“Through powerful, targeted marketing techniques, secular companies are vying for the attention and allegiance of the teenage demographic. By contrast, church attendance amongst young people in the West is in steady decline.”
Those are the words of Ryan J. Doeller, author of Marketing God to Teens: Branding without Dismantling. Motivated by his desire to see youth re-engaged in the community of faith, Doeller studies marketing done by companies that are successful in reaching youth with their products to see what they are doing that is causing their success. He looks at the church and asks why so many young people are leaving. He then asks if there are things the church can learn from these successful companies and apply in the church world to better understand teens and reach them with the gospel.
Of course, this debate is a loaded one. Central questions are: Should the church seek to mimic the world? If so, to what extent? If so, what is our “product”? Jesus? Relationships? And what does that say about Jesus? Relationships? Our view of the gospel? Our motivation? Is there a fundamental difference between the church and a company? What’s negotiable? What’s not? Where is the line?
Doeller makes a few practical suggestions, but the book is more research-oriented and reads more like a graduate level thesis (think George Barna). Marketing is inevitable, but there are different opinions on why, how, and what. Doeller makes some suggestions in an attempt to answer those questions. Don’t be surprised if you have mixed responses, don’t be surprised if each side of the debate has legitimate points, and don’t be surprised if you find yourself torn. When you talk corporate world and church world there is continuity, contrast, and a lot of tension. Read together by a team the book could lead to some vigorous discussions and biblical exploration.