Evangelism: Targets of Marketing

I’m about as Emergent as a dead caterpillar in a sun-dried cocoon, but I appreciated this little bit from Heather Kirk-Davidoff in her contribution to An Emergent Manifesto of Hope (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2007).  It has to do with the “old school” way of evangelism.

“Even if your theology is great, even if your church is wonderful, even if your community is the best group of people on earth, as soon as you approach someone with the intention of recruiting them into your theology or church or community, you become a marketer and the other person is the target of your marketing.  While GenXers have had a wide range of experience with religion or church or community, we share the experience of being targets of marketing from our earliest days of watching cartoons with product tie-ins.  We can spot a sales pitch from a mile away, and we never confuse that with an offer of genuine relationship.”

“The 1999 movie The Big Kahuna made this point brilliantly.  Addressing a colleague who turned a sales convention into an opportunity to witness to his Christian faith, one of the characters says, “It doesn’t matter whether you’re selling Jesus or Buddha or civil rights or ‘How to Make Money in Real Estate with No Money Down.’ …Because as soon as you lay your hands on a conversation to steer it, it’s not a conversation anymore; it’s a pitch.  And you’re not a human being; you’re a marketing rep” (p. 37).

Granted, the rest of this essay is much less helpful, almost making relationship a sacrament.  Yet she’s dead-on in her critique of how we usually “do” evangelism.  That kind may not work anymore in a nation of spoiled consumers.  The Kirby will clean your carpets, Jesus will fix your marriage, and this house-alarm will keep the bad guys out.  This is what Barth (and Willimon following him) means by domesticating the gospel.

Side note: I liked Mike Horton’s contribution to The Church in an Emerging Culture: Five Perspectives (to name one of a few such books).

shane lems

sunnyside wa

5 thoughts on “Evangelism: Targets of Marketing”

  1. Personally ,Shane, this perspective is rooted in a very truncated theology to begin with-it is certainly not reflective of the kind of Reformed evangelism that one would find in the WCF. Confronting people with reality of their sin when seen in the light of the Law and a holy God who’s wrath they deserve and with their desperate need for atonement-which can only be found in Christ’s work a mediator – this hardly amounts to ‘marketing’ a product.


  2. That’s an amazing quote! I know as a Gen X (or Gen Y) person I can totally related. I *hate* the feeling I’m being given a sales pitch, even at a car lot or some place you really expect it. To hear it at a church or by a door to door evangelist is even worse.

    I’ve personally had some frustrating experiences of door to door evangelists. I had one come to my house not that long ago, from one of the local churches (that I actually have had family members involved with). I remember thinking “Oh that’s great! They’re visiting and reaching out to people in the community.” But instead of having an actual conversation with me, the woman went through this whole little spiel that was supposed to be a “survey”, but was clearly designed to get me to answer questions in a certain way so that she could answer back with what the correct answer was. The whole experience felt really disingenuous and kind of even insulting. Instead of actually reaching out to people in the community (be they fellow believers or not), they seemed to be just treating people in a way I associate with tele-marketers.

    The lessons I took away from the experience were:
    1) Going out to talk with people in your community = Good
    2) Treating them like objects of a marketing scheme = Bad

    As a Reformed church, we could probably do more #1, but I’m thankful we don’t do #2. :-)


  3. Pat – I hear you – I’ve had it as well and it is discouraging. I was “trained” with EE in college, and was utterly uncomfortable with the “canned” approach for the exact reasons you note.

    GLW: I was not using Davidoff to show that the gospel call to repentance and faith is “marketing.” Rather, I was using her to show that methods of evangelism are often similar to an impersonal marketing method, one that we should avoid. Her “method” or way of evangelism that she advocated in this essay was very problematic (as I noted). Her critique of one method of evangelism was right, however. That was my main point.

    Thanks for the comments.



  4. My own conversion involved various influences, but one was from something called “friendship evangelism.” This sounds good, but it is really just another variety of marketing and sales (bait and switch). It’s crass manipulation. Once the seller is persuaded that the buyer has bought, the feigned “friendship” is abandoned and the seller notches you up on his spiritual bedpost, on to another prize. It has also always seemed to me that there is some low view of creation at play, as if friendship itself is not good in and of itself but simply a means to an end, which is itself really just self-centered (look how many fish I caught!).

    Gary, I think you’ve missed the idea here. Darryl Hart makes regular references to “The Big Kahuna” to make these same points:



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