Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Niche Marketing for Churches

Most businesses specialize. Victoria's Secret doesn't sell bib overalls, McDonalds doesn't sell caviar, and your local landscaper doesn't do interior design.

So how does this relate to churches?

Most church members would like to see more members. At our best, we know that these folks need the gospel, and that their faith would be strengthened by being in church. At our worst, it's depressing to see empty pews, and we would just like to have more folks there on Sunday.

And we wonder how to get folks in. Let me suggest a unique idea: the way to get more members is by using a historic liturgy, law and gospel preaching, faithful administration of the Sacraments, and historic hymns.

This is the opposite of what most people suggest. I'm not saying that this is the only thing you should do. A friendly reception by members, a caring pastor -- all of these things are important. But folks can find that elsewhere.

By concentrating on the liturgy, Sacraments, preaching, and hymnody, a church has carved out a niche in America's relgious market. OK, I am not fond of this terminology either, but bear with me a minute.

The usual suggestions are that the historic liturgy is a barrier to members. Or that people want (what they need is the bigger question, but it's usually phrased in terms of "want") preaching that "helps them out." (Preaching in which the law dominates, in others words). Or that people in America's protestant climate are turned off by frequent communion, or teaching that emphasizes the church's sacramental roots. And especially, we hear that "people don't like hymns any more." That they want "praise choruses," or whatever.

The problem with all of the above is that if we put these ideas into effect, we become like most other churches around. My area of the country (mid-state North Carolina) is Baptist territory, and while some Baptists have not given way to things like the above, many have. And if we implement them, we become just another Baptist church. In itself, that's not a bad thing. But there's a concept called truth-in-advertising. And a Lutheran church that calls itself Lutheran and teaches, worships, and communes like Baptists is Baptist. Let's call it what it is.

If we become Baptist, why should someone go to us? Why not go to the (much bigger, better funded, and with a bigger youth group) Baptist church down the road?

When I see a Lutheran church doing the nonsense of "contemporary worship," I get mad. But there's also a tinge of pity for them. Why? Because they do it so badly. And because they tend to sound like idiots, with bad guitarists, no rhythm, and bad preaching. And I pity them, too, because they have been told that this is the way to get new members, and they can't figure out why in the end they always wind up losing so many members.

We shouldn't do this travesty called contemporary worship because it's wrong theologically. But if that argument won't work, remind them they'll lose members. They won't believe it when you tell them, but it's worth saying.

If Victoria's Secret started selling bib overalls, customers would quickly realize that they could get the product cheaper over at Wal-Mart. And if Lutheran churches start providing Baptist worship and theology, folks will quickly realize that they can get it better at a Baptist church.

The hucksters are always there to push some scheme or the other. Luther suggested that such people should be pelted with dung, and run out of town. Maybe you can't do either of those suggestions, but you can do the next best thing: ignore them, don't buy their shallow books, and sing -- loudly and strongly -- "Lord, Keep Us Steadfast in Your Word."

1 comment:

Balaamsass51 said...

Jim, you posted "And we wonder how to get folks in. Let me suggest a unique idea: the way to get more members is by using a historic liturgy, law and gospel preaching, faithful administration of the Sacraments, and historic hymns."

It's rabble rousers like you who give Confessonal Lutherans a bad name.

Oh yeah, how about a post going into that Victoria Secret thing a little more?