OK, so Seth posts an item in which he cites an Arizona church having spent $16,000 a year on Krispy Kreme donuts. He calls this marketing, and I think he's right.
My question is, if Seth's right, and all marketers are liars, then what lie is this church telling? Let's see if we can figure it out.
The donuts are part of the overall trend, noted in the cover story of
tomorrow's today's (sub. req'd) New York Times Magazine, for "megachurches" to become the new social hub of "exurban" communities. The article features Lee McFarland, the pastor of a church called "Radiant," in Sunrise, Arizona. McFarland, a former Microsoft employee, initially approached he new congregational "territory" in a convential manner: he dressed himself up in "business casual" attire and tried talking with people about their families, asking them how they spent their free time, trying to get a sense of what was missing in their lives.
According to the article, people were "barely civil." The market wasn't buying.
McFarland tried another approach. He put on jeans and a T-shirt and went out and started asking people two questions: "What's your favorite radio station?" and "Why do you think people don't go to church?" What he learned was that people listened to rock music and didn't go to church 'cause they didn't have any fancy clothes, didn't like being asked for money and didn't see how the sermons they heard related to their lives.
So, the pastor started a direct mail campaign in which he told potential congregation members,
You think church is boring and judgmental, and that all they want is your money? At Radiant [the name of the new church] you'll hear a rockin' band and a positive, relevant message. Come as you are. We won't beg for your money. Your kids will love it.
I say, brilliant. But, is it a lie?
Well, it's certainly a story. A story that the marketer tells that he knows the prospect wants to believe. A story that goes: "This is a place where you can come and be yourself. Your clothes and your music are OK here. You're OK here. Your kids won't think you're weird for coming here. You'll probably meet other folks here who are a lot like you. There won't be any scary stuff here. We're regular people, not fanatics."
"And, we'll even serve Krispy Kremes. Hey, we know you, and we know what you like!"
"We want the church to look like a mall," McFarland said.
The fact is, we're all looking for meaning today, just like we always have. Here's a pastor who understands his customer: people who live in the "sticks," a little isolated, and longing for connections; people who need a place to form communties with others like themselves. People who are scared stiff about the kinds of things they see and hear every day.
If someone tells those people a story that they've built a that can be the kind of place they're looking for, and then backs it up with consistent performance on that promise, is it any wonder Radiant's attendance will be around 15,000 this weekend?
Liar? Well, maybe, but if so, then this is the kind of lie that the term "white lie" was invented for.
UPDATE: Doc references this post in which faithcommons takes the opening section of Cluetrain and substitutes the words "church" for "company" and "Christian" or "member" for "employee." "Churches are conversations" is certainly a re-framing of the story churches have been telling up to now.