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By Jonathan Howe

Not only do I enjoy hosting a pair of podcasts (Rainer on Leadership and SBC This Week), I enjoy listening to them as well. I have a weekly routine of podcasts I listen to during my commute. These podcasts range from sports to entertainment to news to sermons and beyond.

One podcast I particularly enjoy is The Happy Rant with Barnabas Piper, Ted Kluck, and Ronnie Martin. Their somewhat sarcastic discussion on current events and the church always provokes both laughter and reflection. In a recent episode, they riffed on catchy sermon series titles and church marketing. During the discussion, Barnabas asked an extremely poignant question related to church marketing:

Are you selling the image or the substance?

On the surface, the question is one we likely wouldn’t even consider. Of course our church should be more about the substance than the image. But when we boil it all down, is it really?

I haven’t been able to shake that question for the past few weeks. Mainly because I keep seeing churches that market image more than substance. They’ve crossed that line. They’ve gone too far. So with that in mind, here are five signs your church has gone too far with marketing:

  1. When you spend more on marketing than ministry. What does your budget look like? There’s a place for marketing money in church budgets. Whether you define that as event promotion, postage, newsletter expense, or a communications assistant, your church more than likely spends money on marketing. But if you spend more on getting people to come than you do once they actually arrive, you have gone too far.
  2. When your facility is seen as a marketing tool, not a ministry center. How does your church see its facilities? There are thousands of churches without a permanent home that setup and tear down every week who are probably laughing at this point. But for those of you with a physical campus, do you tout it as an impressive structure? Our facilities, when stewarded well, should be seen a base for missions and ministry. If we use our facilities as selling points instead of rallying points, we’ve gone too far with marketing.
  3. When you want people to know a slogan more than a savior. I’m in favor of church mission statements. I can still remember the ones from the past four churches of which I was a member. But if you want your people to talk more about your church lingo than their Lord, something is out of place. We should be training our people to share the gospel to a lost and dying world, not memorize a mission statement.
  4. When your staff meeting focuses more on drawing them than discipling them. Planning is a good thing. Brainstorming new ideas is also a good thing. There is a time and place for that and churches should seek to be original. But not at the cost of the mission. There needs to be in-depth, ongoing planning for how you will create an atmosphere that promotes continued discipleship. If you spend more energy on reaching than teaching, you have gone too far.
  5. When you put more time into the sermon title than the sermon text. This goes back to the Happy Rant. I like a good sermon series title, but we’ve all seen a sermon series title or two that make us hang our head in shame. Pastors, put more effort into the text than the title.

I know I have been guilty of at least one of these. Have you? What would you add to this list?

Jonathan Howe serves as Director of Strategic Initiatives at LifeWay Christian Resources, the host and producer of Rainer on Leadership and SBC This Week, and the managing editor of Jonathan writes weekly at on topics ranging from social media to websites and church communications. Connect with Jonathan on Twitter at @Jonathan_Howe.

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