Christian Marketing: With Better Sin-Fighting Formula!

Whenever I see a TV commercial for a “new & improved” product, I am a bit cynical. My first thoughts are, “What was wrong with the first product?” “If the first product was as good as they said it was, why was there a need to improve it?” Did they not present the old as “the best”.

New roof! New carpet! Same dilapidated foundation and walls.

When the “new & improved” commercials begin running, they really do not say anything new. The only difference between the old and new product and the ensuing commercial is the addition of “new & improved” on both.

Often times if you compare the old and new product you will see that the “new & improved” is nothing more than the addition of .01% of a certain ingredient or the addition of a different type of ingredient. So is the product really “new & improved” or just slightly modified and advertised as “better than before?” Is it being completely honest to advertise something as “new & improved” if it only kills .0001% more germs than the old product?

Will the product sell better and will the overall market increase when taking into consideration old customers with old products, old customers with new products, new customers with old products, and new customers with new products? Will the improvements and marketing be effective and reach the target audience?

While marketing directors go out of their way to convince you to buy their product (and most people fall for it), we must remain skeptical of any advertising campaign – regardless of the product. The first question should always be, “What was wrong with the first product if there was a need to improve upon it?”

A piece of crap with gold plating is still a piece of crap – regardless of how pretty it looks on the outside. The issue is to make sure you do not buy into the gold plating and fail to see the piece of crap that the gold plating is “beautifying.”

You are probably asking yourself about now, “What the hell does this have to do with Atheism Awareness?”

Let us start at the local skating rink…

My neighbors invited us to go along to the local skating rink for Family Night. Every Thursday night at the local rink is Family Night. We decided to go along and figured we would have a great time skating as a family and spend some good quality time with the kids.

What we found out was that Family Night should be Christian Family Night, with the insinuation that non-Christians are not real families. The rink only plays contemporary Christian music (CCM) on Thursday nights.

Here is the rub; I could not tell at first. There were songs that made me go, “Huh?” I figured the DJ was mixing in some CCM with regular tunes. After about 30 minutes, I realized that I did not recognize any of the “regular tunes.” I decided to pay closer attention to the lyrics. Sure enough, every song (I mean that literally) was a CCM song.

CCM has come a long way. The genres confused met at first; genres like Ska, punk, rock, Hip Hop, rap, and alternative. Christian lyrics played to good tunes threw me for a loop. I have to admit, that some of the Ska, punk and alternative songs were actually good (lyrics aside).

Then the DJ played techno. I think it is fair to say that most people have heard the song Awesome God at one time or another. The lyrics are simple, “Our God is an awesome God, blah, blah and blah.” Imagine my surprise when I heard this song playing with a techno sound. It was a little spooky, I must confess. My Mom got a big laugh out of me skating to a techno version of the Christian song Awesome God.

We decided to go back each Thursday night, even with the CCM. You learn to tone out the lyrics and just hear the music. Some of the music is awful and brings back haunting vision of the Songs4Worship commercials and big hair TBN broadcasters singing to some dope on a guitar with Jesus-laden hymns pouring from his godly vocal chords. Some of the songs sounded good and could probably play well on any alternative radio station in any city (ignoring the lyrics, of course).

I suppose I should clarify that I cannot stand rap and hip-hop, but I assume, based on my limited expertise in the rap genre, that the CCM rap and hip-hop artists would snuggle right up to Snoop Doggy Dog and Destiny’s Child on the local hip-hop radio station.

The tools of indoctrination.

I should also let you know that I have sent a letter to the owner of the rink stating that playing only CCM on the advertised Family Night insinuates that only Christians are “true families”. It is his business and he can run it any way he wants, but I think he might reach a wider market if he widened his music selection. Muslim and Hindu families that were there (different nights) each left early: not because the music offended them, but because of the insinuated message behind the playing of the music. The only thing keeping me there sacrificing my ears and dealing with the insinuation is my children, who love to skate and do not understand the politics of theism.

Anyway, as I was sitting and contemplating this eerie CCM put to mainstream genres I found myself asking, “What’s the purpose of turning hymns into pop hits?”

The answer is one word and one word only: marketing.

The old message just is not good enough for today’s youth. Classic hymns and Songs4Worship are “boring,” “tired,” “worn out,” “old fart music,” and “too churchy.” Kids today, especially teenagers, need something a little zestier. They need a techno beat, guitars, pounding drums and loud vocals.

The church cannot sell Christianity to today’s kids with the same old and tired message. The church needs a “new & improved” product. They need to cater to the kids and find ways to draw them in with gold plating over their piece of crap.

Just to get an idea of how much CCM has evolved (Is it just me, or does anyone else enjoy using the word “evolve” when talking about religion?), I decided to visit a few CCM directories on the web. How many genres now have CCM infiltrators?

Black Gospel: 189 listings.
Choral: 85 listings.
Contemporary Christian: 531 listings.
Country: 26 listings (I expected that to be higher).
Gospel: 16 listings.
Hip Hop: 141 listings.
Industrial: 4 listings.
Inspirational: 13 listings.
Instrumental: 12 listings.
Praise and Worship: 116 listings.
Punk: 79 listings.
Rap: 83 listings.
Rock: 571 listings.
Ska: 139 listings (Jesus oy oy oy).
Southern Gospel: 267 listings.

Christian music has become a smorgasbord of sub-genres. Apparently, the Songs4Worship CD falls under the sub-genre of Praise and Worship.

When I was driving back to Mobile from St. Louis, I preferred to listen to the stereo when a descent radio station (alternative or modern rock) was available. As I made my way into Jackson, Mississippi, I zipped through all the radio stations looking for a good one. Having passed all the sports, country, R & B, and Jesus shows, I stumbled upon a good song. It was a female vocalist singing to a good guitar riff and the song was obviously modern rock.

Oops – it was a CCM station that was playing some new alternative tunes for the local Christian teenagers. The song was so good that it fooled me. One phase of the marketing ploy worked on this die-hard skeptic – I listened to it. Of course, I did not buy the message and changed the channel once I figured it out – but what about all those kids out there?

How many of today’s teenagers are being lured into churches by fancy colors, catchy phrases and other marketing tools?

It does not stop at music.

There are Christian role-playing games to take the place of that “Satanic” game, Dungeons & Dragons. The biggest sellers are Holy Land, Legend of the Phoenix, Dragon Raid, and The World of Gaianar. There is even a Christian Gamer’s Guild for all the players out there.

Now there is a market for Christian clothing. Garments that are cool with cotton blend Jesus and denim proselytizing. As one kid said on a web page for a Christian clothier, “It’s okay to be a Jesus freak now because we can wear cool clothes.”

Who can argue with clothing brands named Threads of God and Rapture Wear (No, I am not kidding – those are real clothing lines.)?

Even church commercials are “hipper” and intended to attract a younger audience. The actors are good looking, suave and cool as they talk about Jesus and the church.

Several skateboard parks have taken up a new cause to draw kids to the church. They offer free skateboarding as long as the kids sit through a 30-minute sermon by a local preacher. The church pays for the price of the skateboarding. It is a classic case of completely duping these kids. Most of them naively go figuring they can stand a 30-minute sermon for the free skateboarding. They dupe kids into a “new & improved” product where the improvement is only gold plating.

The trick, as any marketing director will tell you, is to get them in the door. You do this with zippy advertising, colorful displays, attractive entryways, and polite salespeople. You create a façade that is friendly to people walking by, get them interested enough to walk in, and then nail them with the product.

I will grant that a few churches have changed their product in modern times.

A good example of an evolving church is the Methodists. Their new marketing strategy of Open hearts – Open minds – Open doors is so simplistic that it is marketing genius. They have altered their product so that a wider consumer market can use it. The Methodists realized that the Fundamentalist market was narrow and numbers were dying. Instead of filing a godly bankruptcy, they decided to expand their product, slap a “new & improved” label on it, and start hawking it on the streets. It worked and now the Methodists are one of the fastest growing denominations in the United States.

The Southern Baptists in Mobile now have serious competition with the Methodists. The third largest church in Mobile is now a Methodist church – complete with a new bookstore and café. Considering how fast the Methodists in Mobile are growing, I do not think they will be the third-largest church much longer – they will skyrocket to number one in size. All because of marketing and a product that is better for a wider consumer base.

Sorry, single mothers, divorcees, teen mothers, unwed couples, and gays are not eligible for the Salvation Sale.

Methodists aside, the product has not really changed that much. Even the liberal product of the Methodists is still laced with deadly chemicals like “original sin,” “fall of man,” “salvation through Christ,” “only true God,” and other similar cerebral carcinogens.

The Methodists have just made the gold plated piece of crap look better than everyone else has.

The downfall of this new marketing scheme by churches is that it is working. It is drawing in younger people because the church is spewing “cool” and “awesome” instead of “dull” and “hymnal.” It is working because the church has finally realized that in order to compete and stay viable, they have to have the young kids – and to do that they have to be “cool.”

If my aunt is correct, they are doing this to the chagrin of the elders among the fellowship. The “new & improved” pastors are quick-witted and humorous – getting as far away as possible from the stereotypical monotone sermon with half the pews snoring.

The new minister at the second-largest Baptist church in Mobile is one of those preachers. He is funny and he is not afraid to poke fun of the extremes of Christianity. He is drawing a younger crowd, which is the lifeblood of the church’s future. The old school consumers at that church saw the new pastor’s methods like Coke lovers saw New Coke – they found it sacrilegious. They went off, formed their own church, and continued drinking the Classic Church version of their heavenly soda.

Let us face it; marketing is a viable tool in today’s social environment. If you do not advertise and market your product as better than the other person markets, then you will fall where most businesses end – at the bankruptcy court.

The problem with church marketing is that the product is already bankrupt. The church just paints it pretty, disguises it in “coolness” and “radical wear” and convinces a whole new generation to buy into a piece of crap. The church is a legal con artist – selling people into pipe dreams and beachfront property in the desert.

I have to admit my amazement that their commercials still get customers in today’s scientific age.

I have always wondered if you can sue a church for false advertisement. Apparently, you can, by the way. A couple of women sued a church for false advertisement and won $270,000 dollars. The church claimed that it would present “Christ in the flesh” and never did. The women sued and won the money. Go figure…

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