Christianity in the twenty-second century when put side by side with its first century counterpart employing the aid of history will help clearly expose any discrepancies and similarities of problems each generation encountered. People utilize euphemisms in place of very weighty terminologies to describe and attribute the state of affairs; for instance issues in place of problems. It is understandable though the rationale for such changes despite the subtleties they may entail concerning definitions and descriptions. Today, Christians are facing myriad problems especially where the objective faith has to be reckoned with. This body of doctrine had broken through centuries of conflict, persecutions and changes, and still the Bible continued to deliver the message.
The message is still the same, however, despite various attempts that were made to dilute, twist and suit to self-centered people’s own thinking and vested interests. The issues as they are commonly termed today, include anything not just to disparage simple believing Christians and the practice of their faith; issues embrace those that had continued to conflict traditional men’s thinking and the usual rationalistic and humanistic viewpoints of life, not to mention those presuppositions that keep the truths of Scripture from sinking deep into the recesses of a person’s mind as well as superstitious beliefs (e.g., “divination” and the like) that are just so fantastic anybody would wonder why this is happening to some poor souls (de Waay 2007).
In much of the controversies facing the church today, nothing is more prevalent and has so affected significant influence to the church at large as the “marketing-the-church” approach. The reason or the key to why it is so influential among many churches is in its pragmatic method on doing church business. Gary E. Gilley has captured the gist of the whole scheme of this “new paradigm shift” that has drawn many to adapt its strategies in his four-part report critique of this kind of church’s strategy (Gilley p 2 2000).
He observed that because the large segment of the church has become content with its so little impact on the large mass of people in society, some of its leaders began to think that it might be because the church is not doing its work right. It might be that many of those occupying leadership positions in the church are simply continuing what has been passed on to them. They are doing it in the traditional way that past generations of pastors had done it. So these leaders decided to “strategize” and think of new ways to repackage the church so that it would “sell fast” and effectively draw large number of the population into its sanctuaries.
This simply is the idea behind marketing the church. The church has become just any other product. One just has to learn how to merchandize it like a skillful salesperson or a good businessman. “There must be a better way,” the church growth gurus have surmised. “It should not continue the way it is being done.” There must be ways to improve the “quality” of the church’s appearance to the watching world. The obvious need of the day was new techniques to reach the lost. The gospel must be wrapped in a wrapping that will catch the attention of the world so they will bother to check what’s in the inside. The gospel, according to the observation of these church growth gurus, is rejected outrightly the moment it is sensed by prospective converts. The gospel is not the problem, it is the outdated form that it is being presented that has become the problem (Gilley p 15 2000).
The Power of God for Salvation
What needs to be remembered at this point is the fact that the New Testament has made it very clear that the only tool that God is using for the conversion of people is the gospel. Church workers must be convinced of its inherent power to convict and draw people to the Lord. It does not need any coating so people will get attracted to it. On the other hand, contrary to what church growth consultants advocate (to repackage or add other elements to the gospel so it will become acceptable to its market), whenever the message of the cross (gospel) is mixed with humanistic opinions and philosophies, the Word of God is rendered void of its power (1 Cor.1:17). What is worse in this kind of approach is that it falls under the category of “handling the word of God deceitfully” (2 Cor.4:2).
If there is anything that the church must do at this point in time, it is not to adapt new ways to present the gospel but to educate its people about the content of the gospel and its sufficiency in administering salvation. This is the real need of the church that has not been dealt with seriously by the great majority of Christians. The reason why the paradigm shift is deemed as the only solution for the inefficacy of the church in reaching its community is actually because a significant number so-called Christians are ignorant of what the gospel consists of. Apostle Paul said, “it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes” (NKJV, 1982).
The Bible has already forewarned us of the negative impressions people would have of the gospel message. It is “foolishness” and a “stumbling block” to people who could not apprehend it. The good news however is that it is effective and will definitely work positively to those who ready to accept it. Thus, sticking to its purity will always guarantee a result. It may not be as massive as the church’s marketer’s strategies but its fruit is genuine conversion of those who really have grasped and accept its terms (Gilley p 17 2000).
To learn to market the church and to strategize as to secure a substantial number of attendance in a church’s service may be in itself considered a success in today’s church growth measurement. But Biblically speaking, even in Jesus’ elaboration on what it really means to be His true disciple (Luke 14:25-35), simply being among the “crowds” does not guarantee being genuinely converted to faith. Sticking to God’s prescription of the gospel as the only means to secure salvation and true harvest of souls in God’s kingdom may not be as explosive in result as the marketing approach, but its result is sure, and hence, more effective if measured by God’s standard of success.
The temptation to comply with the standards of the times is always a challenge to the church of Jesus Christ. The pressure to become popular and accepted in today’s culture is still an intense battle facing Christians everyday. The question of relevance is not actually the issue. When the church buy into the ploy of the culture and coerced to measure her success allowing those outside to judge whether she is effective or not in her work, it simply means that the church has shifted from using God’s Word as the gauge to listening to surrounding discontented world. It is no longer God who has the say. Remember that, naturally, humankind in its rebellion and sin against God is hostile and antagonistic to the gospel message. It is only when it is drawn through the message of the gospel in God’s terms that it will ever get nice and pleasant to the ways of God.
Of course, it is not an easy task for the people of God. It hasn’t been. The preaching of the gospel and the charge to teach people (educate them) of the teachings of Christ is the primary duty of the church. Any strategies that end up short of making people Christ’s true disciples are not effective when appraised through the aims of the Great Commission. Unfortunately, the attempts of those who want to compete and enjoin the church in the field of the corporate world are not biblically sound and too risky. The danger lies in its potential to compromise and invent another gospel. It is not that writer refuses to be relevant; in fact, the message of the gospel is so pertinent enough that on its proclamation hinges the solution to humanity’s real problem.
What the church needs in general is to have enough faith in the effectiveness of the message of God to address man’s deepest needs and correct those inner problems which when it finally happens will automatically appease superficial cravings. The solutions offered by church marketers address the surface only. In the end, after all of the attractions of the strategies have lost their bite, the ultimate question must still be answered: Is the gospel accepted in its own terms or not?
de Waay, Bob, Contemporary Christian Divination. 2007. “Critical Issues Commentary” Accessed December 1, 2007. < http://cicministry.org/commentary/issue83.htm>.
Gilley, Gary E. “The Market-Driven Church: A look behind the scenes” Think on These Things. September, 2000 p. 1- 20. Southern View Chapel, Springfield, IL.