Selling Jesus. What’s Wrong with Marketing the Church? Douglas D. Webster. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1992. 165 pp. Paper, $9.99.
One of the fastest growing trends in evangelical circles is the art of marketing the church. This is the concept popularized by Bill Hybels, George Barna, Lyle Schaller and others. In his book, Selling Jesus, Douglas Webster critiques, often harshly, this movement. To a large degree, Webster focuses his attack on George Barna, the leading proponent and chief guru of the “user-friendly church” mentality. (Webster quotes Barna over 30 times in the book.) While Barna must be commended for providing churches and pastors with invaluable research, Webster’s criticism is right on target and needs to be heard.
According to Webster, what the church marketing movement fails to remember is that “from beginning to end, the work of the church is God’s work” (p. 140). He agrees that the traditional model of church growth is lacking in many areas. But what he recommends is a “Christ-centered household of faith” that is “Spirit-guided rather than market-driven” (p. 140). Too many churches within American Christianity are tolerating “any and all methods (of evangelization), as long as they bring numerical results,” says Webster. But the ministry of the local church must be determined by “careful biblical conviction and thoughtful theological reflection” rather than on the basis of taste and preference (p. 29). As a pastor struggling to resist the temptation to soft-peddle the ministries of my church in order to make them more appealing to the unchurched, I sound a hearty “Amen!”
One criticism of the “user-friendly church” that is lacking in this book is the failure of this movement to adhere to the biblical standard of separation. Most who advocate marketing as an effective means of church growth are willing to accept anyone and everyone regardless of their doctrinal beliefs. The Bible teaches, however, that some doctrines are non-negotiable. Churches and pastors must resist the urge to fill their pews at a cost of compromising biblical standards. Of course, one key doctrine worthy of separation is the doctrine of salvation. If a church is presenting a false gospel, it doesn’t matter how “innovative, efficient, hyperactive and high-energy” it is—don’t go!
Speaking of a false gospel, this reviewer was discouraged with Webster’s view on the Gospel. He seems to include the elements of “commitment” and “following Christ” as prerequisites for salvation (p. 28). Indeed, one of his criticisms of the church-marketing concept is that unbelievers are being converted without first counting the cost. What a shame that such an insightful book is sullied by a presentation of a false gospel!
J. B. Hixson
Tremont Baptist Church