Now I know that the church is not a business, the Gospel is not a product, evangelism is not marketing and conversion is not a sale. So I am not recommending you to read James Gilmore and Joseph Pine II’s Authenticity: What Consumers Really Want because they can transform your church and community for Christ. Only Christ can transform your church and community for Christ! I am, however, recommending the book as an interesting insight into how businesses are striving to seem real and authentic. At best, it is still just a sale. (Here are the table of contents and the first chapter)
I have two thoughts. First, how ironic it is that people want to buy “reality”, but suppress the Truth! Apparently, people’s craving for reality only goes so far. This, by the way, is why consumerism doesn’t work the same way in evangelism. It assumes an anthropocentric understanding of reality instead of confronting us with God-centered truth.
Second, what would happen if church were the place where people could be “real”. I’m defining “real” as “that which corresponds to the truth, which is life as God defines it”. Why do people hide their sinfulness among brothers and sisters instead of confessing (not flaunting) them and striving together for holiness? Why do pastors preach such watered-down, “service with a smile” preaching instead of confronting life with the Word of God? Why are accountability groups more about eating than they are about growing in fellowship and discipleship? Why do youth groups look more like teen nurseries than like a training ground for preparing the next generation of soldiers? Why do we say that we are going to pray for someone when we know that we won’t even remember the person’s name, much less what they’re struggling with?
The reason for all of these is that we have assumed that the best church is a generic church. If we can just look clean and polished and sharp, with no mistakes and no problems, then we can perhaps impress people to Christ. Maybe what these marketers have observed is an indictment on us, because we can be about as inauthentic and unreal as everyone else.
May those of us who know the truth and who strive to see things as they really are call the world to the truth, that they may be set free from all that deceives them in this world.
[note: Time Magazine’s John Cloud wrote on the book and the “authenticity” phenomena in marketing in the magazine’s latest edition. The article is also found here.]