By Patrick Bowler
Valley Life Church (Lebanon, OR) 

Jesus is Better Than a Six-Dollar Burger

Now, the church does not lack for critics in regards to its utilization of corporate marketing techniques and I certainly do not want to provide those critics with more fuel than the American church has already granted them. But, step back and think about the implications of target marketing on evangelism. Every church, every Christian, ought be asking, “Do I know my audience? What keeps them up at night? What are their biggest concerns? What are their biggest joys? Are they hurting? If so, why? Are they frustrated? If so, about what?” Corporate America is willing to spend millions to answer questions like these so they can sell more junk. But, Jesus is better than Pepsi; Jesus is better than six-dollar burgers. Yet, Christians often make little effort to know whom they are speaking with. The church today is comfortable with a one-size-fits-all marketing strategy.

Now, I am not advocating that we start using corporate terms like “target marketing.” That is a rather cold technical term. What I am advocating is that we know our audience well. In so doing, we are better able to bring the Gospel to bear to those around us. The Apostle Paul demonstrated this so well during his missionary journeys recorded in the book of Acts.[1] He clearly valued understanding and knowing his audience. In fact, he spoke explicitly about it in 1 Corinthians 9.

“Though I am free from all, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win more of them. 20 To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. To those under the law I became as one under the law (though not being myself under the law) that I might win those under the law. 21 To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (not being outside the law of God but under the law of Christ) that I might win those outside the law. 22 To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some. 23 I do it all for the sake of the gospel…” (1 Cor. 9:19-23).

It turns out, knowing your audience is not merely some corporate innovation. It is a biblical principle and appears to predate modern marketing technique. 1 Corinthians 9 has driven recent discussions on relevance and contextualization among leaders in the church. The result in few words: “Know your audience.”

 Apples and Oranges

At the outset, it is important to recognize that a one-size-fits-all canvassing of any particular cultural compartment has its limits. Rural communities can look as different from one another as metropolitan communities do—they are not without nuance. The old saying, “Comparing apples with oranges,” is applicable not just when comparing small town America with our urban centers, but when comparing two rural communities to one another as well. “Rural America is not monolithic…”[2] One size does not fit all.

[To be continued…]

[1] Acts 13:13-42; 14:8-18; 17:16-32.

[2] Kenneth Johnson, Demographic Trends in Rural and Small Town America (Durham, NH: Carsey Institute, 2006), p. 29.