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Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Marketing and Evangelism redux

Slacktivist continues his reading and reporting on LaHaye and Jenkins' Left Behind book (and I still say 'thanks', because frankly, that's like taking a bullet for me as far as I'm concerned).

His latest installment includes an extended meditation on American-style evangelism and its similarity to marketing, which I've written about elsewhere. Here's a choice excerpt:


"Evangelism" today is not seen as the practice of hospitality, but as a kind of marketing scheme. It is not an invitation, but a sales pitch. Not a matter of "taste and see," but of "buy now." Or, to use one of my favorite descriptions of the work of evangelism, it is not "one beggar telling another beggar where he found bread," but rather one fat man trying to convince another fat man that he's a beggar in order to close the sale on another loaf.

Contemporary American-style evangelism is made even stranger by the fact that it seems devoid of content. It's become a turtles-all-the-way-down exercise with no apparent real bottom. Evangelism means, literally, the telling of good news. Surely there must be more to this good news than simply that the hearers of it become bliged to turn around and tell it to others. And those others, in turn, are obliged to tell still others the good news of their obligation to spread this news.

That may be an effective marketing strategy, but what is the product? There doesn't seem to be a product -- only a self-perpetuating marketing scheme. It's like Amway without the soap.

...

To get a sense of what I mean by evangelism as the practice of hospitality, visit your local church. Don't go upstairs, to the sanctuary, go downstairs to that room in the basement with the linoleum tile and the coffee urn. That's where the AA and NA meetings are held.

At its best, Alcoholics Anonymous embodies evangelism as hospitality. They offer an invitation, not a sales pitch. They offer testimony -- personal stories -- instead of a marketing scheme. They are, in fact and in practice, a bunch of beggars offering other beggars the good news of where they found bread.

Read the rest here.

This sort of observation helps us, not to feel snarky about others (or just bad about ourselves), but to think more critically about how we actually do (or might do) evangelism. Certainly the evangel, the good news, is crucially important; and evangelism is a part of our charge as Christians, something given to us in our baptism. But we've also been given a lot of guilt about not doing it (or sometimes guilt for not doing it the right way), while also only having half-baked ideas of what the gospel is, and erroneous notions of what evangelism is.

This isn't, in my estimation, the sort of thing we should shrink from and consign to certain other parts of the church to do (badly), while we can shirk and look smug and pretend it's beneath us. No, this is worth doing, and working hard to get it right.

1 Comments:

Blogger Doug Wood said...

"it is not "one beggar telling another beggar where he found bread," but rather one fat man trying to convince another fat man that he's a beggar in order to close the sale on another loaf."

Assuming the bread is the salvation given to us by Christ, wouldn't it be great if we were all fat. But many of us eat heartily at the table (by us I mean me, but I prefer to give myself company in this) but stubbornly refuse to be nourished. We are fed "with this spiritual food" but then fail to "do the work you have given us to do." It is a one sided transaction. But that is not surprising; our society today is much more about taking than it is about giving.

Perhaps the analogy is more accurate as

it is not "one beggar telling another beggar where he found bread," but rather one bulimic trying to convince another bulimic that he's hungry for more in order to close the sale on another loaf.

For myself, I look to the words of St. Francis – “Preach the Gospel everyday and if necessary use words.” I admit I’m not very good at living that, but I think it’s the proper context for evangelism.

Thursday, February 23, 2006 2:43:00 PM  

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