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The Wrong Calculation of Church Marketing

The second mistake of the church marketers, according to David Wells, was making the “wrong calculation.” They have calculated that “unless [the church] makes deep, serious cultural adaptations, it will go out of business, especially with the younger generations.”

The market-driven church brings up legitimate concerns about the stagnation of evangelicalism. However, this stagnation is taking place primarily in the West, in the United States and Europe. In other parts of the world—Africa, Latin America, and Asia—Christianity is growing.


The face of Christianity is changing . . . It is no longer predominantly northern, European, and Anglo-saxon. It is the face of the underdeveloped world. It is predominantly from the Southern Hemisphere, young, quite uneducated, poor, and very traditional. The question Westerners need to ponder is why, despite our best efforts at cultural accommodation in America, God seems to be taking his work elsewhere. Is there a lesson lurking somewhere in this story?

—David Wells, The Courage to Be Protestant: Truth Lovers, Marketers, and Emergents in the Postmodern World (Eerdmans, 2008), 48.

The motive driving evangelical pastors today, says Wells, is fear: the fear of being obsolete and irrelevant to this postmodern culture.

This, of course, was the fear that haunted the older generation of Protestant liberals . . . They were overwhelmed by the need to be relevant to the culture. . . . It was the purveyors of the Enlightenment . . . with whom they sought an intellectual truce, a working compromise. From this capitulation—for that is what it was—was born a synthesis in which elements from Christian faith and elements from the humanistic world were drawn together into a single package that was Christian in name and humanistic in much of its substance. The downfall and wreckage of the mainline denominations in North America in the second half of the twentieth century, as well as their counterparts in Europe, bear eloquent testimony to the impossibility of accommodating Christ to culture in this way.

This lesson, however, is entirely lost on most evangelicals today. The reason is partly that they are treading a different path and so the do not see the parallels. Theirs is not the accommodation to high culture as was the liberals’. . . . The parallels between these older liberals and today’s evangelicals is not in the culture to which they are accommodating but in the process of accommodation. Behind each is the same mindset. The difference is only in what is being accommodated. . . . Evangelical Christianity is as endangered by its postmodern dance partner as the earlier liberals were by their Enlightenment partner.

Ibid., 49.

Compromise is a dangerous game. The church that has attempted to gain the whole world through compromise is losing its soul. And what if, after all that risk, the game is lost? Wells concludes that, because of the church marketers fear going out of business with the younger generations,

What it has not considered carefully enough is that it might well be putting itself out of business with God. And the further irony is that the younger generations who are less impressed by whiz-bang technology, who often see through what is slick and glitzy, and who have been on the receiving end of enough marketing to nauseate them, are as likely to walk away from these oh-so-relevant churches as to walk into them.

Ibid., 50.

Posted 2008·09·02 by David Kjos
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Posted in: Church Marketing · David Wells · Emergent/Postmodernism · Liberalism · The Courage to be Protestant

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