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When Church Marketing Crosses from Edgy to Offensive

By now, you’ve probably heard about the cover of this week’s TIME Magazine. Regardless of what you think about the cover, or the article for that matter, you’re probably not surprised by this sort of “shock-and-awe” marketing ploy. In fact, the news media has been using this tactic for years to sell newspapers, magazines, and commercial spots.

But what you might not realize is that we, the church, can be just as guilty of this despicable act as the mainstream media. I’m not saying that your church will show a mother breastfeeding as a part of your next sermon series, but there are times in our efforts to be “effective” that we’re walking (or crossing) the line of being “offensive.”

Here’s a good example of what I mean from a church trying to fill seats on Easter Sunday. Did the church succeed in getting people’s attention with the billboard? Probably. But was it effective? Probably not in the long run.

Why we resort to “shock-and-awe”:

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As I started thinking about why many churches use “shock-and-awe” tactics to generate buzz in their community, I landed on one common denominator. They lack a commitment to excellence.

Sometimes when we can’t do things excellently, we try being “offensive” to get people’s attention. Maybe you’ve heard a student pastor say, “If we have 500 students at next week’s service, I’ll take a pie in the face!” At the end of the day, you might fill the seats, but where do you go from there? A tattoo?

The solution:

Ultimately, our decision to resort to “shock-and-awe” tactics is a decision to ignore excellence. Furthermore, I would say that resorting to borderline-offensive marketing ploys is a lack of confidence in the Gospel.

So, what’s the antidote for avoiding these tempting buzz-campaigns?

Pursue excellence. Frist Corinthians 10:31 doesn’t only apply to our preaching, teaching, or worship leading. It applies to every element of our work. And what you’ll find is that pursuing excellence isn’t only more God honoring, it’s more effective in the long run. Your seats won’t be filled with people who just want to see you get pied, but with people who are connecting with the Gospel because you’re leading them there.

Therefore, may we set aside our “offensive” ploys to generate buzz and pursue the excellence to which God has called us.

Next, we’ll share how one church is using “outside-the-box” ministry outreach effectively without resorting to “shock-and-awe” tactics.

What “offensive” tactics have you seen used by churches? What are some other practical ways you would suggest for avoiding these efforts?