Monday, September 13, 2010

Does Jesus Need New PR?

By posting their banners in the previous blog post, I inadvertantly joined the "viral marketing" of the WTF Campus Ministry.

So now the banners have moved from the realm of "unfortunate hilarious gaffe" to a true WTF?
(For you Orthodox that's "What the filioque???"

Recently a Church in the Phoenix area did an edgy billboard and mailing campaign for a sermon series called "Bringing Sexy Back" with a signature poster of the bottoms of two sets of feet in an obvious conjugal position.  The series was "R" rated, it was an "evangelistic effort" and it got what it was looking for: wide discussion on talk radio... viral promotion.  I listened to some of the talk on the way to work and the only people who were impressed with the campaign were, well... "edgy" Christians.  Many of the "worldly people" the campaign was aimed at thought it was pretty dumb and saw it for what it was: Christian "bait" to try to get them into the door. But, one MIGHT ask, "How far should a Church go to "speak to the culture" when doing PR for Jesus?"  Is it a legitimate undertaking to get edgy to appeal to the unchurched, or are Churches setting themselves up for being made fun of by the world who sees it as ultimately just more churchy ill conceived desperation and stupidity and a compromise of our own values and message?  We Christians don't need to make fun of each other for stuff like this, and even if we try to, like most things, the non-Christians do a much better job at it anyway.



orrologion said...

Is it a legitimate undertaking to get edgy to appeal to the unchurched?

If your Christianity isn't already edgy and counter-cultural, then it probably isn't Christianity. I don't mean "counter-culture" as hippie or goth accoutrement, but actually standing over and against values too easily accepted around us by holding to traditional Orthodox values and practices. I always thought the general ethos behind "Death to the World" a good example of this, not the particular graphic design choices of an underground zine. That is, fasting, asceticism, monasticism, vigil, prayer, obedience, almsgiving, hospitality, care for the poor, sick and suffering, virginity, martyrdom, etc. - and not just in token senses, but radically.

Edgy in manufactured, PR ways is lame. Radical, traditional Orthodox Christianity is by nature 'edgy' to a culture such as we live in in America.

Trevor-Peter said...

Yeah, I think we're better off sticking to what we (should) know how to do. And like Orr says, if we get it right, we'll be edgy without trying.

My brother-in-law is a professional evangelist who trains Evangelical churches on how to get their people out on the street corners, preaching about sin and repentance. We don't agree on much (except that one of us is a heretic), but I think we do agree that there's something deceptively offensive about the friendship evangelism that has become popular in a lot of churches. When you strategically get to know your neighbors, do nice things for them so they'll like you, invite them to social activities with your church friends so they'll like them too, all so you can get them to come to church and "get saved," it very easily comes across as a scheme. There may be real love involved, but the fact remains that they were your project.

I think this sort of thing falls into the same category. No matter how genuine it may be (many Christians probably do find the WTF joke funny), the fact that it's a specific marketing gimmick will cast a shadow over whatever truth you're trying to convey.

Now using clips from Dogma--that's edgy! ;-)

Tim said...

1) I'd have to agree with Orr. Christianity should be "counter-cultural" in the sense that it truly counters those cultural values that are at odds with the Faith. The most radical of which is true Christ-like love. That has a tendency to flip everything upside.

2) I love Buddy Jesus. He is so hip and cool. Plus, as a bonus, he forgives my sins automatically. Who wouldn't like him?! ;)

あじ said...

Makes me want to become a hermit.

Ranger said...

I agree with the whole "death to the world ethos, or to use the RC as an example, the Year of Jubilee as a promotion to forgive third world debtors. Both are edgy and I think highly Christian concepts.
Also, I am pretty sure our country is over-sexualized enough, thanks to Hugh... not to mention our own passions. The Church should not be a contibutor to the storm of worldliness, but a haven for storm-tossed.
Buddy Christ is almost as good as the Jesus figurines helping kids play sports. Imagine a buddy Christ instead of the Pantocrator, YIKES!

Silouan said...

As long as we have communications professionals advising churches on campaign strategies, we'll keep seeing this stuff. "Edgy" and "countercultural" are just theme options for mass-market communication.

Even if we do hit the magic viral sweet spot, and people everywhere think our video/billboard/theme is cool and relevant, in six months or a year it'll be old and boring, and in five years it'll be dated and embarrassing.

(We don't even have to go back half a century to the groovy Jesus Movement albums that today are mind-bogglingly WTF... For more recent regrettable communication strategies, think Star Wars themed vacation Bible school, or Christian themed rap videos.)

Most of the people we've baptized here in Walla Walla over the last ten years either researched historical authenticity or had a friend/family member who talked about the Church till they came to see. A fair number of the friend-of-a-member folks went on to become part of our community and part of the Church; definitely more than the many researchers and shoppers who have come and gone.

In my day job, as a college communications guy, our preferred market is high school juniors and seniors who have already decided our school is among their top choices; applicants for whom we're not the top desired school get shuffled down the stack. We don't do any marketing at all to bring in curious college-shoppers who don't already know something about us, because it'd be counter-productive.

That's not altogether transferable; I welcome anybody who ever wants to inquire about Orthodoxy. But I'd rather put our parish's intentional effort into building community and building relationships with neighbors in our town than in attracting the casually curious with shiny marketing campaigns.

Ranger said...

My church planting friend used this DVD preview for an example of why to keep church planting... seems to me the conclusion is "relevant" church planting leads to "relevant" stagnation and eventual decline. So, keep planting "relevant" churches to replace the formerly "relevant' dead churches...makes sense, I guess.

Anonymous said...

The pathology here is Christians who want to be cool, thinking that they can adopt coolness by affectation.

This has nothing to do with evangelism. Yes, really, just admit this and move on.

I'm tired of even trying to point out to people the abject ridiculousness of these things.

Apophatically Speaking said...


Hey, no one is twisting your arm. :)

Anonymous said...

You make a great point A-S. It is time I returned to my previously self-imposed exile to a poetry blog.

Jesse said...

So maybe coming up with "new" and "edgy" ways to pitch the Church will ultimately fall short. But what about the current media we use anyway? What about the countless promo videos, bulletins, websites, tshirts, fliers, ads, festival invitations, etc. etc. that WE'RE GOING TO CREATE ANYWAY for use in our own community? Why can't we put some effort into the design and aesthetics of these media? Most parishes result in using clip art, Microsoft Word templates, or the high school kid who knows how to turn on a computer.

Is it really too much to ask our church leaders to put some thought into how they do outreach and add a little design to it? Won't this ultimately give us that much more relevance in the market place when we present (not pitch) our ideals?

Apophatically Speaking said...


What make our faith relevant? What is relevancy in this context?

s-p said...

Jesse (and AS), I agree with Jesse that the aesthetics of a lot of Orthodox communications do not reflect our core ethos of "beauty will save the world". The message doesn't have to be "edgy" but the presentation should reflect our Orthodox view of beauty and aesthetics. Clip art and lame hastily thrown together flyers etc. don't represent the Church in a flattering light. If our Churches were decorated the way a lot of our communications are done we'd be embarrassed, I think.

J.D. said...

....and not to mention the gross number of out date websites....drives me crazy, especially when I see an event I might want to consider attending only to find out it happened last year.

Athanasia said...

"There may be real love involved, but the fact remains that they were your project."

I'm at this point. Tired of the mantra "we need to revitalize the parish." "Reach out to the community." "Advertise to bring more people in." I want to say, "Just keep praying. Let God take care of the rest - like paying the bills." Its exhausting and I want off the merry-go-round.

Joe V. said...

just imagine if the early Church used mass-marketing to grow their numbers! As a society, we just seem to be getting more and more stupid :(

Anonymous said...

Nice blizzard picture. The only complete white-out I've ever seen!

あじ said...

If churches are doing things to be hip, relevant, edgy, well... sometimes it comes off as being a step or two away from the local shock jock. Puerility is not a virtue. The attempt to be relevant seems to me to evince a lack of self-identity, an uncertainty of how to fit in society.

But in the normal course of things, I agree, excellence should be the goal. That's quite a different thing from pandering or selling oneself. If you're going to go to the trouble to create something, do it well. Virtue is its own reward, or so I think people used to say, way before my time.

James the Thickheaded said...

It's a bit ironic that Ogilvy & Mather (Madison Avenue) has the name of one the great evangelists of yore. And there is a parallel... but parallel lines by definition do not intersect no matter how close they may be drawn. Perhaps it's as simple as the fact that you have to choose whether your evangelists are MML&J or BBDO. Choose one, you get a living faith. Choose the other, you get a throw-away consumer good. Mix them up and you get a throw away faith.

s-p said...

JtTH, "MMLandJ"... nice. The Gospel as throw away consumer good, people as projects, evangelism technique classes, programmed revivalism, transparent manipulation, politicalization of faith... all props because no longer can the world look at the "Christian church" and say "We know they follow Jesus because of how they love".

Joseph Barabbas Theophorus said...

no longer can the world look at the "Christian church" and say "We know they follow Jesus because of how they love"

I think this is the key to the whole issue. No signs can mask its absence, no "programs" can match its power. Without love, anything we do is just PR (and usually for our own selves, at that). Virtues, such as fasting, prayer, almsgiving, and virginity, can become useless ― even harmful ― without love. Love is the difference between trying to seem Orthodox, and trying to be Orthodox. If we just put on a liturgical face, the Holy Spirit lets people know.

Many of the posts in the past few weeks have dealt with evangelism, directly or indirectly. St. Isaac's quotes and the stories of "Dining out Like a Christian" and "Shopping for Groceries Like a Christian" are the right track. If our Orthodoxy is guileless, our evangelism will be, too. And that is why it is so hard. Evangelism doesn't start with our neighbor's theology, sins, opinions, feelings, and life, but our own. Nor does it involve getting someone up to the point that he or she accepts the basics of Orthodoxy (if there were such a thing) on some intellectual level; it involves beginning a communion with him or her that will last forever and involve your own death on their behalf, every day unto eternity.

Back to the question of getting edgy, I think this would be a non-issue if we loved and did not judge. Nothing would be "edgy" to us and our wide breadth would include about every type of "edgy" in the world's eyes. But we do not commune with the people Christ communed with and continues to love. Indeed, we excommunicate them (or would excommunicate if they tried to join us overtly). In a wonderful irony, perhaps God lets this happen not to save us from "sinners," but to save their souls from us. Perhaps we don't reach them because we can't reach them. Do we "evangelize" and get "edgy" to bring people into a building and say "Aha! You are not like me, so you must be wrong; and now I have demonstrated some strange power over you because I got you to come here!" or so that we really can love them without guile? Do we all rush to the visitor to "help" them spiritually or act in a selfless, Christian manner?

So in the end, a lot of the popular talk about being "edgy" or not, how to "evangelize" efficiently, etc are part of the distraction; I think the comments so far have noted this. It's obvious what we need to do publicly and privately for our brothers and sisters, its just that we don't do it.

Apophatically Speaking said...


"It's obvious what we need to do publicly and privately for our brothers and sisters"

Really, it is that obvious? Aren't the questions about PR, evangelism, outreach, effective communication etc, aren't these questions related to what needs to be done, and how, or, if at all?

"it involves beginning a communion with him or her that will last forever and involve your own death on their behalf, every day unto eternity." Great and Amen! And how is this done? Any and all methods are fair game? Does this communion start with WTF PR campaigns, or not?

"But we do not commune with the people Christ communed with and continues to love. Indeed, we excommunicate them (or would excommunicate if they tried to join us overtly)." -- huh? This must be an anecdotal account reflecting your present situation.

s-p said...

JBT, "guileless evangelism ...Evangelism doesn't start with our neighbor's theology, sins, opinions, feelings, and life, but our own."

Excellent. "Let love be without hypocrisy" (Rom. 12) Love does not objectify human beings as "souls to be won for Christ" or notches in our belts whether they be church growth, baptisms or "Christlike love for someone I've decided to make a project out of". St. Seraphim's "save yourself" is exactly this: to purify our hearts and minds so we see nothing but the image of God in our neighbor. The reason "a thousand around us" are not saved is because we are seen as manipulative, phony, false posers with an agenda. It is the same persona that sells our neighbor the latest MLM opportunity and the Gospel and people see it coming a mile away.

Apophatically Speaking said...


"The reason "a thousand around us" are not saved is because we are seen as manipulative, phony, false posers with an agenda."

Hence we mind ourselves, focus on our podvig and such. But then we are castigated for not being relevant, not reaching out, not engaging culture, being backwards, zealous over-spiritualizing converts and all that jazz.

So which is it? Inquiring minds want to know.

orrologion said...

This conversation reminds me of an interview with Abbot Seraphim in WV:

"[INTERVIEWER] Sometimes as Orthodox Christians, we feel that we are not of this world and that we are not relevant to it. How should we react to the changes that are happening around us, specifically the various and increasingly successful liberal and progressive movements, without losing ourselves and our inner spiritual peace?

[ABBOT SERAPHIM] I understand and share in your concern, but the only answer is the one St. Seraphim of Sarov gave: "Acquire the peace of God in your heart and a thousand souls around you will be saved." You as an individual Orthodox Christian cannot change the course of the world, but you can change yourself. It is, in fact, easier to think about changing the world than to try to change ourselves. If we find the world around us increasingly filled with hatred, then we must try to love; if we find the world running after material goods and pleasure, then we must try to live a simpler life; if we find the world has become preoccupied with carnal things, then we must try to be pure and chaste.

The inner peace that Christ gives us is not the peace of the world. It is not dependent upon proper social conditions or environmental factors. The early Christians would walk into the arena peacefully singing hymns as the lions attacked them. In the lives of the early martyrs, we read over and over again how bystanders and even Roman soldiers were converted by witnessing the firm faith and peaceful resolve of these early martyrs.

...the contemporary world has become hostile to true Christian living. We feel this even within the monastery. Sincere modern Christians must seek refuge in prayer, both liturgical and private. There is no substitute for this. If we are not praying every day from our heart, then we will be defeated. Sometimes modern Christians think that the spiritual life is just another self-help program they can try out; this is absolutely untrue. The Orthodox spiritual life is about a relationship with the God-man Jesus Christ, the Creator of all things. The spiritual life is about entering into His presence and with humility and repentance asking His mercy and guidance. Without this, we cannot have the strength or wisdom to resist the powerfully seductive secular world around us."

s-p said...

AS, I don't think it is an "either/or" but a question of "authenticity". I have been both a "professional evangelist" as a protestant (both paid and unpaid), and for 30 years I've been a construction dude working among the dregs of the earth and with clients who live in mega-million dollar houses. I meet "all kinds". I have no problem being "relevant" and "engaging" to people. The difference between inward change and contrived relevance is not "DO I engage the culture, which we cannot avoid doing, but HOW". I'll probably have to put up a full post to cover the territory adequately. Stay tuned.

Apophatically Speaking said...


Totally agreed, it is a question of "how" - see my comment addressed to Joseph.

Abbott Seraphim's quote by Orrologion seems particularly apropos. I would say that greatly influences (or should) the "how" and consequently also the "what".

I do think that the notion of "engagement with culture" as it is bandied about is quite loaded, a contrivance. Is this some organized program, a strategic initiative using multi-media tools?

I am looking forward to your upcoming post on this topic.

Melanie said...

For those who don't value evangelization then you would appreciate the church that I attend, even though my family members have offered to cover the costs, the church refuses to have a sign with the liturgy times out front, with the explanation that those who don't know the liturgy times don't belong here. Yes, it's an ethnic church, which is a whole other topic.
The message of our faith is so pertinent in this modern age, I can't see how the message needs to be tweeked at all. Are you looking for time honored-traditions? We have it. A faith that values women? Right here. A religion that doesn't need to ignore the facts of science. That's us! Beauty? Spirituality? Genuineness? We've got you covered!
Thanks to blogs like this one and Ancient Faith Radio, the word is getting out, and we can share the faith with those around us by giving our explanation for the joy and peace that reign in our lives because of our faith.

Ranger said...

AS- I think the question of how, begins with WHO. Who are you trying to reach, and then that begs the question, WHY ( forgive my lack of question marks). Why do you what to reach them. The answers are many.
I guess simply put, the who is our neighbor, and to us, that might be the committed Christian Protestant that needs to see the light of Orthodoxy, the why in this case might just be our pride.
"Who is my neighbor..." queue parable. Was this Samaritan full of "Orthodox" doctrine, was he even necessarily "holy..." Kinda hard to tell from the parable, but one thing he recognized was, Who his neighbor was. and the why is perhaps what the Samaritan did not know, that we do know.
Our neighbor is those WE see in need, they usually know they are needy too, the why is because Christ first loved us. " while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us."
I think to really answer how, we must first recognize who. Who do you see that is in need...
For example: I live in a small town in Southwest Kansas (28,000 by the 2000 census) We have a meat packing plant, it employs a couple thousand... mostly immigrants, many refugees... there are 14 different languages spoken at the plant. What are there needs. English would be helpful ( not from a yer "livin here, so speak american" attitude. but a it is helpful. period. another might be affordable housing, good housing. Even in a small town, we do have slumlords, we do have places that cost a few hundred to rent, but then utilities can run almost as high. I can't list their needs on ten fingers, but you get the idea.
My neighbor is those who are in need, my response is to love them as Christ loved me ( I categorize that under why)... and I think the how comes from that, sometimes it takes money, sometimes it takes time, or both. sometime something old or new borrowed... you get the picture.
The how is answered simply as this: " The wind blows where it wishes, and you here the sound of it, but cannot tell where it comes from and where it goes. So is everyone who is born of the Spirit."