John 4:39-42).
- Zacchaeus, the tax collector, whose curiosity led to conversion, and to the blessing of the poor and exploited (Luke 19:1-10).
Fast forward to today and writing the future of the faith looks like…
- Eugene Cho’s One Day’s Wages initiative to end extreme global poverty.
- Shaun King and the A Home In Haiti project.
- Scott Harrison and the charity: water project.
To name just a few. The impact of churches and ministries—people, not buildings—who are willing to write the future is bigger than sports, politics and popular culture, even at a global level. For us, writing the future is about the endgame for every man, woman, and child alive: Salvation.
Living the Gospel Story
This, then, is the message that church communications professionals should be sharing with our communities and congregations: Through God’s work in you and through you, He can make a difference that will be felt throughout the world. Eugene Peterson, theologian and author of “The Message” Bible, keenly observed that “the stuff of our lives becomes the material of gospel story… the God-authored narration.”
This rich material does not benefit anyone, including ourselves, until it is put into practice; practice which develops into discipline; discipline which forms disciples. Conveyance and delivery of this invitation to participation should be the standard by which all church communications and marketing material is measured. “Ads that lead to acts” is how advertiser Leo Burnett might describe them.
So, what does your church’s communications and marketing material say? Does it invite the audience to ride the benches or get into the trenches?