With Easter now a month away, many churches are preparing for their upcoming services. And to help, the website ChurchMarketingSucks.com is providing tips, branding designs, billboard ideas, card and flyers for churches to market themselves for Easter.
The website states, "More people are willing to come to church on Easter than any other day of the year, so why not go all out, right?"
But some, who have their finger on the pulse of church culture are not so sure.
Matthew Anderson, author and church culture blogger, told The Christian Post that he understands the church's desire to spread the news of Easter, but there is a danger that lies in advertising and marketing as it can often "render [the church's] services as an event rather than the most unique thing in the world."
Marketing in the church is not a new phenomenon but because of it the church has become attraction-focused and event-driven, he observed. The church, he said, needs to start looking again at its missional focus.
"Billboards, gimmicks, and church marketing strategies remove the individual cost from proclaiming the message. We have painless ways of bringing people into the church. Inviting your friends and neighbors – there should be a cost there," Anderson said.
Dr. John Hardin, a historian of business and religion in America, told CP that church marketing not only changes how people relate, or who a church is bringing in, but it also shifts the authority from producer to consumer. "Instead of looking to sacred texts and traditions to shape their doctrine and services, churches rely on the preferences of potential customers," he said.
An important distinction in church marketing is that it is "different in its consumer focus and discriminatory methods," he explained. "Whereas advertising informs all people about a product, marketing alters the product to appeal to a select group of people."
And because of this focus on customers, Hardin said the church tends to focus its attention horizontally in attracting new people, and that causes them to lose "their vertical focus on God."
Often proponents of church marketing argue that a church can remain faithful to its calling, by what Hardin calls a "bait and switch" method. He explained that a church might attract people into its net by saying it will satisfy worldly desires, and then shift its message to provide Christian doctrine once they are in.
The problem, Hardin said, is "as the old saying goes: 'What you win them with, is what you win them to.' The switch doesn't work out, if it ever comes, because people came for the bait."
Chris Rosebrough, apologist and host of the radio program Fighting for the Faith, also used a fishing analogy when describing the effects of church marketing for Easter.
He said that the early church saw evangelism as casting a net by preaching the Word. Early evangelists believed that God would put the "fish" in the net, and that they didn't need any bait to lure them in except for the preaching of the Gospel.
Rosebrough said that the kind of fishing, for both fish and men, described in the Bible was not lure fishing, but net fishing.
He likened Easter marketing to lure fishing. And even though Rosebrough doesn't think that marketing in and of itself is bad or good, it is how it is used that makes it so.
For him, if people are drawn to a church because of the marketing, the real test has to be about what they are confronted with.
The bottom line is that Easter is about the most amazing thing that ever happened – Jesus Christ rose from the dead, he stressed. But too often churches think they have to create an experience for attendees.
"Nowhere in Scripture does it say the job of the church is to create an experience," he said. For Rosebrough, a church has failed in presenting the Easter message "if people leave and are not talking about Jesus, [rather] they are talking about the show."