25 September 2006

Evangelism as Marketing

Filed under: Ktismata — ktismatics @ 8:30 am

Most of the “creatives” I know work in marketing. They make commercials, write ad campaigns, do market research – anything they can think of to overcome buyer resistance and to make their product more attractive. Their job is to come up with clever ways to get customers to buy things. I used to consult with pharmaceutical companies, an industry that spends hugely on R&D for creating new products. Still, even in that industry marketing outspends R&D 4 to 1.

The Jesuits used strong-arm evangelization tactics, figuring it was in the heathens’ and the heretics’ best interests to suffer a little earthly torment if it meant avoiding eternal damnation. The softer sell probably began with the Wesleys. Man’s will is corrupt but man can choose; God’s grace is available to all but grace can be resisted. What’s needed are methods: methods for overcoming resistance to grace, methods for highlighting the advantages of the faith to potential converts, methods for strengthening the will to choose and to persevere. Isn’t that a pretty good description of marketing – overcoming resistance, spotlighting how the product benefits the customer, strengthening the decision to buy, maintaining brand loyalty?

The Methodists and their Arminian fellow travelers have done particularly well in America. You have to wonder: is corporate marketing a secularized version of Methodism, or is evangelism a Christianized version of modern capitalism? And what of it? Is there anything wrong with investing creative resources in overcoming buyer resistance and wrapping the product in attractive packaging? Besides, what are the alternatives?



  1. The Jesuits were not universally strongarms, in fact that tends to be the exception more than the rule. One of the most famous examples of NOT strongarming the population would be Matteo Ricci and people like him, who established the Catholic Church in China by adopting things like Chinese dress and Confucian ideas.


    The notion of a softer sell, I should think, long predates the Wesleys. Think of Sts. Cyril and Methodius, of St. Patrick, St. Dominic, St. Francis, or any of a number of martyrs.

    What distinguishes the Wesley brothers from the Anglican tradition of their origin is that the Wesleys looked for people who weren’t going to Church in countries that were already “Christian”, such as England and the US. (Or so I’ve been told.) In the US in particular, the Methodists inaugurated their circuit riders.


    Comment by John Perry — 25 September 2006 @ 4:46 pm

  2. Thanks for stopping by and offering a comment. Yeah, I suppose it’s an open question whether the Jesuits should be regarded as a moderating force on colonialism, preventing soldiers and slave traders from perpetrating even worse outrages on indigenous populations, or as papally-supported competitors to nationalistic interests. We live in France; my daughter is currently learning about the R.C. persecution of the Huguenots. Certainly the Jesuits took advantage of the militant phase of the Church as an opportunity to evangelize, and they cultivated a soldierly image of the Order.
    In any event, within the Anglophone world Wesleyanism is arguably the strongest influence on evangelism, and they share characteristics with modern capitalism in a way reminiscent of the militant monastic orders’ similarity to European colonialism. The issue of particular interest to me is whether evangelistic “methods” of today aren’t pretty much the same thing as consumer-oriented marketing: persuasion, packaging, selling benefits, overcoming resistance of the will, etc. Is this a good use of creativity, or a corruption?


    Comment by ktismatics — 25 September 2006 @ 6:38 pm

  3. Perhaps, like gravity, the strong force and the weak force in physics creativity is a primal force in humans – second only to pro-creation in its strength of expression.

    I offer no scholarly observations but rather dangerous prejudices based on personal experience at play in the fields of the Lord, nonetheless:

    With respect to your query in the last paragraph, it strikes me that capitalism has adopted many of the “Business” processes of the Catholic church (which I suspect were based on prior successful pagan models of commerce and bureaucracy)including corporate structure and governance, multinational marketing and operations management. The refinements in these original “Church” processes underwritten over the last few centuries by the profits of capitalism are, modus Vicus, now being deployed by Evangelicals whose very name invokes the same imperative for growth as business.

    Per my (weak) analogy above, I posit creativity is equally inapt to the assessment of right or wrong as gravity would be. I err on the side of corruption in its evangelizing application because logic fails me in subscribing to “Believe in (Christian) God or suffer eternal damnation”. It’s the system, not the tools for me.

    That’s probably semantic hairsplitting to your exposition and question! In any case, thanks for the forum and your thought-provoking posts. May the dialogue be fruitful!


    Comment by Kevin Pykkonen — 26 September 2006 @ 6:10 am

  4. Kevin, dude, good to hear from you. Thoughtful comment.

    Yes, I suppose corporations did learn hierarchical and global organization from the R.C. Church, which in turn learned it from the Romans. I suppose when corporations finally got big enough the only viable model was a Roman one. The more contemporary distributed organizational model of global expansion probably owes more to the congregational and Puritan and Methodist scheme: local autonomy, rapid deployment, loose affiliation, shared ideological commitment. This looser structure, operating on a small scale, was arguably instrumental in launching modern Western capitalism.

    As to creativity vis-a-vis right and wrong, you could make a case that the right-wrong distinction is itself a work of creation. Nietzsche certainly made that contention. Also, I think there are there “good” and “bad” creations — in art, in science, in technology, etc. — but it’s not clear whether these considerations should restrict the creative imagination or be imposed only after the creation is completed. Jackson Pollock called it “post-painterly selection.”


    Comment by ktismatics — 26 September 2006 @ 9:29 am

  5. The issue of particular interest to me is whether evangelistic “methods” of today aren’t pretty much the same thing as consumer-oriented marketing: persuasion, packaging, selling benefits, overcoming resistance of the will, etc. Is this a good use of creativity, or a corruption?

    I was trying to avoid this issue, but since you ask: the unseemliness endemic in this approach is one reason I became a Catholic. The problem isn’t persuasion per se, it’s the prostitution of the message to any method that works.

    The method of evangelization that I most regard is that which marries holy life with holy words. To get people to say “Lord, Lord” without changing their lives is counterproductive, and for all the success of the Wesleyan method at getting people to say “Lord, Lord”, it is not clear that they managed to change people’s lives in terms of consumerism most particularly. (Please do not think that I am exempting the Catholic Church from this criticism.)


    Comment by John Perry — 26 September 2006 @ 3:56 pm

  6. Right. I can’t quite decide whether marketing is intrinsically evil, but I guess not. If you think you’ve got a good thing to show people, it is difficult to put it in front of them without playing the consumer-oriented games. You almost have to go to extremes just to get noticed. Maybe you have to rely on things like fate or chance or some sort of discerning curiosity on the part of the customer.

    The Catholic/orthodox thing is interesting. Having grown up Catholic it’s sometimes hard for me to see the appeal — my wife goes to a high Anglican church heavy on liturgy, which still kind of creeps me out a bit. The French would find it tres amusant that the American evangelical avant-garde are leaning toward Catholicism. But Catholics certainly aren’t heavy-handed on evangelism, and they do make room for a surprising amount of diversity within the camp — a couple of excellent features in my book.


    Comment by ktismatics — 26 September 2006 @ 7:07 pm

  7. The alternative is to posit Grace as Givenness before we had a cogito to decide whether we wanted it or not. (Yes, I am recently returned Lutheran lol)


    Comment by Tink70 — 28 September 2006 @ 5:15 pm

  8. “Grace as givenness”? Dude, apparently you’ve lapsed into Lutherspeak without realizing it. Is this something like Calvin’s “irresistible grace” (yes I’m a lapsed Calvinist). I personally prefer a world in which he who has eyes to see will see even if I do a really crappy marketing job.


    Comment by ktismatics — 28 September 2006 @ 7:21 pm

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